It’s not unusual for Oklahoma to be among the favorites to reach the Bowl Championship Series title game. It may not be far-fetched this year for Brigham Young to also be harboring those aspirations.
The first college football game at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas should be an intriguing one when the third-ranked Sooners and No. 20 Cougars play Saturday in a matchup featuring star quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Max Hall.
“It makes your players have a sense of urgency and realize that they’ve got to be on the top of their game for sure right off the bat,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said about the opener. “It is challenging and it does get your players’ attention.”
Oklahoma went 12-2 last season, falling 24-14 to Florida in the BCS title game. Bradford threw for 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while falling to 0-2 in bowl games.
“It’s all you think about, it’s all you dream about,” Bradford said. “And to have the opportunity to play for a national championship and come up short, it’s just … it’s not a good feeling to have.”
Bradford finished with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions to beat out Texas’ Colt McCoy and Florida’s Tim Tebow for his first Heisman Trophy.
Hall could work his way into contention for the honor this year after he finished with 35 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,957 yards in 2008 to help BYU go 10-3.
The Cougars have beefed up their non-conference schedule with a home game against No. 18 Florida State set for Sept. 19. The tougher opponents leading up to Mountain West play could present BYU with a better chance to play for a national title despite being part of a non-BCS conference.
“I’m very excited about this football team. I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hall said. “I’m as focused as I’ve ever been in my life on the game right now. This is the most prepared team I’ve ever been associated with.”
Bradford was sacked 11 times last year and will be working behind an offensive line that lost four starters and a receiving corps that lost three wideouts. Oklahoma’s offense has plenty of other talent returning, though, including tailbacks Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, who each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing last season.
“I think that’s a very comforting feeling looking out there and seeing guys who have not only been here a couple years with, but we’ve been in games - been in big games - with,” Bradford said. “To have those guys out there that I know are great players, it makes my job a lot easier. It gives me a lot of comfort.”
Stoops has lost an opener once in his 10 years at Oklahoma, falling in 2005 to TCU, another Mountain West foe. The Sooners will get a $2.25 million payout for playing in this game.
The Oklahoma coach wasn’t happy to give up a home game to play in Jerry Jones’ stadium that cost nearly $1.1 billion to build. It will be the site of the Big 12 championship game, and Oklahoma fans already have helped ensure a sellout.
“We’re not anxious to do it a whole lot,” Stoops said. “In this case, our fans and people are really excited about it.”
Stoops doesn’t expect the low video boards at the new stadium to be a problem, saying that punter Tress Way is unlikely to hit them. The boards 90 feet above the playing surface have become an issue in the NFL.
Like Oklahoma, the Cougars have had to rebuild their offensive line after Jason Speredon and Houston Reynolds were both lost for the season in preseason practice. Matt Reynolds is the only returning starter on the line and he will be playing the opener with a padded splint on his left hand.
BYU has lost 12 straight games to ranked non-conference opponents since a 26-6 win over then-No. 14 Arizona State on Sept. 12, 1998. The Cougars know they have a lot to gain and plenty to lose as well.
“I’m not going to back away from that,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “If it costs us an undefeated season and the BCS-buster spot, I’m still looking at the broader perspective. Eventually, we’re going to get there and the lessons we learn in those games are going to help us get there.”
BYU won 31-6 in the 1994 Copper Bowl in the only previous meeting between these schools.