NORMAN — At times, it seemed like this week would never get here.
But college football fans, Christmas has arrived.
Ohio State and Oklahoma tangle on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
When the contracts were signed and the matchups were announced way back in 2004, it felt like we were anticipating the 24th century.
As both teams practiced last spring, it was like planning for retirement.
Even over the summer, when the Associated Press announced its all-time Top 25 — Ohio State was No. 1, OU was No. 2 (later that week, CBS Sports reworked the AP’s numbers and determined the Sooners were No. 1, the Buckeyes No. 2) — it was like getting that old gift catalog in the mail three full months before Christmas: enticing, but excruciating.
The anticipation was just too much.
Finally, it’s here. And Bob Stoops, for one, couldn’t be more excited.
“I think it’s exciting for college football fans, even that aren’t Oklahoma and Ohio State fans,” Stoops said. “Everybody likes to see these kinds of matchups. They’re exciting for everyone, really.”
Especially for a 56-year-old football coach (Stoops’ birthday was last Friday) from Youngstown, Ohio.
“I grew up watching Ohio State football,” Stoops said. “I can’t say that we were Buckeye fans. But of course you watched them and paid attention, and of course everybody knew of and loved Woody Hayes and his legend. Loved his teams, and he had great teams, great players. Building that tradition for such a long time. When you’re in Ohio, you know of it, that’s for sure.”
Stoops’ counterpart, Urban Meyer, hails from Ashtabula, Ohio, just an hour north.
“Up on the lake (Erie),” Stoops said. “Yeah, we used to vacation there.”
Stoops declined to recount any colorful tales from the summer trips of his childhood, but it’s no coincidence that he and Meyer, 52, are from the same area. Add LSU’s Les Miles to the conversation (from Elyria, 90 miles to the west, just on the other side of Cleveland) and that’s three of the five active head coaches who have won college football national championships hailing from the Buckeye State. (The other two, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher are both from West Virginia.)
“Football has always been important there (in Ohio),” Stoops said. “And I think it goes back to all the great high school coaches in the area. Not only head high school coaches, assistant high school coaches, where there are so many of them there I believe that are quality coaches, do it the right way, innovative. And football has always been so strong there. The population base is very large, a lot of big cities that all have quality football programs.”
These Buckeyes are 2-0 and ranked No. 3 after whipping Tulsa 48-3 on Saturday at The Horseshoe. Ohio State currently has 39 players in the NFL (OU has 27 on opening-day NFL rosters), including a staggering 14 rookies from last year’s team (Oklahoma has five). OSU’s current roster includes seven Rivals 5-star recruits, compared to two for the Sooners.
The Buckeyes were 12-0 in Meyer’s first year but ineligible for championships or bowls because of NCAA sanctions from Jim Tressel’s tenure. They won the 2014 national championship, then were poised to repeat last year until a late November loss to Michigan State knocked them out of the playoff.
But this Ohio State team also has the least-experienced roster in all of college football, only six returning starters from 2015. They obliterated Bowling Green 77-10 and then needed a half to figure things out last week against Tulsa. A total of 44 Buckeyes went into this season never having played in a college football game.
Now Meyer brings those players in their scarlet and gray and buckeye decals into a renovated Memorial Stadium on Saturday, where Sooner Nation has been lying in wait like a kid on Christmas, tormented by the calendar’s crawl.
“It’ll be a big challenge,” Stoops said. “Everybody around here is excited for it.
“I know the fans are.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of Further Review with Hoover & Rew and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew. Listen on fm107.9 or am1270 in Tulsa, on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.