When: Wed., Jan. 3, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Payout: $11 million-$13 million
Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:
Oklahoma lost to Mississippi 27-25 in the Independence Bowl Florida State beat Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl
What to Watch For
The Orange Bowl features two quarterbacks that finished 76 votes apart for the Heisman Trophy in one of the closest votes in history. The winner, Florida State’s Chris Weinke, is the main reason why the talented, third-ranked Seminoles are appearing in their third straight national championship and are favored to win this year against unbeaten No. 1 Oklahoma.
Weinke led the nation with a school-record 4,167 yards passing and finished second behind Boise State’s Bart Hendricks for the most touchdowns with 33 despite having sprained his foot midway through the season.
Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel of Oklahoma certainly knows how to engineer big wins against highly ranked and regarded teams, however. The Sooners strung together a series of games in October that stunned their opponents and at last got people talking about Oklahoma’s first chance at a national championship in 13 years. After routing then-No. 11 Texas 63-14, Oklahoma handed then-No. 3 Kansas State its first loss with a 41-31 road win. For an encore, the Sooners knocked off then-No. 1 Nebraska the next week in one of the most watched games of the season and soon found themselves ranked No. 1.
Behind a strong offensive line that allowed just 17 sacks all season, Heupel threw for 3,392 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for seven scores. Seven Sooners finished the regular season with at least 20 receptions, proving Heupel has ample outlets to move the spread offense. A tender elbow in the last four games of the season prevented Heupel from significantly padding his stats other than interceptions — he finished the season with 14. The injury is not expected to give him trouble in the Orange Bowl.
Oklahoma’s ninth-ranked passing defense, while particularly strong late in the season, hasn’t faced a sophisticated passing attack in the Big 12 the likes of FSU’s. For the Sooners to beat the quick Seminoles team, they will need their defensive backs to make big plays against FSU receivers.
A crucial player in that effort is Oklahoma free safety J.T. Thatcher, who was tied for third in the nation with 8 interceptions this season, including one he ran back for a touchdown. Thatcher’s also a threat on special teams, averaging 24 yards on kick returns and nearly scoring on a 93-yard runback. Leading tacklers Rockey Calmus (122) and Torrance Marshall (96) combined for 9 of the team’s 32 sacks and provide additional defensive strength for Oklahoma.
FSU’s first team All-American receiver Marvin Minnis stepped up and filled in nicely for Peter Warrick this season, catching an ACC-leading 63 passes for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Minnis was declared academically ineligible on Dec. 20 and, with Minnis on the bench, look for Weinke to go to receivers Atrews Bell and Anquan Boldin instead.
The player to watch on the Florida State defense is the speedy Tay Cody, who had six interceptions at cornerback and did not give up a touchdown.
Other notable players are those running the ball. Florida State’s Travis Minor came close to a 1,000-yard season, compiling 923 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The Sooners at last re-established a running game with sophomore Quentin Griffin, who ran for 16 touchdowns and 783 yards.
Florida State’s weakness is its kicking game as its trio of kickers in Matt Munyon, Chance Gwaltney and Brett Cimorelli were no replacement for first-round NFL draft pick Sebastian Janikowski. FSU kickers missed eight extra-point attempts and failed to make a last-second field goal in the Seminoles’ sole loss this season, to Miami.