Saints teammates become college rivals as Sugar Bowl nears

Associated Press photo by BILL HABER -- Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills, right, talks with Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin during the Sooners' practice at the Saints training facility in Metairie on Saturday. Stills, who played at Oklahoma and went pro after his junior season, is still friends with many current players. Show caption
Associated Press photo by BILL HABER -- Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills, right, talks with Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin during the Sooners' practice at the Saints training facility in Metairie on Saturday. Stills, who played at Oklahoma and went pro after his junior season, is still friends with many current players.

No need to play the 2014 Sugar Bowl. But don’t tear up those BCS tickets just yet.

We’ve created a simpler way to decide the victor between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma, two of the most storied programs in the nation. Let’s go with Saints running back Mark Ingram versus his NFL teammate, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton — both have ties to the participating schools.

Meet Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Fifty-yard line. Oklahoma drill starts at 6:30 p.m.

We’ll do it “Troy” style, the way Brad Pitt, playing Achilles in the 2004 epic, faced off against a towering Thessalian warrior while both armies watched. The losing army left, defeated.

So which former letterman, still passionate and loyal to his college roots, wins?

“Alabama, hands down,” said Ingram, who won a Heisman Trophy and BCS championship during his three seasons in Tuscaloosa. “Curtis don’t want to see me. He know. I’d handle Curtis.”

Lofton disagreed — just what you’d expect from the former four-year Sooner standout (2004-07).

“Him versus me?” Lofton asked, repeating the question posed to him, his smile shifting quickly to a frown. “One-on-one, it’s not, it’s not even close. There’s no decision. I’m not going to speak on that.”

Then he spoke some more.

“That’s not even ... me versus him, one-on-one? No. He already know that matchup. ... It’s not even close for him.”

Consider it college loyalty, one of the few subjects which can playfully divide an NFL locker room like at Saints headquarters. From historically black colleges to perennial powerhouses, players represent their former schools like moving billboards, with every sack, every catch, every big play in the NFL on the next level.

“You’re known by the school you come from,” Lofton said. “I feel when I step out on the football field now, not only do I represent the Saints, but I represent Oklahoma, too.”

And when their college programs face off every fall, there’s plenty of trash talk.

“Guys come from all walks of life — small school, big school — and everybody just wants to see their team win,” said Saints safety Roman Harper, who played at Alabama from 2002-05. “It makes it fun for a competitive Saturdays.”

Alabama enters this bowl one bad play against Auburn away from playing in its third consecutive national championship. Oklahoma is new to being an underdog in bowl games, which, depending on how the Tide reacts on the field to playing in a lesser game, could accept this matchup.

That’s if Ingram and Lofton don’t decide everything.

If this Oklahoma drill doesn’t replace the game, expect the Sugar Bowl to offer another round of college antics among the four Saints players with ties to the schools, including rookie receiver Kenny Stills, who left Oklahoma after his junior season.

Most of the guys he arrived in Norman, Okla., with are still playing for the Sooners, former teammates he considers friends.

“It’s fun, throughout the season, guys making bets on whoever wins has to wear the other school’s gear,” Stills said.

Friends enough for him to pick against Ingram, his offensive huddle buddy with the Saints?

“I don’t know what happens in an Oklahoma drill between those two, but I feel like the advantage is usually to the defense,” Stills said. “So I might roll with Curtis on that one, just because Oklahoma boys gotta stick together in this locker room. Especially with Roman and Mark (around).”

Like his teammates, Stills has transitioned from college football player to fan, although it’s been an emotional process. He still gets frustrated when he sees some of the same problems that damaged last season’s 10-3 campaign affect this season’s team, including players being under-utilized or used differently than they should, Stills said.

“I don’t know if I’m going to go to the game here,” he said. “I get too excited to go to those games in person. I’m really passionate about them, so it would be frustrating to me to see some things going on.

“I’m not very good at keeping my mouth closed.”

Neither is Ingram, who said he still wears his Alabama letterman jacket when it’s cold outside.

“I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that program, into my time in Tuscaloosa,” he said. “Just to see they’re continuing that — of course, we’d much rather see them playing for a national championship. But a BCS game, a January game, 11 wins in a season, that’s (also) awesome.”

But does he have the support of Harper, his Alabama brethren?

Or will Harper play this down the offense-versus-defense lines and pull for Lofton?

“Mark scores, easy,” Harper said with not hesitation.

“No doubt about it. Roll Tide.”

If this format doesn’t work, we can always go with Bob Stoops against Nick Saban.