By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NEW ORLEANS — The questions about Alabama came from every angle in the 20 days since the Sugar Bowl announced its selections. Oklahoma handled just about all of them — from local reporters, at least — with deference to the Crimson Tide’s dominance over the last five years.
Many Sooners truly believe they’ll face the best team in college football Thursday at New Orleans’ Superdome.
But there was one question asked by friends, acquaintances and classmates that raised their ire.
“I get annoyed when people ask me if I’m afraid,” OU defensive lineman Chukka Ndulue said. “Just shut up.”
They heard it a lot in the time between the bowl announcement and the semester ending. Players likely heard more of it when they went home for Christmas break.
The third-ranked Crimson Tide have that reputation. They’ve physically and mentally bludgeoned their last four bowl opponents. Look at the string: 37-21 win over Texas in 2009; 49-7 rout of Michigan State in 2010; the 21-0 romp over LSU in the 2011 national title game; lest we forget the 42-14 embarrassment of Notre Dame in last season’s national title game.
Postseason wins like that leave an indelible image in people’s minds.
“Yes. I mean, sure everybody on our team’s got text messages about it,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said, “but fear is one thing that (defensive coordinator) Mike Stoops, our boss, does not teach here. If you’re scared, you will not be on that field.”
Whether or not a there’s a fear factor that accompanies playing the Crimson Tide is a question only past opponents can answer. But it’s hard to debate anything other than Alabama has been college football’s most dominant team over the last five seasons.
“It will be a big challenge but one that our players have earned and will be excited about,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The Sooners are adrenalized by the opportunity in front of them. They know they play for a program that once stuck the same type of fear — if not in opponents’ hearts and minds — at least with their fans. It’s something that says why bother showing up because there’s no chance of winning. Many fans bases used to feel that way when the Sooners came to town. They’ve lost just enough over the last five years — especially in bowl games — to stamp out that initial reaction to seeing the Sooners on the schedule.
Beat Alabama and it starts to creep back. It’s the biggest reason no one is unnerved about this matchup.
“I’m excited and my blood is boiling because I’m ready to get after it,” Ndulue said. “They’re gonna come out with their best shot and hit us right in the mouth and we’re going to retaliate and vice versa.”
The Sooners arrived in New Orleans Friday. The topic came up immediately. The question is going to be around until kickoff and actions speak louder than words ever have.
“Any opponent you play, you cannot be scared of them,” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said Friday. “They are a good team but so are we.”