College football bowl games are bizarre animals.
You send college kids out to places like Phoenix and L.A. and Hawaii for an exhibition game with a little spending money and even less reason to care. There’s nothing on the line but pride, so focus and motivation tend to be a mixed bag.
The Oklahoma Sooners have seen the bad side of the bowl blahs in the past. In the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and 2008, sluggish OU teams suffered embarrassing losses to fired-up underdogs Boise State and West Virginia.
Yet again, the oddsmakers have made the Sooners big favorites in their return trip to Glendale, this time against the Connecticut Huskies.
For OU fans, it feels like deja vu all over again. Why should 2011 be any different? Let’s dig a little deeper.
If coach Randy Edsall wants to sell his team on the angle that “nobody believes in us,” it won’t be hard. Nobody does.
Vegas has installed UConn as a 17-point underdog, one of the largest spreads of this bowl season. (For a historical perspective, teams getting that many points lose roughly 85 percent of the time.)
Additionally, the Big East, a paragon of mediocrity, morphed this year into a symbol of the inherent inequity of the BCS. As champions of the lamest iteration of a “power conference” in recent memory, the Huskies have had to listen to pundits and talking heads commiserate about just how horrible they and their Big East brethren were, are and will be forever.
One under-the-radar factor to consider here is Edsall himself. His name came up in connection with some of the coaching vacancies that opened up in the last month, but it appears as though Edsall will remain in Storrs for another year. Assuming Edsall’s players actually like him, finding out that he’s staying at UConn could mean the Huskies will be fired up.
In case you haven’t heard, OU head coach Bob Stoops has lost his last five appearances in BCS games. Too many times, the Sooners have looked flat and disinterested, and responsibility for that has to lie with Stoops.
Think that sticks in his craw just a little bit? If you’re looking for an indication of just how fed up Stoops and his compadres are, note that Kevin Wilson, who gave up his position as OU’s offensive coordinator to take over at Indiana, is staying on to help for this one last game.
Then there are the guys like Jeremy Beal, DeMarco Murray and Quinton Carter. They keep hearing about OU’s suckage in bowl games, too. (For Murray, it’s his first opportunity to actually play in a BCS game.)
Getting that kind of monkey off your back can focus a team to the nth degree. The flip side is that teams can get tight – players often start to press when they want a win that badly.
Who Has the Edge?
The Sooners’ history in BCS games doesn’t bode well here. You could argue that because UConn is so lightly regarded, OU is even more likely to no-show.
Why should this game be any different?
First, this is a young OU team overall. The BCS experience won’t have a “been there, done that” feel for the Crimson and Cream this time around.
Likewise, many members of this club struggled through the 2009 season, which was the most disappointing in Bob Stoops’ career. Whatever sense of accomplishment they may feel now, a Fiesta Bowl bid doesn’t represent some sort of bronze medal.
Lastly, let’s revisit the Kevin Wilson angle. Indiana’s new head coach doesn’t have much reason to stick around at this point – no one would blame him if he took off for Bloomington to hit the ground running.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think that says something about how dedicated the OU coaches are to demolishing the program’s reputation of flopping in bowl games.
Yes, UConn has an opportunity to get a huge win for the program. But simply making it to the Fiesta Bowl is a win in and of itself for the Huskies. OU stands to gain even more with a victory here.