Saturday night is an opportunity for Oklahoma to make a statement.
It's an opportunity for the Sooners to show they belong smack dab in the middle of the College Football Playoff conversation. It's an opportunity for Bob Stoops to back up all that talk about the SEC being a bit overrated. It's an opportunity to showcase the program to a massive list of recruits that will be in Norman for the game.
It's the very definition of a statement game.
The Sooners haven't been shy about acknowledging that fact. Instead of the usual fluff of “this is just another opponent,” we've gotten a lot of acknowledgement that a game against an SEC mainstay like Tennessee is in fact (shocking!) a lot different than facing Tulsa or Louisiana Tech.
“Nothing against those guys we played before but we know this is higher competition,” offensive tackle Daryl Williams said. “I think it's a big measuring stick.”
Those first two games did nothing to cause people to think the Sooners aren't in the conversation for one of four spots in the playoff, but a win over a brand name like Tennessee moves the needle a bit more for those on the selection committee.
It will also stir the court of public opinion to action when Tennessee plays SEC foes and popular playoff picks Georgia and Alabama. Margin of victory across similar opponents doesn't mean a whole lot, but it will to the general public.
The opponent also moves the needle a bit more for the players as well. Quarterback Trevor Knight admitted it was one the Sooners have had circled on the calendar for some time. But this game isn't about the Volunteers, it's about the Sooners.
Tennessee isn't a national title contender and no one who doesn't wear orange or has the words to “Rocky Top” memorized thinks they will be this year. This game is about Oklahoma showcasing itself and the Vols are simply the instrument the Sooners will use to do that.
“It's huge to make sure we make an impression,” linebacker Geneo Grissom said. “Coach Mike (Stoops) says that all time; it's not about who we're playing, it's about us. We have to keep that in mind throughout every game. Prepare the same way; prepare with the same intensity every week; just make sure we're always prepared when the game comes.”
All eyes will be on the Sooners Saturday night. Plenty of people think the Sooners' win over Alabama was a fluke; that Trevor Knight isn't all that great; that Bob Stoops needs to shut his mouth and keep his thoughts to himself. This game can show a lot of people they're wrong.
It won't satisfy everyone. Tennessee is not what Tennessee used to be. But it still commands a certain level of respect, especially since it is slowly turning a corner under Butch Jones. There's plenty of talent, but it's just not ready yet.
Even though that's the case, it will have to do for the Sooners. The fans are excited; the players are clearly excited; college football is excited.
Saturday night is the definition of a statement game for Oklahoma. The only question is what kind of statement will the Sooners make?