Oklahoma Wins National Title
MIAMI, Fla. (AP) -- Josh Heupel was hoisted on his teammates' shoulders, still cradling the game ball in one arm while thrusting a fist in the air and shouting to the world. The Oklahoma Sooners had proved everybody wrong.
Gathered at the 20-yard line after their startling 13-2 victory over heavily favored Florida State, the Sooners hooted and hollered about their first national championship in 15 years.
"It doesn't get any sweeter than this, baby," the quarterback said.
No. 1 Oklahoma used a smothering defense Wednesday night to shut down the third-ranked Seminoles and Heupel generated enough offense to lead the Sooners to a perfect season.
"To be honest with you, we fully expected to play that way," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "And as a team, we expected to win."
Oklahoma (13-0), 10 1/2-point underdogs against the Seminoles (11-2) also made the issue of a split title a moot point.
Finishing as the nation's only unbeaten team, the Sooners were the unanimous winners of The Associated Press media poll. And they were automatically crowned national champs in the coaches' poll under the Bowl Championship Series format.
"Our players recognize that the history of Oklahoma is winning championships," Stoops said. "We already had six, now we have seven. We have a great history in the Orange Bowl."
Florida State finished fifth in the AP poll and fourth in the coaches' poll. The Seminoles were hoping to become the first team to repeat as national champion since Nebraska in 1994-95. Had the Seminoles won, No. 2 Miami (11-1) would have staked a claim to a share of the title.
"When I look at it now, I think it should have been Miami and Oklahoma," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said. "We didn't look like we belonged here."
Miami coach Butch Davis also praised the Sooners.
"Give Oklahoma credit," Davis said. "To finish 13-0 against a strong schedule and to perform the way they did this evening is highly commendable."
It was the lowest scoring Orange Bowl since Penn State beat Missouri 10-3 in 1970.
Heupel more than made up for his runner-up finish to Florida State's Chris Weinke in the Heisman Trophy race by outplaying him in the biggest game of his life.
The left-hander from Aberdeen, S.D., completed 25 of 39 passes for 214 yards and kept the Seminoles off balance all night.
"We don't care what the media or oddsmakers think," Heupel said. "We believe in ourselves."
Tim Duncan kicked two field goals and Quentin Griffin scored the clinching touchdown on a 10-yard run up the middle with 8:30 to play. Florida State avoided its first shutout in 12 seasons when Stanford Samuels tackled Oklahoma punter Jeff Ferguson in the end zone for a safety with 55 seconds remaining.
Florida State got the ball back on the ensuing free kick, but Weinke's 29-yard pass into the end zone was intercepted by Ontei Jones with 16 seconds left and the celebration began.
After Heupel took a knee and the clock ran down, The Pride of Oklahoma Band broke out in yet another rendition of "Boomer Sooner" and the players and fans converged on the field to celebrate.
For a flustered Florida State, the loss added another chapter to its list of blown title opportunities. Three times in the last five years, the Seminoles lost a bowl game that could have given them a championship.
Without All-American receiver Snoop Minnis, suspended for failing grades, and offensive coordinator Mark Richt perhaps preoccupied with his new job as Georgia's coach, Florida State generated just 301 total yards - 248 under its average.
For the 28-year-old Weinke, this may have been the poorest performance of his record-setting season. He was 25-of-51 for 274 yards and two interceptions and a fumble. He did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
"We simply could get nothing going offensively," Bowden said. "They did a great job of confusing us defensively."
Added Weinke: "I wasn't hitting. If the quarterback isn't throwing very well, you're not going to be successful. It was tough. It was frustrating after gaining so many yards all year."
Led by Orange Bowl MVP Torrance Marshall, the Sooners time and again forced Weinke into bad decisions. At least a half dozen passes were in the hands of Sooner defenders but dropped.
Marshall finished with six tackles, one interception and one batted ball. With Oklahoma ahead by only 6-0 in the fourth quarter, All-American linebacker Rocky Calmus made his presence felt. He knocked the ball out of Weinke's hands, safety Roy Williams recovered and two plays later, Griffin ran for his touchdown.
Stoops hugged players and assistants after Oklahoma clinched its seventh national title as many in the crowd of 76,835 at Pro Player Stadium cheered.
"It's easy to say Oklahoma is back!" he said.
Stoops is the reason. He spent seven years working for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and spent three years running the defense for Florida under Steve Spurrier. He learned his lessons well since the Sooners' defense nearly handed Florida State just its third shutout in Bowden's 25 seasons.
It was obvious both teams were coming off long layoffs. The Seminoles last played 45 days ago, the Sooners 32 days ago.
Surprisingly for two high-scoring offenses, the mistake-filled first half ended with the Oklahoma ahead 3-0 on Duncan's 27-yard field goal 7:44 into the game.
The opening 30 minutes featured three turnovers, a missed 30-yard field goal by Florida State's Brett Cimorelli - wide right, naturally - and eight penalties.
Weinke and Heupel each threw an interception, and Sooners receiver Andre Woolfolk fumbled after a 22-yard reception, with Clevan Thomas recovering at the OU 47.
On the next play, Weinke's pass was intercepted by Marshall. Oklahoma drove 44 yards in seven plays before the left-footed Duncan kicked his field goal.
Florida State, averaging 42.4 points per game, was shut out in the first half for just the second time this season. Miami led Florida State 17-0 at halftime en route to a 27-24 win over the Seminoles on Oct. 7.
The Sooners' remarkable return to prominence began in 1999 when the 40-year Stoops took over a program that was 12-22 under John Blake from 1996-98.
First, he plucked a group of assistants from schools where he had worked. For example, he took his brother, Mike, from Kansas State to run the defense and Steve Spurrier Jr. from Florida to coach the receivers. Then he drilled a winning attitude into his players, insisting that if they worked hard and followed his plan, Sooner magic would follow.
When Heupel showed up from Snow Junior College in Utah to run a new wide-open passing attack, Stoops had his field general. OU went 7-5 in '99 and his players became believers
This season, the Sooners were No. 19 in the preseason poll, easily won their first four games and then faced perhaps the toughest October schedule in the nation - No. 11 Texas, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska. Not a problem as the Sooners pounded the Longhorns 63-14 in Dallas, beat the Wildcats 31-14 at Manhattan, Kan., and shut down the Cornhuskers 31-14.
It appeared as though Oklahoma hit the wall in November, but rallied to win at Texas A&M 35-31 on Marshall's interception return for a late score. Then it held off Oklahoma State 12-7, and clinched its Orange Bowl bid with a 27-24 win over K-State in the Big 12 title game.
In the weeks leading to their game against Florida State, the Sooners were given little chance of winning.
"We've been underestimated the whole season," Williams said before the game. "We're used to it. We're not worried about it. It's motivation."