Oklahoma is the underdog and a big one.
The line is 14 points and, probably, that’s the way the Sooners like it.
What team has ever dismissed an opportunity to put a chip on its shoulder?
Yes, few believe the Sooners will win and that perception probably makes it more likely they will. Not likely they will, but more likely, at least.
Indeed, should OU win, and then win it all the following week in Santa Clara, California, though it will not feel like 2000 all over again — nothing will feel just like that again — it will feel something like it, like some kind of Cinderella story.
For as big an underdog as a team can be in a four-team playoff, the Sooners are that team.
They’re the only team in the group with a loss. They’re the only team in the group ranked 108th in total defense, eight spots behind Oklahoma State, 16 behind Louisiana-Monroe and 24 behind Memphis.
However, if OU scores every time it has the ball, if it never punts, if it gets touchdowns instead of field goals, or anything close to that, it’s going to have a hard time losing.
A year ago, no SEC team had seen anything like Baker Mayfield and OU built a 31-14 lead on Georgia. Though it turned out not to be insurmountable, that lead still got built … in the first half.
A year later, no SEC team has seen the likes of Kyler Murray and who knows what might happen?
The best bet might be that Alabama’s defense gets humbled, even while that equating to a Sooner victory is a different question entirely.
That’s what it’s about.
Yet, only in one respect.
History is at play, too.
The Sooners are chasing it, but it is also chasing them and it was all right there in the very first question lobbed toward Lincoln Riley during Orange Bowl media day:
Talk about coming back to this position so many times. Not that it’s a must, but how big would it be for this program to kind of move on to a championship scenario?
Oh, the dreaded “talk about” question, followed by a jumble of words aimed at getting at the real question without asking too pointedly.
What Riley was really asked was, you guys have been here a bunch of times and lost, thus must you win to maintain your mystique?
The fact the correct answer is “maybe” makes it relevant.
The Sooners haven’t just been here before in 2015 and 2017, but in 2003, 2004 and 2008, too.
In 2000, they emerged from their conference and won a national championship. This season makes it five times since 2000 they have emerged from their conference with a chance to win a national championship and if they don’t do it now, will they ever?
It’s sort of a thing.
Riley turned to the program’s history to begin to answer the question.
“This program has been in a lot of championships. But, yeah … it’s really tough to get here,” he said. “It’s great being here but we expected to win the first two that we were in and we expect to win this one and so we’ve always approached it that way …
“Certainly, we want to finish the deal, but not for what’s happened in the past, just for this team right now. What’s in the past is the past.”
To fail on the biggest stage is to reach the biggest stage. To have a chance is to find yourself where all but three others find themselves counts.
However, after not winning it all in 2003 and 2004, losing four games in 2005 and then losing back-to-back Fiesta Bowls before losing another title game, OU really did become the big team that couldn’t win the big game.
The Sooners aren’t in the same place again. They’re not where they were in 2010, looking forward to playing a team they knew they could beat — Connecticut — at the Fiesta Bowl. Nor will they quite be in that place should they lose this one.
There will, though, be deja vu.
It won’t be fun.
It won’t feel like a loss.
It will feel like another loss.
“This team, right now, has a chance, as good a chance as anybody,” Riley said, concluding his answer, “and we want to take advantage because we do know how hard it is to get here.”
True, yet incomplete.
The Sooner Nation wants it for those reasons, too, but also because it remembers the backlash of past failure that may not have been fair but was nonetheless real.
By beating Alabama, OU can get closer to a national championship and, should it, it will be one win from it.
It’s about this team, right now. And it’s about all the others, too.