The Oklahoma Sooners are coming off of what has to be considered a disappointing 2011 football season.
Many wondered if Bob Stoops had simply lost a step and if the program was on the decline.
There were high expectations for the Sooners last year, including the AP poll pre-ranking them No. 1 before a single snap was taken. Oklahoma finished 16th in the final AP poll after defeating Iowa in the ever prestigious Insight Bowl.
With the announcements of Landry Jones returning for his senior year and Mike Stoops reuniting with big brother Bob, there is no shortage of optimism heading into the 2012 season.
Here are five bold predictions for the upcoming season.
There is no denying the effect the "Belldozer" formation had near the goal line and in short yardage situations this past year.
The coaching staff came up with the brilliant formation to solve the Sooners' red zone issues from years past, and it worked like a charm.
In the final six games of the year, Blake Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns. He has a knack for the end zone and has shown that even when the opposition knows he is coming, they still can't stop it.
A large portion of the credit is also due to the big boys in the trenches making open lanes for Bell. The Sooners will be returning four of the five starting linemen from last year.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel is going to make sure Blake Bell gets the ball early and often, giving him the edge to score more touchdowns than any other Sooner next season.
Last year the Sooner defense ranked 62nd in total defense, giving up 383 yards per game and 33 touchdowns on the year.
So how in the world is this atrocious defensive unit going to all the sudden jet to the top 10?
Many Oklahoma fans cried for Brent Venables head over the years as the Sooner defense came up short time and time again. Now that Venables has moved on to Clemson and Mike Stoops is back in town, there seems to be a bit of concern in the air.
While I would agree that a Stoops-Venables defensive system may have been optimal, I have supreme confidence that Mike Stoops is more than capable of turning this ship around.
Mike is also bringing Tim Kish, his defensive coordinator from Arizona, with him to coach the linebackers in Norman. Stoops and Kish have been working together since Mike took over as head coach in Arizona back in 2004.
Now, consider these: In Mike Stoops' final four years with the Sooners, their defenses were respectively ranked eighth, fourth, 10th and third in the country—giving up an average of 273.6 yards a game during that stretch.
A Mike Stoops defense is a top 10 defense, period.
Who is Courtney Gardner, you ask? He is a 6'3", 215-pound force of a WR from Sierra college.
The Sooners swooped in and stole the 4-star JUCO standout from Arkansas on signing day. While the Sooners may have missed out on the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, they made a major coupe signing Gardner.
The Sooners' WR core seemed to take a plunge after All-American Ryan Broyles went down with season-ending knee surgery last year and Landry Jones never really seemed the same.
Despite hopes that Kenny Stills would fill the gap left by Broyles, the dynamic offense never appeared to fully recover. It was evident that Stills thrived in more of a supporting cast role and the addition of Courtney Gardner could very well take the pressure of trying the be the team's leading WR off his hands.
Gardner says his favorite NFL player is Andre Johnson, and there have been whispers of him resembling Calvin Johnson. He also runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash.
Last season, he pulled down 61 balls for 1,099 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Courtney Gardner is not a question mark player coming out of high school and entering a brand new world of college football...Gardner already has two years of JUCO ball under his belt and is ready to shine in the big leagues.
Last year, all the hype was surrounding Landry Jones as a preseason Heisman favorite. We all know how last season ended, and Landry wasn't even an afterthought come Heisman voting time.
One player who came out of nowhere and blew away everyone's expectations was Langston transfer Dominique Whaley.
Whaley beat out the likes of sophomore sensations Roy Finch and Brennan Clay to be named the starting RB for the Sooners in 2011 and made the most of every opportunity he got. Dom ripped off 627-yard and nine touchdowns before going down with a season-ending injury in just the seventh game of the year.
Whaley went from second-string RB at Langston to the featured back at OU in no time. The coaches rave that he is always one of the hardest working guys during the offseason and practice.
Expect No. 8 to bounce back in 2012 with even more confidence and make a serious push as a legitimate Heisman candidate.
OK, maybe this is a little too bold, but there will be some heated arguments had between the Stoops brothers at the very minimum.
I have long felt that Bob Stoops has surrounded himself with coaches who are his good friends and in the end turn out to be a group of "yes men."
No one would ever dare call out "Big Game Bob" because, after all, Bob won a national championship in only his second year as a head coach and he knew best.
The only problem?
Bob won that national title back when he had his brother, Mike, not only running the defense but also keeping him accountable. Ever since Mike Stoops left to take the head coaching position at Arizona in 2004, Bob has run things his way—even if his way wasn't always the best way.
Mike Stoops is family, and family has no problem letting each other know when another is wrong or slipping up. You can be sure that Mike Stoops will be speaking his mind when he disagrees with brother Bob's game plan for the week.
While Bob may not enjoy feeling questioned after being used to assistant coaches in the past keeping their thoughts to themselves, this will undoubtedly be a huge plus for this Oklahoma football team.
Bob has looked unmotivated in recent years. Mike is just the cure for reigniting that competitive fire back beneath his brothers engine.
We may not see them come to blows on the sidelines, but I would kill to be a fly on the wall behind closed doors.