FSU, Oklahoma have enough athletes to burn anyone
Updated: Sunday December 31, 2000 9:41 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
MIAMI -- On Wednesday night in the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma will try to prove something few tend to believe: This is not the only state with fast football players.
And they'll need to prove it if they want to win a national championship. Because the team lining up on the other side of the ball is one of the few that sets the nation's standard for speed, all residing within the same state lines as Pro Player Stadium.
"To be honest with you, probably not many schools in the country will have more overall speed than Florida State, Miami and Florida because of the type of young man raised here," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
If he's right, the boys from the Midwest could be in for a long night. How else are they going to keep up with those fleet-footed FSU receivers streaking down the sideline? Or those nimble linebackers coming from seemingly out of nowhere to gun down ballcariers?
But OU's players and coaches across the board say a Sooner would have no trouble keeping up with a Seminole in a foot race.
"Speed wise, we do match up," says defensive tackle Jeremy Wilson-Guest. "You look at our defensive speed, we've got two of the best coverage linebackers [Torrance Marshall and Rocky Calmus] in the country sitting back there between the line and the backfield. Our secondary has held its own through some big games. I don't think [FSU's] receivers can be any faster than a Quincy Morgan at Kansas State or [Robert] Ferguson at A&M."
Speed is the main reason FSU has had 21 scoring plays this season of longer than 25 yards. Receivers get past the coverage, make the catch and are gone. Top playmaker Snoop Minnis is ineligible, but don't think the same standard for speed set by guys like Peter Warrick and Tamarick Vanover wasn't used when Atrews Bell, Anquan Boldin, Travis Minor and Talman Gardner were recruited.
"Just good recruiting, I guess," said Boldin of FSU's long line of speedsters. "They bring in a lot of talent."
Just like FSU's players could win most any race on foot, their program got a significant head start in the race to stockpile such speed. As far back as the 1980s, while Midwest schools like Oklahoma were still winning consistently with strength and power, the Florida schools were busy building their programs by recruiting athletes who could flat outrun people.
Since then, the trend has spread nationally. It may just be coach-speak, but Bowden says the speed gap between the Florida schools and Big 12 programs vanished a while ago.
"I remember when we played [Nebraska coach] Tom Osborne in the '92 Orange Bowl, we beat them pretty good that day," said Bowden. "He came up, stayed two or three days and I let him go to our meetings.
"... So then the next year, we played them again for the national championship, and all of a sudden he'd gone out and got him some 210-pound linebacker that could fly, instead of those 235-, 240-pounders that could not run as well. And all of as sudden he had got a lot of secondary guys that could play, and we were just very lucky to win that ballgame. So I really think that has been happening in the Big 12 since then. I think all of us are more speed conscious."
A look at some Big 12 rosters, most notably those of Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska, show many players fast enough to crack FSU's starting lineup, even if that element doesn't carry as far down the depth chart. OU can use the fact it demolished all three of the aforementioned teams this season as evidence it can hang with the Seminoles.
"I think you're almost splitting hairs because all of those teams are fast, and Florida State is certainly fast as well," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "Until you are on the field, you can't determine that, but watching, we understand, they are a very fast team. We do believe that the teams we played in the Big 12, when you look at Texas, Nebraska, Kansas State, they are fast as well."
One area where OU's speed is clearly evident is its receiving corps: Curtis Fagan (4.3 40 time), Antwone Savage (4.35), Andre Woolfolk (4.41), Damian Mackey (4.48) and Josh Norman (4.5).
The question becomes, what happens when they go up against a Florida State secondary with comparable numbers -- one that, you may recall, made Florida freshman sensation Jabar Gaffney virtually disappear in the Seminoles' season-ending 30-7 victory. All the 40 times in Norman may not be enough to get open.
"There's no defense that can stop anyone," said Mackey. "Some teams have the luxury like we do to see what happened in that game, there are always things you can change."
But for all the attention being paid this week to physical attributes, Wilson-Guest says the only body part the game will come down to is the head.
"I think there are probably decent teams in the ACC, but I think they're scared to play Florida State. We demolished Kansas State, we beat Nebraska on their field. We handled ourselves throughout this year.
But Jeremy, in this day and age are playing Kansas State and Nebraska really the same as Florida and Miami?
"I think we're the finest team they've seen this year."