Games at FSU, OSU will test Sooners
Coach Bob Stoops says Oklahoma is prepared, more experienced in 2011
Oklahoma might own the nation's longest home winning streak, but this season OU's national championship fate will be determined on the road -- starting this weekend in Tallahassee against No. 5 Florida State, and ending with the regular-season finale in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, which is ranked No. 7 right now.
Yes, the Sooners have been unbeatable at Owen Field with Bob Stoops. Only two losses in more than 12 seasons.
But the road has been a different tale.
Since 2005, the Sooners are 15-10 in true road games. With Landry Jones as its starter, OU is just 3-5. Dubious tallies for a program with title aspirations staring down two top-10 road tilts.
But there's reason to believe the road mettle of this team will be stronger than teams past.
"I think we're going in with a much more experienced team," Stoops said. "Usually you are more consistent on the road the older you are -- as long as they're 'good' old players, not 'bad' old players."
OU is loaded with the former.
Even if linebacker Travis Lewis can't go because of a broken big toe, the Sooners will feature 28 offensive and defensive players who have made at least one start -- the highest total of any team in the Stoops era.
Near the top of that list is Jones, making his 26th career start.
In 2009, Jones and the rest of a patchwork offense that was counting on Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham struggled while away from Norman and lost three times on the road.
In 2010, those road woes continued.
The Sooners couldn't run the ball when they needed to. Couldn't stop the run when they had to. Jones turned over the ball too often. And special teams, well, they were a disaster. All of those things led to losses at Missouri and Texas A&M, knocking the Sooners out of the national title picture.
"I think it was a young team -- sometimes as coaches you hate it when it happens -- but the dynamics aren't quite there yet," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "You're still trying to figure out what you do well, what you don't do well, what you need to get better at, what you need to emphasize more."The Sooners, however, grew up just in time. No one more than Jones.[+] EnlargeMatthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's first road test will be Saturday in Tallahassee against No. 5 Florida State.
After throttling Baylor in Waco, OU outgunned the Cowboys in Stillwater 47-41 to capture the South Division title. Jones, who had wilted in Columbia, was brilliant, tossing two last-minute touchdowns to seal the win.
"I think that taught him a lot," Stoops said. "A lot of times a quarterback is judged by what he does in the fourth quarter and whether you win or lose.
"I feel he's more confident and sure of himself. He knows what will be coming at him, he knows if he makes a mistake it isn't the end of the world, just keep playing ball and you can overcome it."
OU has much to overcome this weekend.
The Seminoles have been pointing to this game since getting blasted last season in Norman. They have their most talented team in years. And Doak Campbell Stadium will be a madhouse with ESPN's "College GameDay" on site, and the No. 1 team in the house.
Will the Sooners have the road mettle to cope? Their BCS hopes hinge on it.
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.
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