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Mythbusters: Choke on this

Oklahoma is No. 1 for the first time since 2003, so it feels like the perfect occasion to bust a myth that's been gathering strength over the past few seasons.

You remember what happened the last time the Sooners were ranked No. 1, don't you? Kansas State whacked them upside the head with a two-by-four in the Big 12 title game. That 35-7 thrashing kick-started a perceived backward slide into futility for the guy many used to believe was the finest big-game coach in America. Now he's developed a reputation as a coach whose heavily favored gang of All-Americas is destined to gag on the big stage. Some have even started calling Oklahoma the "Ohio State of the Big 12."

But really, there's no need to get nasty. The fact is, OU's top five recruiting classes and big-money head coach haven't had much recent postseason success. Unlike the Buckeyes, though, the Sooners haven't made their reputation by feasting on a down-conference. That hasn't stopped Stoops' critics from growing louder over the past few seasons. Believe it or not, some college football fans and alumni don't exactly have a lot of patience or perspective. Shocking, I know.

Critics also target Stoops because he carries himself like one of his mentors, Steve Spurrier (who won a national championship with a guy named Robert Stoops as his defensive coordinator). He's talented, he's cocky, he shoots from the hip, he loves to tweak his rivals and of course, he wears the same cute little visor. Who wouldn't want to take a shot at the two men who transformed the visor from the headgear of choice for bingo players everywhere into an acceptable stand-in for a sideline baseball cap?

But Visor Jr. has done more than wear hats with the tops cut out of them. He's led the Sooners to some of the biggest wins in that proud program's history. The problem is, college football fans have a "what have you done for me lately" mentality, and Stoops' Sooners have also had some glaring, high-profile losses.

The first ugly one was that 28-point KSU beatdown. That one might have been less embarrassing had Stoops' right-hand-man and brother Mike Stoops not just accepted the head coaching job at Arizona. Many feel Bob hasn't been the same since Mike went to Arizona, but then again, Mike hasn't been the same since he went to Arizona, either.

The 2004 Sugar Bowl was supposed to be the Sooners' redemption after that KSU mauling, but LSU had other ideas. Nick Saban kept OU as off-balance as his personal headhunter and the Bayou Bengals prevailed 21-14. Blame Stoops all you want, but that was hardly a major gag job. LSU had home-field advantage at the Louisiana Superdome, and the seven-point loss pales in comparison to what LSU has done to other BCS teams in New Orleans (the Tigers have beaten Illinois, Notre Dame and Ohio State by an average score of 42-24).

Stoops' boys bounced back to go wire-to-wire as the No. 2 team the following season, an incredible feat in its own right. Then came the debacle that truly sparked the "Choke-lahoma" craze: a 55-19 title game loss to USC. Sooner fans are still trying to live down this one. And while Stoops should take some of the blame for his team's Miami meltdown, lots of good coaches have found themselves on the business end of a Pete Carroll team in big games -- just ask Tommy Tuberville, Lloyd Carr, Jim Tressel, Charlie Weis, Houston Nutt, Frank Beamer, Bill Callahan.OK, maybe not Callahan. And maybe not Weis either. But you get the point.

And yeah, fine, Boise State was a bad loss. But aren't we fans all a little better off because Stoops and his boys blew that one? That game was an instant classic. Not only should we cut Stoops a little slack, we should probably thank him for making a (unintentional) sacrifice to the college football gods. As for that 48-28 loss to West Virginia in last year's Fiesta Bowl ... OK, that one was pretty gnarly, too.

But just like Tressel's Buckeyes, the only reason Oklahoma even keeps returning to these games is because Stoops manages to win enough big ones during the brutal gauntlet that is the regular season. While a big-game loss-epidemic was sweeping through the plains, Stoops' teams were busy racking up nonconference wins over the likes of Miami, UCLA, Alabama and Oregon.

He's also 5-1 lifetime in Big 12 title games, but I guess those don't really count, right? Nah, why would nationally televised one-game playoffs for the conference title and a multimillion dollar BCS berth be considered big?

Certainly, OU's conference foes would disagree with the notion that Stoops coaches big games with both hands around his throat. For example, you might want to ask Mack Brown how much choking Stoops does in OU's head-to-head showdowns with Texas. And take current Big 12 flavor-of-the-month Missouri. Last season, the Sooners had a pair of double-digit wins over Mizzou, one of which was a 38-17 smackdown of the then No. 1 Tigers in the conference title game. Not many other coaches could be just five games removed from beating the nation's top team by three touchdowns and still be considered a big-game choker.

The fact remains: Only a select few schools have crystal footballs in their trophy cases, and even fewer have managed to play in more than one title game. Thanks to Stoops, Oklahoma is on both of those short lists. There are probably 115 teams in college football's big leagues who'd gladly trade for a "choke artist" like him.

But lose another BCS game this year, Visor, and you're on your own.

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans think it's true, doesn't mean it is.

Got a myth you want us to bust? Contact Phil at mythbusters.sportsillustrated@gmail.com.

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