Friday, December 13, 2002
FedEx Orange Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Florida State
By Will Weiss
"For some reason, there's a feeling that Oklahoma is playing the No. 1 team, but it's just not so. They're the No. 1 team and we're trying to take what they already have."
--Florida State center Jarad Moon
It's a well-known fact that Florida State is a huge favorite to win the FedEx Orange Bowl against Oklahoma Wednesday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
The contest pits the current power against the former-power-turned juggernaut. It's a familiar scenario to the 1979 and '80 seasons, when Bobby Bowden's upstart Florida State team played Barry Switzer's dominant wishbone teams in consecutive Orange Bowls.
"The written part of it looks very much the same, but they look more like they belong than we did back in those days," said Bowden, coaching in his sixth Orange Bowl.
"At Oklahoma, and in our state, no one is overwhelmed by this," said Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. "Our players and our people are excited to go compete for another national championship."
Despite being the center of attention among the college football media since mid-October, the atmosphere at the Orange Bowl is a bit overwhelming for some of the OU players.
"Not everybody's going to be thinking about Xs and Os," said defensive lineman Michael Thompson.
"You can't be all uptight and serious," said All-American linebacker Rocky Calmus.
Florida State is looking to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Nebraska in 1994 and '95.
"Chris Weinke didn't come back for his last year of college football to simply win the Heisman Trophy, he came back to win another national championship," said ABC studio analyst Terry Bowden.
With two of the most high-powered offenses in the country facing each other, it shapes up to be one of the most exciting title games yet.
|Bobby Bowden and Florida State look to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Nebraska in 1994 and '95.|
When Oklahoma has the ball:
|Mark Mangino is the genius behind Oklahoma's spread attack.|
Oklahoma's offense vs. Florida State's defense presents a meeting of the minds that would make Kreskin proud. The chess match between OU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews could be the best matchup of all.
Mangino devised an offense that revolutionized college football this season when Josh Heupel took the spread to new levels, making insomniacs out of opposing defensive coaches.
With the five-week layoff, Heupel, Quentin Griffin, Curtis Fagan, Andre Woolfolk, Josh Norman and the rest of those weapons should be well rested. Plus, give Mangino and his cohorts more than a month to break down tape, and you have to figure the Sooners will show some new schemes.
"Five or six new trick plays and a few new option plays," said Stoops. "There's a few things you can do that they might not have seen."
Towards the end of the season, teams defended Oklahoma by dropping anywhere from seven to nine men into zone coverage. This forced Heupel to utilize the short pass. In the Big XII Championship Game, Kansas State mixed three- and four-man blitz packages and some zone, but were still unsuccessful.
But Florida State's defense is a more dangerous package, with talent and speed all around, especially on the D-line. Jamal Reynolds and David Warren have combined for 21 of Florida State's 45 sacks, and they will come after Heupel with everything they have.
"Some of the moves have been pretty scary," said Frank Romero, who will go head-to-head with Reynolds. "The first player I think of with some of his moves is Reggie White. He likes to get physical and club you a lot."
"They're outstanding athletes with power and finesse," Mangino said of both Reynolds and Warren. "They're big guys who move very well. They have a little bit of everything."
It all adds up to protecting Heupel, who took a pounding this season.
"If they can get pressure, they can kill us," said OU offensive lineman Scott Kempenich.
Against the speed of this defense, Heupel can ill afford to put too much air under his passes. He fought through elbow pain in his throwing arm the last half of the season, and should be back to 100 percent for Wednesday night.
The bottom line for Oklahoma is to score early. The Sooners outscored opponents 285-101 in the first half, and if they can jump out to a big lead like Miami did on FSU in October, they have a chance to do some damage.
And if Heupel's back to the form he showed against Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska, Florida State could be the fourth giant Oklahoma slays in this magical season.
When Florida State has the ball:
|Wide receiver Atrews Bell is one of several options in Chris Weinke's potent arsenal.|
Florida State lost its leading receiver and its offensive mastermind has accepted another gig. So what? Don't expect those losses to deter the Heisman-winning Ageless Wonder and his bevy of speedsters.
"Are we going to miss Snoop?" said Weinke. "No question about it. You can't take someone like that out of your lineup and not miss him. But this team has other guys who will step up."
Like wide receiver Robert Morgan, who is back in the lineup after missing the final three games with a broken toe. Anquan Boldin and Atrews Bell have combined for 78 receptions and 16 touchdowns this season, and Travis Minor has 42 catches out of the backfield. In other words, Weinke's options are just as vast as they were prior to the mishaps.
"I don't feel we're panicking," said Bell, second on the team with 10 TD catches. "We still have the same quarterback. Just like last year, there was a feeling among other people of, 'What are you going to do now?' But we know these guys can play, they just haven't had the same opportunity."
"We've always said that one man's adversity leads to another man's opportunity," Bowden said.
As for Richt, he is still calling the plays, but the game plan is well in place. Weinke has run this offense for three years now, and is virtually automatic. The guy to watch is Minor. With the scatback healthy, don't be surprised to see him become a primary option.
Oklahoma's defense is an underrated group that makes plays. The Sooners boast the ninth best pass defense in the nation, eighth in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. In all, the Sooners have forced 33 turnovers and returned five interceptions for touchdowns.
"We've been underestimated the whole season," said safety Roy Williams. "We're used to it. We're not worried about it."
There are potential trouble spots for the Sooners, however. Oklahoma's defensive line doesn't possess the quickness and size of Miami, which puts added pressure on linebackers Rocky Calmus, Torrance Marshall and Roger Steffen to fill the gaps, both in stopping the run and defending the pass. It's nothing new for this linebacking corps. The group spearheaded OU's romp over Nebraska and Marshall's interception clinched the win over Texas A&M.
The starters in the secondary are strong defenders, but Oklahoma may not have the depth to keep up with Florida State if the 'Noles go to four or five wide. If a linebacker is forced into lining up in the slot opposite a back or a wide receiver, Weinke will carve them up.
Neither team is underestimating the other, and both teams understand the magnitude of this game. For a senior-laden Florida State team, this may be its last title run for a couple of years. And for Oklahoma, a win could signify the rebirth of a legendary program.
News and notes:The last time the oddsmakers benefited FSU to this degree heading into the Orange Bowl was 1993 against Nebraska, when FSU came in as 17 ½-point favorites, and narrowly escaped with a 18-16 victory.
Following the Indianapolis-Miami Wild Card Game Saturday, Pro Player Stadium will be resodded for the Orange Bowl.
"It's just cosmetic," said stadium president Bruce Shulze. "It's a multitude of paintings and logos, and after a while, the old painting bleeds through."
In what may be an omen for Oklahoma, the Sooners have been practicing at nearby Barry University, prompting a slew of jokes about the legendary OU coach.
"I'd feel better if the university were named after him," said Bob Stoops.
Both teams harbor rich histories in the Orange Bowl: Oklahoma is 10-4; Florida State is 3-2.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series, 3-1, including 2-0 at the Orange Bowl.
Quote of the Week: "I think we're the best country in the team, but everybody doesn't think like me."
--Florida State senior linebacker Brian Allen
Will Weiss is the assistant editor of BCSfootball.com.