Another week, another outstanding prime-time college football matchup. College Gameday heads to Tallahassee on Saturday, where the Florida State Seminoles and Oklahoma Sooners will square off in a matchup between top-5 teams. Last year, the Sooners hosted the Seminoles in Norman and ran them off the field, but both teams are ready for a rematch that comes with heightened expectations. It is, clearly, our game of the week.
This week, we feature two more superb SB Nation blogs in an effort to preview another huge early-season matchup between ranked teams. Crimson and Cream Machine, our Oklahoma blog, is an excellent place to get to know the No. 1 team in the nation with plenty of in-depth content. Tomahawk Nation, our Florida State blog, is, in my own biased opinion, the best place for Seminoles news and one of the finest college blogs around.
I've asked this of all the bloggers thus far, so we might as well continue the trend. How do you feel about the scheduling? Do you like these huge non-conference matchups early in the season, especially after playing cupcake games early?
ccmachine: Oklahoma has done an outstanding job of putting a marquee non-conference game on the schedule every year. It creates a lot of buzz for the Sooners that you typically wouldn't get until the Texas game in October. It has also benefited Oklahoma from the standpoint that they reached the conference championship game last year and in 2008 by winning tiebreakers in the division standings based off of schedule strength.
The bye week after just one game was a bit rough for the fans who had waited since January to see the Sooners play and then were given a dose of football to feed their addictions and told to wait two weeks for more. However, it was a much needed break for the team because there were some obvious things that popped up in week one that the coaches needed to address so in essence they've had two weeks to game plan and focus on some of the offensive and defensive flaws that showed up on the week one game film.
ricobert1: The match-up is fun, without a doubt. But the problem is that we're leveraging our major post-season aspirations at the expense of an early-season thrill. New Tennessee AD Dave Hart spearheaded excellent men's and women's programs FSU's Athletic Director (1995-2007). He also witnessed the peak and downfall of the Bobby Bowden era. Unfortunately, in 2004 the athletics department decided that Bowden's "anyone, anywhere" mantra of scheduling strong non-conference opponents was still valid for a top-10 football program.
While a great program-building strategy, this is a terrible way to maintain greatness. A great program from an AQ conference has annual BCS Bowl appearance aspirations, and perhaps a NC appearance every 4-5 years. But playing a tough non-conference opponent carries far more risk than reward for a top team. How? Because the loser of Saturday night's game will be all but excluded from the top 2 positions at season's end and, thus, a potential NC appearance.
What have you learned thus far? Is your team better than you expected? Worse? Is the grade incomplete due to the nature of the schedule?
ccmachine: Obviously after one game its hard to tell. I think most fans were very pleased with the running game against Tulsa but the offensive identity as a whole is still a bit of a mystery because of vanilla play calling against a lesser opponent.
The same is true on the defensive side of the ball where stunting, blitzing and scheming were all watered down for Tulsa. There is a concern in the secondary where free safety Javon Harris struggled in pass coverage on three big plays but hopefully the time off and film study will correct that.
ricobert1: FSU has opened up with two cakewalk opponents before (see: 2008). FSU then proceeded to get punched square in the mouth by a strong Jim Grobe-led Wake Forest team third week of the season, losing 12-3. But the comparisons end there: FSU, as has been well chronicled, is much bigger defensively now that at any point in their program's history. The front four is extremely deep, especially at tackle (though perhaps lacking that one "unblockable" guy right now). The linebackers are well-coached, and the secondary is the most talented backfield FSU has marched out onto the field since the 1990s. Unfortunately, the first two games have done little to battle-test this year's secondary.
What kind of game are you expecting? With both teams seeming to boast strong passing attacks and stout defenses (sample size alert!) something has to give, it would seem. Is this a shootout-type game or do the defenses stand a chance here?
ccmachine: I'm most confident in Oklahoma's offense going into this game. There are just too many weapons for the Sooners not to put points on the board. However, Oklahoma has traditionally struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks and Florida State's EJ Manuel has a rocket of an arm and can also beat you with his legs. I'm expecting a very tight game.
ricobert1: I see the defenses coming out strong and dominating the first few possessions for both teams. However, OU is most likely the first team to break through. FSU under the direction of dual-threat QB EJ Manuel will get on the board in the first half, though. I could see 14-10 OU midway. The second half should see more scoring from both teams. The 4th quarter could be very interesting for the home team as the depth of Florida State defensively starts to even out the pace advantages of OU's frenetic offense. OU is bringing 5 kickers with them, so I'll go with a missed PAT from OU and a final of FSU 28, OU 27.
For the FSU side: Does the tempo of Oklahoma worry you this year? Or do you feel the Seminoles will head into the game knowing what to expect, thanks to the experience last year?
ricobert1: Last year's game in Norman is not a blowout (though most likely still a 10-point+ loss) if FSU's defense could have just lined up properly pre-snap. But being one spring-, summer-, and fall-practice into a zone-based scheme at a University that became known under longtime DC Mickey Andrews as a Cover 0 / Cover 1 man scheme, the elder Stoops was able to take advantage quite easily. You gotta figure FSU won't suffer the same degree of mental lapses in this game as they did last year, but some mistakes are bound to occur given OU's pace. The key is to take away the big play (i.e., tackling your man in space) and limiting the effectiveness of the spread in a shortened-field once in the redzone.
For the Oklahoma side: Are you annoyed by the realignment talk yet? With the No. 1 team in the nation and, perhaps, a Heisman contender, it seems all anyone wants to talk about is the death of the Big 12 and what the Sooners may be doing behind the scenes.
ccmachine: Yes! The realignment talk provides great fodder for the off season but from September 3rd through the first week in January the discussion should solely be on games, players, opponents and results. I would really like to see us give the realignment discussion a rest but I also know that just won't happen.
Predictions: How will this shake-out and why?
ccmachine: Like I said earlier, I'm expecting a tight game. I think the Sooners get an early lead and the hang on for a 28-27 win.
Final thoughts, players or storylines to watch, smack-talk?
ccmachine: Two positions to watch for Oklahoma are quarterback and linebacker. Landry Jones seemed to have outgrown some of his struggles away from home at the end of last season when he led the Sooners to a huge second half performance at Oklahoma State. He looked like a more confident quarterback in the Big 12 championship game and in the Fiesta Bowl. This will be a huge test of his progress.
It looks as if starting weakside linebacker Travis Lewis won't play which means sophomore Corey Nelson will get his second start there. He's a kid the coaches love and has a ton of potential but Lewis is the heart and soul of the defense.
ricobert1: There are some questions about the efficacy of OU's S&C program. On the other side, though, FSU S&C Coach Vic Viloria - a disciple of LSU strength and conditioning legend Tommy Moffit - certainly seems to be earning his paycheck.
For even more game coverage from the Florida State side, head over to Tomahawk Nation, where you'll find a preview of the FSU offense vs. the Oklahoma defense, a preview of the Oklahoma offense vs. the FSU defense, an excellent "odds and ends" post, a look at the FSU receivers, and loads more.
For even more game coverage from the Oklahoma side, head over to Crimson and Cream Machine, where you'll find a post about the dreaded Gameday Curse, the stats behind Saturday's matchup, a more in-depth look about whether the loser falls out of BCS Championship contention, a podcast with Tomahawk Nation and a preview of the Oklahoma offense and what it faces in the FSU defense.