Final surge ends Oklahoma's road and BCS struggles
All those questions about whether Oklahoma could win anywhere but Owen Field or ever win a BCS bowl game again won't follow the team into this offseason.
A four-game winning streak to finish the season sends the Sooners off as champions of the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl.
There were reasons to doubt the Sooners, particularly after losses to Missouri and Texas A&M extended their Big 12 road losing streak to four games. But all that went away with wins at Baylor and Oklahoma State to conclude the regular season, leading up to a victory against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and then a 48-20 blowout of Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.
''I think everybody looked themselves in the mirror and said we are a better team than this. If we could play half as well as we did at home and stopped shooting ourselves in the foot, I think we're the best team in the country,'' linebacker Travis Lewis said.
''And so once we got the ball rolling - and it all started with Baylor - guys got their confidence up. We just got on a roll. We never stopped believing in each other and this team.''
Oklahoma snapped a streak of five straight BCS bowl losses, including upsets against Boise State and West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
''We have been through a whole lot. I feel like we deserve this,'' record-setting receiver Ryan Broyles said. ''This was so important to get the monkey off our back.''
About all that's left for the Sooners to make up for next season is the missed opportunity of holding the top spot when the BCS standings were first revealed and then losing their next game.
That was enough to convince Lewis, the team's leading tackler the past three seasons, to announce Wednesday that he's returning for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.
''I'm coming back to win a national championship, point blank'' said Lewis. ''Anything else would be a disappointment. That is the main goal. This is a program built on a tradition of championships and I intend on being here for another one.''
Running back DeMarco Murray - the school's record holder in all-purpose yardage - headlines a departing senior class that also includes All-American Quinton Carter, fellow safety Jonathan Nelson and star defensive end Jeremy Beal.
There are plenty of pieces left, though, to form the core of another championship-caliber team for next season - especially with the help of a deep and talented freshman class. Lewis' return will bolster a defense that's already taking a hit through graduation.
''Travis is a captain who has been a major spark and leader for us,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ''Having him back can only improve our team and defense.''
Despite an unfortunate knack for untimely turnovers, Landry Jones seemed to improve down the stretch in becoming the sixth different quarterback to lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title. He wound up with 4,718 yards passing with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions - numbers that'd seem even more impressive if he weren't playing in the shadows of a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in the past decade.
''(He) has a huge future,'' Stoops said. ''He had a huge year this year. I mean, this guy is special. He's a long way from a finished product, and he is also a special and great quarterback, and everyone is realizing it.''
Now, he and the rest of the Sooners will set out to achieve the highest of goals for next season, already put on the table by Lewis.
''We knew we were a special team and we were a couple steps away from being where we wanted to be ultimately, and that's in a national championship,'' Lewis said. ''The guys on this team, we never gave up and we kept fighting through everything and all the adversity.''
AP College Football Writer John Marshall contributed to this report from Glendale, Ariz.