- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- College football's national championship has turned into a political football, which might be why Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sounded very much like a guy standing behind a lectern in a YouTube debate.
No. 9 Oklahoma had just defeated No. 1 Missouri 38-17 Saturday night in the Big 12 Championship Game at the Alamodome. In most seasons, an 11-2 record would get a team a lovely parting gift of a BCS bid. But in a season in which no ranking is safe, it appears likely that a two-loss team will play for the national championship.
That explains why Stoops felt the need to point out that Oklahoma had defeated the top-ranked team in the nation by 21 points on a neutral field.
And point it out again.
And when the moderator wrapped up the news conference by asking Stoops whether he wanted to make one more pitch, Stoops said it for a fifth time.
"Like everybody, I hear it all the time," Stoops said. "Who is playing the best today? Who played the best right now? Heck, I don't see anyone else playing No. 1 in the country, beating them on a neutral field by 21.
"That's about all I can do. Hopefully it matters to somebody."
Compared with the BCS system, the Iowa caucuses are as complicated as a student council election, and the task of the voters and the computers has been made ridiculously difficult this season by highly ranked teams that have refused to play that way.
College football closed out the regular season much as it played the previous three months. The No. 1 team, Missouri, lost by 21, and likely fell from the BCS Championship Game to the Cotton Bowl. The No. 2 team, West Virginia, lost to archrival Pittsburgh 13-9, becoming the 13th top-five team this season to lose to an unranked team.
Their losses turned the BCS standings into a game of chance. Several teams will make a case to play for the national championship, hoping no one will see their flaw.
Ohio State moved from No. 5 to No. 3 last week by not playing. It's possible the Buckeyes will move from No. 3 to No. 1 this week by not playing. The Buckeyes might be hoping not to play Jan. 7 in order to win the national championship. After all, in 1920, Warren Harding won the presidency without leaving the front porch of his Ohio home.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it's not 1920.
No. 4 Georgia and No. 5 Kansas hope to move up, but they -- unlike Ohio State -- will suffer for not playing Saturday. Both teams are ranked higher than their conference champions, No. 7 LSU and No. 9 Oklahoma, respectively, an upside-down situation the voters could rectify.
And don't forget No. 8 USC, which closed with a flourish.
Stoops admitted the absurdity of having to ask for votes.
"I don't like to sit here and boast and try to put it this way and explain the game," Stoops said. "I think all of us coaches are that way, that you are in an awkward position."
And with a comic's timing, Stoops said, "So I'll have one more try at it. No one else played the No. 1 team in the country tonight, either."
The Sooners made their case Saturday night by old-schooling the Tigers. If the spread offense is Now and Missouri ran its record to 11-1 by being the Now team, Oklahoma whipped Missouri with a whole mess of Then.
Oklahoma won by dominating the line of scrimmage, and by dominating the red zone. Take a look at the Sooners' rushing numbers.
In the first quarter, they rushed four times for minus-1 yard and trailed, 3-0.
In the second quarter, they rushed 10 times for 38 yards and a pair of Chris Brown touchdowns, and they went into the half tied, 14-14.
In the third quarter, they rushed eight times for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Sam Bradford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass off play-action. The Sooners led, 28-14.
And in the fourth quarter, they rushed 18 times for 69 yards and, more important, controlled the ball for 12:11 in pulling away to victory.
Bradford completed 18 of 26 passes for 209 yards, but it's telling that seven of the completions, and both of his touchdown passes, went to tight ends Joe Jon Finley (5-34, one TD) and Jermaine Gresham (2-34, one TD).
"A couple of big plays loosened them up and really allowed us to start getting the ball downfield," co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin said.
The other reason Oklahoma dominated this game came inside the 20. In 11 games this season, Missouri had made 60 trips into the red zone, scoring 42 touchdowns and 12 field goals. On Saturday night, the Sooners limited the Tigers to one touchdown and three field goals.
"We got to turn them into touchdowns," Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said. "Set up for field goals, it's great, but when they're scoring, we have to score, as well.
Daniel came into the Alamodome with a chance to win the Heisman Trophy. He didn't take that chance home with him. Daniel completed 23 of 39 passes for 219 yards but failed to throw a touchdown for the first time this season, and he threw an interception that proved costly.
After the Sooners moved ahead 21-14 in the third quarter, Daniel's pass bounced off tight end Martin Rucker's hand and into the arms of Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton, who returned it 26 yards to the Missouri 7. Two plays later, the Sooners led 28-14 and it was all over but the speechifying.
Lofton is one of the few Sooners who eyed his team's situation coldly. Asked to explain why Oklahoma should reach the Allstate BCS Championship Game, Lofton said, "I can't really make the case. We controlled our destiny a couple of weeks ago, and we didn't seal the deal. I'll be happy wherever they put us. If they put us there, great. If not, we'll be happy where we go."
Oklahoma lost two weeks ago at Texas Tech, 34-27, when Bradford suffered a concussion early in the first quarter and didn't return.
"An excuse, yeah, but it's the truth," Stoops said. "So who is playing the best right now is what everybody likes to say. Well, we just played very well for the second time [don't forget, Oklahoma beat Missouri in October, 41-31] against the No. 1 team in the country that you all voted. So hopefully people, when they vote, that matters to them."
He's Bob Stoops, and he approves this message.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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