Tigers respect Sooners despite struggles

Oklahoma began the year with National Championship aspirations, but after struggling to an 8-4 record, things in Norman seem to have changed.

Or have they?

While the Sooners did garner a handful of first-place votes in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' preseason polls, it's not like they were blown out in all of their losses this season.

In fact, after roaring out of the gate to an impressive 4-0 start, the Sooners fell victim to eventual Big 12 co-champion TCU by just four. The Horned Frogs, of course, finished the season with just one loss and ranked No. 6 by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Oklahoma also lost by one point to No. 11 Kansas State and by three to Oklahoma State in the final game of the season.

The Oklahoma State setback also saw OU blow a 14-point fourth quarter lead.

So don't try telling the Tigers this Oklahoma squad isn't a legitimate power- even with its 8-4 record.

"It's another good opportunity for our program," senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett says. "It's Oklahoma. One of the more storied programs in the country. It's the ACC versus Big 12 so it's another power five conference we are playing against. We know these guys are good and we know what's at stake." One of the reasons for the Sooners' four-loss season has been injuries - particularly at quarterback where Trevor Knight missed the final three games of the year with a neck injury.

Knight has been given a clean bill of health since the season ended and is expected to play against Clemson. So has star wide receiver Sterling Sheppard- who has also been banged up throughout the year.

Senior cornerback Gerry Peters says the defense is preparing for Knight and his backup, Cody Thompson. And the entire group of wide outs has caught his attention on film, too.

"They look really good on offense," he said Tuesday. "They are really good at getting out of their breaks. And at quarterback, their freshman came in and put up over 35 points in the three teams he faced. Whoever is back there we know they can make all of their throws."

Jarrett also mentioned the physicality of the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners have one of the top offensive lines in the country and several battering rams at running back, including freshman Samaje Perine, who set a single game record for rushing yards (427) against Kansas.

"They are real physical," he said. "Real physical. They run tempo at times and that can be difficult to deal with. So we know we've got our hands full. They have talent on all levels so we are doing our best to try and get ready for it."

The Tigers face the Sooners on Dec. 29 at 5:30 PM in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

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