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.”