January 3, 2001
The Bowl Championship Series' national title game matched the top two teams from the final regular season standings in the 2001 FedEx Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium. In the third season under the arrangement, this year's game matched the undefeated and top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (12-0) against defending national champion and BCS #2 Florida State (11-1), despite being ranked #3 in both the Associated Press' and the coach's polls.
The BCS standings were set up to determine the top two teams, with the three other aligned and annually rotating bowls in the series choosing from the remaining qualified schools. The eight teams came from six major conferences, each receiving an automatic bid, in addition to two at-large teams. The BCS system of rating teams used the two human polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule, and losses. Each team playing in this year's BCS games would receive an estimated $13.5 million, but only Notre Dame, an independent, keeps all of the money, as the other teams split the payout with conference members.
The complicated mathematical calculation placed the Sooners first with 3.30 points, Florida State second with 5.37, and Miami third with 5.69. The clinching category for the Seminoles was computer rankings, where they had a 1.28-point edge over the Hurricanes. It was a match up that created the possibility of a split national championship, ironically, something the BCS was created to avoid in the first place. The winner of the BCS' championship game was automatically crowned by the coach's poll, however, the AP writer's poll was not bound, and could vote autonomously.
If the ten-point underdog Sooners beat Florida State, there was no debate. They would be the only undefeated team, and surely would be undisputed champions when the polls close early Thursday morning. However, if the Seminoles won, they'd only be guaranteed a share of the title, due to a highly controversial wrinkle, or oversight to many.
That's because second-ranked Miami defeated #7 Florida, 37-20, in the Nokia Sugar Bowl to wrap up the Hurricanes' finest season since 1994 at 11-1 and second in the national rankings. Quarterback Ken Dorsey was named the game's Most Valuable Player, completing 22-of-40 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. The Hurricanes, who defeated visiting Florida State 27-24 back on October 7th to end the Seminoles' 17-game winning streak, can stake a claim to part of the national championship if Oklahoma loses in the Orange Bowl. "I hope the people recognize the fact that we won ten straight," Miami coach Butch Davis said. "I think we got a shot. I think we ought to be national champions."
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden understood that his team could eventually share a national title with the Hurricanes. Still, he claimed the BCS formula proved his team deserved to play in the Orange. "Everything was run through the computer. We had nothing to do with it. The facts were fed in during the season and it came out ranking us second. We will accept that," he said. "It's Number One vs. Number Two in the BCS, and if we were to beat Oklahoma, then I think we should be Number One in the nation in the BCS. But that probably won't happen in the AP unless Florida beats Miami."
Moments after losing the Heisman Trophy a month earlier, Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel, the AP Player of the Year, shrugged and delivered a simple message to Sooners' fans, to smile and get ready for an Orange Bowl victory. Now, the wait was over, as Heupel, a close second to Florida State's Chris Weinke in the Heisman race, gets a final chance to upstage his rival. It marked the first time in 29 years that the Sooners would face a Heisman winner in a bowl game, having last played against Auburn's Pat Sullivan in the 1972 Sugar Bowl, a 40-22 Oklahoma win.
But there were other important issues, too. "This is not about a head-to-head competition," Heupel had said. "It's about our team playing for the national championship."
This would be the 17th trip to the Orange Bowl for Oklahoma, more than any other team, but their first since 1988, which was coincidentally the last time they had played for a national championship. The Sooners have posted an 11-5 mark in the classic, including four national championship games. Oklahoma won three of those titles at the Orange Bowl, beating Maryland 20-6 in '56, beating Michigan 14-6 in '76, and beating Penn State 25-10 in '86, with its only defeat coming from Miami, 20-14, two years later. Additionally, this would be the third time in Orange Bowl history that Oklahoma will have faced Florida State, as the Sooners won both games when the two previously met in back-to-back games in '80 and '81.
The Seminoles won their other three previous visits to the FedEx Orange Bowl. They defeated Nebraska twice, 27-13 in '93, and 18-16 in '94, to earn their first national title with a team that featured the school's only other Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Charlie Ward. They also beat Notre Dame, 31-26, in the '96 Orange Bowl. Lately, Florida State always seemed to be in the mix, no matter what system college football used to decide a national champion, for this was their third straight BCS title game, and the fourth time playing for a crown in the last five seasons.
Bowden, 71 years old, has won 315 games in his career, and is eight from matching Bear Bryant's Division 1-A record of 323. During his 25 years in Tallahassee, Bowden had built Florida State into a model of consistency, a football powerhouse, and a dynasty, all neatly wrapped up into one.
In the '90's, the Seminoles had compiled one of the top marks for any decade by any school in the history of Division 1-A. They had compiled a decade-best 109-13-1 record for an .890 winning percentage, fourth best in history, had lost twice during a season only four times, and won two national titles ('93, '99). In the past 13 years, Florida State had been ranked as the Associated Press' pre-season #1 team five times, tied with Notre Dame for third all-time behind Oklahoma (8) and Nebraska (6), and they had been ranked in the final top five of each poll for 13 straight years, an unprecedented feat. Starting the new century, they were coming off their 14th straight ten-win season, making Bowden the only coach in the history of Division 1-A to accomplish the feat. And finally, since last playing Oklahoma in the '81 Orange Bowl, and not participating the following year, the Seminoles had posted a 15-2-1 bowl record in the next 18 straight games, including a 14-game bowl unbeaten streak and an 11-game bowl winning streak, both NCAA records.
"We've always told our players, 'You're the only team living in a dynasty'," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Tuesday. "'Bama was in a dynasty, Notre Dame was in a dynasty, Miami was in a dynasty, so-and-so was in a dynasty. We hope we keep it alive."
It was easy to see why the Seminoles were favored, with the Heisman winner and a senior class around him that was arguably the best in school history. In five years, this class finished with one national championship, a perfect record at home, a 56-6 overall record, and the best winning percentage in Florida State history. While Oklahoma sought merely to win the game, the Seminoles had grander ambitions. They spoke of a desire to make history, of becoming the first Florida State team to win back-to-back national titles. They craved recognition, in the words of linebacker Tommy Polley, as "one of the best teams in the history of college football."
In the BCS title game in the Sugar Bowl a year earlier, Florida State beat Virginia Tech, 46-29, the two teams which were ranked 1-2 in both polls. Now, after playing the nation's second toughest schedule as measured by the NCAA, the Seminoles were playing for their third national title and trying to become just the seventh school to win back-to-back crowns, and the first since Nebraska in 1994-95, while the Sooners were vying for their seventh. The difference was that Florida State was on a record 13-year run, and Oklahoma was looking to win its first championship in 15 years. It was very similar to the circumstances when the two teams met in the '80 Orange Bowl, with Bowden looking for national respect against the powerful Sooners, the winningest team of the Seventies.
Oklahoma had fallen pretty far from the top since Barry Switzer left after guiding one of the best programs in the land. He was a coach who had posted a 157-29-4 mark in 16 seasons from 1973-88, the fourth best winning percentage in college football history, won three national championships, eight Big Eight titles outright and shared four others. His defensive coordinator, Gary Gibbs, inherited a team plagued by NCAA probation in '89, and in six years, he was 44-23-2, including wins in two of three bowl games. But more importantly, Oklahoma finished as high as second in the Big Eight only once under his direction, and lost to the Sooners' two main rivals, Nebraska and Texas, five times out of six games each, sealing his fate.
Former national championship-winning Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger was hired for '95, and in his only year went 5-5-1, and saw some landmark losses. Then came John Blake in '96, whose three seasons were marked by almost unprecedented marks of futility, and after a record of just 12-22, the worst of any coach in Sooners' history, it was clearly time for a change.
In stepped defensive guru Bob Stoops. In the five years before his arrival, the Sooners had not had a winning season and had gone 23-33-1, but immediately, his impact could be seen. Gone were the days of the vaunted wishbone, as Oklahoma employed a spread offense with multiple formations and numerous passing routes. Heupel made it happen, the former junior college player who had asked Stoops on his recruiting visit if the coach thought Oklahoma could compete for a conference and national title during his stay, and whose wobbly passes matched the circuitous route he took to Norman, but only because Stoops was brave enough to install an offense that figured to go over like an Oklahoma ice storm. In his rookie year at the helm, Stoops guided the new-look Sooners to a 7-4 record, and then came up two points short in the Independence Bowl against Mississippi, losing 27-25.
When the Sooners began this season ranked 20th, almost no one expected them to come close to an undefeated season, let alone a possible national championship. But thanks to the eternal optimism of Stoops, he restored the pride in Norman, and the players began believing in themselves last year. Now, Oklahoma appeared poised for a revival of their glory days, having returned to college football's elite.
Standing alone as the nation's only unbeaten Division I team, they had defeated six ranked opponents in a span of eight weeks, including number's two and one in back-to-back games, and play in the Orange Bowl for the national title, where they last had a chance at the top spot in '88, and last won it all in '86. Named the AP Coach of the Year, Stoops was justifiably being hailed as a hero, but even the most optimistic of Sooner faithful did not expect such a meteoric rise.
"I guess it's surprising and shocking to most people to, in two years, come from virtually nowhere to being here," Stoops said. "But to say I'm surprised that would undersell our players and what they've achieved and what they've worked for. They've got great commitment and they've invested a lot to improving themselves athletically and as a team."
Oklahoma completed its perfect regular season with a 27-24 victory over Kansas State in the Big 12 championship back on December 2nd, while the Seminoles had not played since November 18th, beating Florida, 30-7. "It just gives us more time to put in a new wrinkle or two," Bowden said.
Weinke wasn't worried about all of that, and Oklahoma was the only thing on his mind. "We're focused and ready to play," said the 28-year-old quarterback. "No one has found a way to beat them this year. That is our goal."
His career record as a starter was 32-2, and it included 25 straight wins that ranked third on the all-time NCAA list, tied with Oklahoma's Jimmy Harris (1954-56) and trailing the Sooners' Steve Davis' 28 straight (1973-75). Weinke threw for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdowns in '00, but he'll have to find a new go-to receiver to replace All-American Snoop Minnis, who was academically ineligible. Minnis caught 63 passes for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"We'll just move somebody else there and play with the same plays," Bowden said. "This just opens the door for somebody else to be a hero." The candidates include Atrews Bell, Anquan Boldin, Robert Morgan and Javon Walker. Halfback Travis Minor ran for 923 yards and five touchdowns behind a massive offensive line averaging 315 pounds.
After practice four days before the game, Stoops had listened patiently to a litany of reasons his team would struggle against Florida State, then cut off a reporter and said, "Hey, we have some athletes too, you know."
As for Heupel, he threw for 3,392 yards and 20 touchdowns, and ran for seven scores en rute to improving his career record as a starter to 19-5. The lefty also has a top-notch group of receivers, including Antwone Savage and Curtis Fagan. Halfback Quentin Griffin, 5-foot-6, 183 pounds, ran for 783 yards and 16 touchdowns.
It was game that figured to keep the scoreboard busy. The Seminoles were one of the top scoring teams in the country, averaging 42.4 points per game, led the nation with 549 yards in total offense per game and 384 yards passing per game, and outscored their opponents by 32.1 points. Meanwhile, the Sooners put up 39 points and 429.2 yards a game, and outscored opponents by 23.2 points.
"You better be able to play defense in this one," Bowden said. "When you got a quarterback like we got and a quarterback like they got, a running back like we got and a running back like they got, receivers like we got and receivers like they got, you say, 'Hold it." It's which defense can corral the other's offense better."
On defense, each team has an All-American, linebacker Rocky Calmus for the Sooners and defensive end Jamal Reynolds and cornerback Tay Cody for the Seminoles. Florida State allowed 10.3 points a game, while Oklahoma allowed their opponents an average of 15.8 points.
Experience could be a factor too, where the Seminoles figured to have a clear advantage, but Oklahoma was ready. "Our players understand we already have six national championships," Stoops said. "So this is not a school not used to winning."
Asked if he thought Oklahoma assistant Steve Spurrier Jr. might have sought advice from his father, Florida coach Steve Spurrier, on how to beat the Seminoles, Bowden produced his best line of the week. "Not if they want to win," he said.
As expected, the Seminoles came out throwing. When Weinke hit Bell for a 35-yard completion on the first play of the game, Florida State fans started shouting, and the school's band began blaring their famous war chant. But then, the Oklahoma defense held, and a tone was quickly established.
First, on Oklahoma's second possession of the game, the Seminoles' Cody stripped receiver Andre Woolfolk following a 22-yard reception from Heupel, with Clevan Thomas recovering at the Sooner 47. Oklahoma linebacker Torrence Marshall, a Miami native, answered with an interception of Weinke on the next play, and he returned the pick 15 yards to the Sooner 47 with 9:19 left in the period. A 36-yard pass from Heupel to Josh Norman drove the team down the field, and they got as far as the Seminoles nine, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Tim Duncan to take a 3-0 lead with 7:16 in the period.
On a drive that started at its own 26 with 5:39 left, Heupel moved Oklahoma down the field on their next possession, but he tried to force one pass too many, and Cody ended up intercepting it at Florida State's eight-yard line and returned it 19 yards before being hauled down with just five seconds remaining in the period. Cody ended up leaving the game later in the first quarter with an abdominal injury and was taken to a hospital for tests.
It was a defensive struggle in the second quarter, and Florida State's kicking woes also resurfaced. They had a golden opportunity when they received a punt and started at its own 47 with 11 minutes in the period, and thanks to a 19-yard pass from Weinke to Bolden, they moved deep into Sooner territory. With 7 ½ minutes left until halftime, they were faced with a fourth down-and one on the Oklahoma 13. Bowden opted for the field goal, but it was one of the Seminoles' weaknesses all season, and entering the game, they had missed eight extra point attempts and were just 14 of 24 on field goal tries. In their 27-24 Miami loss, Matt Munyon's 49-yard attempt sailed right as time expired. This time, freshman kicker Brett Cimorelli missed badly on a 30-yard field goal, booting a low line drive knuckleball that kept with a painfully familiar nightmare, wide to the right. As his attempt missed, Cimorelli punched the air with his fist, and then dropped his head.
The defenses continued to dominate, as both teams had more punts than points, with Florida State punting six times and Oklahoma booting four, and the score remained 3-0 into the locker room. Who would have expected that from two of the nation's top scoring teams? The Seminoles had failed to score in the first half for only the second time this year, and the other was the loss at Miami.
After intermission, a 36-yard kickoff return by Savage opened the half for Oklahoma, and they started at their own 46. Heupel directed a drive in which they chewed up the first seven minutes of the period, penetrating as far as the Florida State 16, but they couldn't get it into the end zone. Unfortunately, Duncan had a controversial miss on a 37-yard attempt when the kick went over the top of the upright and was ruled just wide at the 8:01 mark.
After stopping the 'Noles on the next possession, Oklahoma marched down as deep as the FSU 25 thanks to a play that saw Heupel scramble to his right and then threw across his body downfield for a 39-yard completion to Fagan. But he inadvertently overthrew a wide-open Savage in the end zone, and it forced Stoops to settle for three points, courtesy a 42-yard field goal redemption by Duncan with 4:24 left in the third period, and the tenuous lead had doubled to 6-0.
The Seminoles tried to mount a rally on the next drive, but J.T. Thatcher picked off Weinke, setting Oklahoma up at its 37 with 3:21 left in the period. After Florida State forced a punt, the Seminoles had the ball at their six with 1:16 left in the quarter. Three plays later, Weinke was picked off for the second time as Roy Williams intercepted the Heisman winner at Sooner 47 with 22 seconds left in the period. OU took a 6-0 lead into the final quarter.
On the Seminoles' next drive, Weinke started a State rally. Thanks to a 16-yard pass to Robert Morgan and a 14-yard pass to Ryan Sprague, they moved from their 19 to the Sooner 35 with just less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. However, the Oklahoma defense stiffened, and on a fourth down-and-ten from the 35, Weinke's pass intended for Minor was broken up at the five by Derrick Strait with 12:17 left to play.
On State's next possession, they were faced with a third down at its ten. On the play, a scrambling Weinke ran seven yards but was hit by Calmus and the ball squirted loose, and safety Roy Williams recovered at the Seminoles' 15-yard line.
Two plays later, it was the little guy, as Griffin hid behind the wide bodies on his offensive line and squirted into the end zone from ten yards out. Duncan's extra point gave Oklahoma a 13-point lead with 7:46 left in the game. The defense continued to pave the way to victory with more big plays later in the quarter.
Only a bad snap over punter Jeff Ferguson's head in the final minute, which resulted in a safety, prevented Oklahoma from handing the Seminoles their first shutout since 1988, a 31-0 loss at Miami in the season opener. Sooners' cornerback Ontei Jones completed the domination by intercepting a pass with 16 seconds left, and Oklahoma secured the national championship with a 13-2 win.
The once-mighty Sooners could stand tall again, completing a stunning revival as a college football power by shutting down another. Oklahoma (13-0) claimed its first national title since 1985, with Switzer among those in attendance, and seventh since 1950, a figure unmatched by any school. Their win also dimmed second-ranked Miami's chances for a shared national title, for that debate is mercifully moot.
All week, Stoops had been asked if his experience with the Gators had prepared him to stop the Seminoles. He and his coaches came up with an audacious and ingenious defensive game plan that utterly befuddled Weinke, and after his team's suffocating defensive performance, the answer is yes. "I think we can say it now, Oklahoma is back," he said. "We weren't just happy to be here. We fully expected to win."
Heupel completed the unusual journey to a national title that began in his hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota, and included stops at Weber State and Snow Junior College in Utah. He completed 25-of-39 passes for 214 yards. "We wanted to be part of the comeback at Oklahoma," he said. "It's not a Cinderella season. It's a dream come true. We're going to be on top for a long, long time."
Overlooked by the media were Oklahoma's defensive players, who played in the shadow of their record-breaking offense all season and thoroughly dominated the Seminoles, and when you hold a team more than 40 points below its season average, it's tough to single out one guy. Indeed, the game's key match up was the Seminoles' formidable passing game versus the Sooners' pass defense. Oklahoma won the battle with execution and trickery, going with five and six defensive backs most of the night, daring Florida State to run (the Seminoles couldn't, mustering only 27 yards on 17 rushes). Oftentimes, nickel back Jones would start about five yards from the line of scrimmage, then, just before the snap, sprint back into deep coverage. Jones and free safety J.T. Thatcher would blitz on one play, then fake a blitz on the next.
Marshall, who had a first half interception and six tackles, was named the game's Most Valuable Player. "Everybody doubted us all year, but this is a great group of football players here," he said. "We came in prepared to win. That's you guys that think we couldn't win. We went out there and took it."
The Seminoles finished with 301 yards, far below their average of 549. Bell was about the only bright spot, catching seven passes for 137 yards, including a 35-yarder on the first play of the game. Minor was held to 20 yards on 13 carries. Weinke finished 25-for-51 and threw two interceptions, and clearly missed his favorite receiver, Minnis. There were numerous drops by Weinke's targets, including a pivotal miss in the third quarter that could have given the Seminoles a first down, and another in the end zone by Morgan with the Sooners clinging to a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
Florida State was a dismal one-for-15 on third down conversions. "You needed a catch here, you didn't get it," Bowden said. "You need a little block here, you didn't get it. That is what it would have taken to win this ballgame." He also offered, "We simply could get nothing going offensively. They did a great job of confusing us defensively."
Calmus, a junior from Jenks, OK, summed it up. "Growing up with the Sooners, people feared them. During my first year, some players said it didn't feel like you're a Sooner, not dominating college football. There was finger pointing and a lot of excuses and not much confidence and believing in each other. But, we're like Sooners now. The Sooners magic is back. We're dominating and have that great tradition coming back."
For the Sooners, who had just ten seniors on their two-deep chart, the future looks promising. And no matter what happens in years to come, this team's legacy is secure. To quote offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, "There are so many players on our team that were told that they were the reason why OU couldn't win, that they weren't good enough, that they couldn't get the job done. And many of those players are our marquee players and they fought through the tough times. And they're proud, especially our seniors, to be the group that got OU football back where it belongs, in the national spotlight."
Source: Jeff Linkowski