- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

MIAMI When undefeated Oklahoma takes the field tonight against No. 3 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, the Sooners will become the first No. 1 team in bowl history to take a snap as a double-digit underdog.

The prophets in Las Vegas added some serious spice to this week's title game twitter when they installed the once-beaten Seminoles as 11-point favorites over the flawless Sooners. To Oklahoma, the line has become a galling rallying cry. To Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, the line has brought on a sudden case of incredulity. But to the rest of the college football world, the huge spread comes as absolutely no surprise.

"I'm not saying we deserve to be favored to win by three touchdowns, but I can certainly understand why most people are picking us to win," Florida State senior cornerback Tay Cody said Monday. "We're Florida State. We are college football. We're here every year. They're the new kid on the block. Until they prove otherwise, of course we're the favorite."

Such talk has set the Sooners on slow boil. From coach Bob Stoops to kicker Tim Duncan, the Sooners have developed quite a complex in the disrespect department.

"We know nobody gives us a chance not their players, not the press and not the fans," outspoken Oklahoma safety J.T. Thatcher said earlier this week. "That's fine. Ain't nobody got to believe but us. You know, I'm actually glad that we're such big underdogs because that's kept us real focused on the business at hand. We've got something to prove, and we can't wait to get out there and do it."

In some respects, it seems outrageous that the oddsmakers and most of the nation feel Oklahoma (12-0) still has something to prove. After all, this is the same Oklahoma team that features the Heisman runner-up in quarterback Josh Heupel, the nation's best corps of receivers and two All-American linebackers (Torrance Marshall and Rocky Calmus) that spent the season reminding everyone in Norman of two-time Butkus Award winner Brian Bosworth.

This is the same Oklahoma team that demolished a top-10 Texas team 63-14 on Oct. 7 and whipped then-No. 2 Kansas State (41-31) and then-No. 1 Nebraska (21-14) in back-to-back weeks as an encore. That feat marked the first time a team has beaten Nos. 1 and 2 in consecutive games. And yet this team, which won a national-best six games against bowl teams this season, is nearly a two-touchdown dog to a once-beaten Florida State team that hails from the lowly ACC?

"Yep. And guess what? We were underdogs all season, and sometimes by a lot of points," Stoops said yesterday. "We were a 10-point underdog to Texas and a 9-point underdog to Kansas State. So if the oddsmakers were always right, we wouldn't be sitting here right now we'd be 7-4 or 8-3. But instead we're 12-0, and we couldn't be more confident… . Let's just say our guys have heard all the talk and know all about the point spread, and they're very ready to butt heads against the favorites."

As the coach of those favorites, Bowden has been concerned all week about the motivational lift the point spread and national predictions might give the Sooners. Yesterday, Bowden again tried to play the confused diplomat when the issue came up.

"They're the No. 1 team in the nation, you know. It's us trying to beat them," the 71-year-old coach said. "I don't understand. How can we be favored?"

Bowden answered his own question moments later when asked to comment on Florida State's current station in the college football pantheon.

"Well, the NCAA came out with something about five or six years ago where they started naming dynasties that had been in American college football," Bowden said. "I think they listed about eight teams, and they listed Florida State as one of them. So something we've always told our players is, 'Men, you're the only team living in a dynasty. Notre Dame had a dynasty. Miami had a dynasty and so on, but you are living in a dynasty.' "

Therein lies the rather obvious reason the 'Noles (11-1) are picked to best the Sooners tonight. Florida State, not Oklahoma, is the team that has finished in the top four of the final AP poll in 13 straight seasons. It's the Seminoles who now have been involved in the first three BCS finales. It's the Seminoles who feature the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (Chris Weinke) and the nation's finest defensive player in Lombardi Award winner Jamal Reynolds. It's the Seminoles who have won two national titles in the last seven seasons. And it's the Seminoles who have so much talent stockpiled in Tallahassee that they had the luxury of redshirting 14 high school All-Americans this season.

Forget the 3-point loss at Miami two months ago. No program in the country can rival Florida State's unwavering success over the past decade. The Sooners can scream themselves silly about disrespect. They can burst blood vessels working themselves into an emotional frenzy about tonight's game. But emotion rarely trumps an overwhelming collection of raw talent.

Quite simply, the oddsmakers weren't concerned about respect when they "slighted" the undefeated Sooners with the point spread; they were concerned about reality.


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