Questions mark title for Stoops, Oklahoma

Coach is in demand

players need replacing

College Football

January 05, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Now that Oklahoma has re-established itself as a national college football power with Wednesday night's 13-2 upset victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl, some questions are left to be asked of second-year coach Bob Stoops and his amazing Sooners.

What can Oklahoma, which completed the first 13-0 season in the 106-year history of the program and won the school's seventh national championship, do for an encore? Will Stoops, at 40 considered the hottest coach in the business, stick around Norman for the long haul or head home to coach Ohio State?

"I've said for two years that I wanted expectations to rise, that we should be expected to win and compete for championships," Stoops said yesterday after receiving the trophies that go to the national champion. "I welcome that, and certainly that's what we're going to push for every year."

Stoops, who came to Oklahoma with a resume that included being defensive coordinator at both Kansas State and Florida, is looking forward to the same kind of expectations that surrounded the program back in the years when Barry Switzer and Bud Wilkinson each won three national championships during their storied careers.

"If they [the fans] want to be upset that we don't win a championship, they won't be any more upset than I am," Stoops said. "That's the way it goes."

The fans would be even more upset if Stoops left. While he still carries the accent from his years growing up in Youngstown and the memories of playing in high school for his late father, Stoops has no intentions of succeeding the recently fired John Cooper in coaching the Buckeyes.

Despite reports Ohio State plans to contact Stoops about the opening, Stoops said he hadn't been called and doesn't plan on talking about the job. Or will he? Pressed on the issue yesterday, Stoops said coyly, "Well, if someone calls you, you always talk to them. I mean, how will you know who it is?"

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who earlier this season gave Stoops a new deal that runs through 2005 and will pay him more than $1 million a year, has recently told newspapers in the state Stoops doesn't have an out in his contract to leave for Ohio State.

For now, Stoops will have to work on replacing senior quarterback Josh Heupel, who, after finishing second to Florida State's Chris Weinke for the Heisman Trophy, outplayed the 28-year-old senior Seminole. The Sooners will also have to find a replacement for senior linebacker Torrance Marshall, the Orange Bowl's MVP.

As is his nature, Stoops is not worried.

"It will be difficult to replace them, no question about it," Stoops said. "What you have to do is put somebody in there and you develop them. But these guys will tell you, we've got some capable, quality players coming up behind them. That's what makes it fun each and every year - to develop new players, new talent. I'm sure we'll continue to succeed."

Stoops pointed to his team's current roster, which includes 23 freshmen and sophomores among its two-deep chart. He has Nate Hybl, a 6-3, 220-pound sophomore who sat out this season after transferring from Georgia, ready to step in for Heupel. The Sooners return 15 starters, as well as place-kicker Tim Duncan and punter Jeff Ferguson.

It was Duncan who made a pair of field goals to help Oklahoma to a 6-0 lead over the Seminoles. With the Sooners ahead 13-0, after they turned a Weinke fumble into a 10-yard touchdown by tailback Quentin Griffin with 8:30 left, it was Ferguson who made a heads-up play by running down a bad snap and going into the end zone for a safety.

All night long, Oklahoma made the smart plays, while the 11-point favorite Seminoles showed a lack of cohesion and concentration.

"We couldn't match up," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said early yesterday morning after being denied his third national championship and his second straight. "They stayed a step ahead of us all the way defensively, it seemed like. I didn't think we looked like we belonged out there."

Said Stoops: "Our defensive performance was probably the best defensive performance I've ever been associated with."

The Sooners allowed the Seminoles to convert only one of 15 third-down situations and neither of two tries on fourth down. Heupel completed 25 of 39 passes for 214 yards, throwing an early interception that was immediately negated by Marshall intercepting Weinke on the next play.

Oklahoma took the lead on a 27-yard field goal by Duncan and never looked back.

"I don't think there's any question we felt in control the entire game," Stoops said.

A victory by Florida State would have meant a split national championship with second-ranked Miami, and other teams, most notably Washington (which beat the Hurricanes in September), believing they deserved similar recognition. Instead, the Sooners were voted unanimous champions.

"We had the more difficult road getting here and completing it," said Stoops, alluding to a schedule that included one victory over Nebraska and two over Kansas State. "We never bothered to figure out the BCS formula. All we knew is that [if] we didn't lose, you would have a great chance of winning it, and it sort of worked out."

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