The Norman Transcript

September 26, 2013

Many reasons to play tough schedule

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma has made it a point to play at least one non-conference game against a traditional power over the last dozen years. Saturday’s game with Notre Dame completes a home-and-home series that adds to a long list the Sooners have played over that span.

There were the games with Alabama in 2002 and 2003, UCLA in 2003 and 2005, Oregon in 2004 and 2006, Washington in 2006 and 2008, Miami in 2007 and 2009, and Florida State in 2010 and 2011. Series with Tennessee, Ohio State, LSU and Nebraska will follow over the next years.

Undoubtedly, playing a tough schedule will help the Sooners when strength of schedule becomes a major component of the college football playoff set to begin in 2014.

“If you look at the BCS formula, it’s been a real positive for us. All things being equal, usually we’ve gotten the nod. I think the large part of that component of it has been us playing a difficult — maybe more difficult than someone else — non-conference schedule,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I think it’s helped build our program to a degree that if you’re gonna be one of those types of teams, you ought to play those types of teams. Obviously, we haven’t hidden from it.”

But there’s another reason OU has shown a willingness to play major powers in the non-conference schedule.

“This why you come here. You come here to play in big games,” OU offensive lineman Bronson Irwin said. “You play Oklahoma State and Texas every year and those are obviously big games. But you throw in a non-conference game like Notre Dame, or we played against Florida State twice and it was big. It’s very enticing to a young recruit that wants to come in and play against the best.”

Extra time: Oklahoma was off last week, giving it an extra week to prepare for the Notre Dame game. Having the additional practice time can be a blessing or a curse.

Last season was a perfect example. OU had two weeks to prepare for its game with Kansas State and played its worst game of the regular season in a 24-19 loss the Wildcats.

On the other hand, the Sooners had two weeks to get ready for their game at Texas Tech two weeks later and rolled to a 41-20 victory. The win was the Sooners’ first in Lubbock, Texas, since 2003.

So, how did OU handle the extra time to prepare for the showdown with the Fighting Irish?

“We had one of, probably, the best bye weeks that I’ve been a part of as far as practice-wise went,” OU fullback Trey Millard said this week. “We had a lot of good on good (first team against first team), just knowing that the competition is going to be good again this weekend and we would have to come out and compete.”

One thing that has helped is getting safety Gabe Lynn healed up. He might not have been able to play against Notre Dame if he hadn’t had an extra week to allow a leg injury to heal.

Changing fronts? Will Oklahoma change from a three-man to a four-man defensive front against Notre Dame? It’s a valid question, but OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops wouldn’t give a straight answer this week.

“We can get in and out of a three- and four-man front. That’s not been a problem for us,” he said.

OU’s played, primarily, with three defensive linemen in the first three games. One reason for that is Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia and Tulsa rarely used tight ends or had more than two running backs in the backfield.

Notre Dame employs more of a pro-style offense and typically uses at least one tight end on every snap. One way for OU to counteract a big offense is to put one more defensive lineman on the field.

Stoops’ choice: Most OU fans going to the OU-Notre Dame game will spend part of the trip in the Chicago area. When of the city’s many dining options is the “Chicago-Style” pizza. Stoops said his choice for the best pizza in town was Giordano’s Pizzeria.

“I could drive there right now,” he joked Wednesday night.

Quarterback depth chart: Stoops declined to say who OU’s backup quarterback would be against Notre Dame. Trevor Knight returned to practice Monday after missing the last two weeks with a knee injury.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel declined to give specifics when asked about the depth chart Tuesday.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said.