Sooners still forced to defend themselves

NEW ORLEANS -- Their starting lineup boasts the Heisman, Lombardi, Butkus and Thorpe award winners. They have the coach of the year. They're six point favorites over LSU in Sunday's Nokia Sugar Bowl.

Yet the Oklahoma Sooners have spent the last month listening to gripes that they don't belong. And it hasn't exactly sat well.

"You can just feel the chip on their shoulder," coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. "You can sense this edge that they're not satisfied. And that's usually a pretty good thing."

Just last month, the 2003 Sooners were being mentioned with some of college football's all-time greatest teams. But one 35-7 shellacking by Kansas State in the Big 12 title game later and the Sooners, the only team to win 12 regular season games, find themselves fighting for respect.

The talk in New Orleans is about LSU coach Nick Saban, not Stoops, leaving college for the NFL. It's about the throng of LSU fans that are going to overtake the French Quarter this weekend, not the mind-boggling comeback of OU quarterback Jason White. It's about All-American defensive tackle Chad Lavalais, not All-American defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

The Sooners are more not than hot.

"You can't worry about what people are saying," quarterback Jason White said. "You just have to go out there and take care of business."

Even with the lopsided loss to Kansas State, the Sooners didn't finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the BCS standings. They finished first.

"And we earned it," Stoops said. "Nobody gave it to us."

The last time Oklahoma felt this slighted going into a championship game, they put the clamps on Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke in a 13-2 victory over Florida State in the 2000 Orange Bowl.

This time around, the Sooners have had some four weeks to stew over just how they're going to make their on-field statement.

"I can't begin to tell you how eager we are to get out there and prove everybody wrong," White said. "It's been a long wait."

Do A Little Dance

Forget the talk that LSU coach Nick Saban isn't fun to work or play for. Saban stole the show earlier this week at the team's Sugar Bowl riverboat outing, taking the bait from his players to get in front of the team and do what he called a "James Brown shuffle."

He still hasn't heard the end of it.

"But I also had the opportunity to see a few players dance," Saban said, "and maybe during our offseason program this year, instead of karate, we'll give dance lessons. Some of them need it."

Silence Is Golden

Despite their prominent contributions to the LSU football team, freshman football players are banned from talking to the media.

It's a rule that Saban put in place when he was at Michigan State and then-freshman receiver Plaxico Burress said beating Michigan would be, "like taking candy from a baby."

"That was it right there," Saban said. "He'd never been to Michigan before, they're coming off a national championship and he says that."

Tiger Tamers

Much has been made about the overwhelming home field advantage LSU will likely have playing for the national championship less than an hour away from campus. But while Saban said the LSU fans could very well affect the outcome of Sunday's game, Stoops shrugged such advantages off.

"They only let so many people into the stadium," he said. "When you play well, you hear your people. When they play well, you'll hear their people. And believe me, if we play well, you'll hear our people."

Oklahoma faced a similar situation in 2000, when they matched up with the Seminoles in Miami.

"I like it better," linebacker Teddy Lehman said. "To me, it's easier to win when everything isn't in your favor and you have some obstacles. I enjoy that."

Defense Wins Championships

For all the athletics directors who drool over wide-open, high-octane offenses, Stoops and Saban had a message Tuesday: Defensive guys can get it done, too.

Stoops, Saban and USC's Pete Carroll, the three coaches all alive for a share of the national championship, are all coaches who built their reputations on the defensive side of the football.

While LSU leads the nation in scoring defense, Oklahoma is No. 1 in total defense.

"We're not doing too bad," Stoops said.

Said Saban: "The proof is in the pudding. I've always said -- any strategy where you keep your team from getting beat, which means playing defense, is a good one."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.