NEW ORLEANS - They were supposed to be the newest addition to the list of college football's all-time greatest teams, joining a couple from previous generations that also wore the crimson and cream of the Oklahoma Sooners. Not yet a dynasty, simply dominant.
Ranked No. 1 from the pre-season through their last regular-season game, this season's Sooners were simply waiting to be anointed. Instead, what Oklahoma did over the first three months was annulled by what happened in the Big 12 championship game.
Tonight, the Sooners have a chance to redeem themselves for a pitiful performance in last month's Big 12 championship game against Kansas State. Ranked No. 3 in both human polls but first by the Bowl Championship Series, Oklahoma (12-1) plays consensus No. 2 LSU (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl.
The winner will likely get only a share of the national championship since Southern California, top-ranked in the human polls and No. 3 in the BCS, is expected to finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters after its 28-14 win over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
It will be Oklahoma's second national championship game in the past four seasons under Bob Stoops, and the Sooners are a touchdown favorite to win the school's eighth national title. It will mark LSU's first opportunity to win a national championship since the Tigers won in 1958.
Before this season, Stoops showed a tape of his team's 13-2 win over Florida State in the January 2001 Orange Bowl.
"Our motivation early in the season was just how incredibly special that team was to fight through an entire year and put themselves in position to win a national championship," Stoops said. "There are a lot of parts to that game, you watch us play and the attitude we played with, that's something for our players to reflect upon."
But first, Oklahoma is hoping to erase the memory of its embarrassing 35-7 loss to Kansas State.
"For so long, we were put up on a pedestal with people telling us: `You're not going to lose," said Sooners defensive end Dan Cody. "We just lost our edge. We went out there and we cracked. We started the first three drives three and out and we cracked. To look up at the scoreboard was disbelief."
Said LSU defensive tackle Torran Williams, "I don't think there's any doubt [on Oklahoma's part]. I think people are expecting them to come out fired up and prove why people thought so highly of them this year and prove they should be in this game."
Williams and his teammates know they won't be overlooked as the Wildcats might have been in Kansas City that night last month.
"After you lose a game that late in the season, and get the opportunity to come back and play for the national championship, I'm sure they're going to try to make a statement with us," said Williams. "I'm sure they're going to try to dominate us and show everyone that they're still the team that was [No.1]."
It wouldn't be a big surprise if the Sooners show that their horrible performance against Kansas State was merely a one-game blip in a season in which Oklahoma outscored its first 12 opponents by an average of 36 points a game.
It wouldn't be a shock if junior quarterback Jason White, who threw two interceptions and looked nearly immobile against the Wildcats, regains the form that helped him win this season's Heisman Trophy.
"Of course he's been under a lot of pressure, but I think he's going to be all right," said Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton.
The scrutiny White has been under since winning the Heisman - it was announced that a majority of the votes he received came before the Kansas State game - will pale in comparison to what he will face from the Tigers.
"I think LSU will blitz Jason in warm-ups," said Oklahoma pass game coordinator Chuck Long. "They're coming, they keep coming, and that's nothing new. Our game plan will be how to pick spots."
The Sooners might be looking to regain the respect they lost in the Big 12 championship game; the Tigers will be trying to silence those critics who still question a less-than-challenging nonconference schedule that includes teams that defensive end Marcus Spears referred to as "road dogs."
"Even when you win games, people question whether you're doing enough, whether this game was a fluke," said Spears. "Once you keep winning and keep proving yourselves, you regain that national respect that you look for as a program."
Much like Stoops has done at Oklahoma, Nick Saban has brought a winning attitude back to LSU. Now in his fifth season since coming over from Michigan State, the Tigers have had three straight top five recruiting classes to move up a notch - or more - in the national picture.