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September 26, 2008

No. 1 up for grabs as Sooners face TCU

The race for the new number one begins this weekend in Norman, Okla., Athens, Ga., and Gainesville, Fla.

It may even extend all the way to Happy Valley where Penn State takes on Illinois.

After the former No. 1, the USC Trojans, fell to Oregon State 27-21 on Thursday night, everyone is fighting for the top rung of the BCS ladder.

Go ahead and pencil in the Oklahoma Sooners as the team with a slight edge over the field when they take on No. 24 TCU at 6:00 p.m. CST on Owen Field.

But in the race for a new No. 1, style points will definitely matter. And that could be a big problem for the Sooners who are facing a non-BCS league opponent with a potential BCS-busting pedigree.

Some heady scribes are even going so far as to claim TCU's conference, the Mountain West, as more deserving of an automatic BCS bid over the PAC-10 this season.

"If you ask them they've probably been that way in the past but they just didn't get the credit," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who knows a thing-or-two about coaching against the big boys from his days at Miami (OH). "I would say if I'm sitting in one of those conference offices every week I know I've got my hands full."

TCU could be the class of the Mountain West, if not for a team like BYU, who put together back-to-back wins against PAC-10 foes earlier this season, including a 59-0 drubbing of UCLA.

UNLV has also upset Arizona State, a team that stood toe-to-toe with Georgia last weekend.

And TCU already has one BCS member victory against Stanford, who they beat 31-14 two weeks ago.

Yes, that same Stanford team who beat Oregon State to start the season.

The Horned Frogs come to Norman with the nation's No. 1 total defense, allowing opponents a paltry 183 yards per game average.

Now TCU is trying to line up one more Mountain West salvo as they try and take down the nation's No. 2 team in Oklahoma.

"It's a matchup where they have a tremendous defense, a bunch of good players, a bunch of veterans and we have a lot of veterans and some guys that can make plays on offense," Wilson added. "To me it's a great matchup of offense on defense."

For Oklahoma, a convincing win could be tough. But are we talking upset? Probably not.

TCU is most known for coming onto Owen Field and upsetting the Sooners 17-10 in the first game of the 2005 season. It's been a hot subject all week in Norman.

But that was one of Stoops' worst teams in his 10 seasons at OU. Oklahoma ended up salvaging that season by defeating Oregon on the Holiday Bowl to finish an 8-4 campaign. But the only other team that could be considered worse was his first team in 1999, which went 7-5 after losing to Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl.

No, this isn't a team with the same type of weaknesses that lost to TCU back in '05.

There is no quarterback controversy this season. In the last meeting, OU started junior Paul Thompson, only to replace him with Rhett Bomar three games into the season.

Sam Bradford is the unquestioned leader of this team. Veterans are everywhere on this offensive unit. In 2005, Oklahoma started an entirely new offensive line. This season, they return their entire offensive line from 2007.

But what Oklahoma faces is the battle of perception. No. 3 Georgia will take on No. 8 Alabama.

Should the Bulldogs win convincingly, they could take over the top spot.

But let's face it, if the Sooners fail to cover the 17-point spread against TCU, they'll likely drop below the Bulldogs after a victory over an impressive Alabama.

And TCU is a team which could give the Sooners plenty of problems on offense and defense.

"Defensively they're sound, they play hard, they're leading the country in rush defense, I think total defense and they're in the tops in turnovers," said defensive backs coach Bobby Jack Wright. "A really good team defensively.

"Offensively they give you a lot of different looks and a lot of personnel groupings."

The biggest key for TCU will be getting Bradford uncomfortable. It's a difficult task, but not impossible.

Especially considering all the speed the Horned Frogs have at their disposal.

If TCU can use their speed to get around Oklahoma's mammoth offensive line, they could create the first offensive struggles of the season for the Sooners.

"They're going to move on you, they're going to bring some pressure on you and load the box and they have downhill linebackers that are three yards deep," said offensive line coach James Patton. "They're a good defense."

TCU will also bring a balanced and methodical running game at Oklahoma's defense. With Demarcus Granger unavailable due to ligament damage in his foot, there will be a lot of pressure on OU's defensive line.

They'll be without their biggest run stopper.

"We can't let one person stop us from getting to where we need to be, even if that one person is important to us," said teammate Gerald McCoy. "We still have to keep on pushing."

TCU will throw the kitchen sink at Oklahoma in the run game. And just when teams get focused on slowing them down on the ground, quarterback Andy Dalton is capable of making plays with his arm.

"They'll go from the I-Backs to the single-back set where they run a zone and speed options and then they'll get in the empty sets where they're throwing the ball all over the yard," said Wright.

The Sooners have plenty of talent and experience at their disposal. But a comfortable win and a No. 1 ranking won't come easy on Saturday.

TCU will provide the biggest test of the season for these Sooners.

Tough enough that OU could fall off the face of the national championship map just as quickly as USC did on Thursday night.


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