- Associated Press - Sunday, September 18, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (AP) - In recent years, Oklahoma has been a bully team, emboldened at home against lesser opponents but struggling on the road against teams refusing to cower at the sight of the Sooners.

It has cost their coach, Bob Stoops, the “Big Game Bob” nickname he earned in the first half of his career and made some fans question just how seriously Oklahoma’s current run as the No. 1 team in the country should be taken.

After all, the Sooners under Stoops have lost their last three national championship game appearances and, before getting a gimme against Connecticut in last season’s Fiesta Bowl, five straight BCS bowls overall. Oklahoma also lost at Texas A&M and Missouri last season in games where its high-powered and fast-paced offense faced adversity and couldn’t overcome it.

The Sooners, who have won 37 straight home games, seemed to shed some of those road concerns with a wild 47-41 victory last season at Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 South.

But what happened Saturday night in front of a record crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium was different. In hostile territory against a tough and improving Florida State team, No. 1 Oklahoma proved its mettle and showed it can win a street fight.

“I’m proud of the character we showed in the fourth quarter,” Stoops said. “When the stadium is against you and the momentum is going the other way, and we seized it back.”

The Sooners were slogging along against a Florida State defense that is simply tough to block, with fast ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins and big, quick tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud leading the way.

Oklahoma couldn’t finish off drives that got close to the goal line because they couldn’t run the ball in close quarters and it allowed Florida State to hang around, despite numerous costly mistakes by the Seminoles’ offense and quarterback E.J. Manuel getting knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury in the third quarter.

When Florida State tied it at 13 with 9:32 left in the fourth quarter on a 56-yard touchdown pass on third-and-forever from backup quarterback Clint Trickett to freshman Rashad Greene, the bricks that hold Doak Campbell together must have shook.

And when Florida State had quarterback Landry Jones and the Oklahoma offense in a third-and-12 at the Sooners 41, everything felt lined up for Florida State. It would be another week for Stoops of answering questions about why his team can’t seem to win these kinds of games. And another reason to give the Sooners the Ohio State treatment. Sure, Oklahoma wins its conference all the time, but aren’t the Sooners really overrated?

College football often overvalues single games. And top coaches such as Stoops and elite programs such as Oklahoma end up being judged against unrealistic standards. Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden can attest to this.

Fair or not, that’s the way it is.

That’s why what happened next for Oklahoma was so important. If the Sooners go on to win their first national championship since 2000, Stoops‘ second season, Landry’s strike down the middle for 22 yards to All-American Ryan Broyles to convert that third-and-12, and his 37-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on the next play, will go down in OU history.

Jones finished with 199 yards passing and Broyles seven catches for 55 yards, paltry numbers for maybe the best quarterback-receiver combination in the country. But considering the circumstances, the two have rarely played better.

Oklahoma’s schedule appears to be built for speed the rest of the way. The road games before the Bedlam series with Oklahoma State returns to Stillwater on Dec. 3 are against Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor. Texas is in transition and there is no Big 12 game this year _ and maybe no Big 12 beyond this year, but that’s another story.

These Sooners look tough enough to give the league a national championship, maybe as a going away present.



So what becomes of Notre Dame when all these conferences are done expanding?

There are so many moving parts and possibilities it’s almost impossible to play out every scenario. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Saturday told reporters at the Fighting Irish’s home game against Michigan State that, as always, football independence is the top priority.

“We’ll see whether we can manage our circumstances to meet that goal,” Swarbrick was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.

The Irish need a place to house the rest of their athletic programs because being an independent in everything isn’t manageable.

The key for Notre Dame is having some sort of living and breathing Big East. It would help if the Big East has football, because a conference with football is more lucrative and, in turn, stronger than one without.

It’s doubtful any other major conference would allow Notre Dame to have the same deal it gets from the Big East. But until the Big East is dead, and it’s not even close to being there yet, Notre Dame has no reason to give up what it has.



_ Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins had 10 catches for 155 yards in a 38-24 victory against Auburn to set a freshman school record. He is one of several freshman coach Dabo Swinney has turned to to help rejuvenate an offense that struggled last season. So far it’s worked, but betting on freshman can be risky.

_Watch out for Army. The Cadets went through the toughest part of their schedule 1-2, getting their first win Saturday, 21-14 at home against Northwestern. Army played well in losses at Northern Illinois and to San Diego State and there’s not another team left on its schedule it will be overmatched by.

_Ohio State is unranked this week for the first time since November 2004. Michigan is No. 22. The last time the Wolverines were ranked ahead of the Buckeyes was the preseason poll of 2007.



No. 2 LSU brings its nasty defense on the road again, this time to face No. 16 West Virginia in Morgantown.

No. 11 Florida State has what might be an even bigger game than it had against Oklahoma. The Seminoles, getting no break for the ACC schedule makers, play at No. 21 Clemson.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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