Bob Stoops and Dennis Franchione know it. The players and fans know it. ABC Sports knows it.
Saturday is going to be a special day when two of college football most storied programs get together at 2:30 pm on Owen Field in front of a national television audience on ABC Sports.
Alabama had the Bear. Oklahoma had Bud, Barry and now Bob. Alabama claims 12 national titles. Oklahoma claims seven.
Regardless of who claims what, there will not be two programs that meet on the same football field this season with with more national titles stuffed in their trophy cases then when Oklahoma meets Alabama on Saturday.
Forget the rankings. Forget the records. Forget the stats. Forget the fact Alabama is on probation.
This is a matchup made in college football heaven.
"As a guy would say, ‘whoa, Nellie, this is a big one.' That's the only thing I could think of that would make this game more exciting is if we could get Keith Jackson to cross the Rockies just one more time to do an Alabama game," said Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione at his weekly press conference Tuesday in Tuscaloosa.
"This is why you coach, to get to coach in these kinds of games. It's why players come to Alabama, to play in these kinds of games. It's certainly two great, tradition rich programs."
Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops is equally excited about playing Alabama.
"We are very excited about the fact that we are playing in the first regular season game between Oklahoma and Alabama," said Stoops. "It's hard to believe that two programs as good as these two have never played during the regular season."
"It is great that we have a program like Alabama coming here to play in our home opener. We have a lot respect for Alabama, for their history and tradition, but also for what they are doing now."
Only Alabama, Oklahoma and Notre Dame have a right to claim the steepest traditions in college football.
But just like Oklahoma in the 90's, Alabama is trying to revive its program back into the national elite since their last national championship in 1994.
That task became much tougher for Franchione when the program was placed on probation this summer and penalized from playing in a bowl game this season. And because of the probation, many have suggested that playing second-ranked Oklahoma may be Alabama's Bowl game.
"I don't look at it this way," said Franchione. "I don't feel like our players do. In our regard it's game two and we've got a long schedule ahead of us. It's probably a highlight game on this schedule and for them this year, but, no, I certainly don't look at it as our bowl game or anything like that."
Alabama may be down, but they're not out. The Crimson Tide return eight starters on defense and seven starters on offense from their 7-5 team that beat Iowa State in the Independence Bowl a year ago.
Because of the probation, Alabama cannot be ranked in either of the Associated Press or Coaches Top 25 Polls, but don't let that fool you.
Stoops says Alabama has plenty of talent.
"Coach Franchione and his staff do a great job. They have a lot of talent and they are very physical on both sides of the ball," said Stoops. "They have talented players on both sides of the ball, they have tradition and we understand it is a great challenge. Our players are excited about playing the game. I believe our fans are excited too. This is is going to be a great week."
"I think our players believe they can win the game," said Franchione. "They have looked forward to this game for a long time. They have the right kind of mentality to play a highly ranked team."
"We will not be intimidated. We've played some pretty good folks in this conference, nothing against OU, they're an outstanding program certainly, but we've played the Tennessee's and the Florida's and on and on and on. So we've played highly ranked programs before. Alabama will be ready to play."
Both teams indeed did get offensive in their season openers a week ago. Alabama scored 39 points in their win over Middle Tennessee State while the Sooners racked up 37 points against Tulsa.
Alabama runs a multiple run-pass option scheme, which is very similar to that of the offenses ran by Kansas State and Nebraska.
Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops expects the Tide to try and match some of the same offensive schemes that gave the Oklahoma defense fits last year when they played Kansas State.
"In many ways it's the same defensive package that we work for Nebraska and Kansas State," said Stoops of the defense OU will implement to try and stop the Tide. "They want to get to the option whenever they can and then they are going to try and fool you with some option play action passes."
"They want to run the football and that is part of what they do. We understand that and our defense always starts with being great against the run game, and that won't change this week. We are going to work the heck out of all the options all week and we have been since this summer. You have to be smart and not let them get behind you on those option passes."
Perhaps the Tide's best weapon on offense is senior quarterback Tyler Watts. Watts can either run or throw with success, and has five starters from a year ago on the offensive line returning to protect him. A week ago against Middle Tennessee State, Watts carried the ball 10 times for 54 yards and completed 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards.
"Tyler is very elusive and is hard for a defense go get a hold of. He is very disciplined in running the option and is capable of making a big play for them in all of their formations," said Stoops.
"He also throws the ball well and does a good job operating in a controlled passing attack. Tyler is great at running the play action and letting his receivers get behind you and then deliver the football. He is good in all of those areas."
The defensive side of the ball was thought to have been both team's strong points coming into this season. And while Alabama struggled a week ago when they gave up 34 points and 385 yards of total offense, Oklahoma's defense hasn't appeared to have skipped a beat from their dominating unit a year ago.
"Last year only three of the twelve teams they played had over 300 yards. Everybody else had below 300. They held Arkansas to 50 yards last year. That's total, not rushing, not passing. Total. (They) Held Texas A&M to 132 (yards). That's a couple of pretty tradition rich programs, too, that didn't do very well," said Franchione on OU's defense.
"It's going to be a little difficult to determine what to do in the red zone. There have been 29 possessions the last two games, and only once has a team made it there. That's how good this defense is."
Alabama leads the series 1-0-1. Saturday will mark the first time the two teams will have met in the regular season. The Crimson Tide won the 1963 Orange Bowl, 17-0, while the teams played to a 24-24 tie in the 1970 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.
Bob Stoops and Dennis Franchione have never met head-to-head. Franchione has lost his only meeting against the Sooners, 10-9 on Sept. 12, 1998, when he was the head coach at TCU. Franchione is 65-51 overall in his 10 years as a head coach. Stoops is 32-7 in his fourth year overall at Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 3 in the Coaches Poll. Alabama is not eligible to receive votes in either poll due to their probation.
Home Sweet Home
Oklahoma is 85-16-6 in home openers. Under Bob Stoops, OU is 3-0 in home openers.
OU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp held the same position at Alabama in 1998.
Alabama receivers coach Kenith Pope played at OU from 1971-73. He coached the Sooner DEs from 1995-97.
Alabama cornerbacks coach Chris Thurmond is a 1975 graduate of Tulsa. He coached OU's secondary from 1996-97.
Alabama Director of Football Operations Charley North coached at OU from 1979-84.
*No Sooners are from Alabama, but two Crimson Tide players — middle linebacker Robert Allen (Lawton) and rover Mark Anderson (Tulsa Washington) are from Oklahoma.
Alabama is fifth nationally with 745 wins in school history while the Sooners rank ninth with 724. The Crimson Tide are third in winning percentage (.717) and first in bowl Appearances and bowl victories. The Sooners ranked eighth in bowl appearances (35) and fifth in bowl victories (22). Oklahoma has produced 128 all-americans to ‘Bama's 102.
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