Florida State will have quite the opportunity when facing Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl later this month.
The Seminoles will be in their first bowl game since 2019. They will have a chance to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2016. They will be playing against another storied college football program. And the game will be held in FSU’s home state.
The Cheez-It Bowl will feature the No. 13 Seminoles (9-3) and the Sooners (6-6) in a Dec. 29 clash at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (5:30 p.m. on ESPN).
“The destination for our fanbase is great,” FSU coach Mike Norvell told the media in a Cheez-It Bowl press conference Sunday. “I know it is going to be a wonderful atmosphere.
“To be able to have these two programs matching up, it is definitely going to be one of the most exciting bowl games of this bowl season.”
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Under first-year coach Brent Venables, the longtime defensive coordinator at Clemson, OU looks to be in a much different place compared to FSU as programs.
Since losing coach Lincoln Riley, quarterback Caleb Williams and other coaches and players to USC last offseason, the Sooners have been a work in progress. They are in jeopardy of finishing the season below .500 for the first time since 1998.
OU also expects to be short-handed. Venables said star running back Eric Gray and both starting offensive tackles, Wanya Morris and Anton Harrison, are opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft.
“They are going to get baptized quickly,” said Venables about his new offensive tackle starters.“(Defensive end) Jared Verse is one of the premier pass rushers in all of college football.”
Norvell played coy when asked if any of his players will be unavailable.
Verse, a projected first-round pick, told the media last week that he “most likely” will play in the bowl game. Safety Jammie Robinson, the Seminoles’ leading tackler, said he will play and that there is “no debate” about it.
At full strength, FSU would be in a solid position to finish the season on a high note.
“This is a team that obviously has a great tradition and has been among the elite in college football over the last decade-plus,” Norvell said. “For us, some of the recruiting battles that we will face, we know this is going to be a game that is going to be well-viewed.
“To be able to be in our home state, to be able to play there in Orlando, it’s great in all ways for us. We are definitely excited about it.”
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Player to watch: Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel
As University of Memphis’ coach, Norvell never faced AAC foe UCF during the 2019 season.
But Norvell had to be aware of what then-true freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel was accomplishing for the Knights.
Gabriel shined in his first season, helping UCF’s offense rank among the nation’s best in most of the major statistical categories. He continued to impress with the Knights before suffering a season-ending injury last season. Then he transferred to OU.
With the Sooners, Gabriel has been one of their biggest bright spots. He claimed Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors after completing 215 of 342 passes (62.9%) for 2,920 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions while turning 75 carries into 298 yards and five scores. His 154.2 passing efficiency rating ranks No. 25 nationally.
“He is an extremely talented quarterback,” Norvell said. “You see the way he has played this year, he continues to get better. His vision, his arm talent, the things that he can do – he has that natural playmaking ability that shows up throughout the course of the game.”
Seminoles primed for success on offense vs. Sooners
OU might be a few plays away from matching FSU’s nine-win total.
Four of the Sooners’ six losses – Kansas State (41-34), Baylor (38-35), West Virginia (23-20) and Texas Tech (51-48) – were decided by a double-digit margin.
“There is tremendous parity in this league,” said Venables about the Big 12. “To me, it’s like having a good NC State team every single week.”
What held OU back was its porous defense.
The Sooners have the worst run defense on the Seminoles’ schedule, allowing 189 rushing yards per game (109th nationally). They also have the worst total defense on FSU’s schedule, giving up 450.5 yards per game (120th).
Averaging 217.8 rushing yards per game (12th) and 475.7 total yards per game (13th), the explosive Seminole offense will be expected to have a lot of success against this defense. But don’t count out Venables, who helped Clemson have one of the nation’s best defenses in the last decade.
“He is a great coach,” Norvell said. “Very passionate. Does a great job with the schematic part and putting his guys in a wonderful position to achieve success.”
Who: No. 13 Florida State vs. Oklahoma
When/Where: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.; Camping World Stadium in Orlando
Reach Carter Karels at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU football: Seminoles excited about Cheez-It Bowl vs. Oklahoma Sooners