Oklahoma

Landry Jones had his way with the Wildcats last season. Without his main target, Ryan Broyles, racking up the pass numbers might not be quite so easy this year. (Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman.)

Overview: Projected at No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, Oklahoma faces high expectations, as usual. With the return of quarterback Landry Jones for his senior season and the reintroduction of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator, many believe the Sooners can make a title run this season.

Jones’ supporting cast includes a veteran offensive line, talented if unproven wide receivers and a healed-up Dominique Whaley in the backfield. Last season Oklahoma finished in the top 10 in the nation in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense. While the Sooners’ attack might not be quite as prolific without Ryan Broyles, whom coaches selected as a first-team All-Big 12 pick despite a devastating injury late in his senior season, it should still be a headache for defensive coordinators around the league.

Defensively, Oklahoma expects to benefit from the direction of Mike Stoops, head coach Bob Stoops’ brother, who coached the Sooners’ defense from 1999 to 2003. During his tenure, Oklahoma allowed on average scarcely more than two touchdowns per game. This season the Sooners take the field without venerable defensive ends in Frank Alexander, the 2011 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and Ronnell Lewis, a first-team All-Big 12 pick. Cornerback Jamell Fleming and linebacker Travis Lewis are others Oklahoma must replace. In 2011, the Sooners allowed four different opponents to rack up 500-plus-yard performances. Stoops will coach the secondary in addition to overseeing the defense as a whole, so he will be charged with preparing Oklahoma – and especially those players covering wide receivers – for the never-ending onslaught of pass-happy Big 12 offenses the team will face again this season.

Schedule: After beginning the season at the University of Texas-El Paso on Sept. 1 and playing its home opener versus Florida A&M on Sept. 8, Oklahoma gets a bye week before starting Big 12 play versus Kansas State on Sept. 22. Though the Sooners will certainly be favored in the game, the Wildcats should provide the toughest test in the first half of Oklahoma’s schedule. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners perform in Norman after a pair of cupcake nonconference games followed by two straight weeks of practice before facing Kansas State.

Notable mid-season games for Oklahoma include a neutral site game in Dallas against Texas on Oct. 13 and a non-conference date at Notre Dame on Oct. 27. The Sooners end the season on a potentially challenging three-game stretch that includes a home game against rival Oklahoma State, bookended by road dates with West Virginia and TCU.

Last time against Kansas State: On Oct. 29, 2011, No. 9 Oklahoma obliterated the No. 8 Wildcats 58-17. Jones threw for a school record 505 yards, and the Sooners’ defense sacked Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein seven times, limiting the Wildcats’ offense to 58 yards through the air. Though the Wildcats trailed just 23-17 at halftime, Oklahoma pulled away in the second half and never looked back.

This season, the Sooners face what is projected to be a more versatile Kansas State offense, led by the same gutsy quarterback they treated so rudely last fall. This time, though, Oklahoma will do so without some of its key defensive leaders from 2011. Even with transition happening at important positions this season, the Sooners are the easy favorite. As proven time and again last season, however, it is never prudent to count the Wildcats out.

Projection: As much as it would be a breath of fresh air to say Oklahoma will not be the power it regularly is, that would be wishful thinking. The Sooners will definitely contend for the Big 12 championship and possibly the national one as well. Even in such a stacked conference, more than two losses, three at the most, does not seem likely.

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