LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma enters the Rose Bowl as the higher seeded team. It will wear the home jerseys and Georgia the visiting white. And yet …
“Yeah. We understand we’re the underdog,” Sooners offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. “And we prefer it that way. It helps us stay focused as a team.”
A couple of feet away, Brown’s teammate Mark Andrews, an All-America tight end, sounded a similar theme.
“I don’t know if we ever get enough respect, but that doesn’t matter to us,” Andrews said. “We feel like we play better with a chip on our shoulder.”
When the Rose Bowl matchup was announced, the betting line was even. But money quickly went to Georgia – not all of it, but enough that UGA has been a two-point favorite for several weeks now, and remains so five days from the national semifinal.
Does it bother Oklahoma? Perhaps they’re mildly put off, but Brown and Andrews weren’t playing the no-respect card when asked about it Wednesday. It was more matter of fact.
“The SEC is known as the best conference in college football,” said Brown, who played his high school ball in the Atlanta area. “We understand that, and are just going to take care of our business.”
There was a slight note of exasperation from Oklahoma senior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, the defensive end/linebacker, especially when it came to his own unit. The Sooners ranks 52nd nationally in scoring defense, which can be chalked up to playing all those high-scoring Big 12 offenses, but often doesn’t. Okoronkwo was asked if he was tired of hearing about it.
“Yeah I’ve been tired long before this game,” Okoronkwo said. “But it’s all good. It comes with the territory. We’re just going to come ready to play.”
And what of the idea that Big 12 teams get stopped once they run into SEC teams? Oklahoma did beat an SEC team in last year’s bowl game, as Okoronkwo pointed out.
“We feel like we probably proved that. We did that in the Sugar Bowl last year against Auburn. I guess people forget that,” he said. “But we’re fine. You put us on the field with any team we’re going to go out there and play with a bunch of passion and heart.”
That passion and heart, the players said, is largely attributed to one source: Baker Mayfield.
The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback wasn’t one of the players who attended Wednesday’s event at Disneyland, due to what head coach Lincoln Riley said was a slight sickness. But he was mentioned often, especially when the Sooners explained why they like playing with that proverbial chip.
Because Mayfield, their emotional leader, has always had to play that way, from the moment he walked on at Texas Tech five years ago.
“People like Baker, who’s been counted out all his life, and we take that upon us as our team,” Andrews said. “He’s a huge leader on our team, and he’s part of the reason that we have that chip.”
For all this chip-on-shoulder and underdog talk, however, Oklahoma was only an underdog in one game this season: Week 2 at Ohio State, which was a 7.5-point favorite. The Sooners pulled off the upset.
But in their lone loss this season, home against Iowa State in Week 5, the Sooners were favored by 31 points, their second-highest spread of the season. Iowa State won by seven.
“It took us a little bit to wake up and see what was in front of us,” Andrews said. “The Iowa State loss was kind of an awakening for us. That awakened us, and there were just a bunch of things during the season that just kind of brought the team together. And I think that puts a chip on our shoulder, and it’s us against the world.”