Tallahasse, Fla. Florida State believes it’s ready to return to the big time.
The fifth-ranked Seminoles (2-0) get their chance Saturday when No. 1 Oklahoma (1-0) comes to town for the first time in the biggest college football matchup of the weekend and the Seminoles anxious to avenge last year’s loss in Norman, Okla.
It’s also the biggest game in second-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s career and one that will determine how much his team has improved since losing to the Sooners 47-17.
“Hopefully our team has grown and we’ve gotten better,” Fisher said. “It’ll be a measuring stick.”
It might also determine one of the teams in this year’s BCS championship game. Both have been there before, albeit it’s been a decade since Florida State has been in title contention.
Florida State won national titles in 1993 and 1999 under Fisher’s predecessor, Bobby Bowden, and missed out on a third in 2000 when they were beaten by coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners 13-2 in the championship game.
Although Sooners quarterback Landry Jones was nearly flawless in last year’s game when he completed 30 of 40 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns, he’s struggled some in road games.
After being thrust into the starter’s role in 2009 after Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was injured, Jones was behind center when the Sooners lost at Miami, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Last year, he was the quarterback in losses at Missouri and Texas A&M.
It gets real noisy at Florida State, too.
“That’s huge on the road for a team to have to deal with,” Fisher said.
“I think our fans will make it very loud for those guys,” added quarterback EJ Manuel. “Hopefully it’ll rattle them a little bit.”
Jones can’t wait.
“It’s going to be fun playing against a high quality team like those guys,” he added. “We don’t get to play them all the time and we don’t ever get to go down to Tallahassee.”
The game will also be a test for Manuel, who played during the end of last year’s 10-4 season. Manuel is 6-2 as a starter and was in charge during wins over West Virginia and South Carolina after taking over for an injured Christian Ponder.
Jones, wide receiver Ryan Broyles and the rest of the OU offense will also be a big test for the Seminoles defense coached by Stoops’ younger brother, Mark Stoops.
“We were not quite prepared for that test a year ago,” Mark Stoops said. “We were not quite prepared for that environment and the speed of that game.”
He hopes to even up the score Saturday.
Florida State’s defense this season has been nothing short of magnificent, although the opposition has been less than stellar.
“I feel like we’re bigger and stronger,” Stoops said. “We like our depth and we like our players. Now we need to take the next step.”
The Seminoles have allowed 10 points and less than 300 yards in easy victories over Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.
The speed of the game changes drastically Saturday.
“It’s faster than fast,” Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham said.
Added tackle Everett Dawkins: “They run two plays and in 10 seconds they’ll be lined up ready to do another. “You’ve just got to be ready.”
The Sooners’ dizzying pace has kept the younger Stoops busy ever since last year’s loss at OU.
Fisher made a change in his offensive line this week in hopes of bolstering a sluggish running game. Jacob Fahrenkrug, who started the first two games at center, switched positions with left guard Bryan Stork.
Florida State will be without wide receiver Willie Haulstead for a third straight game and veteran wideout Bert Reed was hampered in practice this week with an ankle sprain.
One of the most interested onlookers will be Bowden, who was involved in several family feuds on the field himself when he coached against son Tommy when the younger Bowden was at Clemson.
Bowden, however, will be watching on television. Always an optimist, Bowden likes the Seminoles chances.
“You remember when Pitt came in there in 1980 with that all-world team?” Bowden asked in a phone interview. “I felt like that in my 57 years, that’s the best team we ever lined up against. We upset them that day in Tallahassee. I’m hoping that Florida State can do that again this week.”
“It’s big, boy, it’s big,” he said. “I’ve really got a feeling that they might do it.”