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Oklahoma is our preseason No. 1 in college football

NEW ORLEANS LA - JANUARY 02:  Trevor Knight #9 OklahomSooners reacts after touchdown against AlabamCrimsTide during Allstate Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Trevor Knight #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts after a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Updated: September 20, 2014 6:25AM

A consolation game?

Yeah, that’s how Alabama coach Nick Saban refers to the Sugar Bowl game last season against Oklahoma — and perhaps only he could dare say such a thing with a straight face.

But the Sooners, who were surprise 45-31 victors in that memorable contest, don’t have to like it. And they sure as heck don’t.

‘‘People can say what they want,’’ Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said. ‘‘But you ask any 19-, 20-, 21-year-old, they’re not going to go out there and lay down because of the game they’re in.’’

So maybe ’Bama, coming off an almost-impossible last-second loss at Auburn that cost it a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game and a shot at its third consecutive national title, had trouble gearing all the way up for the Sooners in New Orleans. On multiple occasions, Saban has more than implied as much.

But the fact remains: Oklahoma smacked the smug off the Crimson Tide’s faces that night, which told us plenty about coach Bob Stoops’ program pointing toward 2014.

The Sooners often have looked like contenders at this time of year, but they haven’t reached the grandest stage in the sport since 2008, when they lost to Tim Tebow and Florida in the BCS title game. That made them 0-3 in the national final since Stoops’ only title, which came in 2000, his second season in Norman.

Some non-devotees of the coach — once lovingly hailed as ‘‘Big Game Bob’’ — would say the upset of Alabama was Oklahoma’s first true signature postseason victory since the 2000 team shocked
No. 1 Florida State. Some, frankly, would say Stoops’ more recent squads at times have appeared to be a little bit soft, not oozing with confidence, perhaps lacking the proper motivation.

Who’s saying that about the Sooners now? Nobody is. Not after Knight, only a redshirt freshman at the time, shredded the Tide’s vaunted defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Not after the swarming Sooners forced five turnovers, appearing to come on harder and faster with each quarter.

‘‘I would agree things might’ve changed for a little bit in recent years,’’ linebacker Geneo Grissom said, ‘‘but I believe Oklahoma is coming back — all the way back.’’

In this first post-BCS season, that might mean national title
No. 2 for a coach whose career résumé someday might stand as one of the greatest ever. At the least for the Sooners, it means winning a highly competitive
Big 12 — where surging Baylor, rock-solid Kansas State and ol’ buddy Texas lurk — and, in
Year 1 of the College Football Playoff, winning over a 13-member playoff selection committee.

Grabbing hold of one of the four available spots will be a massive task. Defending national champ Florida State is as talented as it was during its decade-plus heyday that ended, unofficially, with the aforementioned loss to Oklahoma.

Oregon is in prime position to run things in the Pac-12, plus it can score early points with the committee with a marquee home game Sept. 6 against Michigan State. The Ducks, Spartans, Ohio State and others are prominent on the playoff radar.

We haven’t even mentioned Alabama and the rest of the SEC in this regard. Is it even necessary? It surely isn’t — though don’t be too surprised if no SEC team makes it out of December with fewer than two defeats, a potential playoff deal-breaker for the best conference in the land that surely would usher in instant, intense controversy.

So why the Sooners at No. 1? They have a quarterback whose upside puts him, according to Stoops, right there with Sam Bradford and Oklahoma’s other past title-game QBs. They’re dynamite along both lines of scrimmage. The usual talent is there, and the old attitude is back.

Wouldn’t it be something if,
14 years later, they took down the Seminoles again? Or maybe
they’ll get another crack at Alabama. Beating anyone in January will suffice.

‘‘It’s a new era of college football,’’ Knight said, ‘‘and we want to start it off right.’’


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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