First thought for a lot of Oklahoma fans was pure elation about being selected for the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
After a loss to Baylor, nobody thought a BCS bowl appearance was possible. Following the happiness, though, there has been a lot of trepidation.
The confidence for some of the fans has vanished. How in the world is OU supposed to beat Alabama? The Crimson Tide have been the most dominant program in college football in the last five years and were the No. 1-ranked team for most of the season.
That’s the challenge ahead for the Sooners, and all the naysayers are doing is fueling the determination for OU.
“It builds hunger,” senior cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “We’ve been going through that a lot this year. 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.”
And it truly will be another us against the world game for the Sooners. When the bowl matchups were released, it was clear how everybody felt. Alabama opened as a more than two touchdown favorite. An ESPN SportsNation poll had it 89 percent for the Tide and 11 for OU.
Forty-nine states have picked Alabama with only the home folks in Oklahoma picking the Sooners.
“We’re kind of sick of being overlooked,” senior safety Gabe Lynn said. “Yeah, classmates around campus, social media, hearing about how we’re getting picked to get blown out. It’s going to be fun going out against another great team.”
Both of these programs have been in marquee bowl games where they were heavy favorites and were unable to live up to the expectations.
For OU, it was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Boise State and the 2008 Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia. Alabama was on the wrong end of what was supposed to be an easy win against Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
In a one game situation, anything can happen if the mindset isn’t 100 percent focused on the task at hand.
“It comes down to preparation,” senior team captain Gabe Ikard said. “Who prepares better, who practices better leading up to the game and who executes better on the field. If we go out there and play well, it’s going to be a good game for us.
“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.”
But the Tide aren’t coming into the game thrilled to be in this spot. They fully expected to be playing for their third consecutive national championship. And if it wasn’t for one of the most memorable endings to a college game in history against Auburn, they might have had that chance.
The Sooners are coming into the Sugar Bowl on the biggest high possible, winning their last three games. Included in that stretch were back-to-back road victories to close out the season in which OU was the underdog in both contests.
OU players have not given any bulletin board material so far in their early preparation for Alabama. But senior offensive guard Bronson Irwin is done mincing words about being afraid of the Tide.
“This is top-level football,” Irwin said. “If you’re scared of anyone, you’re already beaten in my mind. A lot of this game is mental and won before you start. If you ask anybody that question, you’ll get a sour response from anyone. If you say yes to that question, you’re probably in the wrong sport.”