The factor that will decide Thursday night's 47th Orange Bowl and perhaps determine the national college football champion is whether Florida State has figured out, since last New Year's Day, how to stop the wishbone, Oklahoma's powerful but one-dimensional offense.
Oklahoma runs often, hard and fast, as the Sooners showed in a 24-7 victory here over the Seminoles last year in which Billy Sims rushed for 167 yards. Sims is gone, but Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden is no less worried.
"Defending against their speed concerns me more than trying to stop any one individual," he said. "It'll be my 4.8 (time in the 40-yard dash) defensive backs against their 4.4 running backs. I don't know if we can keep up."
This year, Oklahoma doesn't have what Coach Barry Switzer calls "a superstar back, a difference-maker, a total force on the field." However, Switzer said today: "In one sense, it's helpful. We have more balance and we're still second in the nation in rushing."
What the eighth-ranked Sooners have are four runners -- quarterback J.C. Watts, David Overstreet, Stanley Wilson and Buster Rhymes -- who rushed for a total of 2,649 yards, each totaling between 659 and 668 yards. "Last year, with Sims," said Bowden, "at least we knew who was coming at us. But now, we have no idea which one it will be."
The Sooners (9-2) are six-point favorites to win their third straight Orange Bowl. Oklahoma players are confident they can spoil Florida State's national championship bid for the second straight year.
The second-ranked Seminoles (10-1), whose only loss this year came in the same Orange Bowl stadium by one point to rival Miami, will know before game time whether they'll be playing for the national championship.
A Notre Dame victory over top-ranked, undefeated Georgia in the 2 p.m. Sugar Bowl, coupled with a Florida State victory, would give the Seminoles their first national title.
In contrast to Oklahoma, FSU will offer a balanced offense, featuring tailback Sam Platt (983 yards rushing), who has a sore shoulder and may not start, and rollout quarterback Rick Stockstill, who likes to throw to running back Mike Whiting, tight end Sam Childers and deep threat Hardis Johnson.
Stockstill completed 60 percent of his attempts this year, including 15 touchdown passes, and was intercepted only eight times. He will work on a Sooner secondary that Switzer called a weak spot all year.
Florida State revamped its entire offense after last year's loss to Oklahoma, ignoring trend and concentrating on its running game while deemphasizing the pass, which it used often in becoming one of the nation's most entertaining college teams.
But, with Oklahoma's defensive line so capable of dominating almost any team, it would not be surprising for Florida State to revert to last year's tactics.
Oklahoma may only throw the ball three or four times. That means FSU's all-America nose guard, Ron Simmons, who is still nursing a sore ankle, will have plenty of chances to show the nation how good he is.
Both teams have had long layoffs since their last games, but Oklahoma went 16 days without practice in December, so its wishbone may be a bit rusty. The biggest concern about the Sooner running game -- and any option offense -- is fumbles. The Sooners fumbled 36 times in their first four games and 50 for the season.
Switzer said the offensive line is playing its best and was not at fault in the team's two early season losses. Consensus all-America Louis Oubre may be the best left tackle in the nation. If Seminoles Garry Futch and Jarvis Coursey can't stop him, the Oklahoma backs may run right out of the Orange Bowl with Florida State's championship hopes.