GLENDALE, Ariz.—After five straight BCS bowl losses, a five-loss season and a not-so-glamorous trip to the 2009 Sun Bowl, there were questions about whether Oklahoma was still in the national-championship picture.
A convincing win in the Fiesta Bowl should go a long way to remove any doubts.
So what if it was against an overmatched opponent that raised more questions about the BCS system? The ninth-ranked Sooners didn't just end the BCS streak, they stomped all over it and climbed back into the national spotlight by thumping No. 25 Connecticut 48-20 Saturday night.
"We never stopped believing in each other," Oklahoma junior linebacker Travis Lewis said. "We knew we were a special team."
They certainly were against UConn.
Oklahoma (12-2) used its quick-jabbing offense to wobble the Huskies early and the defense hit them with body blows all night to push the BCS losing streak out the door like New Year's Day leftovers.
The Sooners' flashy offense was too much for UConn, helping them jump out to a 14-0 lead after their first two drives and roll up 524 total yards.
Landry Jones escaped the shadow of 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford a little more, setting a school bowl record with 429 yards and three touchdowns on 34-of-49 passing.
All-American Ryan Broyles set a school bowl record with 170 yards receiving and tied another with 13 catches, adding a touchdown, and Cameron Kenney had a big day, catching seven passes for 154 yards and a score.
The defense was simply dominating, making Jordan Todman, the nation's second-leading rusher, work for every yard he got, while scoring two touchdowns on interceptions and holding the Huskies without an offensive touchdown.
It was the kind of overwhelming performance that put Oklahoma back in the national title conversation. And with just eight seniors leaving, the Sooners will likely be one of the favorites next season.
"This season was great," Jones said. "We couldn't have asked for anything better than this, this win and finishing the year strong."
Connecticut's season didn't end quite like it had hoped, but the Huskies (8-4) won't complain too much.
UConn struggled to open the season, then went on a tear, closing with five straight games to claim a share of the Big East championship with Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The Huskies earned the tiebreaker to get the Fiesta Bowl, their first BCS bowl bid and a huge step for a program that's been in the FBS for just nine years.
The loss was tough, but it's another stepping stone on the path to respectability.
"Our kids had a great experience here," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "It is something now that they can strive for each and every year. They know what it takes."
UConn's future isn't quite as clear as Oklahoma's.
Todman, who had 121 yards on 32 hard-nosed carries against Oklahoma, announced after the game that he's declaring for the NFL draft. Edsall, architect of the program for the past dozen years, has been connected to several head coaching jobs and has been linked to the opening at Maryland.
Those are two big losses, but the Huskies have established themselves as a program on the rise, even after their first taste of the BCS went sour.
"We didn't win the game, but there's nothing negative that comes from this," Edsall said. "To be here and to compete the way these kids competed, that says it all."