OU in the Rose Bowl: The Sooners (and their passionate fan base) crave an elusive national championship

December 31, 2017 GMT

LOS ANGELES – For all of Oklahoma’s victory celebrations and conference championships, there’s one fact that still leaves a mark on one of college football’s top football programs.

OU only has one national championship over the past 32 years.

The 2000 national championship trophy sits prominently in the Barry Switzer Center and it’s become a generational title.

Oklahoma has positioned itself for another run at an elusive crown, beginning with Monday’s Rose Bowl game against Georgia. Survive that College Football Playoff semifinal game and a Jan. 8 contest with either Clemson or Alabama will determine this season’s national champion.

The OU players and its fan base are both starved for a CFP national championship. The previous six titles (1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975 and 1985) came in spurts.

“The tradition at OU is something that is special, so a national title is obviously the most important thing,” Baker Mayfield said during Saturday’s media day in downtown Los Angeles. “It would be huge for our fan base. They’ve been talking about it.

“After our Big 12 game, they kept saying, ‘two more, two more’ and that’s just the truth. We have our eyes set on the big one, but to get there we have to take care of business right now, and that’s all that matters.”

Seizing the opportunity may be the team’s motto.

Former OU defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux remains haunted by one loss.

Oklahoma’s 2003 season ended with a Sugar Bowl defeat to LSU. A victory would have meant a national championship, but the loss has also provided a long-lasting bruise for the former Sooners defensive end.

The game still hurts.

“I think about it over and over and over again,” Thibodeaux said on Saturday. “You think ‘if I could have made this play’ or ‘if things could have gone that way.’”

“You know the outcome but in your mind you play it different. It bugs you. You lose sleep over it.”

Thibodeaux, now the Sooners’ defensive ends coach, has shared his experiences with his team. Opportunities like this must be seized, he said, but the journey is anything but easy.

“(Winning a national championship) would be huge,” Thibodeaux said. “For one, to be able to be a part of a coaching staff and watch these guys grow – to set out a goal and watch them do it – it would be pretty special.”

Cautionary like all college coaches, Thibodeaux then immediately reels in his thought to place focus on Georgia.

“At the end of the day, we have to continue to do what we’ve been doing to get to this point, which is being physical and playing smart football and executing on game day,” he said.

Dimitri Flowers, like Thibodeaux, is still bothered by a missed opportunity. The OU senior recalled the Sooners’ last CFP appearance, which was a 37-17 semifinal loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

“I still have the taste in my mouth from two years ago when we lost in the final game, and to know that I was that close but never got to feel it, that’s stuck in my head since then,” Flowers said.

Flowers feels like this year’s team has a different demeanor from that 2015 squad, which could help the Sooners reach their ultimate goal.

“I think it’s how close this team is. When you look at this team, offense, defense, special teams, it’s really a cohesive group, and I feel like going through all the stuff that we’ve been through, all the hard workouts, all the long practices, two-a-days, we got so close that we’re not going to let anything stop us,” Flowers said.