Oklahoma players have no illusions about the nation’s perception of their chances to win the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Finding someone outside the Sooner state who is picking OU to beat Alabama is like finding someone who had heard of Champion Baptist College before Monday night.
OU enters the game as clear underdogs and several Sooners have been asked by classmates if they are scared to play Alabama. That’s right, scared and they aren’t happy about it.
“If you ask any guy that question, you’ll get a sour response from anyone,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “If you say yes to that question, you’re probably in the wrong sport. This is top-level football. If you’re scared of anyone, you’re already beaten in my mind. A lot of this game is mental and a lot of the games are won before you start.”
Ask any Sooner about the Crimson Tide and their mouths fill with praise and respect for the two-time defending BCS champions. Yet they’re sick of people acting like they don’t belong on the same field as the SEC power.
“They’re a great team and they have been a great team for the last few years,” senior safety Gabe Lynn said. “It’s going to be a good challenge but, yeah, we’re kind of sick of being overlooked.”
Maybe the Sooners are sick of being the underdog because it’s a role they’ve played several times this season, much more than a program with Oklahoma’s tradition is accustomed to. With a lackluster passing game and injury-filled season, many questioned OU’s chances in several games this season.
“We’ve kept the same attitude all year long,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “We’ve battled injuries, we’ve battled adversity, but we’ve always found people to step up and perform and continue making plays. People got down on us at times during the year, but here we are, a 10-win team going to the Sugar Bowl against a great Alabama team. In our locker room, we’ve had that attitude all year long that the next guy has to step up and make plays.”
OU lost fullback Trey Millard, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson during the season. Several starters, including All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, missed games and/or played with injuries this season. Those injury woes have led to doubts that OU could win 10 games and earn a BCS berth.
Yet that’s exactly what the Sooners did.
“It builds hunger,” Colvin said of the doubters. “We’ve been going through that a lot this year. A lot of the teams we’ve played we’ve been ruled out. With Oklahoma State I’m pretty positive that everybody picked us to lose that game. We don’t really get affected by that. I think we enjoy that a little bit, being the underdog and having us against everybody else.”
Funny thing is, it’s not like this has never happened before. Florida lost to Louisville in last year’s Sugar Bowl and Alabama was upset by Utah in 2009 when the nation expected those SEC squads to roll in New Orleans.
The Sooners hope to make it three times in six years an underdog has upset an SEC power in the Sugar Bowl.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a bowl game and anything can happen,” All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard said. “It comes down to preparation, who prepares better, who practices better leading up to the game and who executes better on the field. SEC vs. Big 12 doesn’t matter. It’s one game. Anything can happen in one game.
“If we go out there and play well it’s going to be a good game for us. We’re excited for the opportunity. We realize that a lot of people are doubting us and deservedly so. Alabama has been the king of college football and they deserve all of that respect. It’s up to us to go down there and play them well and go get a Sugar Bowl victory.”
And prove doubters wrong. Again.