- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

All in.

The highest-stakes game of the college football season to date takes place Saturday night in Norman when No. 5 Oklahoma (9-1) hosts No. 2 Texas Tech (10-0) in a matchup likely to decide both the Big 12‘s BCS title-game representative and the Heisman Trophy.

“We haven’t had a game like this inside our stadium since 2000 when Nebraska came in [No. 1 and left with a 31-14 defeat],” Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It’s a big game.”

That’s an understatement. A Texas Tech victory would leave the Red Raiders only a pair of Big 12 speed bumps (vs. Baylor and Missouri) from a date in the BCS title game (Jan. 8), as well as virtually consummating the Heisman quest of Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell. The senior leads the nation in passing yards (4,077) and tops every current Heisman poll.

“[Harrell] has a thorough understanding of everything they do,”Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He can virtually go back there [in the pocket] blindfolded and point to where all of his guys are supposed to be on every route. And if you give him any time at all, he’s incredibly accurate.”

Thanks to Texas Tech’s offensive line, Harrell has enjoyed the luxury of time more than perhaps any quarterback in the nation. The Red Raiders have allowed just five sacks on 499 passing attempts this season, by far the lowest number per attempt in the nation.

While the Sooners have succeeded at pressuring opposing quarterbacks during Stoops’ tenure, they have struggled somewhat in that capacity this season, largely because of injuries. Oklahoma faces the task of slowing the Red Raiders’ offense without its top two defenders. Junior middle linebacker and captain Ryan Reynolds suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the third quarter of the Sooners’ 45-35 loss to Texas (Oct. 11). Junior defensive end and preseason Big 12 defensive player of the pear Auston English won’t return to the lineup until next week at the earliest after he sprained his knee in Oklahoma’s 62-28 thrashing of Nebraska on Nov. 1.

“We don’t get to go out and claim people through free agency, so it’s going to be the guys we have [trying to pressure Harrell],” Stoops said.

Perhaps the personnel most capable of quieting Harrell reside on the Oklahoma offense, where sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford directs the nation’s top-scoring unit (51.4). Narrowly trailing Harrell in most Heisman polls, Bradford leads the nation in touchdown passes (38) and could vault Harrell in the Heisman chase with a statement performance in an Oklahoma victory.

More importantly, Oklahoma would jump into title-game pole position with a victory over Texas Tech. While the Sooners trail Texas (10-1) in the BCS standings, Oklahoma would likely leap the Longhorns (who finish with pedestrian Texas A&M;) should the Sooners engineer victories over ranked foes Texas Tech and at No. 11 Oklahoma State (Nov. 29). A three-way tie in the brutal Big 12 South would send the highest ranked team in the BCS standings (likely Oklahoma) to the Big 12 title game (Dec. 6 vs. Missouri) with a ticket to Miami on the line. In all likelihood, the winner of the SEC Championship game between No. 1 Alabama (11-0) and No. 3 Florida (9-1) will await the highest ranked team from the Big 12 South in the final BCS standings in the national championship game.

The oddsmakers fancy the Sooners, who have been installed as seven-point favorites over Texas Tech thanks to Oklahoma’s incomparable home record under Stoops. Oklahoma boasts the nation’s longest home winning streak (22 games) and has posted a home mark of 59-2 under Stoops.

Said McCoy: “It’s kind of like if somebody comes over to your house. They are there to visit. If they come over and try to take the remote from you or try to start running the house, you’re not going to let that happen. This is our house, and we aren’t going to let anyone walk in here and take over.”

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