In just the third year of the BCS, a 40-year-old with no head-coaching experience took a downtrodden power from a historical low point to one of its highs.
Ever since, no coach in college football has defined the BCS era more than Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.
Next week, when the Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Stoops will be making his ninth BCS bowl appearance in 15 years.
That’s more than Alabama coach Nick Saban.
More than former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
More than, well, anyone.
"[The Sooners] always play with tremendous toughness and they’re always very well coached," said Saban, who will be making his seventh BCS bowl appearance. "This will be a challenging game for us, no doubt."
Saban might have constructed a dynasty at Alabama, with five BCS bowl trips in the past six years, including three national championships, but since capturing the BCS’ third national title in 2000, Stoops has been Mr. BCS. And he has made Oklahoma the model of consistency through the entire BCS era, which, four days after the Sugar Bowl, will finally meet its end.
The BCS games themselves haven’t always been kind to Stoops, who holds a 3-5 record in those games. He also has lost his past three national title trips, including the 2003 Sugar Bowl to Saban’s LSU Tigers.
In fact, of coaches with more than three BCS bowl appearances, Stoops joins Bobby Bowden (1-5), Frank Beamer (1-4) and Lloyd Carr (1-3) as the only ones with losing records.
Avoiding a sixth BCS loss won’t be easy for Stoops, either. The Sooners are two-touchdown underdogs to Alabama.
But Stoops' knack for coaching his teams into BCS games has been unmatched. Stoops has won more conference titles than any current active coach. And winning conference titles has been the best -- and sometimes only -- path to a BCS game.
And if Stoops can pull off the upset in the Sugar, he will join more rare company.
Stoops beat Florida State in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
He beat Arkansas in the 2001 Cotton Bowl.
He beat Washington State in the 2002 Rose Bowl.
And, he beat Connecticut in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, after earlier losses there to Boise State and West Virginia.
With a victory in the Sugar, Stoops would join former Penn State coach Joe Paterno as the only coaches with victories in those five major bowls.
With an upset of Alabama, Oklahoma also would become the first school with wins in all four BCS bowl sites. A day later in the Discover Orange Bowl, Ohio State also would have the chance to hit for the cycle.
The Buckeyes, however, have needed two coaches, Tressel and Urban Meyer, to come to the brink of achieving the feat.
The Sooners have only needed Stoops.
Oklahoma probably should have been in the Sugar last season. At 10-2 with a strong finish, the Sooners were the Sugar's top at-large selection then, too. But because of its ranking, Northern Illinois got an automatic BCS berth, which ultimately knocked Oklahoma down to the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma didn’t win a Big 12 title this season. But this season, as much as any other, underscores how, under Stoops, the Sooners seemingly have always found a way into the BCS.
A month ago, a BCS bowl looked like a pipe dream. The Sooners were coming off an embarrassing 41-12 loss at Baylor. They had injury problems and quarterback issues.
But as a road underdog, Oklahoma bounced back and knocked off Kansas State, which had won four in a row.
Then, the Sooners manufactured a 33-24 win at heavily favored Oklahoma State with only one offensive touchdown. Oklahoma scored touchdowns on a punt return, a fake field goal and a defensive fumble return at the end of the game.
As a result, the Sugar used its at-large selection to take the surging Sooners over Oregon.
Fittingly, as the ball drops on the BCS era, Stoops is back in a BCS bowl.
Where Mr. BCS always seems to be.