The Oklahoma Sooners have been through this whole sort of thing before. Most of the roster went through a week of preparation for a College Football Playoff last season in Southern California as Oklahoma prepared to play the Georgia Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl. Some of the Sooners even got to do it in South Florida before, when Oklahoma faced the Clemson Tigers in the 2015 Orange Bowl for a CFP semifinal.
So the Sooners are more than ready to spend nearly a week away from home to prepare for a Playoff semifinal against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens..
“I would say just people’s mindsets when they come out here and attack these practices,” Oklahoma defensive end Amani Bledsoe said Sunday when asked what the Sooners learned from last year. “Just remember we’re here for a business trip. It’s easy to get distracted in bowl practices, being out here in a new city and everything. It’s important to focus on the job at hand.”
No. 4 Oklahoma will spend a few more hours in the Miami metropolitan area than No. 1 Alabama this week. The Sooners (12-1, 8-1 Big 12) touched down first Sunday, landing at Signature Flight Support at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shortly before 7 p.m. Oklahoma deplaned in front of a group of Orange Bowl representatives, who handed players oranges and candy canes before the team loaded up on buses to head to their hotel.
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The Crimson Tide (13-0, 8-0 Southeastern) will arrive in Miami on Monday. Alabama is scheduled to land around noon at Signature Flight Support at Miami International Airport to begin its week of preparation ahead of the Orange.
Finally, more than three weeks after the Sooners beat the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game and punched their CFP ticket, Oklahoma can feel like gameday is really approaching.
“This three week break, I don’t like it,” Sooners offensive lineman Ben Powers said shortly after landing in Fort Lauderdale. “I wish we could’ve played the week after the selection committee, so I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I’m excited to be down here.”
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said the layoff can be difficult to manage as a coach, too.
“It’s a challenge,” Riley said. “We’re the only sport in the world that does this. It’s almost 30 days in between the end of your regular season and the championship, but that’s part of it. We’ve worked hard up to this point. I think we’ve got a weird kind of balance of rest, getting their bodies back, getting some injured guys back healthy.”
Powers, who was a consensus All-American as a senior this season, said it will be important to strike a balance this week, too. Christmas falls in the middle of the Sooners’ final week of preparations and the allure of Miami, he knows, can be strong.
Powers wants to keep it all simple, though, and he’ll lead his teammates by example.
“I’ll be in my hotel room all week. If not, by the pool or the beach. I won’t be going out, won’t be in that mess,” Powers said. “You’ve got to have a good time while you’re down here, but you’ve got to know how to control it. That’s the most important thing.”
Part of the remote preparation for the Oklahoma will be about acclimating to the Florida weather, although it won’t be quite as stark a change as a year ago when the Wisconsin Badgers came down from frigid Madison to prepare to face the Miami Hurricanes.
Riley doesn’t think the weather will be a factor. It’s actually been pretty warm in Norman since the Sooners began practicing.
“We actually had some pretty nice weather to practice in back home, so not a huge difference,” Riley said. “It’ll be a little bit warmer at night, but we’ve been practicing during the day. The temperature is actually not too much a difference.”