Commentary

2000 title game a 'springboard' for OU

Sooners, Seminoles went in opposite directions after OU's 2000 championship

Updated: September 14, 2011, 5:12 PM ET
By Jake Trotter | SoonerNation

In 1997, after finishing a scrimmage, Florida assistant Bob Stoops walked into the locker room to see some team handing Oklahoma yet another embarrassing defeat.

"I remember pointing at the TV," Stoops recalled Tuesday, "Saying, 'That's a sleeping giant.'"

Four seasons later in the Orange Bowl, that giant would be awakened. The same night, another would be toppled.

With Stoops, the plucky Sooners knocked off Florida State, the "it" program in college football at the time, to claim their first national championship in 15 years.

The game signified a turning point for both programs: OU's abrupt return to prominence and the start of FSU's steady decline.

"It was the beginning of what this place has become," said OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who was the quarterback for that Oklahoma team. "A springboard to the success we had the rest of the decade."

This weekend, in perhaps the nonconference game of the year in college football, the rivalry comes full circle.

The top-ranked Sooners enter Tallahassee as college football's "it" program. The fifth-ranked Seminoles are attempting to recover their elite status.

"It'll be a measuring stick," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said.

When Stoops took over in Norman before the 1999 season, FSU was everyone's measuring stick.

From 1987 to 2000, Bobby Bowden's Seminoles won at least 10 games and were ranked in the top five of the final Associated Press poll every season.

"Growing up myself, that was the program that everybody associated with college football," OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "'Dominated' is not a good enough word for what they did in the '90s."

The Sooners, meanwhile, were coming off five consecutive non-winning seasons. The program was in turmoil, on its fourth coach in six years.

"Everyone had forgotten about our tradition and history," Stoops said. "And quite frankly, a lot of people thought it would never return."

But in Stoops' second year, the Sooners cobbled together a magical season, running through Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska before dodging Texas A&M and Oklahoma State to make the Orange Bowl. Despite being an underdog to the defending champion Seminoles, OU befuddled Heisman quarterback Chris Weinke and won 13-2.

[+] EnlargeJosh Heupel
Gary I. Rothstein/Icon SMIOklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said the Sooners' 2000 national title was a "springboard."
"It wasn't like we beat somebody that got there under some odd circumstances," Stoops said. "You're looking at the reigning champs who had just had another fabulous year and had all those seniors back. But we came out on a good night and played about as well as we could have."

Neither program has been the same since.

Overnight, OU became a perennial power in recruiting and on the field.

"Like a big ball in a slingshot, it put you right back into the game," Stoops said of the victory over Florida State. "It shot us right back into being one of the more elite teams -- a team that, year in and year out, has a legitimate chance to win conference championships and contend for national championships."

The Sooners have been ranked No. 1 in the BCS more than any other program and played for three more national titles.

FSU hasn't played for the title since. From 2005 to 2009, the Seminoles lost four or more games in every season, expediting the replacement of Bowden with coach-in-waiting Fisher last year.

After Oklahoma clobbered them by 30 points in Norman last season, Fisher and FSU rebounded and captured the ACC's Atlantic Division. Then, the Seminoles won the Chick-fil-A Bowl, raising expectations that FSU might be on its way back.

"People will truly start believing in us again," FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel explained to reporters about what a win against OU would do for the program. "Would mean everything."

It meant everything to the Sooners 11 years ago. And woke up one of college football's giants.

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.

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