Oklahoma vs. Florida State Football: Previewing the Matchups at Each Position
In the aftermath of the top-ranked Sooners' dismantling of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, OU increased their first-place vote tally in the Associated Press Poll to 41.
In retaining their status as No. 1, Oklahoma has also increased their record for first-place appearances in AP Poll to 99 weeks. With a bye this week, 100 will come easy.
That 101st week, not so much.
The off week is good news for OU, as it will allow them an extra week of preparation before heading to Tallahassee to take on the Seminoles.
The bad news: Florida State has Charleston Southern this week, which will allow them an extra week of preparation for Oklahoma, as well.
So, in the spirit of such advanced gestation, here's a sneak peak at the matchups for your perusing pleasure.
Seems like only yesterday that Sooner Nation was anguishing over the loss of an injured Sam Bradford, while loathing the decision-making of his replacement—one Landry Jones.
Those days are squarely positioned in the rearview mirror, as Jones has proven himself plenty capable; at times, he's flashed the type of Heisman-esque "it" factor that supporters of the Crimson and Creme have come to expect from their signal-callers.
What he has not yet done, however, is fully exorcise the remnants of his incessant road failures (see: '10 vs. Missouri, '09 vs. Miami and the infamous Nebraska meltdown from '09).
This is the most crucial game of Jones' career, not just for himself, but for his team. So much so, that it gives the Sooners a relatively clear distinction over Florida State in response to the question of "Who needs it more?"
Florida State isn't necessarily supposed to win this game, yet. They've been gone for a while. No one expects them to ascend to the pinnacle of college football with that sort of breakneck velocity—not until next year, anyway. For the 'Noles, 10 victories and an ACC Championship does the trick.
Ten wins and a conference title would be an abject failure in Norman, Oklahoma.
While one September loss would not necessarily derail Oklahoma's national championship aspirations in the literal sense, it would almost certainly strike a crippling blow.
The Sooners need their all-everything field general to be every bit as super in his white cape as he is in the red one. Dropping yet another big road contest would seem to definitively signal otherwise. More than anything, Jones needs to confirm the championship swagger that appears to be dripping off of this team, by affirming the notion that he is a bona fide Heisman contender capable of winning in a hostile environment.
Jones' counterpart bears a similar burden, if not the inherent pressure that comes with a nonexistent margin for error.
Christian Ponder kept EJ Manuel on the bench for the better portion of two seasons. But, Manuel's restricted access to the offense was a result of Ponder's pedigree—not an indictment of his own.
Seminole fans have been eagerly awaiting Manuel's turn at the helm for some time.
Ponder has made life easier on him, too.
Despite holding the designation of "first-round draft choice," he never won big at FSU. The Seminoles reached the 10-win plateau only once during his tenure, and Manuel played a big role in numerous victories in relief of an injured Ponder.
As a result, the heat won't be turned up to maximum until next season for Manuel. Losing to the Sooners on this September night will not trigger the apocalypse in Tallahassee.
The inherent question, then, becomes: Is Jones' urgent requisite to win an advantage, or a disadvantage?
Jones has tossed for over 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns in his last 15 games. So, when I say that Manuel just doesn't have the substance to match up, it is no slight toward the Seminole quarterback.
If Jones is to ever supplant his likeness upon the Sooners' Mount Rushmore, now is the time. On the biggest stage of his life, in front of over 84,000 fans that want him to fail, he must succeed.
We just thought we knew how loaded the OU backfield was.
Turns out most of us were forgetting someone.
Dominique Whaley burst onto the scene Saturday, emerging from a crowded backfield as one of the best stories of the young season.
The walk-on from Lawton, Oklahoma didn't start at running back in high school. He played slot receiver at Lawton MacArthur High School, while Oklahoma safety Javon Harris carried the bulk of the load in the backfield. No one recruited him. His only offers were from Emporia State (Kansas) and Langston (Oklahoma).
Whaley chose Langston. But, he didn't start there, either. Alcorn State transfer Carlos Ross was ahead of him on the depth chart.
"Maybe he should have," said head coach Bob Stoops.
Whaley rushed for 131 yards (the first 100-yard game by an OU walk-on in 36 years), and four touchdowns (the most touchdowns by an OU walk-on in the history of the program) on 18 carries.
In doing so, he has continued a recent trend in Norman during the Stoops era: The Sooners' third-best running back—in this case, Roy Finch—is better than everyone else's starting running back.
Everyone else includes the Seminoles.
True to form, the FSU backfield was extremely pedestrian during their opening-week route of Louisiana Monroe. Such blanket mediocrity continued a recent trend in Tallahassee since the flop of Lorenzo Booker: Florida State can't seem to find a legitimate playmaker out of the backfield.
This week's game versus Charleston Southern High School may provide the opportunity for a confidence booster, but it won't mean much on Sept. 17.
So, freshman Brandon Williams is the fifth-best running back in Norman?
As I've said before, that is an embarrassment of riches that the Seminoles simply do not have the luxury of at this juncture.
Top to bottom, the Sooners have the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country.
Despite being overshadowed by Dominique Whaley in OU's trouncing of Tulsa, Ryan Broyles simply picked right back up where he left off in 2010. The senior caught 14 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.
If he remains healthy, the Norman native will become the most prolific receiver in the history of college football by season's end.
Conventional wisdom suggests that defenses may, at some point, game-plan around Broyles. But conventional wisdom doesn't account for Kenny Stills.
Stills hauled in 61 balls for nearly 786 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, shattering Broyles' records for receptions and receiving yards by a freshman.
Behind him, Oklahoma has a bevy of options to choose from.
Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Dejuan Miller allow the Sooners to go five-deep on the perimeter. James Hanna, Trent Ratterree and Austin Haywood have restored reliability to a tight end position that was looked upon as a weakness a season ago. All six of them caught a pass versus Tulsa.
Never has the ineligibility of arguably the nation's top prep wide receiver hurt less.
Once again, however, the Seminoles appear to find themselves on the wrong end of this spectrum.
Taiwan Easterling opted out in favor of a professional baseball career. Senior Bert Reed is the team's most accomplished pass-catcher, but his career has been far from spectacular.
Junior Rodney Smith (6'6", 216 lbs.) seems to have definitively emerged as the 'Noles' go-to target. He led FSU in targets (nine), receptions (six) and receiving yards (78) in Week 1.
Freshman Rashad Greene and sophomore Greg Dent could emerge. The pair hauled in touchdown catches of 28 and 50 yards, respectively, on their only receptions last week.
Junior Willie Haulstead caught 10 passes for 154 yards and one of his team-leading six touchdowns versus North Carolina in 2010. He has the size (6'3", 213) and glimpses of takeover ability. Maybe he's the one.
The problem is, the college football world has been engaged in a futile search for the next great FSU wideout since Anquan Boldin moved over to quarterback for the 2003 Sugar Bowl.
You'll have to forgive me if I'm a touch pessimistic.
The good news for Florida State: Only Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M approach the wealth of talent that Landry Jones has at his disposal. So, when I say it's "not close," it only puts the Seminoles in the same boat as about 116 other schools.
The bad news for the Seminoles: When I say it's "not close," I mean it's really not close. The search for the next Laveranues Coles/Peter Warrick/Anquan Boldin continues.
The Sooners return four of five starters along the offensive line in 2011. All-Conference center Ben Habern headlines the group.
In the opener, Habern and Co. paved the way for over 600 yards of total offense—including 246 yards on the ground. Landry Jones was never touched.
Florida State lost guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon.
Replacing them could prove to be an issue, as the Seminoles managed only 372 yards versus a Louisiana Monroe defense that ranked 67th in total defense a season ago. Manuel was sacked twice, and the FSU ground game accounted for only 92 yards on 28 carries—an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
The Seminoles start four seniors up front, all with a great deal of ability, and could easily develop into one of the better offensive lines in the country over the course of this season.
But their performance versus Louisiana Monroe was underwhelming, and Charleston Southern isn't getting anyone prepared for Oklahoma.
Offensive line has been a strength for the Sooners over the duration of Stoops' career in Norman. 2011 is no different.
Knowing what we know, the edge absolutely has to go to OU.
The Ronnell Lewis soap opera captivated Sooner Nation for a large part of the summer.
Multiple erroneous reports emerged, with the saga hitting its crescendo when Oklahoma insider (and adjunct professor) Al Eschbach read a text message on his sports radio talk show informing listeners that Lewis was ineligible.
Turns out Eschbach had bad information.
(Cut to Sooner fans nodding nervously.)
With Lewis and Frank Alexander on the edge, the OU defensive front will excel at applying pressure on the quarterback. The pair combined for 14 tackles, four TFL and two sacks in the Sooners' victory over Tulsa.
The weakness of the Oklahoma defensive line—and of the entire team—is the interior. Juniors Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland are the starters. McFarland has yet to live up the hype that preceded his arrival in Norman.
Tulsa was able to gash the Sooners for 136 yards on 31 carries, in what amounted to the only thing remotely resembling a lowlight on Saturday.
Florida State led the nation with 48 sacks last season.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins may be the best pass-rusher in the country. Opposite him, German-born Bjoern Werner collected 1.5 TFL, a sack and forced a fumble versus Louisiana Monroe.
Juniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud clog an interior that allowed only 2.5 YPC last week.
Advantage: Florida State
Lewis' returns make the Sooners very good up front, but I still have concerns about controlling the run on the interior.
Brandon Jenkins versus Donald Stephenson may be the game's most crucial matchup.
Perhaps no unit on any team in college football has been hit harder by adversity than Brent Venables' linebackers.
But, blessed with unrivaled depth and armed with a chip on their shoulder, the group may still be among the very best in the country.
Tom Wort has finally grown into the leader that Oklahoma has become known for at the middle linebacker position.
It's a good thing.
He was already stepping into a difficult situation before the Sooners lost defensive captain Travis Lewis to a broken foot. Without Lewis, Wort will be counted on in more ways than ever before.
Corey Nelson steps in for Lewis at weak-side linebacker. What he lacks in experience, the "MVP of the spring" makes up for with ability.
Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson, is one of the conference's most talented defenders at "Roy."
The trio combined for 13 tackles, three hurries and a pass breakup on Saturday.
The Seminoles are breaking in two starters in Christian Jones and Vince Williams. Williams was especially effective, tallying seven tackles, one TFL and a sack versus Louisiana Monroe.
The veteran of the Florida State linebacking corps is Nigel Bradham. Bradham racked up a team-high 98 tackles last year.
The Seminoles are good.
Oklahoma is just better.
The Sooners depth is stretched to the breaking point, so staying healthy in this one is a must. But, as things currently stand, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better trio than Wort, Nelson and Jefferson.
Unless, of course, you tossed Lewis back into the mix.
Something for Texas to look forward to, I suppose.
The Sooners are extremely strong on the corners.
Junior Demontre Hurst is the starter at field corner, with senior Jamell Fleming on the boundary. Fleming's return after battling academic issues was one of the biggest breaks of the offseason for a team that caught very few.
His presence allows Oklahoma to use sophomore Gabe Lynn in a nickel capacity, thus providing a big boost to the depth of the unit.
Javon Harris isn't starting over Dominique Whaley at running back anymore, but he did earn the start at free safety after Jefferson was forced to move back down to linebacker to compensate for Lewis' injury.
Aaron Colvin excelled as a third corner during his true freshman campaign. That performance landed him at strong safety.
Harris and Colvin were both extremely active in Week 1, combining for 15 tackles, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries.
They'll win most comparisons, but not this one.
FSU returns every member from their secondary of a year ago.
Terrance Parks (6'2", 223) and Nick Moody (6'2", 226) are both big, strong safeties on the back end. Lamarcus Joyner (5'8", 206) is the starter at free safety and he too packs a punch.
The corner spots are the Seminoles' best chance to come away with a win.
Greg Reid is the headliner, the playmaker, the swagger...and the second-best cornerback in Tallahassee.
Sophomore Xavier Rhodes (6'2", 205) has the size to gobble up undersized receivers like Broyles and Stills and the speed to run with them.
They'll both have more than ample opportunity to change this game.
Advantage: Florida State
With the likelihood that Landry Jones puts it up over 40 times, the emphasis falls directly on this unit.
Oklahoma has the advantage seemingly across the board, but the FSU secondary has the opportunity to play the role of equalizer.
By the same token, Jones, Broyles, Stills and Co. can put the nail in the coffin if they can neutralize the 'Noles with efficiency.
Ryan Broyles gives the Sooners an All-American-caliber return man. The trouble is, he typically scares punters and special teams coordinators out of giving him a chance.
Tress Way is the strength of the Oklahoma kicking game. Capable as a kicker, but extraordinary as a punter.
The Sooners desperately need Jimmy Stevens to display consistency. Special teams could otherwise derail OU's national title aspirations on this night.
Greg Reid supplies the 'Noles' response to Broyles. A bona fide game-breaker, it's unlikely that a punter of Way's caliber will give him a shot.
Dustin Hopkins gives FSU something they're not used to having—a solid kicker. He smashed a 55-yard walk-off in a win over Clemson last season.
Punter Shawn Powell averaged 44.3 yards per attempt.
Advantage: Florida State
It's called "out-kicking your coverage," Jimmy. Made possible for a kicker when he emerges as a strength for a team, and not a crippling weakness.
Give it a shot.
The advantage belongs to the Sooners, in spite of the venue.
Offensively, they are superior to the Seminoles across the board.
Florida State seems to lack the playmakers at receiver to adequately stretch the field. Without that, it ought to be extremely difficult for their mediocre committee approach to get the ground attack going.
The onus falls on the Oklahoma quarterback.
If Jones can avoid making the types of mistakes that have ultimately destroyed the Sooners in past road collapses, OU is in business.
If not...well, then this is anybody's game.