The 2011 campaign started promising for the Oklahoma Sooners. The team was ranked #1 at the outset of the season and appeared to be heading for another remarkable run until reality set in. And that reality was the Big 12 was going to be more competitive than it had been in years.
Unbeknownst to Sooner fans, the conference would have three teams ranked in the top 25 by years end with each one having a legitimate chance to win the conference. Oklahoma started out strong through the first three games, retaining the nation’s top spot but fell to number three due to stronger schedules at other schools. The Sooners had chances to move up in the standings but losses to Texas Tech at home, Baylor in Waco and interstate rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater epitomized what has been wrong with Oklahoma for a number of years—the offense is Oklahoma’s best defense.
Since the departure of Mike Stoops, the team’s defense has been shoddy at best. The offense can score but the defense seems to have adopted a break but don’t bend mentality that has cost the team in big games for the last 10 years. The defense has to get significantly better if they want to have a chance to compete not for a national title, but just to be the best school in the Big 12. With the addition of West Virginia and TCU, the competition is going to get a lot more daunting.
|How hot can OU get this year?|
Quarterback Landry Jones was once again a Heisman hopeful until his team suffered devastating losses midseason coupled with the fact that he was overshadowed in his own conference by phenom and future first round pick Robert Griffin III. Although he wasn’t totally at fault, he lost games that mattered and made untimely mistakes. He couldn’t get his offense going in the season finale against State and the team scored only 10 points in the game.
Jones completed 63 percent of his passes (355/562), amassed 4463 yards with 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. But if jones wants to reach the promised land this year, he is going to have to find some consistency with a few new faces.
His go to receiver Ryan Broyles (83-1157-10) has since departed for the NFL. Jones got a taste of what life would be like without Broyles after he tore his ACL in the win over A&M last November. Jones struggled to find a suitable passing partner contributing to losses in two of the final three games of the season.
Kenny Stills (61-841-8) is the one returning receiver with whom Jones has developed something of a relationship. Jaz Reynolds (41-715-5) was looking to be the second or third option in the pass-happy offense but undisclosed violations of team rules in May will cost him and Trey Franks “multiple games” according to Coach Bob Stoops. Penn State transfer Justin Brown could be a welcome addition to the offense provided he can get on the same page with Jones and do it quickly. The 6-3, 214 junior had 35 receptions, 517 yards and 2 TDs with the Nittany Lions last year. He is looking for a place to showcase his skills and with the lack of depth, not to mention maturity within the receiving corps; he may have just landed in the perfect place. If he is even halfway decent, he will get the ball plenty.
The offensive line could use some work and veteran leadership. The team looked great when it played lesser talent and vulnerable when it actually had to grind games out. The front line will be without starting center Ben Habern due to lingering injures as well as back-up lineman Dylan Dismuke. Both have declined to return to the team. Transfers meant to shore up the line, Courtney Gardner and Will Latu, were unable to make it into school leaving Jones protection questionable at best.
The need to improve the running game is a must in order to take heat off of Jones and the passing game, but it all starts with the line. OU must do better than 50th in rushing this season to compete in a conference that has six teams ranked in the top 25.
The Sooners hope to fortify their offense with the additions of top prep wide-out Trey Metoyer, and highly ranked receivers Derron Neal (#62) and Sterling Shepard (#131). More than likely Stoops would like to keep these kids on the shelf but with the need to win now and the lack of depth in the receiving corps, they may find themselves on the field sooner rather than later.
This unit has been the weakest part of this team for nearly a decade. Since the departure of Mike Stoops, there has been a slow roll toward mediocrity and the team has yet to get out of the funk. In the three losses in 2011, the defense gave up 130 points while the offense was only able to muster 86 points. That is a 44 point differential that cannot be duplicated or tolerated this season.
The key to the defensive reemergence is how well the coaching staff finds replacements for the team’s key contributors from 2011 to help the nine returning starters from last year’s unit. Gone are LB Travis Lewis, DEs Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Of the nine committees in this year’s recruiting class (top #250), only one Eric Striker (#243) was a defensive player which seems to point to the Sooners looking to build from within. If the same coaching staff was in place, it would give one reason to worry but DC Stoops should be able to give this unit a jolt and make them formidable once more.
The Sooners should make great strides in total defense (#55/376 ypg), scoring defense (#31/22 ppg), passing defense (#79/241 ypg) and rushing defense (#43/134 ypg). It’s not about the players, it’s about the system and the coaching and Stoops will be coaching for a chance to get another head coaching job and will not let this unit falter. Look for the Sooners defense to lead the way in 2012.
Bob Stoops is one of the top 5 coaches in the country. Since the Sooners National Championship in 2000, the university is a lock every in preseason poll to have a chance at dethroning the SEC as the keepers of the BCS Championship. For all the accolades and the bridesmaid finishes in years past (2003, 2004 and 2008) this is the year the Sooners can take it over the top.
The one constant criticism of Stoops has been his penchant for taking chances at inopportune times. A pass on the 1 yard-line here or a fake punt in your own territory there are the kinds of decisions that have driven fans crazy. With the re-addition of brother Stoops, some of the pressure should be taken off the head coach and perhaps some of the foolish decisions that cost them games can be minimized or eliminated.
The 2011 season had every Sooner fan packing for the short drive to New Orleans for the National Championship. What no one foresaw was a team that would lose its most dependable receiving threat, two losses to teams the Sooners normally beat blindfolded and a complete give up at season’s end to a determined Oklahoma State squad. It was bad all around and to add insult to injury, the Sooners had to watch Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor play in better bowls while the trudged around in the Insight Bowl.
Oklahoma finished ranked 15th in the nation; one spot above Kansas State but behind Baylor (#12) and Oklahoma State (#3). The Sooners look to avoid repeating the same outcome as last year and should welcome a #4 preseason ranking to ease some of the pressure and ensure they retain their focus. However the road won’t be easy.
Some saw the loss of Texas A&M as a significant blow to the conference as it was seen as a precursor for the disbanding of the Big 12. But a few shrewd moves by the interim commissioner saw the addition of West Virginia and TCU. Both teams will add significant luster to the conference and make for some interesting contests.
Of the 10 teams in the conference, six teams (W. Virginia #11, Texas #15, TCU #17, Oklahoma St. #19, Kansas State #21) are ranked. In addition to their conference foes, Oklahoma will also play #24 Notre Dame in Norman who by that time may be moved up in the rankings. If OU can run the table it will be nearly impossible to deny them another national title chance at season’s end.
But if they stumble out of the gate, it’s going to be another long season.