Oklahoma...where the wind comes sweeping down the plains and where the Sooners come breezing in near the Ohio River expecting to dust off the Bearcats for their fourth consecutive win.
Well, in the words of ESPN Gameday's Lee Corso, "Not so fast!"
While the Bearcats have had a rough 1-2 start, this is still a home game for them, albeit in Paul Brown Stadium. The last time the Bengals played at PBS was the infamous Ohio State game eight years ago where the Bearcats had the Buckeyes on the ropes and were literally a wide receiver's fingertip away from a victory that might've spoiled an OSU season.
As older fans of The Mickey Mouse Club know, "Anything Can Happen" (and that's a reference that dates even me!).
11 guys have to play 11 guys and the shape of the ball causes it to do funny things. You just never know. That's why two teams will pack their gear and trot onto a pro field with fans of both teams surrounding the oval and countless more watching a national cablecast.
Two years ago, UC defensive lineman John Hughes was one of the players that saw duty in Norman, Oklahoma when UC hung with the highly-ranked Sooners and eventual top NFL draft pick Sam Bradford for about three quarters. Sadly, thanks to Bradford (now of the Rams) and tight end Jermaine Gresham (now of the Bengals) the Sooners prevailed 52-26.
"For me, it was my second game playing for UC," said Hughes. "Thing I remember about Oklahoma was they had a tempo offense. They went fast. Everything was fast, fast."
Had UC not lost then-starting quarterback Dustin Grutza, the game could've gone differently as he was also having some success moving the ball and Mardy Gilyard (teammate of Bradford's now on the Rams) was having a breakout day.
Then again, if Grutza doesn't get hurt, Tony Pike (Carolina Panthers) might not have developed and had a chance at the NFL. Again, strange things happen that are often unpredictable.
While the Sooners have gone three-for-three in the win department, they've also not left their home field. And, even though they devastated Florida State, the Sooners only beat Utah State by a touchdown and Air Force by a field goal.
As far as John Hughes is concerned, the Sooners play fast, but defending the Bearcats in practice the last three years should have the defenders ready to react.
"Yeah, that's why I feel like we're prepared for this game," said Hughes.
If the biggest game last year came in a pro stadium (Heinz Field in Pittsburgh) then perhaps this year's highlight might come on the pro turf here. Realisticallly, Nippert Stadium couldn't accommodate the audience for this game, so it's been scheduled at Paul Brown Stadium all along.
"I'm real excited about playing in the Bengals stadium," said Hughes. "Even though I love 'The Nipp', this will be the first time at the Bengals (stadium)."
For many, it'll be the only time playing at the Bengals stadium (outside of the handful of courtesy tryouts that are often given ex-Bearcats). A football career goes quick and a game like this one could be one that these players remember forever as absolutely no one following college football will give them a chance.
The upside is...that's familiar territory. It's been noted this week that Coach Butch Jones has been establishing a mantra of "belief".
"We're used to being underdogs," said Hughes. "The two or three years I've been here, that's the only way we like it."
Hughes does acknowledge the magnitude of the game on a historical scale. At #8 in the AP and #9 in the coaches poll, this is the highest ranked team that's hit town since #7 Rutgers came to Nippert and was thoroughly spanked 30-6.
That game proved to be a major stepping stone in the transition of UC football going from just another so-so team to being mentioned prominently on pregame shows on Saturday mornings.
"If we can get this one, it would be big," said Hughes. "We're going entirely in to win. There's no other way to go in there. This is a game to step up and show our talents."
If Hughes and his defensive cohorts are to stop the Sooners they'll have to get in the face of Sam Bradford's replacement, Landry Jones. Not only does Jones have a classic Southern signal-caller name, he's capable of lighting up a football field. The 6-4, 219-pound sophomore zapped the Seminoles of Florida State for 380 yards and four touchdowns with a 30-40 day.
"Landry Jones is a good quarterback," said Hughes. "As a defense, we've just got to try and contain him."
Straight, textbook media answer from Big John, but highly accurate. Assisting Jones are two guys that also did major damage to the Bearcats two years ago--running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Ryan Broyles--both 22-year-old seniors.
"He's a pretty solid back," Hughes said of DeMarco Murray. "We're working on trying to stop the run, so hopefully we'll be alright. Broyles is also pretty good. He had a big day back when we played them. Our defense is working hard on this Oklahoma game, we should be ready."
Being ready is one thing, being precise is the other. A defender can be as ready as anything to make a play, but if he's in the wrong spot, it often appears as if he just going through the motions. This week, Hughes hopes to have all gaps plugged.
"It's about fundamentals," said Hughes. "Guys knowing their assignments. Execute your assignments and everything's going to go good. That's what we've got to get back to."
The UC player's assignment (and they have no choice but to accept it) is to not go into a game like this assuming it's "Mission Impossible". Sure, Oklahoma's been to BCS bowls, but so has UC.
Butch Jones knows that without "belief", nothing goes your way.
Thus, the mindset for the Oklahoma game Saturday for UC has to be one that includes waking up on Sunday singing, "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning"!
(As an extra added bonus--since I forgot my recorder for this interview and had to use my Blackberry--here's unedited John Hughes video, complete with my stammers,etc.)