No. 1 makes a point of betting line

12-0 but big underdog, Oklahoma determined to do number on FSU

January 03, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - The most talked about line in tonight's Orange Bowl game between top-ranked Oklahoma and No. 3 Florida State is not the offensive line of the Sooners or the defensive line of the Seminoles.

It's the betting line.

The point spread - which began at 12 1/2 and is now down to 11 - has been discussed by many, discredited by some and digested by all in the month since the invitations to the Bowl Championship Series games were handed out.

It has helped motivate Oklahoma (12-0), the nation's only unbeaten Division I-A team but the overwhelming underdog at Pro Player Stadium. It also has made Florida State (11-1) more than a little wary as it tries to win its second straight national title.

"Is it down to 11?" Florida State coach Bobby Bowden asked yesterday. "Maybe they've factored in coaching. I don't understand it. They're No. 1 in the nation. It's us trying to beat them. It doesn't mean anything. It's 0-0 when we take the field."

Even with last night's 37-20 victory by No. 2 Miami over No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the Seminoles could be the ninth team to repeat as national champions in the Associated Press poll.

However, the win by the Hurricanes, the only team to beat Florida State this season, could mean a split national champion should the Seminoles defeat the Sooners. A victory by Oklahoma would give the Sooners their first title since 1985.

Yet the point spread - it's the first time the No. 1 team has been given as little a chance - will be a factor from the opening kickoff.

The Sooners will try to prove their perfect regular season and Big 12 championship - a season that included an upset of then-top-ranked Nebraska and two wins over Kansas State - will be a stepping stone to the school's seventh national title.

"We've been underdogs in many games this year," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "We were 10-point underdogs to Texas and nine-point underdogs to Nebraska. If the oddsmakers were right, we probably wouldn't be sitting here."

Yet the question begs to be asked: Can the Sooners match up with the Seminoles?

Stoops doesn't back down, particularly when the issue of team speed is raised. "I think we match up well," Stoops said recently. "We played Kansas State and Nebraska, and nobody has ever described those teams as slow. And I don't think anyone has ever described us as slow."

Stoops has compared his team to the Tennessee team that beat Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago. But the Volunteers had more speed at wide receiver with Peerless Price, a more elusive quarterback in Tee Martin and a better defensive line.

The disparity is not only in the speed and size of its players - a 47-pound difference between Florida State's offensive line and Oklahoma's defensive line - but also in the experience in this setting.

This marks the third straight bowl game - and fourth in the past five years - with national championship implications for Florida State. The Seminoles are a senior-dominated team, led by Heisman Trophy quarterback Chris Weinke and Lombardi Award defensive end Jamal Reynolds.

This marks the first trip for the Sooners to a national championship game since 1988 and only their second bowl game since 1994. A year ago, Oklahoma was playing Mississippi in the Independence Bowl. The Sooners are led by senior quarterback Josh Heupel, who finished second to Weinke in the Heisman voting.

Asked how he envisioned his team winning tonight, Stoops said: "You've got to execute. Defense is where it starts. We've got to stop their running game and Travis Minor, and for that to happen, we've got to tackle well. Then we've got to limit their big plays."

The Seminoles don't have the big-play receiver in Peter Warrick, who dominated last year's 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl national championship. They will be without leading receiver Marvin "Snoop" Minnis, suspended for academic reasons.

"I hate to lose ol' Snoop, because he's been our best receiver. He and Chris had great timing together," Bowden said. "It means we'll be putting another guy out there. We've been through this before. What it does is it'll make Weinke spread it out better."

Said Anquan Boldin, one of the wide receivers expected to replace Minnis: "Everybody is focused because we realize we have a chance to make history, repeating as national champions. That's someone no one ever did around here."

"We're just looking forward to playing this game," said senior safety J. T. Thatcher, whose kick returns could be a huge factor for the Sooners. "We've always dreamed of playing in this game."

Neither Stoops nor his players seem overwhelmed at the prospect of facing Florida State. Part of his confidence - and subsequently theirs - comes from Stoops' experience as defensive coordinator at Florida when the Gators beat the Seminoles, 52-20, for the national title in the 1997 Sugar Bowl.

"Oklahoma has won six national championships. Our players have played in big games and have faced a tougher road to get here," said Stoops. "We were expecting to win every one of those games, and I think we expect to win this one."

Junior All-America linebacker Rocky Calmus hopes to repeat the result, if not the beginning, of his team's big games this season.

"The big games we had, we started off slow," said Calmus, whose interception return for a touchdown against Texas was one of five such plays the Sooners made this season. "Hopefully, we won't start off slow this game."

If Oklahoma does, it could mean another line coming into play.

For the Sooners, it would mean the end of the line in their magical, unbeaten and, at least for now, potentially championship season.

Orange Bowl

No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) vs. No. 3 Florida State (11-1)

Where: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Tonight, 8

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Florida State by 11

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