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Sooners Excited, Not Intimidated, To Face Alabama

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma always wanted to play Alabama.

"When it comes down to it, we wanted to play Alabama at the start of the year," OU center Gabe Ikard said on Monday. "We thought it'd be in the national championship game, but the chips fall how they fall."

The Sooners and Crimson Tide won't be facing off at the Rose Bowl next month, but that's really only a surprise for one of those two teams. However, the consolation prize isn't a bad one, even if hardly anyone outside of the two team locker rooms believes the game will be something worth watching. Of course, a lot of those people probably never believed Oklahoma could have made it to Pasadena, either.

"We realize that a lot of people are doubting us and deservedly so," Ikard said. "Alabama has been the king of college football and they deserve all of that respect. It's up to us to go down there and play them well and go get a Sugar Bowl victory."

To call the game a challenge for Oklahoma would be an understatement, but that isn't causing the players to be intimidated or shy away from the challenge awaiting them just off Bourbon Street.

Related Story: Lots To Gain, Little To Lose For Oklahoma Against Alabama

"I think we enjoy that a little bit, being the underdog and having us against everybody else," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "I know that I do, personally, and I know that a lot of my brothers do, as well. We're just going to go out there and compete."

For some reason, the long layoff between the end of the regular season and bowl games tends to have a big negative effect on teams. Maybe it's disappointment from how the regular season ended, or even unhappiness about the team's bowl destination. Whatever the reason, teams aren't always at their best in bowl games compared to the regular season.

One needs to look no further than the Sooners' opponent to find evidence of this. The Crimson Tide went 12-0 in 2008, but lost to Florida in the SEC championship game and played Utah in the Sugar Bowl. A very good Utes team beat Alabama, but most people chalked it up to the Crimson Tide being unmotivated.

"It's one of those things where it's a bowl game and anything can happen," Ikard said. "We realize that all of the factors that go into it really don't matter at this point. It comes down to preparation, who prepares better, who practices better leading up to the game and who executes better on the field.

"It's one game. Anything can happen in one game."

While the matchup on the field is particularly juicy, this game has a rather intriguing storyline on the sidelines as well, thanks to the relationship OU coach Bob Stoops has with Alabama coach Nick Saban. The relationship first began when Saban was an assistant at Michigan State and Stoops' father, Ron, was coaching at Cardinal Mooney High School in Ohio.

"My dad, being an assistant, would be at the school a lot of course and my dad got to know coach Saban really well," Stoops said. "There was a time or two, maybe Mark's (Stoops' brother) senior year playing up at Michigan State, coach Saban and his wife Terry invite my mother and my father and whoever is with them to their home after the game."

Over the years, Stoops, Saban, and their staffs have gotten together in the offseason to exchange ideas. Most of it has been focused on defense and Stoops said both men don't implement everything that's shared.

"Some things fit what you are doing and maybe the same for them," Stoops said. "It's not like you are doing everything they are doing. It's just certain ideas fit and you can add to what you are already doing."

It's not the national championship, but it's a great place to be for the Sooners, who were looking at the Alamo Bowl before knocking off Oklahoma State in Bedlam. Even before the season, if you'd have predicted Oklahoma to be in a BCS bowl against Alabama at the end of the year, you would've probably raised a few eyebrows.

Despite all the injuries, inconsistency at the quarterback position and other hurdles the Sooners have had to climb this year, they're in a BCS bowl and excited about the prospects about facing Alabama, even if no one gives them a chance.

"It's going to be a great challenge," Ikard said. "We are going to prepare the same way to get ready for a great team. We respect them but we're not scared to play them. They're extremely talented and we realize that. You have got to be confident going into a football game or else you're going to get blown out."

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