Stoops not interested in more neutral-site games

Stoops not interested in more neutral-site games

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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sees many reasons for his third-ranked Sooners to travel to the Dallas area for a rare season-opener away from home.

There's the fertile recruiting base that has produced top players like offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive end Jeremy Beal, a strong alumni base, and it's close enough that hometown fans can make the trip.

But it's not something he wants to make a habit.

"I don't think anybody's looking to take games away from Norman, Okla., very often," Stoops said Tuesday. "I know (athletic director) Joe (Castiglione) is very sensitive to that. I don't know what the numbers are but in this community, for our university, for the whole community and the town, you don't want to see it very much. We're not looking to do it very much at all."

Saturday's game against No. 20 BYU will mark only the second time in Stoops' 11 seasons that Oklahoma will play its season opener away from Owen Field, with the only other time coming in 2002 at Tulsa. Before Stoops arrived in Norman, the Sooners had opened the season on the road in five of the previous nine seasons.

And BYU, the Sooners' first ranked opponent to start the season since they won at UCLA in 1990, is no slouch.

"They're an excellent team, winning conference championships and winning 10-11 games most every year. We understand it's a big challenge and our players have known that all year," Stoops said. "Of course, this week in game week they're excited about the challenge and working our way hopefully preparing to play a good football game this Saturday.

"We really need to give ourselves a chance to win."

Oklahoma will get a $2.25 million payout for playing, plus royalties from any Sooners merchandise sold. The sold-out game at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a made-for-TV affair, with ESPN involved in some contract details.

For Stoops, the benefits of playing such a high-profile non-conference opponent are few.

"You get a better read on where you're at, sure. But I think it really, truly only benefits you if you're winning," Stoops said. "If you're not, you're going to get penalized for it."

The Sooners have been rewarded for having tough schedules twice in recent years by the BCS -- bumping Auburn out of the Orange Bowl in 2004 and then edging Texas out of the Big 12 championship game and a potential shot at the national title last year.

For that reason, the Sooners continue to load up on quality opponents when possible. After facing BYU, the Sooners open at home against Idaho State but then face Tulsa and its prolific offense before traveling to Miami.

"I realized it's incredibly challenging, and we're very aware of that," Stoops said. "A lot of people rank it up there. Someone said it's the hardest in the country. I'm sure it's one of the top few, when you look at difficulty and where we're playing."

The first challenge, though, is getting off on the right foot without the comforts of a home field where the Sooners have won 24 straight games, one shy of the school record.

"It's a special occasion, opening up the first real game in that stadium. And also it's pressure not being at home for your first game, especially against an opponent like BYU," tailback Chris Brown said. "We have to play perfect ball on the road. This is still kind of like a road game."

While the Sooners have plenty of veteran starters, Stoops said 10 or more freshmen could get playing time. That includes Ronnell Lewis, who has moved up the depth chart at middle linebacker with Mike Balogun expected to miss the game while the NCAA reviews his eligibility and Tom Wort out with a knee injury.

Stoops also listed defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Marcus Trice, offensive lineman Tyler Evans, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and receiver Jaz Reynolds among the freshmen expected to make their debuts Saturday.

"I think overall we are a little bit thin, but we'll stay thin if they're not ready to play," Stoops said. "If they're showing the ability to understand what we're asking them to do and to make plays, then we feel, hey, let's give them those chances."

Stoops said converted tight end Brody Eldridge will start at center, where he started working after injuries to Ben Habern and Brian Lepak, and that backup defensive tackle Demarcus Granger would be limited as he continues to recover from offseason back surgery.

"I feel really positive about the way our team has handled themselves through our entire camp," Stoops said. "Now comes judgment day."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-01-09 1509MDT

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JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer


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