With a win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC), the Oklahoma Sooners will re-enter the race for a spot in the BCS title game.
Last year, the Irish stormed out of Norman with a 30-13 victory. It was a triumph that catapulted the team to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the national championship.
This time around, a win could do the same for Oklahoma.
It Gives the Team’s Early Success Some Credibility
Through three games, the Sooners have made winning look easy. So much so, that there’s a good chance the Sooner Schooner has racked up more yards on the ground than any of the team’s opponents.
However, the pony-led wagon didn’t have the difficult task of matching up against the Oklahoma defense on every drive.
Thus far, the unit has been stifling, ranking No. 5 in scoring defense (9.0 PPGA), No. 20 in total defense (291.3 YPGA), No. 18 against the run (100.7 YPGA) and No. 39 against the pass (190.7 YPGA). The Sooners have also been dominant on third-down defense, holding opponents to just 12-of-44 (27.3 percent) in such situations.
But given the team’s weak schedule thus far, how much credence should be taken from those stats?
Oklahoma’s first three opponents have a combined record of just 6-7. Not exactly the kind of resume that screams BCS title contender.
This weekend could help change that.
Notre Dame presents the first real test of the year for the Sooners. Not to mention, the game will be played at Notre Dame Stadium—a venue the team hasn’t won at since 1956. In fact, that win is Oklahoma’s only win in 10 games against the Irish.
Then again, Notre Dame has long been a thorn in the side of Oklahoma’s hopes and dreams.
Many of you will recall the Sooners Division I-record, 47-game winning streak back during the 1950s. Few will recall that losses to the Irish sandwiched that streak—28-21 in 1953 and 7-0 in 1956. Following last season’s loss at Norman, Oklahoma has now lost eight straight in the series.
For a program that boasts winning or even records against Nebraska, Alabama, LSU, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and Texas (since 1940), it’s quite baffling how much the team has struggled against Notre Dame over the years.
If the Sooners can battle out a road win against an Irish squad that has had their number for decades, it’ll be hard to argue against involving Oklahoma in the title picture.
Blake Bell Will Earn His Chops
Sure, Bell looked sensational in his first start at quarterback, throwing for 413 yards and four touchdowns during the team’s 51-20 victory over Tulsa in Week 3. However, anyone not named Trevor Knight could probably light up the scoreboard while playing within the friendly confines of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
It’ll be a different story on Saturday, as the junior faces the toughest test for any first-year starter: the first road game.
Playing on the road is no walk in the park for any quarterback, regardless of experience. From not being able to hear yourself think to being surrounded by 100,000 screaming lunatics praying for your demise, the visiting quarterback is no role for the weak-minded.
Add a first-year starter to those ingredients and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.
Just take a look at how the last four Sooner quarterbacks fared in their first road game against a ranked or conference opponent.
Not only did all four quarterbacks struggle immensely, but Oklahoma also lost each of those games.
However, putting too much weight into these past performances would be foolish. Especially given the road Bell has traveled to get here.
After losing the starting spot to Knight, a redshirt freshman, Bell never panicked.
Instead, he waited patiently for his chance. When he got it, he made the most of it, setting a school record for passing yards by a quarterback in his debut.
The guy he surpassed? None other than 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
Now, that doesn’t mean we should expect Bell to put together a surprise run for college football’s most-coveted hardware, complete with gaudy numbers and full-frontal flips into the end zone. More so, it goes to show you that this is a guy who doesn’t just run away from a challenge—he welcomes it.
If he can trot into South Bend and beat a Notre Dame team the Sooners haven’t bested in close to 60 years, what couldn’t he accomplish?
Nothing’s tougher to beat than a talented team with a confident quarterback.
Summing It All Up
From the get go, nobody gave this Oklahoma squad a chance. A new quarterback and sloppy defense was supposed to be the team’s Achilles’ heel.
Instead, it could be argued that both are currently the Sooners’ biggest strength.
Still, the team is left out of every BCS title conversation that arises. Even Miami has received more clout than Oklahoma in the national media. Since when was beating an underwhelming Florida team at home such a monumental feat?
However, a road win against the Irish is sure to grab their attention.
But even if it doesn’t, the Sooners will be content with flying under the radar. In fact, that’s when a Bob Stoops-led team is the most dangerous.
Does 2000 ring a bell?