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December 29, 2011SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oklahoma's season couldn't have ended in a more disappointing fashion. A blowout loss in a Big 12 Championship game, defections of key youngsters, criticism of a secondary and a defense which gave up way too many big plays.
It wasn't unfair for fans and media to question how much this OU team would care about facing a 7-5 Iowa team in the Insight Bowl.
BOB STOOPS PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THURSDAY
As a matter of fact, it was a question being asked in the OU locker room as well.
"At practice it was a little different vibe at first coming off that loss to Oklahoma State. It wasn't the kind of game we wanted," explained starting safety Aaron Colvin. "We were still out there making plays and whatever but it was a little different vibe. There was some soul-searching going on."
As Bob Stoops and Travis Lewis have pointed out over the last couple of days, there were also players leaving or receiving walking papers.
Stoops was clearing the way for this team to get over the disappointment of 2011. According to Oklahoma players, they have started to rebound under the direction of their head coach.
"Practice has just been smooth. It's crazy," said junior cornerback Demontre Hurst. "There's a lot of energy and most teams don't get a chance to play another game. We have the opportunity to redeem ourselves and try to get another bowl victory and finish the season strong and lead the seniors out."
Losing to Oklahoma State, in the fashion they lost, has been sitting with this Sooner team for a month. It's been a process for this team to work through that disappointment.
"Losing our last game of the season. It kind of dwelled on us knowing we could play better and knowing we don't have the opportunity to next week to redeem ourselves," Hurst said. "Now the opportunity is here and we have to embrace it and get our program and our team back on the winning track and leave the seniors out here with another bowl victory.
"That's the most important thing with this game, just to go out there and have fun again."
With Stoops' house cleaning fully underway, players have a better attitude about taking on Iowa in the Insight Bowl. They've forgotten about Kansas State being taken over them in the Cotton Bowl, or Baylor being invited to the Alamo Bowl instead of the Sooners.
"Just talking to the guys we kind of thought this bowl game was an insult but it's not," said Hurst. "We're playing against another good team in Iowa and our think our team realized once practiced started, we started getting a feel for playing football again and playing with each other and having fun.
"Instead of banging against each other back in Norman, we get to play against Iowa and a physical team. It's going to be a challenge and we're just going to go out there and have fun and it's the last game of the season and we're just going to try and finish it out strong and have fun."
Much was made about the Sooners playing the second-fiddle role to Oklahoma State while holding their press conferences and media functions at the same hotel in Scottsdale.
But neither team has crossed paths since being in Arizona.
The Sooners will also play their game in a new venue, inside Sun Devil Stadium in a beautiful setting. The only reminders for Oklahoma are the mountain views and the warm temperatures.
And anyone who has spent time in the Phoenix area would tell you neither of those things would ever be considered punishment for a disappointing season.
Stoops certainly has no complaints about his team's focus since arriving in Tempe.
"I am very pleased with the work of our players and just their attention to being on time to everything," he said. "They have been really good in meetings. They have practiced really well. So, you know, I feel like we have taken the necessary steps in these days to give ourselves an opportunity to play well.
"We have a chance to win our tenth this year and our guys have worked hard leading up to the game to give ourselves a chance for it."