By STEPHEN HAWKINS
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Lincoln Riley will remember this Oklahoma season for a long time. It took a lot to get to the end of it — with two significant trophies.
The No. 8 Sooners navigated through the season played under the cloud of a pandemic, and their first 0-2 start in Big 12 play since 1998, to win their sixth conference title in a row, then wrapped it up with an overwhelming 55-20 win over 10th-ranked SEC runner-up Florida on Wednesday night in the Cotton Bowl — the first New Year’s Six game played.
“It’s very meaningful to us with the way the year has gone for everybody to be able to look at the tough things and not see obstacles, but see opportunities,” Riley said. “It’s been our mindset. We felt that way the entire year and really closed so strong.”
Spencer Rattler threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score, and Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for 186 yards for the Sooners (9-2, No. 6 CFP), who won the Cotton Bowl in the same NFL stadium where 11 days earlier they claimed their latest Big 12 title. They led 17-0 in the first seven minutes on way to the most points and yards (684) they have ever had in a bowl game.
The Sooners had 435 yards rushing, including 110 from freshman Marcus Major. They averaged 10.52 yards per play overall, the most ever against a Power 5 opponent in a bowl game, according to STATS.
Rattler threw a 27-yard TD pass to fellow freshman Marvin Mims on the game’s opening drive, and Florida’s first possession ended with Tre Norwood’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown. That was the first of three picks thrown by Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kyle Trask in the first quarter, after only five all season.
“A couple of times, we confused their quarterback with coverage, and he let go of a couple of throws that weren’t as decisive as we usually see him make” Riley said.
Oklahoma played in its sixth consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game, but the last three seasons had lost College Football Playoffs semifinal games while giving up an average of 54 points to different SEC teams.
The Sooners finished this season with an eight-game winning streak. Their 0-2 start in Big 12 play effectively knocked them out of playoff contention by mid-October.
“I feel like this win specifically is going to get us going, going into next year,” Rattler said. “This is a game we wanted to come out here and coach Riley said, we want to make a statement. As a group, we do that well.”
These Gators (8-4, No. 7 CFP) were much different than the team that just 11 days earlier fell 52-46 to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game, and had averaged nearly 42 points a game.
Trask played presumably his final college game, but didn’t have his top four pass-catchers, and didn’t play after the opening drive of the second half.
AP All-America tight end Kyle Pitts and two others receivers opted out to start preparing for their pro futures, and sophomore receiver Jacob Copeland tested positive for COVID-19. They were among 17 players that Florida said were unavailable.
Dual-threat sophomore QB Emory Jones had a 1-yard keeper for Florida’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter, capping a 16-play, 88-yard drive when both he and Trask took snaps.
Trask finished 16 of 28 for 158 yards, while Jones was 8 of 16 for 86 yards — with 12 players catching passes.
“A lot of guys got some really good experience out there for us tonight,” coach Dan Mullen said. “I think the future is really bright.”
Rattler was the fourth starting quarterback in as many seasons to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and a NY6 game, the first who began his career in the program rather than coming in as a transfer. He was 14 of 23 passing for 247 yards and ran for 40 yards.
Florida got within 17-13 late in the first half before Theo Wease caught a pass on a short crossing route, then cut back inside behind some downfield blockers for a 36-yard TD play. Rattler then got his rushing touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half.
Stevenson had a 15-yard TD run in the third quarter when at least six different defenders got their hands on him has he shuffled and twisted toward the end zone.
Florida: The Gators played in their third consecutive NY6 game since Mullen became their head coach. They won the first two. While a tough night overall, they did show some positive glimpses of what their offense could be capable of after Trask set single-season school records with 4,283 yards passing and 43 TDs. Jones ran for 60 yards, and freshman running back Nay’Quan Wright had gains of 18 and 26 yards.
Oklahoma: Rattler finished with 28 TD passes, and Mims set a Sooners freshman record with nine receiving TDs in 11 games. The Sooners are 45-8 in four seasons under Riley That’s the most wins in the first four seasons for an OU coach. Bob Stoops, his predecessor, was 43-9 from 1999-2002, including the Sooners’ last national title in 2000.
Florida: Jones, in his fourth season in the program, could get his first start as the Gators quarterback when they open the 2021 season Sept. 4 at home against Florida Atlantic.
Oklahoma: The Sooners could again be favored to win another Big 12 title. Their opener next season is Sept. 4 at Tulane.