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SPORTS: University of Oklahoma

Lots To Gain, Little To Lose For Oklahoma Against Alabama

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

When it was announced the Sugar Bowl would pair Oklahoma and Alabama together, the responses flew fast and thick, and were basically all the same.

No one gave the Sooners a chance against the Crimson Tide, and the oddsmakers in Vegas couldn't agree more. Currently, Alabama is a 15-point favorite over Oklahoma and it's likely the line will continue to get bigger as we get closer to kickoff.

It's not unexpected for the difference between these two college football's giants to be so great. Alabama barely missed out on playing for a third straight national championship and fourth in the past five years. Oklahoma hasn't played for a national championship since 2008, and the program isn't viewed as one of the country's elite anymore.

But there's plenty of good to be had with this matchup for Oklahoma.

Since no one is expecting the Sooners to be within three touchdowns of the Crimson Tide, the pressure is completely off Oklahoma. There's nothing the Sooners can do to hurt their reputation; the only thing they can do is meet the status quo—which isn't good nationally—or exceed expectations and put Oklahoma back on the map as a national player.

Think about it. An Oklahoma win, or even a close game, would do wonders for the perception of the program around the country. Right now, the Sooners are considered a good, maybe even great program, but far from elite like Alabama or Stanford or even Ohio State.

Oklahoma fans were among some of the most vocal of those who said the Sooners didn't have a prayer against Alabama. Maybe they're right. After all, they're the ones who follow the Sooners closest, along with those in the local media.

But it's not just a media or fan thing. Recruits have perceptions that rival the rest of the country; just look at the Sooners' recruiting of late compared to that of Alabama. Recruits get a different view of the program than the average fan, but still don't have an insider's look, putting their perceptions more in line with those in the bleachers.

For the country to see the Sooners compete with the best football factory in the country would be a great thing. The public perception would change. It would be a big boost in recruiting. Even the confidence of the current team would increase, especially among those who will return in 2014.

Speaking of the players, they're embracing the role of underdog in a big way. Many players have taken to Twitter, encouraging people to continue to bet on an Alabama blowout or increase the line in favor of the Crimson Tide or both.

Zach Sanchez: "Please please don't ride wit us! This team is closer than any y'all can even imagine! We promise well be ready on January 2nd!

Julian Wilson: "Ready for the opportunity to play Alabama. Crazy how people are already counting us out.. If you weren't riding with us before, don't now."

Jalen Saunders: "LET THE HATIN BEGIN! We do it for the non-believers!!! #Boomer"

The underdog role is not one the Sooners are accustomed to playing, but they're embracing it in a big way. Even though the OU program isn't at the level we've grown accustomed to in the Bob Stoops era, it's never been considered an underdog, minus some specific games from year to year. It's strange to see the Sooners in a position where no one expects them to win, yet that's where we are with these two teams.

Unfortunately, some are already writing the script for a close game or OU win. The Crimson Tide played Utah in the Sugar Bowl after the 2008 season. The Tide lost to Utah and the Utes didn't get a lot of credit for the win. Instead, we heard a whole lot about how Alabama wasn't happy to be there or was uninspired.

If the game is close, there's no doubt some will point to Alabama not being in the national title game, unhappy to be in New Orleans, as a reason why the Sooners were able to hang with the Crimson Tide. Hopefully, those who actually watch the game will know better.

Alabama may be the best team in the country, even though they're not in the national title game. It's not surprising the Sooners aren't being given a chance against the Crimson Tide, but only good can come from this matchup. Oklahoma may not win the game, but they'll probably surprise some folks with their play.

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