If this were earlier in the decade, a nation would’ve turned its eyes on this match-up. A regular season clash between Florida State and Oklahoma? If Saturday Night Football existed then, this game would’ve been a no-brainer. Possibly the most important match-up of the season!

But it isn’t 2001 or 2002. In 2010, a Florida State-Oklahoma match-up gets to be a national TV game, but it’s scheduled opposite the more hyped Ohio State-Miami game, and the prime time slot belongs to Penn State-Alabama.

Like its afternoon counterpart, these two teams also met in a championship game. The 2001 Orange Bowl, where Oklahoma beat an FSU team that leapfrogged Miami in the BCS standings 13-2, was their last meeting. Unlike the Fiesta Bowl re-creation though, this is no grudge match. It’s pitting two teams battling back to respectability.

Miami, 2001.

Miami Gardens was the peak for both these programs. Oklahoma spent the next decade a permanent fixture on national title shortlists, but dropped short at each opportunity. They’ve appeared in three national title games since only to fall short to LSU, USC and Florida, respectively. Add consecutive Fiesta Bowls where they were the victim of Boise State trickery and a fleet-footed West Virginia team embittered by Rich Rodriguez’s departure as well as a 2009 campaign that was the worst since Bob Stoops‘ arrival and it’s almost a wonder how the polls continue to count the Sooners.

Oklahoma also had to contend with a tumultuous offseason which almost culminated in the collapse of the Big 12. Not quite a good fit for either the SEC or the Pac-10, it would have been interesting to see what Oklahoma would have done had the dominos fallen. One of their biggest hurdles in the past several years has been the resurgence of Nebraska football. Both programs recruit Texas very hard and in the past Oklahoma got second pickings of the recruiting hotbed. Recently, they have had to vie with Nebraska and more often than not, they’ve lost. It will be interesting to see whether this development continues once Nebraska joins the Big Ten next year.

For Florida State though, the Orange Bowl was the end of an era. Their third consecutive national title appearance was the last time they played for one. The Noles appeared in a Sugar Bowl and two Orange bowls despite unimpressive records (all three games were losses) and have had to vacate most of their 2006 and 2007 victories. Last season was tarnished by the embarrassing discovery that some players only read on a second grade level. No matter what he’s saying now about the administration, Bobby Bowden appeared to be losing his grip on the team, and playing a New Year’s Day bowl game this year only served as a farewell.

In his place, Jimbo Fisher looks ready to take the program back to its old national standing. Infused with one of the best recruiting classes and new found energy, this game would be his first big-game win. With the recent dominance of Florida and return of Miami, Florida State is really at a critical turning point for the next several years.

Despite the setbacks, this game is not a Notre Dame-Michigan. These teams are still ranked and have titles in mind.

Oklahoma’s 8-5 season came with gained experience and something to look forward to. Landry Jones had an up-and-down year replacing Sam Bradford but ended with 400 yards against an up-and-coming Stanford team. Jones’ target, Ryan Broyles, almost single-handedly carried the offense last year and could form a dual threat if DeMarco Murray stays healthy and re-emerges as Adrian Peterson’s worthy successor.

Murray and Broyles, cornerstones of the Sooner offense

Florida State may finally turn their highly-ranked recruiting classes into an on-field product. They return one of the most experience offensive lines on a unit that finished 28th in yards per game and 32nd in points per game. Quarterback Christian Ponder returns for a third year healthy and eager to impress NFL scouts. New coach Jimbo Fisher began last week in a relentless thrash against Samford, a Noles team determined to keep their preseason ranking.

Optimism aside, the uncertainties of this games are on the side of the visiting Seminoles. Ponder has experience and NFL attention, but no big-game record. Bludgeoning ninth-ranked BYU in Provo last year is his only highlight, and how he’ll fare against the crowds in Norman is anybody’s guess. The defense is also full of holes, finishing in the bottom tier in yards and points allowed last year. Octogenarian D-coordinator Mickey Andrews (on staff since 1984) left with Bowden, and new hire Mark Stoops (brother of OU head coach Bob and furthering The Youngstown Connection in college football) had a mixed first game. While lowly Samford was limited to 54 yards in the first half en route to a 42-3 intermission, they had 300 total yards, two drives that ended in FSU goal line stands and dominated the time of possession.

Not that Oklahoma is a dead-on favorite to win. Home field advantage and a top ten ranking still meant they had to fight against Utah State. Jones didn’t complete half of his passes and the pass defense was anemic for an Aggie offense that put up 421 yards (to Oklahoma’s 422). It seemed the only thing that saved the Sooners were the strong showings of Broyles and Murray, but Wednesday’s USA Today derided the pair as predictable and believe more offensive playmakers need to emerge.

Guard Rodney Hudson brings experience to the 'Noles offense

Prediction:

This game is going to be an offensive shoot-out and will come down to how many bodies can move the ball downfield. FSU running back Ty Jones is just taking over the role and won’t stand toe to toe with Murray, but a highly regarded line and Ponder’s ability to distribute (nine players caught passes against Samford, and four had at least three catches) speaks to Florida State’s favor. These two teams will obviously make adjustments from their first games, but expect the Seminoles to escape with a win.

Marc

Photo Credits: http://www.mmbolding.com/bowls/Orange013.jpg, http://whereballmeetsfoot.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/nebraska_oklahoma_foo_bere.jpg, http://www.nationalchamps.net/2009/sub/pics/small/floridastate_rodney_hudson.jpg

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