Friendly encounterOU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong have gotten to know each other over the years as finalists the same two years for the Broyles Award, which goes to the assistant coach of the year. Both were finalists this year, with Wilson winning the award. In 2000, Wilson, then at Northwestern, and Strong, then at South Carolina, were also finalists. "Kind of funny,” Strong said. "We’ve met each other during that time and gotten to know each other.”
Heads upFlorida defensive back Joe Haden has a message for OU’s wide receivers. Watch out for safety Major Wright. "It’s definitely intimidating. Sometimes I even have to watch out,” Haden said. "I know that has to be in the back of their heads because Major will come at you with a lot of speed.”
Making it upLast year, Sooner free safety Lendy Holmes didn’t travel to the Fiesta Bowl after being ruled academically ineligible. Holmes said he’s carried that with him ever since, but it’s also given him extra motivation. "I get to finish with my team instead of sitting at home and watching them play,” Holmes said. "Glad to be with the team. It’s the toughest thing to ever go through, letting my team down. That was a huge mistake; hopefully, I can make up for it.”
Good EnglishOU is loaded at defensive end, with Frank Alexander, Jeremy Beal and Auston English. So who is toughest to block? English, according to Sooner left tackle Phil Loadholt. "Since I got here, it’s been me and Auston going against each other,” Loadholt said. "He knows me and I know him. So whenever we go against each other it’s always good.”
Not meOU’s kick coverage woes have come up numerous times this week, especially since Florida boasts All-American returner Brandon James. Many of those questions have been fielded by linebacker Travis Lewis. Jokingly, however, he set the record straight. "Just so you know, I’ve never been in there when a kickoff has been returned,” he said. Lewis is expected to be part of the coverage team tonight.
Taking care of the ballFlorida ranks No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin. OU ranks No. 1. The Sooners have 32 takeaways and just nine turnovers. Florida has 33 takeaways and just 11 turnovers. "Take care of the football would be the biggest factor” in the game, OU coach Bob Stoops said. With good reason. During the Sooners’ well-documented four-game losing streak in BCS bowls, OU has six takeaways and 12 turnovers. "Who wins that battle will probably win the game,” Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. "That’s probably true any time two teams play. That’s something we’ll really focus on.”
A kicker’s dreamMany NFL games come down to a field goal at the end. Few college games do. So there’s no track record on how OU’s Jimmy Stevens might fare if his leg is called on at crunch time. "That’d be fun,” Stevens said. "I hope it doesn’t have to come down to that. But if it does, it would be fun. I’ve never had to do it. I don’t know how I’d react. I’d just try the same routine and not change anything up. "I’ve always dreamed of kicking for a national championship,” Stevens said. "Winning a national championship.” Stevens struggled early in the season but has been solid the last half of the year. He’s 92-of-97 on extra points and 8-of-11 on field goals, with a long of 42 yards.
Familiar face on Florida staffVance Bedford coaches Florida’s cornerbacks. The same Vance Bedford who was Mike Gundy’s defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2005-06 and who played for Texas from 1977-81. Bedford coached at Michigan in 2007, then joined Meyer’s staff after the Michigan coaching switch from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez. "It’s been outstanding,” Bedford said. "Chance to work with a great staff here. Outstanding players. Beautiful weather.” Bedford and Meyer first worked together at Colorado State in 1990-92 under coach Earle Bruce.
Calling all non-Gator fansFlorida figures to have a crowd edge tonight, but Stoops is ready to recruit any neutral ticket-holders to his side. "There’s a whole lot of ’Cane fans (Miami U.), and I’m calling on all the Hurricane and Seminole (Florida State) fans that are down here to root for us,” Stoops said. "That won’t be hard, I don’t think.” Said Lewis, "Whatever people we’ve got screaming for OU, they’re a fan of mine.”
Cooper the O-line oddballOU’s off-season conditioning drills were strange for the offensive line. Most guys, like Loadholt and Duke Robinson, were trying to maintain weight or lose it. Center Jon Cooper was trying to gain. He played at 280 pounds in 2007 and at 285 this season. "I’m not like these other guys trying to lose,” Cooper said. "They’ve been trying to get me up, put weight on me since I got here. "I get a lot of grief because I enjoy running. Other offensive linemen don’t really like it, but I like it. I tell them to come afterwards and do a couple of extra sprints with me, and they look at me like I’m crazy.”
Pelini helps Venables with Florida?Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told the Omaha World-Herald that OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables visited Pelini last month to brainstorm ways to slow Florida’s offense. Pelini was defensive coordinator last season at LSU; the Tigers defeated the Gators on the way to the national championship. Tuesday, Venables downplayed the meeting, saying it was just a visit among friends. BY BERRY TRAMEL AND JAKE TROTTER