The Norman Transcript

January 1, 2014

Sooners enjoy Saints’ digs

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

METAIRIE, La. — Oklahoma’s last real practice of the 2013 season ended Tuesday afternoon. All that remains is today’s walkthrough before the 11th-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl Thursday night.

OU coach Bob Stoops has no complaints about his team’s preparation.

“It’s been really good. The players haven’t missed one thing. I don’t have one complaint. Everyone has done what we’ve asked them to do,” Stoops said following the workout at the New Orleans Saints practice facility. “They’ve practiced well and everyone has been on time, and everyone has been sharp at meetings. It’s been a positive experience.

“The people here have been amazing. All the accommodations here at the Saints facility couldn’t have been better. All the bowl people and the people at the hotel — it’s been a great experience.”

The Sooners need to get used to it. The BCS era ends Monday when No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn meet in the national championship game. The four-team playoff begins next season.

The Big 12 Conference will send its best team not involved in the playoff to New Orleans for the Champions Bowl beginning next year.

The city could very easily become the Sooners’ frequent postseason destination.

“I think it’s great. This is an amazing bowl game. The people here have been incredible. Great facilities, everything about it has been positive,” Stoops said.

However, Stoops joked he might not feel the same way if the Sooners have to play LSU in that game. Clearly, there’s still a bad taste from the 2003 national championship game when OU lost to the Tigers in New Orleans.

Take what it can get: Just from looking around New Orleans the last two days, there are more Alabama fans than Sooner fans in New Orleans.

But a reporter told Stoops Tuesday the local fans still detested Alabama coach Nick Saban for leaving LSU following the 2003 season.

“Hopefully, we’ll get that neutral crowd out there and they can help us a little bit,” Stoops said.

McCoy visits practice: Former OU defensive tackle Gerald McCoy came to the Sooners’ practice Tuesday and will stay around for the Sugar Bowl. He’s one of several OU alums in the NFL who are expected to attend Thursday’s game.

Stoops, however, wishes he could have McCoy — an all-pro defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — in uniform.

“I wish I could play him. We could use that guy,” Stoops said. “I’m proud of Gerald. It’s good to see him here. He always has that big smile. He’s a wonderful young man. I’m proud of the way he’s played. He’s had another super year.”

What to do with the extra time? OU’s had three full weeks of practice to prepare for the Sugar Bowl. One thing that got on the schedule that typically isn’t: field goal return and cover practice.

Alabama has worked it as well, for good reason. If it hadn’t given up a 109-yard missed field goal return to Auburn’s Chris Davis, it could be playing for the national championship next week.

“Most of us thought it was a joke,” OU defensive end Geneo Grissom said.

Stoops said all the work was done before OU left Norman.

“It’s really not hard. When you’re practicing the return, the field goal team is covering it. We did it quite a bit back at home before we came. If one team is practicing the return, the other is practicing the coverage,” he said.

After the way the Alabama-Auburn game ended, every team playing in a bowl likely worked on it a little.

Benchmark game: OU has fully embraced the underdog role for this game and most of the season. But the resounding feeling around the Sooners is the Sugar Bowl will be a benchmark game to prove they’re still one of college football’s elite programs.

“How could it not be?” Stoops said when asked if the Sugar Bowl will be an indicator of where the program truly is. “They (the Crimson Tide) are a team that people should still talk about as the best team in the country. They were for the last three years, up until the last play of the regular season. What an unusual play that was. They’ve been the top team in the country for the last three years, so it’s definitely that.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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