NORMAN — Corey Walz and four other friends are flying today from Oklahoma to Tallahassee, Fla. And that, oddly enough, makes the quintet of OU seniors an anomaly.
Florida's state capital will be the epicenter of the college football world on Saturday, when No. 5 Florida State hosts the top-ranked Sooners. As much as FSU will be a test for OU, getting there is proving to be one for its fans.
Most traveling to the game are being forced to find another place to land than Tallahassee Regional Airport, where flights in are few and prices are sky-high.
That's what makes Walz and his traveling group different. Despite their youth – three of them are 21 years old, two are 22 – they had a well-orchestrated plan. They decided a year ago they would like to attend the FSU, in place of their tradition of going to the now-defunct Big 12 title game.
They collaborated in early June and booked their flights: Tulsa to Atlanta to Tallahassee. The price tag was about $450 a ticket. And that's a pretty good deal, really. It's tough to fly into TLH, normally. It's nearly impossible this weekend.
Some of Walz's other friends attempted to book flights in the past month. Then they saw the rates. They decided they would watch from home.
“It made us glad we made our plans when we did,” said Walz, a business major from Indiana.
Shane Walker and his friends and family considered driving their RV to Florida, continuing a tradition that's been going since the 1980s and going strong since 2002. But the 1,000-mile drive did not exactly work, because of work. It would have required everyone to take time off from jobs and school, and that wasn't feasible.
That left their group of five trying to find a flight a couple of weeks ago, well after Walz and his friends nailed down their itinerary. Flights into Tallahassee, by late August, were $1,500 a ticket – or more.
Seeing that, Walker took out a map and drew a 150-to-200-mile circle around Tallahassee. With the Gulf of Mexico wiping out a portion of it, he started to pinpoint airports that might serve as sufficient alternates. A lot of OU fans have done the same thing. Many will land today or tomorrow in places such as Panama City or Jacksonville, a couple of hours on either side of Tallahassee. Some, including Walker, had to get even more creative.
Walker's group, which will include a friend, his 14-year-old nephew, brother-in-law and dad? It's heading from Dallas to Montgomery, Ala. – still 200 miles and about four hours from the FSU campus.
“Everyone's been ready for this game since Monday,” said Walker, who lives in Oklahoma City. “We couldn't wait for it to get here.”
They're not alone. The buzz for this weekend, the Sooner Club said, is approaching the level of the recent BCS championship games. It started a year ago, when Florida State visited Norman. It has only heated up since then.
OU has consistently scheduled a featured nonconference game early in the year. This one, though, tops even the Alabama, Washington or Oregon games, because of Florida State's similar standing in the polls.
“We have always felt that the traditional powers of college football share a responsibility to seek matchups of this magnitude to promote the rich history of the game,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “They're meaningful to the student-athletes and all participants, as well as fans who passionately support our programs.”
OU said this week it quickly went through its allotment of 7,000 tickets. That hasn't stopped a steady stream of calls into the Sooner Club offices, with fans looking for last-minute tickets. The school said its typical rule of thumb for big games is take the allotment and double it to determine the estimate for fans traveling.
Given the tricky trip this week, that number might be on the high side. It said about 10,000 Sooners fans are expected to be at Doak Campbell Stadium, which holds about 84,000.
OU fans are being asked to wear white, to stand out in contrast to Florida State's garnet and gold color scheme. The school did something similar for its 2003 game at Alabama, which features a similar hue to OU.
The location was a draw for 'Bama, as well as Washington and Oregon. This week is more about the game itself, which figures to shape the national championship picture.
“We get to watch two top-10 teams play, and all we've got to worry about is a test on Monday?” Walz said. “That's awesome.”