The college football world will enjoy its second matchup of top five teams just three weeks into the season when No. 1 Oklahoma visits No. 5 Florida State on Saturday night. The Sooners obviously have their eyes on a national championship, but the Seminoles can be excused if they consider themselves title contenders as well. Should FSU get past OU, only one currently ranked team (No. 16 Florida) remains on its schedule. ESPN, which will have its GameDay crew on hand in Tallahassee, likes to say one week can change the season. The course of both teams' seasons will be markedly different when the final whistle blows late Saturday night.
1. FSU hoping for home improvement. The Sooners whipped Florida State 47-17 last year in Norman in early September, racking up 427 yards and 44 points by the end of the third quarter. Florida State's defense looked bewildered under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops (Bob's brother) as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones completed 30-of-40 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. But the Seminoles' defense improved throughout last season and is confident it has the new scheme down in Year 2. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins is one of the nation's best and is part of a deep defensive line, while the FSU secondary boasts elite corners Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes, both of whom are on the Thorpe Watch List. Getting pressure on Jones is a must. FSU's defense has dominated in its two warm-up games against Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern, allowing 101 total yards combined in the first half of both games.
2. Keep an eye on special teams. As compelling as the matchup between Jones and the FSU defense is, special teams play will be key. If Florida State wants to pull the upset, it will have to win this battle, and it has the personnel to do so. Reid is one of the best punt returners in the nation with two touchdowns to his credit and is very much on Bob Stoops' radar. FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins has made 11 straight field goals and 98 straight PATs dating back to last season and has a game-winning 55-yarder as time expired against Clemson on his résumé. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is traveling three kickers to Tallahassee: one for short field goals, one for long and one for kickoffs. Stoops said that's not indicative of an unstable situation, but it is probably two more than he would like.
3. Winning early could mean winning it all. It should be an electric atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium, and one the folks in Tallahassee have been awaiting for a long time. Stoops says his teams are used to crazy environs ("When we walk in somewhere, it is not usually subdued," he said.), but the Sooners are 4-5 on the road the past two years. Fans of the garnet and gold are desperate for a return to glory, and many see this game as the crossover point. It is up to FSU to take advantage of the early energy and make OU uncomfortable in a stadium ready to explode. Should the Sooners get up 10 points, the atmosphere will deflate. If it goes the other way, the nation's No. 1 team will have its hands full.
Oklahoma enters the game as a 3.5-point favorite. Oklahoma is 5-10-1 against the spread in its last 16 games away from home. Florida State is 4-1 against the spread in nonconference games under Jimbo Fisher, with the lone loss coming at Oklahoma.
Jones has thrown 38 touchdowns and six interceptions in his career at home and 17 touchdowns with 15 interceptions on the road. He has thrown at least one interception in eight straight road games.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
• CB Greg Reid, Florida State: The junior is one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the nation and will have an opportunity to prove as much against Oklahoma's lethal passing offense. Reid is fast, feisty and shows a terrific awareness on the field. His battle against Sooners receiver Ryan Broyles will be a classic matchup. Grade: First-round prospect.
• T Andrew Datko, Florida State: NFL scouts rate Datko as the top offensive tackle from the senior class and love his next-level potential. Possessing tremendous size and strength, Datko blocks with solid fundamentals and easily controls opponents once he gets his hands on them. There's some question as to whether Datko can continue to play on the weak side in the NFL, but most agree he offers tremendous possibilities at right tackle. Grade: Second-round prospect.
• QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Opinions on Jones' next-level potential are all over the board. Many predict the junior will be a first-round pick, but that may be optimistic. Jones is a terrific college quarterback, but he needs to develop physically and improve his overall game before being anointed as the next elite signal-caller from the OU program. Florida State is loaded with NFL prospects in the secondary and offers a terrific pass rush. The game will be a good measuring stick for Jones. Grade: Second-round prospect.
• WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: Broyles flirted with entering the 2011 NFL Draft but made the proper decision by returning for his senior season. He's a dynamic receiver who also produces as a punt returner. His size/speed numbers (5-foot-10, 187 pounds, 4.50 40) are rather ordinary, but he projects nicely as a third wideout/slot receiver in the NFL. Grade: Third-round prospect.
It's hard to pick against Oklahoma after last season's wipeout and considering the firepower the Sooners have on offense. Yet the timing feels right for the Seminoles to pull off the upset. Quarterback EJ Manuel has handled himself in big games before, and the FSU pass rush figures to bother Jones much more than it did last year. Atmosphere can mean a lot in college football, and there will be plenty of it on Saturday night. FLORIDA STATE 31, OKLAHOMA 28