The Oklahoma Sooners are itching to return to the BCS after a disappointing 2011 season. The annual winter retreat in Glendale may be getting old for Sooner fans, but that is a testament to Bob Stoops' success in Norman. He has achieved such a high level of sustained success that winning the Big 12 is expected for OU.
Looking back at the 2011 campaign, there are several factors that played a hand in Oklahoma's failure to reach the BCS. Here are the seven reasons the Sooners didn't reach the BCS in 2011. If things work out better in 2012 in these areas, expect to see OU playing in January.
After a shocking loss to a Texas Tech squad that finished 5-7 and a humiliating blowout in Stillwater at the hands of Oklahoma State, one has to wonder if the Sooners were in it mentally.
We'll exclude the Baylor game from this discussion because RG3 was superhuman in 2011 and the Bears were a respectable team.
To lose to Texas Tech at home, however, is simply inexcusable. Considering the level of talent the Sooners have and the expectations bestowed upon them, there's no question they should have beat the Red Raiders.
As for OSU, the simple fact that OU lost to the Cowboys is not the concern, for Mike Gundy fielded a top-tier team last season. But the manner in which the game was lost is bothersome.
It'd be different if the final score were 44-41 or even 44-34, but 44-10? That's not going to cut it for a team aiming for a national championship.
Furthermore, OU seemed to give up in Stillwater. After Landry Jones fumbled deep in OSU territory early in the second quarter, there were no signs of life from the Sooners, and the game was essentially over.
Where's the passion? The fire? The hunger to win? These qualities, normally a given in Sooner squads, were glaringly absent at times last season and must be replenished.
It's widely known that the Sooner pass D struggled last season, prompting a coaching shakeup that resulted in Mike Stoops reprising his role as defensive coordinator.
In losses to Texas Tech and Baylor, OU yielded 452 and 485 passing yards, respectively. Quarterbacks Seth Doege and Robert Griffin III made the Sooner secondary look horribly inept, and this area must be improved for Oklahoma to have success in 2011.
There's reason to be optimistic. Mike Stoops oversaw a dominant defense in his first tenure in Norman, and he will have plenty of talent to work with, with the return of key defensive backs Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin, Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris.
The more Landry Jones plays, the more enigmatic he becomes. At times, he has looked unstoppable, leading the Sooners down the field with effortless grace. At others, he looks so helpless you wonder how he won the starting quarterback job for a Division I school.
Jones regressed last season, and he simply wasn't the same without star wideout Ryan Broyles. This was made clear by his zero touchdown passes following Broyles' injury in against Texas A&M on Nov. 5.
2012 will be a crucial year for the senior from Artesia, N.M. With a solid offensive line and a formidable receiving corps, Jones has all the tools to thrive. The question is, which Jones will we see: the sharp and accurate one, or the lethargic and confused one?
Only time will tell.
Turnover margin is one of the most telling statistics in football. In Oklahoma's three losses last season, they committed a combined 12 turnovers while only forcing one.
The importance of avoiding turnovers is obvious. But simply taking care of the ball puts the Sooners in good position to win every game.
The perils of ball insecurity were on full display in Stillwater last season. The timing and frequency of the turnovers eliminated any possibilities of the Sooners winning. If OU had protected the ball, however, the game could have been a completely different story.
It's simple, but true. If the Sooners don't turn it over, they can realistically win every game on their schedule.
It'd be premature to call for a head coaching change, but Bob Stoops has to hold partial responsibility for the disappointing results last season.
Stoops' job is to impart the right mindset to his team and bring out their best, and they didn't do that in the setbacks to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Specifically, it wouldn't be unreasonable to criticize him for the Texas Tech loss. He didn't have his team ready to play, as the Red Raiders were up 31-7 early in the third quarter and shredded the OU pass defense. If not for an impressive surge by the OU offense, the score could have been very lopsided.
Injuries were a definite factor in Oklahoma failing to receive a BCS bid last season. Key setbacks included the losses of Dominique Whaley, Ronnell Lewis and Ryan Broyles.
Broyles getting hurt was especially damaging; the Sooner offense simply wasn't the same without him.
Winning a tight conference like the Big 12 depends on luck to at least some degree, and OU lacked good fortune in the injury department last season.
For the Sooners to reach the BCS in 2012, staying healthy will be key.
Sure, the expectations for the Sooners are incredibly high on a perennial basis. And given the talent and resources at their disposal, the Sooners should compete for the national championship every year.
But let's not overlook the quality of competition OU faces. First off, it's hard to heap a lot of criticism on a team that won 10 games. Moreover, two of OU's three losses came to teams that finished 22-4 overall (Baylor and OSU).
The Big 12 is a competitive conference, and OU can't win it every year. But Bob Stoops' squads haven't been left out of the BCS in two consecutive seasons in his entire tenure at OU.
So, if you base your predictions on historical trends, you should be optimistic for 2012.