As I prepared to write this preview of the Idaho State-Oklahoma football game coming up Sept. 12 in Norman, I struggled for a way to really put the enormity of this mismatch into context. I honestly couldn't come up with one fact or statement that captured it all, so I offer a series of bullets that will hopefully give you a flavor for what the Bengals are up against:
Oklahoma will be led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford (above), who, in his two seasons at the Sooner helm, has thrown for 86 touchdowns (against only 16 interceptions), and over 7,800 yards. Idaho State has never taken the field against a Heisman Trophy winner -- or as accomplished a quarterback as Bradford.
The Sooners will field two 1,000-yard rushers in DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, who are rated the Nos. 2 and 6 best backs in the country, respectively, by the esteemed college football analyst Phil Steele. ISU, by contrast, returns one back (Clint Knickrehm) who has ever recorded a carry in college football. The Poky High graduate ran for 456 yards last year.
According to Steele's national position rankings, the Sooners have the best quarterback, two of the top 10 runningbacks, the best tight end, two of the top 35 defensive ends, two of the top 11 defensive tackles, and one of the 15 best linebackers in college football. Idaho State, meanwhile, returns no one who even made second team all-Big Sky Conference last year.
Most NFL draft pundits figure the Sooners will have at least four first-round picks come next April: Bradford, Murray, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Idaho State has never had a No. 1 draft pick and hasn't had anybody taken in the NFL draft at all since Jared Allen was selected in the fourth round by Kansas City in 2004.
Finally, here's a little off-the-field nugget to chew on: according to figures that Idaho State submitted to the State Board of Education in February, ISU football generated $196,636 in ticket sales for all of the 2008 season. Oklahoma, which routinely sells out its 82,000-seat stadium, sells 71,000 season tickets to the general public every year, at $375 a pop -- that's over $26 million in revenue.
Clearly, Oklahoma, with its seven national championships, five Heisman Trophy winners and stable of All-American, draft-worthy stars will be the most-storied, most-talented opponent Idaho State has ever faced. And unfortunately, this version of the Bengals is right in the midst of a painful rebuilding project that features little proven talent, even at the FCS level, four wins over the last two seasons, and no road wins since 2006.
So, why, you ask, are the Bengals subjecting themselves to this? Well, the half a million dollars Oklahoma will pay Idaho State to show up will repesent about one-fourteenth of Idaho State's athletic revenues for the upcoming fiscal year. That one pay-day will be the fourth single largest source of income for ISU's athletics department this coming fiscal year, behind only state support, student fees and, just barely, advertising and sponsorships, according to the figures ISU submitted to the board.
Back-to-back games against Arizona State and the Sooners to open the 2009 season is hardly what ISU administrators and coaches wanted, particularly in light of the way the program has struggled in recent seasons. But when the athletic department was handed a 12 percent budget reduction for the upcoming fiscal year, interim Athletic Director Jeff Tingey could no longer turn his back to Oklahoma's cash. The good news, if there is any in all this, is that ISU can try to sell recruits on big-name opponents, and the players will get the experience of a lifetime competing against all-American talent in a revered college football venue. The potential bad news -- injuries and an embarrassing blow-out on the national stage, go without saying.
Here's hoping the economy and Idaho State's football program can both improve enough that the Bengals can avoid such mismatches in the future, or least be better prepared for them when they come around.
It ain't always easy being a Bengal, but it's always fun.
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