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Harty: Sooners checked in or checked out?

[ 0 ] December 29, 2011 |

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Here’s a little insight on the 2011 Insight Bowl: the players and coaches from Oklahoma would prefer not to be here.

They won’t say it publicly, but it just feels that way.

Imagine how deflated the 9-3 Sooners must be after beginning the season ranked No. 1 nationally only to have it end in a mid-level bowl game against a 7-5 Iowa team that hasn’t been ranked at all this season.

Oklahoma playing in the Insight Bowl is sort of like Iowa playing in the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit.

Making matters worse is the fact that Oklahoma State is also in town preparing to face Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

Word is that some Oklahoma fans refused to come to the Insight Bowl simply because they didn’t want to face the humiliation of crossing paths with Oklahoma State fans.

So combine Oklahoma’s mental state with it also being favored by 14 points and an upset could be brewing unless Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops can inspire his team to take his alma mater seriously.

“We have got a chance to win our tenth game against a good football team that also has an excellent tradition, at least in the last 20 years,” said Stoops, who played defensive back at Iowa from 1979-82 and had a key role in helping Hayden Fry rebuild the Iowa program. “And so that’s how we’re looking at it.

“Each game you play matters.”

Oklahoma is vastly superior to Iowa with regard to overall talent. But the Sooners aren’t good enough to defeat Iowa simply by going through the motions, especially if the Hawkeyes perform well.

“We better be motivated, and to have a chance in this game, we will have to play our absolute best in all three phases” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

The circumstances are similar to last season’s Insight Bowl when an underdog Iowa team coming off three consecutive losses defeated 12th-ranked Missouri, 27-24.

“It almost scary how similar the circumstances are,” Ferentz said.

There is one noticeable exception, though, that being the absence of Iowa sophomore running back Marcus Coker. He is suspended from this year’s Insight Bowl, meaning he won’t have the opportunity to repeat as the game’s most valuable player or add to his team-leading 1,384 rushing yards.

Iowa was also better on defense last season, although, that didn’t stop Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert from completing 41 passes for 434 yards in the Insight Bowl.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is capable of doing the same thing if he and his teammates come ready to play. It’s hard to picture Iowa winning this game if that happens.

But then again, Iowa is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games when an underdog by at least 10 points, whereas Oklahoma is just 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games overall.

The Sooners are also coming off a 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. The players either could use that as motivation for the Insight Bowl or they could let the loss linger and lay another egg.

Both teams will have to overcome key personnel losses, but you still have to give Oklahoma the edge with regard to depth, even without record-breaking receiver Ryan Broyles able to play.

The Sooners also have more quality wins this season than Iowa does, perhaps none more impressive than the 58-17 victory over Kansas State on Oct. 29 in Manhattan, Kan.

Oklahoma was still in contention for a BCS bowl game at that stage and Broyles was still healthy as evidenced by him catching 14 passes for 171 yards against Kansas State.

Much has changed since then for Oklahoma, but most of it for the worst.

Take Iowa for granted and the Sooners will risk sinking even lower.

But take Iowa seriously and the Sooners should finish with at least 10 victories for the 10th time in 13 seasons under Stoops.

“Every year you are not going to be in the national championship game, but you still have to try and win each and every game you play,” said Stoops, who led the Sooners to the national title in 2000. “That’s what we are trying to do.”

How hard the Sooners try will determine the outcome more than anything else.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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