Understanding that a marquee victory can help clear a path to the BCS title game, Oklahoma has been eying its matchup with Florida State for months.
It has likely been on the minds of the Seminoles for the last year.
In the first test for each program, the top-ranked Sooners travel to Tallahassee for the first time Saturday night to face No. 5 Florida State, which hopes to exact some revenge from last season’s blowout loss in Norman.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have the Sooners as three-point road favorites, with the total set at 55.
It has been 53 weeks since then-No. 10 Oklahoma crushed the No. 17 Seminoles 47-17 in Jimbo Fisher’s second game as coach for Florida State. Landry Jones completed 30 of 40 passes for 380 yards with four touchdowns, and the Sooners amassed an opponent season-high 487 yards against the Seminoles in the first meeting between the programs since the 2001 Orange Bowl.
“They blew us out bad last year,” said quarterback EJ Manuel, who replaced an ineffective Christian Ponder in the second half of that game. “They played great. Last year was their year. We definitely want to go out there and play well this year.”
The Sooners went on to finish 12-2, beat Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl and end the year No. 6 in the poll.
“We have been hearing about this game all year and all summer,” Oklahoma sophomore defensive back Aaron Colvin said. “It is going to be one of the biggest games of the year, so we need to be ready to play.”
After the humiliating loss in Oklahoma, the Seminoles rallied to win their next five games and finish with 10 victories – their most since 2003.
“Hopefully our team has grown and we’ve gotten better,” Fisher said. “We know our players better, they know us better. They know our scheme better.”
Florida State’s defense has been outstanding this year, yielding 275 yards in opening with two wins, but that has come against inferior opponents. The Seminoles are coming off last Saturday’s 62-10 win over Charleston Southern after beating Louisiana-Monroe 34-0 in their opener.
Stopping Jones and the Oklahoma offense obviously won’t be as easy.
Jones completed 35 of 47 passes for 375 yards with a TD in the Sooners’ only game of the season, a 47-14 win over Tulsa on Sept. 3, and he’s averaging 376.0 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in his last six games – all wins. He needs 113 yards to pass 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford’s total of 8,403 for No. 1 on the school’s career passing list.
“We can’t concern ourselves with the hype,” Fisher said. “You go do what you know and play the game.”
Florida State has the advantage of playing the rematch at Doak Campbell Stadium, where it has won 10 of 11, but Oklahoma benefits from having time off since defeating the Golden Hurricane.
Oklahoma has been No. 1 in each of the first three polls and is the first team to hold the top ranking 100 times since the poll began in 1936. The Sooners, who get top defensive tackle Stacy McGee and starting receiver Kenny Stills back after both served suspensions in the opener, are hoping to hold on to the top spot and get back to the BCS title game for the first time in three years.
“This is just a steppingstone to the national championships, where every team in the country wants to get to,” Colvin said. “So, we have to win games like this in order to play the best.”
Fisher understands the importance but doesn’t want his team putting too much stock into the game.
“It’ll be a measuring stick,” he said. “It’s not the season, but it can be a great building block.”
Manuel has passed for 581 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in the first two games, but the ground game hasn’t overwhelmed.
James Wilder Jr. leads the Seminoles in rushing with 76 yards – which all came in one quarter – and Fisher has made some adjustments to the offensive line to help get the running game in gear.
“It’s a work in progress,” Fisher said. “We’ll get better.”
The Seminoles have lost five straight to Oklahoma since winning the first meeting in 1964, but the teams have only played twice since 1981.
This will be the Sooners’ first road game against a top five non-conference opponent since they were ranked third and lost 23-7 to No. 5 Southern California in 1988.
Oklahoma is 1-5 ATS in its last six games as a road favorite and 2-5 ATS in its last seven overall road encounters.
The ‘under’ is 10-4 in Florida State’s last 14 overall outings and 6-2 in its last eight home contests.