NORMAN — Less than three weeks to the start of the season, and everyone's talking about big games on the schedule.
The 2012 schedule, that is.
With conference realignment all the rage once again, Sooner imaginations run wild about who Oklahoma might be playing. Oregon? Stanford? USC? Alabama? Florida? LSU? Could those be conference foes a year from now?
It's juicy to consider, isn't it?
But in a season where the Sooners have an eye on a national championship, big games abound in the next few months. Missouri. Texas. Texas A&M. Oklahoma State.
No game is bigger, though, than Florida State.
It will set the tone for the Sooners' season. It may determine their national title chances. Not to mention, it is a grand matchup. These are two of college football's most recognizable powers, programs that have clashed with national championships on the line several times. When they last met with a title on the line, it became a game for the ages.
OU has played for the national championship three times since that 2000 title. FSU has played for none. Heck, the Seminoles haven't even played in any BCS bowl since 2006.
But with a speedy defense, a dangerous offense and a top-five preseason ranking, the Seminoles look like contenders once again.
Of course, plenty of folks thought they were contenders a year ago when they stormed into Norman for a game against the Sooners. They left with a 47-17 whipping that could've been much worse; OU called off the dogs and went vanilla on offense against a defense led by Bob Stoops' brother, Mark.
Had Florida State's defensive coordinator been named Mark Smith instead of Mark Stoops, OU might've had Mike Lupica on its backside again.
Still, it wasn't even close.
“That's why I don't understand all the noise coming from their place,” Sooner linebacker and leader Travis Lewis said last month at Big 12 Media Days.
Noise? What noise?
“You beat us like that because it was in Norman. Wait till you all go to Tallahassee. It's gonna be a different story,” Lewis said, providing a laundry list of what the Seminoles have said.
I went looking for these disparaging remarks. I searched Google. I scoured Nexis. About the only thing that came close were some comments by Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins.
“Yeah, it's a big game, no doubt,” he said recently. “We think about it some.”
Ditto for that 30-point loss last season.
“It's a big motivation factor, what more can you say?” Jenkins said.
I'm not exactly sure any of that qualifies as trash talk, but with social media being what it is nowadays, who knows what's been posted on Facebook or messaged on Twitter? And hey, I wouldn't put it past coaches embellishing a quote or two.
Whatever the case, the whole thing has the Sooners fired up. Asked about it, several players shrugged it off, but Lewis didn't mince words.
“I'm taking that game a little more personal than the other ones,” Lewis said, giving voice to a sentiment that's likely felt by his teammates.
“If that was me, I would just shut my mouth and play.”
Too bad Lewis won't be able to. Injured earlier this week, he isn't expected to play at Florida State if the trainers' eight-week prognosis holds, and honestly, this is the game where the Sooners will miss him most. It's early in the season. It's in an extremely hostile road environment. It's against a great opponent. Add all that up, and it's a game where leaders and playmakers are vital.
Lewis is both for the Sooners.
Not having him on the field against Florida State increases the degree of difficulty for OU. I'm not sure it will cost the Sooners a victory, but a game that was tilted in OU's favor now looks more like a pick-'em.
So, talk all you want about how conference realignment could add all sorts of big games to OU's schedule, but remember, there are plenty of reasons to be fired up about Florida State.