Say what you will about Oklahoma's 2011 season, but at least the Sooners capped the year off with a satisfying bowl win over Iowa, a victory that put OU at the milestone of 10 wins and generated momentum, confidence and continuity heading into the offseason.
With the recent announcement that Landry Jones will return for his senior season, Sooner fans should have no doubt that Bob Stoops and OU's all-time career passing leader will return the Crimson and Cream to national glory next year.
Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the Oklahoma Sooners in 2012.
Last season, Bob Stoops labeled the freshman class his best ever at Oklahoma (via 247sports.com), and the group, which includes Kenny Stills, Tony Jefferson, Trey Millard, Roy Finch, Corey Nelson and Aaron Colvin, among others, has lived up to its billing thus far.
Although stars Ryan Broyles, Travis Lewis and Frank Alexander have played their last seasons in Norman, the Sooners are still young overall and will benefit immensely from Landry Jones' returning for his senior year. Roughly 17-18 starters should return next season. The talent has always been there, and these young players are getting plenty of experience as freshmen and sophomores and will be nurtured by Jones' veteran presence and leadership.
Look for OU's wealth of talented players to blossom again next season, including walk-on phenom tailback Dom Whaley. We will see some new faces on the gridiron, but by no means will the Sooners be lacking in talent. Having a senior quarterback at the helm will put the Sooners in good position to compete for a national championship.
Nineteen recruits have committed to attending Oklahoma thus far, including 5-star receiver Trey Metoyer and eight 4-star players.
A talented and diverse group of incoming freshmen is fuel to the fire for a roster loaded with talent and Sooner fans who aren't yet familiar will know the names of these young stars very soon.
Notable OU Commits:
WR Trey Metoyer
WR Durron Neal
TE Taylor McNamara
RB Alex Ross
OL Ty Darlington
LB Eric Striker
DB DeVante Harris
Also encouraging for Oklahoma's 2012 prospects is the fact that other Big 12 teams will be rebuilding/departing. Texas loses some talent and is still not quite at its characteristic caliber yet, and Texas A&M is off to the SEC.
Oklahoma State bids farewell to the star duo Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Robert Griffin III will almost certainly forgo his senior season in Waco and Texas Tech, although besting the Sooners this year, shouldn't be a major threat.
It will be interesting to see how conference newcomers TCU and West Virginia (which may or may not begin Big 12 play in 2012) fare, but OU is in good position to succeed in the Big 12 next season.
Former OU co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was on the sidelines watching his brother's team spar with Iowa in the Insight Bowl, and multiple sources say Stoops is set to rejoin OU shortly (via News9.com).
Mike Stoops' coaching prowess was a major factor in OU's 2000 national championship run, and dominating defense was a staple in Norman during his tenure.
Considering Oklahoma's recent defensive struggles, the return of Stoops could be just what the Sooners need to recapture the title magic.
Lastly, consider this: Bob Stoops has never failed to win a Big 12 Championship in two consecutive seasons in his tenure at OU.
Stoops won Big 12 Championships in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006-08 and 2010. If the trend continues, he will win his eighth crown next season.
This stat is testimony to Stoops' consistent success at OU. He has made the Sooners a perennial power and has ensured that Oklahoma is in the national title picture each and every year.
Stoops, Landry Jones and his teammates will be motivated to come out strong in 2012 after a somewhat disappointing 2011 season and reassert themselves as a dominant member of the college football elite.