When the Oklahoma Sooners take the field in El Paso, Texas against UTEP on Saturday night, it will be the first time in a decade the Sooners have opened the football season on the road.
The last time OU did that was in 2002, when it traveled to Tulsa to take on the Golden Hurricane. To find the last time the Sooners left the state for a road game to start the season, you have to look all the way back to 1997, when OU was shut out 24-0 by Northwestern in Chicago.
Despite the minor disappointment of starting away from Norman, players and coaches are looking forward to Saturday, knowing focus is even more important than normal.
"You'd love to start at home," punter Tress Way said. "Your fans would love for you to start at home, because it's comfortable. I think that's honestly going to help us out because we're going out of our comfort zone."
OU center Gabe Ikard echoed Way's sentiments, adding the atmosphere in the Sun Bowl will be electric, since the Sooners are UTEP's highest profile opponent since Texas came to town in 2008.
"I'm excited to go on the road for game one," Ikard said. "It'll be a good test to go out week one in a hostile environment. It's going to be an intense atmosphere so you've got to come focused, assignment-sound, ready to play."
Way was a true freshman when the Sooners stumbled through the 2009 season to an 8-5 record, losing every game away from Norman except for a midseason trip to Kansas. Way said he learned a lot from that season, particularly how to prepare himself for playing on the road.
"The biggest thing for me is that you have to find your routine," Way said. "Once you get on the road, you get out of your comfort zone. I also told them (freshmen) it's really important for you to have that routine where you just go. There's nothing throwing you off, pulling you one way or the other."
Everyone on the team has a different way of collecting himself before the game. Defensive end David King said he would bring his laptop and enjoy some "Fresh Prince of Bel Air." Quarterback Landry Jones said he'd read his Bible, and review the playbook some as well.
For Way, who said he likes to kick back and watch ‘‘Seinfeld,'' having the same routine for the past four years has led him to welcome the hostile environment the Sooners face on the road.
"I like when people are yelling at me as opposed to for me," Way said. "It's fun playing against that. I just get pumped up to go play."
As for how preparations have changed for starting on the road as opposed to starting at home, Way said they haven't for this week, but overall, game preparations are different from last year.
"We're a lot more detailed this year," Way said. "As far as practice goes and preparing in general, it's more the focus has gone away from winning overall (and more into details). Granted starting on the road, you'd love to start at home, but you have to win every game so it doesn't matter where you start."
Head coach Bob Stoops announced Monday at least 10 true freshmen will take the field for OU in El Paso, meaning the first college football experience for these players will come in a hostile environment.
Stoops said he hasn't talked too much with the young players about how to handle the atmosphere.
"Guys that are playing at this level should be ready for it," Stoops said. "Just trust your instincts, trust your practice. Work hard to know what to expect as far as your preparation. Then play hard, as much as anything."
Way is very confident the freshmen will be ready to perform, and won't freeze up once they're out on the field.
"Kent Bowles, our chaplain, talked to us about fight or flight," Way said. "Once you get on that game field, it's fight or flight. You either want all of it, or you don't want any part of it. I think once guys realize they're at this level for a reason, they've been brought to this level to win, that's whenever they're going to step up or bow up and fight."
While UTEP shouldn't pose a problem for the Sooners, OU found out the hard way in 2011 anyone can beat you if you're not playing to your full potential. The Sooners will need everyone to be in fight mode Saturday, or something that seems impossible may not seem so much so.