FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Curtis Bolton was the first person off the plane, before dozens more from Oklahoma’s camp spilled out behind him.
From players, to coaches and their wives and children, the Sooners reached Florida in full force Sunday ahead of the Dec. 29 Orange Bowl against Alabama.
In hindsight, it was surprising Ben Powers didn’t push his way to the forefront. He’s been waiting on this trip a long time.
Though this marks No. 4 OU’s second consecutive College Football Playoff semifinal berth — and Powers has been part of both — the senior left guard has learned to despise the long layoff between games.
“This three-week break, I don’t like it. I wished we could have played a week after the selection committee [made its decision],” Powers said. “The game’s a week away I can’t wait. I’m excited to be down here.”
OU will practice Christmas Eve, the same day Alabama is scheduled to arrive in Miami. Neither team has played since Dec. 1.
The Sooners’ last real action was a 39-27 Big 12 championship win over Texas. Practice, preparation and peaking at the right time is an inexact science.
“It’s a challenge,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’re the only sport in the world that does this with almost 30 days in between the end of your regular season and a championship. But that’s part of it.
“We’ve worked hard up to this point. We think we’ve had a good balance of rest, getting their bodies back, getting some injured guys back healthy, which that was a pretty long list two-three weeks ago so we think we’ve made some improvements there.”
Riley provided no update on junior receiver Marquise Brown’s lower-leg injury, which occurred in the Big 12 championship. Asked if everyone on the team made the trip, Riley said: “I think we’ve got everybody here.”
That would be a good thing.
OU needs as close to a full depth chart as it can muster against the No. 1 Crimson Tide. Alabama (13-0) has outscored teams 48-15 this season on average and is trying to capture its fourth national championship in seven years.
“It means a lot,” OU defensive end Amani Bledsoe said of playing a top-ranked team. “Great challenge at hand to go against Alabama. We obviously know how great of a football team they are, very physical and talented group. Great opportunity for us.”
Bledsoe and Powers have experience with the bowl process. Others — who could easily be tempted by one of the area’s many nightclubs — aren’t as familiar with walking the line between pleasure and work.
“I would say just people’s mindsets when they come out here and attack these practices and just remember we’re here on a business trip,” Bledsoe said. “It’s easy to get distracted in bowl practices, being out here in a new city and everything just important to focus on the job at hand.”
Powers doesn’t expect to do much sight-seeing.
“I’ll be in my hotel room all week, not by the pool or the beach,” Powers said. “I won’t be out doing any of that mess. You have to have a good time while you are down here but you have to know how to control it. That’s the most important part.”
That isn’t always easy, especially when your plane arrival includes an orange carpet runway lit by camera flashes, lined by Orange Bowl committee members in orange blazers handing out fruit and candy canes as gifts. Not to mention Obie, the Orange Bowl’s gloved mascot.
The Sooners (12-1) received a proper South Florida welcoming, but the process of figuring out how to beat Alabama has just begun.
“We’ve had some good, quality work of just trying to get better ourselves,” Riley said. “We felt like we were really starting to play much closer to our capability there the last couple of games of the year. We felt like we were building momentum and we have to continue that.”
No. 4 Oklahoma vs.
No. 1 Alabama
Time: 7 p.m., Dec. 29
Place: Hard Rock Stadium | Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Alabama (-14)
Records: OU (12-1); Alabama (13-0)