The Oklahoma Sooners have maintained their status as a perennial power these last few seasons, but they have fallen short of claiming a coveted eighth national championship.
There are multiple reasons for this, but one of the most prominent ones is the Sooner D has not been as dominant as it used to be.
That will change with the return of Mike Stoops. The former OU co-defensive coordinator confirmed he is rejoining the Sooners, according to newsok.com. Stoops brought an intensity and sharpness that has been lacking in Norman ever since he departed at the end of the 2003-04 season.
During Stoops' first tenure, the Sooners finished eighth, fourth, 10th and third in total defense from 2000-03. The 2000-01 squad was no less than suffocating, holding nine opponents to 14 points or less and keeping the mighty Florida State Seminoles, led by Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, out of the end zone in the 2001 BCS title game. Thanks to dominating defense, the Sooners went 48-6 from the year they won the championship to the 2003-04 season.
10 All-Americans were produced under Stoops' tutelage, including stars Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, Teddy Lehman, Tommie Harris, the late Brandon Everage and Derrick Strait.
National awards were heaped on Sooner players, as well; Harris won the Lombardi Award, Lehman and Calmus won the Butkus Award and Strait and Williams won the Thorpe and Nagurski awards, notably.
After Stoops left for Arizona and continuing to today, the Sooner D simply hasn't been the same. Although it finished in the top 20 from 2004-06, it slipped to 26th in 2007 and 68th in 2008. It rebounded in 2009 by finishing eighth overall but placed 53rd and 55th in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Granted, the game has changed since Stoops left. Offenses have exploded, and the Big 12 especially has become a haven of high-flying attacks. Oklahoma has also shifted to a hurry-up offense, meaning the defense is on the field longer.
Consider this, though. During Stoops' first tenure at OU, the Sooner D faced an average of 66 plays per game. Since the Sooners shifted to the no-huddle, the defense has seen an average of 71 plays per game, according to Tulsa World. Also, OU's 279 yards allowed per game in 2000, which ranked eighth nationally, would put them at seventh in the rankings this season, notes the World. The disparity is not as great as one would think.
Several of OU's recent losses can be accounted for, at least partially, by poor defense. The Sooners surrendered 572 yards and 41 points to Texas Tech and an astonishing 616 yards and 45 points to Baylor. The defense looked utterly absent late in the fourth quarter in Waco as Robert Griffin III led his team 80 yards in less than a minute for the game-winning touchdown.
This season, the Alabama Crimson Tide reminded us that defense wins championships. It's become a cliche at this point, but it reached that status because it's the truth.
Oklahoma has the potential to field championship-caliber defenses with Stoops calling plays. He will inherit a highly talented defensive unit, and it's exciting to consider the potential of Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, Corey Nelson, Demontre Hurst and other stars in the making that Stoops will teach. He made superstars out of Rocky Calmus Roy Williams, Tommie Harris, Teddy Lehman and others. Expect him to do the same with current OU athletes.
Ultimately, Stoops' return to Norman gives the Sooners a chance to be a well-rounded and complete team in 2012. The missing piece since Stoops left has been a dominating defense, and he will rectify this.
With Landry Jones returning and many starters retained on both sides of the ball, there will be continuity and confidence among the players and coaches. And if Stoops returns the Sooner D to national dominance, as he should, watch out for Oklahoma. A potent offense combined with a suffocating defense is a lethal combination for opponents, and it could get OU to Miami once again to compete for an eighth national title.