Sooners in need of statement win against Notre Dame

BY foxsports • September 23, 2013

NORMAN, Okla. - Forget this, just-like-any-other-game, ridiculous coach speak we're being fed this week.

I'm not eating it.

Saturday against Notre Dame is OU's best chance for a signature win since beating Florida State in 2011.

It's OU's lone chance this year to become relevant and a real player in the college football world.

Beating Texas is big. The Sooners have done that twice since winning at FSU. Winning against OSU is nice. OU did that last year and earned a Cotton Bowl bid.

But winning against Notre Dame, any time, any season in any environment is the game-changer that has eluded the Sooners the past two years.

And the Sooners gotta have this one. Real bad, because if they lose to Notre Dame, they still may become Big 12 champs, but they won't be on the radar when it comes to the best in college football.

"You don't want to define a season by one game, but this game could point our season in one direction or another," OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "We all realize the magnitude this game will have on our entire season."

The magnitude it has is layered and dynamic, but is also as simple as this:

Winning against Notre Dame won't put OU in the national title game, but losing against the Irish will certainly eliminate the Sooners.

In a year where the Big 12 has zero notable non-conference wins and in a  league littered with first-year quarterbacks and teams that are good, but not great, a one-loss Big 12 team will not have the kind of resume' to prop itself up against the Southeastern Conference powers.

Now this game will have nothing to with whether OU wins or loses the Big 12 championship, but it has everything to do with the national perception of the Sooners and their place in the college football world. No one is saying this Notre Dame is as good as the one that ran past OU with a big fourth quarter last year in Norman, but the visibility of winning on national TV against the Irish carries with it a bonus few get to enjoy.

Not only would the Sooners undoubtedly jump from No. 14 into the top 10, it would pump some life into a mundane Big 12, boost up coach Bob Stoops and set up for OU as the team to beat in the Big 12.

Yeah. That big.

That's what Ikard was talking about and that's what athletic director Joe Castiglione wanted when he scheduled this series against Notre Dame, lined up Alabama, Oregon, Miami and Florida State in past seasons and locked in games against Tennessee and Ohio State in the future.

The idea is to have games that matter and that put OU in the best-possible position to make itself a player in the title picture. The idea is to have big moments, signature games and opportunities for greatness you don't get when you beat Louisiana Monroe and Tulsa.

So, while Bob Stoops might tell you this game is like any other, it doesn't mean you have to believe it. He doesn't, or else why would it even get scheduled? If playing Notre Dame was just like playing Ball State, OU would schedule Ball State every year. If winning the Big 12 title is the main goal, like defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said, then there would be no benefit at all to going on the road to Notre Dame or anywhere that could possibly end in a loss.

"Winning this game, one way or the other, isn't going to do much for the rest of the season," Mike Stoops said Monday. But he's wrong. Not only will winning this game impact the rest of the season for the Sooners, it's a total-makeover opportunity for Stoops and his team.

It's a chance to distance themselves from a dreadful defense in the past two years. It's a chance to improve on a 1-9 all-time record against Notre Dame and a chance to see if quarterback Blake Bell is as good as he was when he dominated Tulsa for 413 yards passing.

Most notably It's a chance for everyone to see how good this team is.

"We don't really care," Bob Stoops said of making sure his players knew the tradition of Notre Dame football, making sure he gave the Irish the proper respect while also making sure his players realize it's just another game.

"We don't really care. We go to a lot of places. We play in a lot of stadiums."

He's right about that. The Sooners schedule tough games regularly.

But they don't get the chances like this one very often.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK


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