Fla St visit stirs memories of Sooners' 2000 title
Trace the origins of Oklahoma's most recent rise to national powerhouse status and you'll find Florida State.
Ten years after the programs met in the Orange Bowl with the national championship on the line, the Sooners are getting a trip down memory lane in preparation for a visit from the No. 17 Seminoles on Saturday.
The landmark 13-2 victory re-established Oklahoma as a force, eliminating the doubts that lingered even after an undefeated run through the regular season that included a victory against top-ranked Nebraska.
The Sooners had averaged only six wins per season in the decade before the 2000 season and proved they were back by beating Florida State, the defending champion. The Seminoles had finished among the top four teams in the AP poll for 14 straight seasons before that Orange Bowl and entered the game as nearly a double-digit favorite.
''For us, it was more or less trying to prove something. And now, once that happened, nobody really looks at Oklahoma as underdogs or like they don't have the players to do this or the players to do that,'' said Derrick Strait, a starting cornerback on the 2000 Sooners.
''I'm glad that we were able to do that because nobody ever respected us, even all the way up to the national championship game being undefeated.''
Since then, respect has never been an issue. Coach Bob Stoops has kept the Oklahoma in the national championship mix more years than not and distanced the program from the mediocrity of the previous decade with five more Big 12 championships and a handful of BCS bowl appearances.
''You look around at this place now, it's not built on one team or one season, but I think that certainly jump-started the success this team had during the course of that decade,'' said Josh Heupel, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2000 as a quarterback and now coaches the position for Oklahoma.
''A program that had been down recently because of some things that had happened in the past and to have a resurgence like that obviously catapulted us into the national spotlight again and paid huge dividends for us in recruiting and those types of things. It had a dramatic impact on this program.''
Stoops said the best characteristics of that championship team were toughness and smarts, but he's not about to judge whether his seventh-ranked Sooners have those qualities so early in this season. That's part of how he's learned to deal with the success that's followed in the years that followed that first showdown with the Seminoles.
He got his first bunch of Sooners to buy in with grueling preseason workouts that they'd never experienced before. Linebacker Rocky Calmus remembers teammates losing their lunch, only to be told, ''That's just the warm up.''
''For the first two years here, I was trying to convince our guys they could do something like that. Then afterward, you get a bunch of recruits who come in and think just because they put the jersey on, it's going to happen,'' Stoops said.
''Now, you're convincing them, 'Wait a minute. You haven't done anything. You've got to earn that.'''
While the Sooners got no attention as a title contender after going 7-5 and losing in the 1999 Independence Bowl, it's practically a rite of the preseason these days. They've been ranked no lower than 10th in the preseason poll every year since then.
''Once you do it, then everyone talks about it the beginning of the year,'' Stoops said. ''Well, no one was talking about that with us until late in the year. So, it is different. It's a whole different mindset.''
Since winning that Orange Bowl, Oklahoma has averaged almost 11 wins per season but is 0-3 in championship games.
''It's bittersweet watching the guys and being so close to winning a couple more,'' Calmus said. ''You still have our little legacy, our little moment out there, but we'd sure love to get a few more up on the billboard.''