Dec. 27, 2004 wire reports

MIAMI -- As soon as the charter plane landed in Miami, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' mind began filling with memories of his last Orange Bowl trip.


Adorning the buses awaiting the Sooners on the tarmac Monday was a mammoth photo of Stoops celebrating after Oklahoma beat Florida State in this game four years ago -- the last time the Sooners won the national title.

"It never gets old," Stoops said. "Coming to Miami for a national championship game is pretty special. We're very fortunate and excited about the opportunity and looking forward to the experience."

The second-ranked Sooners are back in the Orange Bowl for the 18th time, and again playing for the national title. They'll meet top-ranked Southern California on Jan. 4 for the Bowl Championship Series crown, and started their final preparations by hitting the practice field 90 minutes after the plane touched down.

"Now that we're here, you can definitely tell that we've got one goal," said Sooners quarterback Jason White, who was on the 2000 national-title team roster. "We're down here for one reason. ... It was a great time the last time I was here, and I expect to have another great time here."

Many of the faces greeting Stoops at the airport, such as committee members and police officers who will assist with security leading up to the game, were the same ones from four seasons ago. And the Sooners will follow the same schedule on this visit, because it worked so well in their most recent trip to Miami.

"Hopefully it can go as smoothly as it did last time," Stoops said. "We anticipate it will."

Oklahoma will have two South Florida practices in by the time USC arrives for the game; the Trojans -- who, like the Sooners, bring a 12-0 record into the showdown -- are scheduled to fly into Fort Lauderdale late Tuesday afternoon, and begin practicing in Miami on Wednesday.

The Sooners' arrival didn't lack any pomp; a police escort shuttled the team to their practice facility, fire trucks shot an arc of water over the team plane as it taxied to a stop, a band played salsa music as players and coaches descended stairs leading from the jet, and a large orange carpet was laid out to greet them.

"You definitely want to balance yourself and make sure you're building up to the game by totally preparing mentally and physically," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "At the same time, you want to relax a little and enjoy yourself while you're in Miami. It's a great city."

Orange Bowl trips have a special place in Oklahoma's postseason history. The Sooners have reached 38 bowl games; nearly half have been in Miami, and their 12 Orange Bowl victories are more than any other school.

Plus, four of the Sooners' seven national titles -- ones that followed the 1955, 1975, 1985 and 2000 seasons -- were capped by Orange Bowl triumphs.

"It is special. It adds a little more probably because our state and our fans have such a history here and familiarity with coming down here," Stoops said. "Hopefully we can make it another great experience."

The Associated Press News Service

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