September 18, 2011

Sooners leave Seminoles to pick up the pieces

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - This was the game Florida State had been waiting for. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher had called it a measuring stick.

"It's not the season, but it can be a great building block," Fisher said earlier this week.

Well, the No. 5 Seminoles didn't measure up in Saturday night's 23-13 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma.

Blame it on a spotty offensive line.

Blame it on an injured shoulder for FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel.

Blame it on big-game jitters.

"I'm disappointed we lost," said Fisher, whose team was blasted 47-17 at Oklahoma last season. "We had a chance to win the game. We can compete at a high level."

FSU tried to say it wasn't putting too much emphasis on this game, that win or lose, it still had an ACC title to play for and had a big game at Clemson next week.

That all sounded good, but the bottom line is that this was a blown opportunity for a FSU program that could have stamped itself as a legit national title contender.

"We didn't execute," said Fisher, whose team had just 246 yards of offense and three turnovers. "[The players] were hurting in the locker room and they should. There are some things they could have controlled."

Oklahoma methodically disposed of Florida State on a day when the headlines were dominated by more conference realignment scuttlebutt. The latest: Big East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh reportedly have applied for membership to the ACC, which is having an early Sunday news conference.

The conference realignment subplot even followed Oklahoma into this game. Will the Sooners stay in the Big 12? Go to the Pac-12? Join the SEC? All of that speculation could wait for a few hours as Oklahoma asserted itself against FSU.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Barry Switzer on OU's future]

"To finish the game like we did ...," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "When they sensed blood and the stadium's on you, you feel they have the momentum - and we just seized it right back.

"I'd like to compliment Florida State. What a well-fought, hard-played game. I thought their team really played well."

Florida State wanted to do more than play well. It wanted to show that it was back among the elite. This was a chance to undo so much ugly football from the past 10 years.

"We know we're right there," FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins said. "It's a few plays here and a few plays there that made the difference. We know we're good enough, we know we're there; a few plays didn't go our way."

[Recap: Oklahoma 23, Florida State 13]

It's been a long time since Florida State had it all going its way. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Jan. 3, 2001. That's the day the dynasty died.

It happened at the Orange Bowl, in the BCS title game. That night, the Seminoles lost 13-2 - to Oklahoma. FSU had a chance to take this story full circle with a win over the Sooners.

After that BCS title game loss, offensive coordinator Mark Richt left to coach Georgia, thus beginning a maddening run of offensive inconsistency that primarily was responsible for the death of the dynasty. A march of dubious quarterbacks ensued.

The program sunk into a morass of mediocrity. How bad did it get? At one point, Florida State lost three times in a row to Wake Forest.

Finally, and some might say mercifully, iconic Bobby Bowden was ousted following the 2009 season after the 'Noles had lost at least five games in five of the previous six seasons.

That was a far cry from when Florida State ruled the college football world from 1987-2000, finishing ranked among the AP top five each season and winning national championships in 1993 and '99. More than a decade has passed since Florida State truly has mattered on Saturdays.

In many ways, it's fitting that Oklahoma was the team that muted Florida State's coming-out party on a night when many in the crowd sported T-shirts proclaiming "This Is Our Time."

No, it wasn't.

"Ranking and everything, we can't handle that," FSU defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "We took a loss today. We need to fix some of the problems and go from there."

[Saturday wrap-up: Megargee's winners and losers]

Oklahoma took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 15 plays to forge a 7-0 lead. The Sooners never trailed, though FSU did tie it in the fourth quarter at 13 before OU quickly re-seized control.

"I told our guys it was probably as good a character fourth [quarter] that we had since maybe the 2000 year down at [Texas] A&M," Stoops said.

The win cements Oklahoma's spot as the No. 1 team in the land. But is it really the best? On this night, the Sooners didn't look special in any part of the game vs. a not-ready-for-prime-time Florida State team.

In fact, you get the sense that Oklahoma is just keeping the No. 1 spot warm for Alabama or LSU. The Crimson Tide and Tigers have suffocating defenses that have no peer in the nation. And the offenses for both Alabama and LSU are much more physical than Oklahoma, showing an ability to run the ball with power and precision that the Sooners lack.

Oklahoma may well march through the season unbeaten, though it will be tested by games with Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The Sooners' cause is aided by the lack of a Big 12 title game, which can't derail a run to the BCS title game.

"I give Oklahoma credit," Fisher said. "They are well-coached."

But this was a game Oklahoma should have won more easily. The offense struggled in the red zone, twice having to settle for short field goals after the Sooners couldn't punch the ball in from close distance. And Landry Jones wasn't his usual dominant self on a night he set an Oklahoma record for career passing yards. He was 18-of-27 for 199 yards with one touchdown and two picks.

Helping the Sooners' cause was that FSU had to play most of the second half with redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett. Still, this was a game into the fourth quarter, and it shouldn't have been.

"There's so much to take from this game," said Trickett, who threw a tying TD pass in the fourth quarter. "There's going to be a lot of things to improve on, and it'll start tomorrow when we get ready for Clemson."

Tomorrow. It's all FSU has to cling to for now, while Oklahoma can continue to dream big.

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Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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