NORMAN — Oklahoma announced its non-conference football schedule for the 2014 season Wednesday. A Sept. 13 meeting with Tennessee highlights the slate.
The Sooners and Volunteers haven’t met since the 1968 Orange Bowl after playing their inaugural contest in the 1939 Orange Bowl, a game that marked the first of Oklahoma’s 45 bowl appearances. Oklahoma and Tennessee will meet again in 2015 when the Sooners travel to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
“We have always strived to feature marquee non-conference opponents on the Oklahoma schedule,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement. “Our longtime philosophy of scheduling high-caliber FBS opponents becomes even more important in 2014 with strength of schedule factoring into the College Football Playoff equation.”
OU’s 2014 schedule begins with a home date against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30. The Sooners also play at Tulsa on Sept. 20. The road trip to Tulsa will be the Sooners’ first since Oklahoma’s 62-21 victory in 2007.
“We are excited to continue our in-state series with Tulsa as a way to acknowledge our appreciation for the tremendous support from our fans in that area of Oklahoma,” Castiglione continued. “Northeast Oklahoma has long been a prime source of talent for the Sooners, not to mention that Tulsa is a respected program that registered 11 wins, including a bowl victory last season.
Toughing it out: Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh’s stated goal for this season is to create a tougher mentality in his group.
One sign that it’s taking hold came in the Tulsa game. Left tackle Tyrus Thompson limped off the field in OU’s victory over West Virginia game, but played against the Golden Hurricane.
“Yeah, and he came and practiced the next day,” Bedenbaugh said. “And I wasn’t here last year but I don’t know what would have happened last year in that same situation, but it’s really a group mentality is what it is. You are accountable to the guy next to you. You are accountable to your teammates and I know Tyrus is starting to learn that and he didn’t want to be the guy that wasn’t out there practicing, and it’s all mentality. He was hurt and he fought through it. He toughed through it and played in the game and played pretty good.”
Standing tall: Blake Bell’s taking over at quarterback has altered the offense in one significant way — the 6-foot-6 Bell throws from the pocket better than the shorter Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson.
OU coach Bob Stoops downplayed the height advantage of having a taller quarterback on Monday, but center Gabe Ikard said there’s no hiding that Bell’s height is a huge advantage.
“I think you see it in the pro game a lot now, less than the college game, but big quarterbacks are some of the best quarterbacks that play football. It gives them an advantage seeing over the line, being able to see safeties, see coverage,” he said. “But also, it makes them be able to play more physical in the pocket. Kinda shaking some things that might be sacks for other quarterbacks. So it’s a big advantage, especially a big guy who can run like Blake. Just a big advantage for our team. His size is a big reason he’s able to make some of the throws he makes.”
Ward practices: OU has picked up one player from the injured list this week. Freshman defensive end D.J. Ward has started to practice.
Ward missed all of the preseason and the season’s first three games after having his spleen removed. There still hasn’t been a decision on whether Ward will play this season or redshirt.
Follow me @john_shinn