While ESPN will likely be spending its time this Saturday morning touting Florida State’s Visit to Norman, Oklahoma as a title fight rematch from 2000, the reality of this game – this upcoming weekend’s best, by the way – is in the seemingly divergent paths these programs are on… in stark contrast to their predecessors a decade ago.
The Oklahoma Sooners have some questions surrounding their presumed dominance of the college football landscape. The Sooners have had many 10+ win seasons in the past decade, but the program has had blemishes, too, and is also coming off of an 8-5 season it would just as soon forget. After struggling with Utah State unexpectedly in the first game of this season, it is fair to the Sooners have a great deal to prove to fans and pundits alike.
Ten years ago, it was the Seminoles that were the dominant program teetering on the edge of regression. While the Sooners have filled those shoes thus far in 2010, the Seminoles have quietly stepped into the underdog role Oklahoma relished in 2000.
Sure, the Florida State Seminoles were picked to win their ACC division and even the conference title in some circles. But expectations are still, amazingly, low for this team in its first season without Bobby Bowden and Mickey Andrews at defensive coordinator. Christian Ponder is widely regarded as one of the better quarterbacks currently in the game (much like former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel was in 2000). The team seems to have found some athletes and speed threats like it had in past seasons when the team was dominant. It has only been one week, but this Florida State team just SEEMS different. The players are walking with more confidence and swagger. They seem to believe they can win anywhere at any time. It is exactly the kind of contagious mentality the Sooners used in 2000 to knock the kings of college football of their mountain in the BCS national championships game.
So here we are with the underdog Seminoles hoping to knock off the established power program and reassert itself as a major player in college football. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has rightly stated that this Saturday’s game is an indicator of where his team’s building process is. He is right. But if the team wins, Florida State automatically gets launched into the conversation as a great team again. They will skyrocket up the polls, and Bobby Bowden’s new book will take a nose-dive in sales on Amazon.com. Losing, in this case, is almost easier than winning. A win brings back all of the old, unreasonable expectations. Fisher must be mentally prepared to handle that.
A not completely irrelevant subplot to a game that is full of intrigue before the teams even hit the field is the awkward reuniting of the Stoops’s brothers, Bob – Oklahoma head coach – and his brother Mark, his former defensive coordinator – now in the same position at Florida State. The two playfully discuss in the media what it was like to grow up as competitive people and the all of the interesting and disposable throwaway stories that are written before big game. Friendly and awkward rivalry or not – both men want to win. There is no competition like that which exists within the confines of a family. This is no rivalry game, but both men will prepare for it thoroughly… probably a bit more in depth than Utah State and Samford.
Oklahoma should win this game. The Sooners are ranked higher, have higher expectations, and a host of outstanding, blue chip professional prospects. The Seminoles are fighters again, clawing their way back to national respect. In many ways, this game will decide the status of each program. Are the Seminoles really on the rise? Are the Sooners really in decline? This game is more than just a non-conference matchup, it is a serious benchmark for the health and prominence of these two programs. I can’t wait to find out what happens.