OU football: Sooners headed to Cotton Bowl to play Florida
NORMAN — The Oklahoma Sooners are making the familiar trip down I-35, where they’ll play a fairly unfamiliar opponent.
The No. 6 Sooners will take on No. 7 Florida in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m. Dec. 30 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It will be the second consecutive game at the stadium for the Sooners after they beat Iowa State 27-21 on Sunday to win their sixth consecutive Big 12 title.
The Sooners and Gators have played just once before — in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami. Florida won that game 24-14.
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OU has played in the Cotton Bowl twice — losing to Texas A&M 41-13 after the 2012 season and beating Arkansas 10-3 after the 2001 season.
The Sooners aren’t in the College Football Playoff for the first time in four seasons.
Their last non-playoff bowl was also their last bowl win, coming in the Sugar Bowl over Auburn following the 2016 season.
While OU missed the playoffs, it was still a remarkable finish after an 0-2 start in Big 12 play made it unlikely the Sooners would be able to win a sixth consecutive Big 12 title and make a New Year’s Six bowl game for a sixth consecutive season.
But OU reeled off a seven-game winning streak to make the Big 12 Championship Game, where they avenged one of those losses with the win over the Cyclones.
“They’re all so different. I mean, I felt tremendous excitement after each one of them, but this one does feel different in that way,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “It’s maybe the most unlikely, I guess you might say, just with all we had to overcome, both across the country, every team, everybody and then specific to our group. We had to overcome a lot.”
While during much of OU’s recent stretch of success, the offense has carried the way with historic play from Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts at quarterback.
But this team has been much more balanced.
Spencer Rattler has been strong at quarterback, throwing for 2,784 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions, but it’s been the defense that has carried the load of late.
The Sooners finished the regular season with the No. 20 total defense and second in the Big 12 — behind only a West Virginia team that didn’t face the OU offense thanks to a cancellation.
OU is third in the nation in rushing defense, holding opponents to 90.6 yards per game.
Florida looked like a potential CFP team until recently.
The Gators started 8-1, their only loss coming at Texas A&M, 41-38, on Oct. 10.
Florida has one of the most powerful offenses in the country, led by quarterback Kyle Trask.
Trask threw for a FBS-best 4,125 and 43 touchdowns — 11 ahead of the next-closest quarterback.
But Trask will be without one of his favorite targets in the bowl game.
Tight end Kyle Pitts, the favorite to win the Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football, announced Sunday that he would skip not only his senior season but the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Pitts had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, including seven catches for 129 yards in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game against Alabama.
The Gators lost 52-46 to the Crimson Tide, staking the top-ranked team in the nation down to the wire.
Florida was upset by LSU, 37-34, a week earlier, to make their bid for a playoff berth into a longshot.
The Gators only win over a ranked opponent came over then-No. 5 Georgia, 44-28, on Nov. 7.