Top-ranked Sooners face early test on title quest

To win his first national championship at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops
had to get past defending champion Florida State in the Orange
Bowl.

Just over a decade later, his top-ranked Sooners (1-0) are
chasing another title and the No. 5 Seminoles (2-0) are once again
standing in the way – only it’s much earlier in the season this
time.

Oklahoma meets Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday night in
the second game of the season featuring two top-five teams.

”It’s a test, but all of us that have come to OU, we want to
play in those big games, and this is just a steppingstone to the
national championships, where every team in the country wants to
get to,” safety Aaron Colvin said Tuesday.

”So, we have to win games like this in order to play the
best.”

Stoops said it’s hard for him to quantify how big the game will
be with so much of the season left to play. It’s the first time
since 1988 that the Sooners will go on the road to face a
nonconference opponent ranked in the top five.

The last time was in 1988, when third-ranked Oklahoma lost 23-7
to No. 5 Southern California.

”It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to show what kind of
team we are early,” offensive tackle Lane Johnson said.

”Florida State’s a great team, and it’s going to show our true
colors.”

The Sooners will get top defensive tackle Stacy McGee and
starting receiver Kenny Stills back after both served suspensions
during the season-opening 47-14 rout of Tulsa.

They’re expecting Florida State’s best shot after winning last
year’s meeting 47-17 last September in Norman, when coach Jimbo
Fisher’s new staff was just getting settled.

Oklahoma has the advantage of having last week off, and coaches
have been blaring the Seminoles’ war chant over speakers to get
players ready for what they’ll face at Doak Campbell Stadium.

”I say this in a humble way. When we show up it’s usually that
way. Wherever we go, we don’t walk in and it’s all subdued and
nobody’s excited to see us,” Stoops said.

”It’ll be, I’m sure, exciting and wild. But we’ve seen that.
Hopefully we’ll respond to it the right way and handle it and
perform well.”

Stoops’ Sooners have faced their fair share of nonconference
tests over his first 12 years in charge, but the schedule has never
fallen quite like this.

Alabama, Washington and UCLA were all unranked when those road
trips popped up on the schedule. Oregon and Miami were in the top
20 when the Sooners went there and lost.

Florida State is on the upswing after rebounding from last
year’s loss in Norman to win the ACC Atlantic Division.

”I love it. That’s why I came to Oklahoma,” Colvin said. ”I
knew I would play in big games like this.

”It really doesn’t matter if it’s the beginning of the season
or at the end. As long as we have them, I love them.”

Stoops isn’t as solidly behind playing such tough nonconference
games if other title contenders don’t follow suit, only because
he’s seen the risks and the rewards.

The Sooners’ tough schedules have given them a BCS bump past
Auburn into the title game in 2004 and past Texas into the Big 12
championship game and eventually the BCS championship game in 2008.
It also helped Oklahoma survive a loss in the Big 12 championship
game in 2003 to still play for the national title that year.

His most glaring example of the drawbacks came two years ago,
when Oklahoma lost to BYU and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford
got injured in the process.

”It’s great for college football,” Stoops said, justifying the
games beyond just BCS implications. ”It’s great exposure. Everyone
is going to talk about your program for a week leading up to the
game. Fans love it.”

Otherwise, he’d say, ”Let’s get rid of these things.”

But the Sooners aren’t going to weaken their schedule any time
soon. LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Tennessee and TCU are all on the
schedule over the next eight years.

”I think it’s something that helps a program. I think we all
look forward to games like this,” safety Javon Harris said.

”It’s exciting, just being able to go there and prove yourself.
I don’t really see it as just putting it out there on the line
because I honestly think that we can go there and take care of
business.”