NEW ORLEANS — The colors are identical. That certain shade of red that has dominated college football off and on for almost 70 years.
Oklahoma crimson. Alabama crimson. Unless the action on the Superdome field ignites a roar, good luck identifying which fans are which Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl.
“You just gotta look at the logos,” said Sooner tailback Roy Finch. “Going to be an ‘A' and going to be an ‘OU.'”
Not exactly. This game will be different. The Sooners won't be sporting an O. They've been branded with only a U. For underdog. The Sooners are an underdog like never before.
Oh, they've been saddled with a higher point spread by the Vegas crowd than the 161/2-point line established for this game. But that was for years like in the '90s against Nebraska. Never with a Sugar Bowl-caliber team. Never with a team that has shown spunk and resiliency and enough talent to spend New Year's Eve on Bourbon Street.
“As a competitor, it kind of gets to you a little bit,” said OU quarterback Trevor Knight. “You just gotta embrace it, get a chip on your shoulder and go play the game.”
And so with that U on their chest and a chip on their shoulder, the Sooners take a swing at mighty Alabama, which but for a fluky finish against Auburn could be playing for its third straight national championship.
A 161/2-point spread is not only a testimony to Alabama, it's an indictment of OU. That spread is more than twice as big as when the Sooners played Cinderella Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl seven years ago and when Georgia played outmanned Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl six years ago.
This 161/2-point spread is the second-biggest in BCS history, trailing only the 17-point line when OU was favored over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl three years ago.
“It definitely is motivation,” said OU defensive end Geneo Grissom. “We feel disrespected from seeing double-digit (point spreads). I feel like most guys are going to step up to the plate.”
No reason not to dream big. History says the Sooners don't face an impossible task.
BCS and OU bowl history are rife with big underdogs pulling an upset.
In the BCS era, four double-digit underdogs have won BCS bowls. Heck, the Sooners have won and lost major bowls as a double-digit underdog.
The last time OU was a double-digit underdog in a BCS game, the Sooners won (2000 national title game against Florida State).
The last time Alabama was a double-digit favorite in a BCS game, the Crimson Tide lost (Utah in the Sugar Bowl five years ago).
The last time the Sugar Bowl had a double-digit favorite, Louisville upset Florida, last season.
“A bowl game is all about mindset,” said Bama coach Nick Saban. “How your team sort of resets their mindset is really important to how a team's going to prepare, how they're going to focus, how they're going to play in the game.
“And to me, sometimes if you're an underdog, you have a little bit more to prove. So that mindset is a little better maybe than a team that doesn't have sort of the right motivation going into a game.”
Alabama's mindset will definitely be interesting. When last we saw the Tide, they lost to Auburn on a last-play, 109-yard return of a missed field goal. OU climbed a mighty mountain to make the Sugar Bowl. Bama fell to the Sugar Bowl.
Of course, Bob Stoops isn't publicly acknowledging the chip on the shoulder. Says he hasn't used disrespect as motivation for this squad.
“I don't see that, not at a place like Oklahoma,” Stoops said. “That isn't something that we've ever done. I don't know how to do that, to be quite honest with you. That's not one of our motivational methods ... it's not a card that I play.”
Maybe not. But his brother concedes the existence of such a catalyst. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops recalled the Florida State Orange Bowl 13 years ago, when the Sooners won as 12-point underdogs.
“Reminiscing a little bit, it just made our players pay more attention to detail, prepare to understand what they need to do and understand the challenge,” Brother Mike said. “And it's a pride thing.
“So the players have prepared well. They've looked at it as a great opportunity to see where we're at against the elite program in college football, and that's how you go into this game. There's nobody fearful, that's for sure.”
Of course, it would be wrong to believe that Alabama has nothing on the line in the Sugar Bowl.
“If we come out there and dominate in this game, we can still be looked at as the best team in the country, and that is what motivates me,” said Bama receiver Amari Cooper.
Plus, the Tide is like any team in a bowl game. Its seniors, having realized the finish line is near, will be galvanized.
“It's really important for us to go out with a bang,” said receiver Kevin Norwood. “Me and AJ (McCarron, quarterback) came in together. We've spent five long, hard years here. It's just important to us to go out with a bang and finish our year strong.”
But the Sooners know a little something about finishing strong. Left for dead on Nov. 7 in Waco, they've done more than salvage a season since. With wins at Kansas State and OSU, they set the stage for something special.
Heck, the Sooners even were double-digit underdogs in Stillwater. And won the ballgame.
They wear that U quite well.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.