Sooners hope to avoid third straight problem with OSU

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2003

NORMAN, Okla. Oklahoma State came close three years ago, pulled off a huge upset the next, and then went out and routed Oklahoma last season.

The Cowboys have nearly done it all against their state rival except come into this annual showdown as the favorite.

That won't change Saturday when No. 14 Oklahoma State visits No. 1 Oklahoma looking for an unlikely third straight win over the Sooners, who are favored by 16 points.

''I think some guys who have been here a long time, and have worked so hard, they feel a little disrespected,'' Cowboys tight end Charlie Johnson said. ''But this year, it's more than OU-OSU. It will impact the standings a lot.''

The Sooners (8-0, 4-0 Big 12) lead the league's South Division, with the Cowboys (7-1, 3-1) a game behind.

Oklahoma State is looking for its first league title since 1976, when the conference was the Big Eight. In fact, the Cowboys figure they are chasing a Bowl Championship Series game, too.

''I honestly believe we're both playing for the same thing,'' Oklahoma State wide receiver Rashaun Woods said. ''We're playing for bowl aspirations and titles, too.''

In other Top 25 games Saturday, it's No. 2 Miami at No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 6 Washington State at No. 3 USC, No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 23 Florida at Jacksonville, Fla., No. 5 Florida State at Notre Dame, Louisiana Tech at No. 7 LSU; No. 8 Ohio State at Penn State; and No. 11 Michigan at No. 9 Michigan State.

Also, it's No. 12 Nebraska at No. 16 Texas, Illinois at No. 13 Iowa; Northwestern at No. 18 Purdue; Duke at No. 19 Tennessee; South Carolina at No. 20 Mississippi; Ball State at No. 21 Northern Illinois; Indiana at No. 24 Minnesota; and No. 25 Pittsburgh at Boston College.

Oklahoma leads the series 74-16-7, but Oklahoma State has won five of the last eight games. Upsets the past two years have played a large role in the team's resurgence under third-year coach Les Miles.

After nearly derailing the Sooners' national title bid in 2000, the Cowboys pulled off a 16-13 shocker the next year that denied Oklahoma a spot in the Big 12 title game and possibly the national championship.

Last season, Oklahoma State led by as many as 29 points in a 38-28 win.

''They kicked our butts from the opening kickoff until the final whistle,'' Sooners wide receiver Mark Clayton said. ''Last year was more dominant. They manhandled us.''

That's something rarely heard from the Sooners, who know quite a bit about dominance.

Oklahoma has flattened most of its opponents this year with the nation's second-ranked scoring offense (44.2) and the fifth-ranked defense (255.9 yards a game).

The Sooners finally have an high-powered offense behind quarterback Jason White to keep the pressure off its dominant defense something that wasn't the case in the deflating loss at Oklahoma State last year.

''We are much better in production yards and points that we were a year ago,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ''That needs to continue.''

It will have to should Woods resume his mastery of the Sooners' secondary the 6-foot-2 receiver has 20 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns in the Cowboys' two wins.

The Sooners should be better equipped to handle Oklahoma State's explosive offense this year: Oklahoma has 20 sacks in the past four games, has not allowed a touchdown longer than 27 yards this season and star defensive lineman Tommie Harris is at full strength.

''We're not going to let it happen,'' defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek said of Woods' chances for a similar performance. ''No way.''

Maybe not. But the Cowboys clearly aren't deferring to their more-heralded rivals anymore.

The assumption that Oklahoma State is a mere bump in the Sooners' road to the Sugar Bowl may be mistaken, Miles warned.

''The two teams that will play this Saturday one may be the best team in college football and the other one is a darned good football team,'' he said. ''This game will be played to determine which one is which.''

Miami at Virginia Tech

This was supposed to be a game of unbeatens, but Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1 Big East) lost at West Virginia last Wednesday.

Miami (7-0, 3-0), meanwhile, is looking for its 40th straight regular-season win and fourth straight over the Hokies.

The Hurricanes need a win to keep their national title hopes alive, while the Hokies' sights are set on a league title. The teams meet as Big East members for the final time. Both start play in the ACC next season.

Last year's game was a wild one Miami won 56-45 in the Orange Bowl with Willis McGahee running for six TDs.

Georgia vs. Florida

This year's version of The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will feature the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) trying to end a five-game losing streak against the Gators (5-3, 3-2).

A year ago, an undefeated Georgia was favored to beat Florida under new coach Ron Zook, but the Gators won 20-13. At stake is Georgia's SEC title hopes, along with an outside chance at the national title.

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