NORMAN — When the Cotton Bowl kicks off at 7 p.m. Jan. 4, this Oklahoma team becomes college football's first since Florida in 1993 to play against each of the season's top-three Heisman Trophy finalists.
Third-place finisher and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein conquered Oklahoma on Sept. 22 in Norman. A little over a month later, Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o led Notre Dame's suffocating defense onto Owen Field, where he, too, defeated the Sooners.
Oklahoma has four more weeks to prepare for Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M's freshman quarterback and recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner; Manziel's electric skill-set and versatility — combined with the Sooner defense's struggles against running quarterbacks — make him Oklahoma's greatest challenge from an individual this season.
“The quarterback draw has been problematic for us,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said days before the Sooners' regular-season finale at TCU.
Those problems began taking shape Nov. 10, when Oklahoma beat Baylor but allowed its quarterback, Nick Florence, to uncharacteristically rush for 83 yards and a touchdown.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith only attempted four rushes — receiver-turned-superstar running back Tavon Austin did most of the Mountaineers' ground work — but two fourth-quarter scampers from Smith went for 24 and 17 yards, respectively; OU escaped with a 50-49 win.
Perhaps most surprising, though, was Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf finding room for 63 rushing yards in OU's 51-48, overtime win Nov. 24.
The Sooners were better against the quarterback run against TCU, though; Horned Frogs freshman Trevone Boykin, a known rushing threat, was held in check for most of the Sooners' 24-17 win. He did manage to sneak away for one big, 36-yard gain, though.