The Oklahoma Sooners entered the 2008 Fiesta Bowl versus West Virginia as eight-point favorites. Riding a three-game BCS losing streak that included an embarrassing loss to Boise State a year earlier, OU seemingly had plenty to play for against a WVU team that had just lost its head coach and blown a chance at the national title game in the span of a few weeks.
Instead of taking out some of their frustrations on the supposedly overmatched Mountaineers, OU’s players looked like they had spent the week leading up to the game visiting Phoenix’s finest shake joints. WVU played razor-sharp football from the opening gun.
Motivation is a big part of what make bowls such unique animals in sports. Some teams treat them like their Super Bowl. Others can’t hide the fact that they’d rather be anywhere else.
Figuring out who will have the right mindset coming into a game can be tricky business, though. Whereas Sooner Nation viewed that Fiesta Bowl against WVU as a chance for some redemption, the OU players might not have been all that stoked to go back to the same bowl venue for the second year in a row.
No one in Norman wants to admit it, but Alabama has OU so far outclassed that the Sooners’ hopes of pulling an upset in next week’s Sugar Bowl likely hinge on a flat performance by the Crimson Tide. (Note: My crimson-colored glasses don’t see OU mailing it in.) What are the chances that actually happens? Hell if I know, but a couple points to ponder:
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Alabama.
Coming off back-to-back national titles, ‘Bama entered the 2013 season as a legitimate threepeat candidate. Led by possibly the greatest college football coach in history, the Tide brought back a wealth of talent and a three-year starter at quarterback. ‘Bama was the consensus No. 1 team in the nation and showed no discernible cracks prior to a stunning loss versus Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
By any objective measure, the Tide had a spectacular regular season. It doesn’t get much more deflating than having it end the way it did, though.
The NFL awaits.
One hallmark of a classic bowl flop: A team featuring a significant number of NFL prospects. Last season, for example, Florida laid a massive egg in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, and eight Gators, including three early entrants, were picked by NFL clubs in April.
Not surprisingly, the Tide have plenty of NFL-caliber studs.
‘Bama has a total of 16 players in its starting 22 who would be eligible for the 2014 draft. That group includes five seniors who will have exhausted their eligibility (QB A.J. McCarron, WR Kevin Norwood, DE Ed Stinson, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Deion Belue). Two underclassmen look like locks to leave early (OT Cyrus Kouandjio, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). DE Jeoffrey Pagan seems like a borderline case for early entry, while LB Trey DePriest has said he plans on returning for another year in Tuscaloosa.
Based on the talk coming from the Tide today at the Sugar Bowl media events, Nick Saban’s players are well aware of the speculation about their mindset for this game. If the Sooners want to win, they better hope that’s just lip service.