Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

December 27, 2013

Draft audition

Sooners’ against Alabama a ‘money game’ for players headed for the draft

NORMAN — Motivation for bowl games comes in a variety of forms. Oklahoma seems to have a buffet at its disposal as it prepares to face No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

That’s good for the Sooners. They’re entering this game as a two-touchdown underdog. They’ll latch onto any extra incentive they can find. One No. 11 OU found quickly after the bowl announcement involved the future.

Just about all of its seniors at least aspire to play in the NFL. Some will, but a good showing against a Crimson Tide team stocked with future pros presents the chance to leave a quality impression with NFL decision makers.

“This is what you call a money game for a player,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “It’s one of those things where you can show your ability against the best competition you can play. That’s important for some of the seniors we have on the field. There will be great matchups all over the field and it’s up to us to execute well and go out there and earn some more respect and for the seniors, earn some cash.”

The NFL draft and the process that begins in February always looms over bowl games. No matter how much coaches want players focus on the last game, the mind can’t help but wander.

The negative can be a team full of upperclassmen more worried about the draft process than that last game.

The positive can be a highly motivated team thoroughly convinced playing well will raise draft stocks.

“I guess it could be a big money game, I guess you could say. You don’t get Alabama on your schedule every year,” wide receiver Jalen Saunders said. “We’re gonna take the opportunity.”

But it’s incredibly unlikely the Sooners would have a player selected in the first round of the NFL draft if it were held this week.

Alabama has at least three with offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix projected as first-round picks. Although, Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix are both juniors and neither has announced whether they will enter the draft.

Nonetheless, the Sooners’ draft eligible players view the Sugar Bowl as their chance to see what level they’re capable of playing at.

“It’s a great opportunity to matchup with those guys,” OU safety Gabe Lynn said. “A lot of us have aspirations of playing at the next level. This is as close as you can get to it in our final showing. It’s a great opportunity.”

Some are more comfortable talking about the pro possibilities that can come from the Sugar Bowl than others. Ideally, everyone would be strictly focused on the immediate task — winning. The chance to play one last game before it either becomes a business or football becomes a memory.

Either way, the Sooners seemed to be thrilled with the opportunity for all the right reasons.

“It’s a fact of it,” senior offensive lineman Bronson Irwin said. “I don’t think you can sit here and say if I block this guy well I’m gonna make some money. It’s the outcome of having two highly talented teams facing each other in big bowl game like this.”

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