BCS title game: How Oklahoma will win
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As he walked into Dolphin Stadium earlier this week, Bob Stoops couldn’t help but get nostalgic. Just nine years ago his Oklahoma Sooners had won a national championship on this same field, and now the memories were flooding Stoops’ mind as he gazed across the field.
Then, suddenly, it all stopped.
“What happened in the past,” he said, “doesn’t matter now.”
Indeed, as appreciative as they are of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship, folks in Norman won’t be satisfied unless the Sooners win another one. That chance will come Thursday when Stoops’ squad faces Florida in one of the most anticipated title games in recent memory.
“Whether you’re at the game or watching at home, you’re going to be in for quite a show,” linebacker Travis Lewis said. “I think all of us are tired of talking about it. We’re ready to play.”
The Sooners are hoping to reverse a dreadful trend of postseason performances that have nearly caused “Big Game Bob” to lose his nickname. Oklahoma has lost its last four BCS bowl games, including two in the national championship.
This team, though, might be different. Led by Heisman winner Sam Bradford, the Sooners are the highest-scoring team in the modern era of college football, averaging 54 points per game while touting a defense that ranked no lower than third in the Big 12 in nearly every statistical category.
Stoops’ teams have averaged nearly 11 wins per season during his 10-year stint in Norman, but this group might be his best yet.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team and we’ve accomplished a lot of great things,” safety Nic Harris said. “But I think the main reason we’re here is because we’re a family. I can’t imagine a team being as close as this one.”
The Sooners will need every bit of that unity and togetherness to defeat Florida, which is every bit as scary as Oklahoma. Stoops and his assistants have no doubt devised a clever game plan, but here are five things that could help Oklahoma emerge victorious:
As in the first quarter. Let’s face it: The Sooners might enter this game a little tight. They’ve been reminded all week about their back-to-back bowl game losses against West Virginia and Boise State – as well as consecutive setbacks in the national title game in 2003 and 2004. Scoring early could ease some of the Sooners’ tension and enable them to relax and play their game. It would also put Florida in an unfamiliar situation. The Gators have outscored opponents 167-20 in the first quarter this season.
Pressure Tim Tebow
The Florida quarterback doesn’t make many mistakes, but when he does it’s usually because of pressure from defenders coming around the edge or bursting through the middle. This won’t be an easy task for Oklahoma, whose defense has been banged up all season. Star tackle DeMarcus Granger will miss the game after having back surgery and linebacker Ryan Reynolds was lost for the season after injuring himself against Texas. Defensive end Auston English and linebacker Austin Box will play, but they won’t be 100 percent. Florida has faced far better defenses than the one it will face Thursday.
Protect Sam Bradford
No quarterback in the country is as accurate as this year’s Heisman winner, who could probably win his share of teddy bears at the County Fair. Still, one thing that’s rarely mentioned is that Bradford plays behind one of the best – if not the best – offensive lines in all of college football, meaning he usually has all day to throw. Oklahoma, though, also plays in a conference with suspect defensive units. Duke Robinson, Phil Loadholt and the other guys in the trenches haven’t faced many players this season with the size and athleticism of the guys from Florida.
Improve on special teams
The Sooners’ return units have been atrocious this season. It cost them in their only loss against Texas, and it could hurt them again against Florida, which features a standout kick and punt returner in Brandon James, who has returned two punts for touchdowns. Just as scary for Oklahoma is that the Gators have blocked eight kicks this season. In a game pitting evenly matched teams, the little things could make the biggest difference.
It’s been obvious this week that the Sooners are sick and tired of the national media gushing over Tebow and criticizing both their defense and the defensive units in the Big 12. Oklahoma is taking it personally – and that’s good. The Sooners need to play with a chip on their shoulder in this one. Talent alone won’t be enough to win this game – especially considering all of their injuries and Florida’s speed. Oklahoma needs to win the mental battle against the Gators. It needs to realize it’s playing not just for the pride of its school, but of its conference.