Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops is no stranger to South Florida, defeating FSU for the BCS National Championship in 2001.
2011 Record (BIG 12): 10-3 (6-3)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 17 (8/7/2)
Ryan Trapp and Kristina Taylor | Staff Writers
The Big 12 is in a state of transition: two new teams will begin conference play this season, Baylor graduated a Heisman trophy winning quarterback and defending conference champ Oklahoma State saw the lethal combination of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon go in the first round of the NFL draft. With questions surrounding how several teams in the conference, Oklahoma returns a three-year starter in star quarterback Landry Jones. Accumulating over 12,000 yards and 93 touchdowns in his career, Jones has rewritten the Sooner record book and leads all active FBS quarterbacks in both those categories. Now a senior, the Sooners are no doubt looking to ride their quarterbacks talent and leadership all the way to a BCS-title berth. Although Oklahoma returns 17 starters on both sides of the ball, the few who are gone will be sorely missed. They’ll need to replace all-everything wideout Ryan Broyles, who took his FBS record 349 career receptions to the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2012 Draft. Junior Kenny Stills can be a legitimate number one threat, boasting 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season behind Broyles, but he’s the only receiver on the Oklahoma roster with a collegiate catch. Bob Stoops will throw a trio of talented freshman into the fray in Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal, but with the inexperience on the wings they’ll need to lean heavier on the ground game. They’ll have a legitimate one-two punch in Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch, both of whom earned starts last season and collected combined total of 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Blake Bell will add a new wrinkle from the quarterback position as well, where he battered and bruised his way to the end zone 13 times last season in a Tebow-esque fashion. The trio of runners should find plenty of holes behind a stout, offensive line led by third-team All-American center Gabe Ikard.
The Sooners looked very vulnerable in the secondary a year ago, especially in losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. Nevertheless, with experience under their belt, the “Sharks” should be stingy under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Cornerbacks Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin give Oklahoma one of the best corner combos in the nation, and former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Tony Jefferson is a star in the making at free safety. Losing both Frank Alexander and Ronnel Lewis at defensive end really hinders the Sooners ability to generate pass rush from the outside. Stoops will rely heavily on seniors Casey Walker, Stacy McGee and JaMarkus McFarland to get to the quarterback from the interior while they settle out who can step up at the two ends. Junior linebackers Tom Wart and Corey Nelson can help hurry the quarterback as well, the two combine for 14 career sacks, while redshirt freshman Frank Shannon showed immense potential at strong-side linebacker this spring.
ROAD TO THE BCS
The Sooners have a difficult schedule, particularly in the final stretch. How they fare in the final three games will determine if Oklahoma can play their way into or out of the national championship picture. Back-to-back-to-back matchups against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU will make or break the Sooners’ season, although a mid-season matchup against Mac Brown and the Texas Longhorns isn’t a matchup that should be taken lightly either. With the strong schedule they have, Oklahoma shouldn’t get leaped in the standings as long as they continue to win. Either LSU or Alabama will be knocked back after they face each other in November, and USC might have to play a strong Oregon team twice. If the Trojans run the table, and someone can go undefeated in the SEC, Oklahoma will be on the outside looking in. Otherwise, they’ll almost certainly be competing for that crystal trophy; just like every other championship game played in South Florida.
BURNING QUESTION: Will the real Landry Jones please stand up?
After projecting as a top-five quarterback in the 2011 draft, Jones turned away from the pros and returned to Oklahoma for a tumultuous season. While nearly 4,500 yards and 29 touchdowns are nothing to shake a leg at, the 15 interceptions (tied for fourth most in the FBS) were too many. Jones also looked lost without star wide receiver Ryan Broyles at the season’s end, throwing six picks and just one touchdown over his final four games while completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes. Can Batman get it done without Robin? With a very inexperienced group at wide receiver, this season should tell if Jones is the type of quarterback who can make those around him better or if he was just capitalizing on the success of others.