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December 27, 2013

Stoops expects players to avoid New Orleans distractions

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NEW ORLEANS -- The last time Bob Stoops traveled to the Big Easy on business was to play a BCS Championship game against Louisiana State in the Sugar Bowl following the 2003 season.

This time Stoops and the Sooners will play another team from the Southeastern Conference, in the same bowl game, at the same stadium Jan. 2.

That team isn't from Baton Rouge, La. It's from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

And that makes all the difference to Stoops.


"Well, not that I'm excited to play Alabama, but I'm glad it's not LSU," Stoops said. "That makes it a whole different dynamic."

Stoops hadn't been on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong International Airport for half an hour before harkening back to the 21-14 loss he suffered at the hands of now Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Bayou Bengals.

Over 79,000 watched LSU's defense beat up a Jason White led Sooner offense and LSU running back Justin Vincent rush for 117 yards on just 16 carries with a touchdown en route to a national championship and game MVP honors.

"Had a tough one in 2003 when we end up losing to LSU in the national championship in a tough, hard-fought game," Stoops said. "But, again, you're in it long enough, you're going to get both sides of it to some degree."

New Orleans, which is home to many an LSU fan, gave OU the kind of welcome visiting teams have come to expect when they play the Tigers.

Stoops hopes the team will be a little better received throughout the week leading up to one of the first football games of 2014, perhaps a bit more like the game he coached in 1996.

17 years ago he was the defensive coordinator of the No. 3-ranked Florida Gators when they knocked off the No. 1 ranked Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. His defense gave up just 20 points in the win and only 29 yards rushing on nine carries to future NFL first round pick Warrick Dunn.

"I was here in '96 with Florida and Coach (Steve) Spurrier," Stoops said, "and had an amazing experience beating Florida State and winning the national championship and always remember that in a great way."

To be sure, Stoops has experienced both the elation of a win and the disappointment of defeat in this storied bowl game, and he and his players have enjoyed the city in the lead up to the game during the week on each occasion.

Even as the Sooners stepped off the Southwest charter flight on Friday afternoon, they were greeted by bowl officials waiting to shake their hands and smile approvingly as they had nearly a half hour earlier when Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione and other administrators landed.

A six-member musical ensemble, the 3rd Line Brass Band, played songs for them while they walked mere feet from the plane to buses with bowl logos and the OU insignia painted on the sides. In only a few minutes, the Sooners had seen a glimpse of the kind of fun that awaits them in one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the country.

Stoops isn't worried about his players keeping their noses clean, even after losing wide receiver Trey Metoyer and running back Damien Williams for the season due to off-the-field issues.

He even consulted his captains about what time curfew should be for the Sooners during their first two nights in town, and to hear senior and captain Gabe Ikard tell it, the curfew negotiation wasn't tough at all.

"That's the easiest negotiation I've ever had with Coach Stoops," Ikard said. "He asked me what time I thought it should be and he said, 'OK, that'll work.' I said, 'What?!' He realizes we have a lot of senior leadership on this team."

Stoops believes in his players' abilities to assess each other and hold each other accountable.

"These young guys could find trouble if they wanted to about anywhere," he said. "Oklahoma City is a big town right up the road from us, and we seem to manage to not do that.

"So I trust their character and the way they've handled themselves -- not just this year. We haven't been a team that has really had a lot of trouble. I'm gonna trust them like I always do."

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