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Sooners spread out the wrath

Oklahoma fans are irritated about several things, including what they view as the NCAA's preferential treatment of USC.

September 08, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

NORMAN, Okla. -- Three members of the spirit group known as "Ruf/Neks" agreed to meet for Labor Day lunch at a restaurant not far from the Big Red Sports/Imports car dealership that fuel-injected Oklahoma football toward its sixth major NCAA probation.

One wore a T-shirt that read "We Only Came Here to Drink and Beat Texas."

The "Ruf/Neks" were formed here almost a century ago and their many duties now include cleaning up after "Boomer" and "Sooner," the ponies that pull the school's famous schooner during football games.

The Ruf/Neks think the probation is a load of you-know-what.

They want to know why Oklahoma was forced to vacate all eight wins from its 2005 season while No. 1 USC continues to play on without paying pipers.

Oklahoma self-reported its violations, punished itself, and yet the NCAA still descended.

Elsewhere, allegations swirl that USC may have defeated Oklahoma to win the 2004 national title while using an ineligible player, Reggie Bush.

"And we get our wins erased?" Justin Myers, a 21-year-old marketing major, asked. "I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, it's just not the proper allocation of rules and regulations."

Cody Busch, 19, who wants to be a sports agent, leans more toward grassy knoll scenarios.

"What would they do without USC?" Busch wondered. "They're too important to the success of college football. It's suspicious USC doesn't get anything."

Colin Huff, 20, majoring in finance, spoke up from Myers' left.

"They're like America's Team," Huff huffed of USC.

Fair to say this is a ticked-off team and a ticked-off town, and that might not be good news today for incoming Miami or anyone else standing in the Sooners' way this season.

North Texas bellied-up 79 points and nearly 700 total yards here last weekend and was lucky it wasn't 100 points and 1,000 yards.

Oklahoma appears a team with a chance to go. . .

"Undefeated," former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said from his office chair in the home he built five years ago on a corner lot not far from campus.

Oklahoma's rough patch started in 2006 training camp, when Coach Bob Stoops dismissed starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and guard J.D. Quinn after it was learned the players had been paid for work not performed at a local car dealership.

That bit of distraction was followed by a September trip to Oregon in which Oklahoma was -- by all credible accounts -- robbed of victory by a Pacific 10 Conference officiating crew that was subsequently suspended for its performance.

Oklahoma would somehow rally to win nine consecutive games and the Big 12 Conference title despite playing seven games without star tailback Adrian Peterson, who broke his collarbone Oct. 14 at the end of a 53-yard touchdown run against Iowa State.

Then came the Fiesta Bowl, and that dramatic overtime loss to Boise State, and that Boise State tailback proposing to his girlfriend, and Oklahoma forever becoming the black mustache in this villainous backdrop.

"It's going to make a great movie," Ruf/Nek Myers said, "but I'm not watching it."

Another Ruf/Nek described the post-Fiesta Bowl scene back on campus:

"People would not talk," Busch said. "It was like someone died."

In July, just as Oklahoma learned how to master remote-control jumps over Fiesta Bowl highlights on ESPN, the NCAA dropped the "failure to monitor" bomb stemming from the car dealership scandal.

The school was ordered to vacate eight wins from 2005, expunging the record from history books while dropping Stoops' career win total from 86 to 78.

The school would lose two scholarships for 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

The sanctions were major, meant to send a message, but seemingly not contention-damaging.

"They didn't do anything to Oklahoma to keep them from winning," said Switzer, whose Oklahoma program drew far more punitive NCAA damages two decades ago.

Still, the school's reputation was further impugned after years of image restoration led by Athletic Director Joe Castiglione.

Do fair-minded people believe the program came clean?

"There are those who don't and those who do," Stoops said this week. "So in the end we can't worry about it."

The school is appealing the sanctions, with one official saying final resolution might not come until December. Now in his ninth year at Oklahoma, Stoops is pushing the program forward. He has been hyper-competitive almost from the crib, so it's hard to imagine there being more hitch in Stoops' step -- but there is.

"There really isn't anything to hinder us now," Stoops said between whistle blows at the end of Monday's practice. "To me, the distraction was last year."

Stoops rescued a sanctions-sullied program and brought home Oklahoma's seventh national title in 2000. But last season may have been his best coaching job.

After the Oregon fiasco, he called his team together and said it had a decision to make.

"I told them, 'If you want your excuse,' it's there," Stoops said.

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