The Oklahoma Sooners have plenty of notable seniors and freshmen heading into 2012. Landry Jones, Dominique Whaley and Trey Metoyer are among the names getting plenty of hype. But there are also several sophomores on the squad who will be critical contributors this season.
Although there aren't as many of them, the sophomore group consists of types of players that form the backbone of the team and provide invaluable contributions.
Some of them you may know, others are probably unfamiliar to you. But here are five OU sophomores who will be key for the Sooners in 2012.
Bell thrived last season in the goal line “Belldozer” package. He only logged 44 carries for 171 yards, but his 13 touchdowns were a record for an OU freshman quarterback. His mammoth frame (6’6”, 245 lbs.) and bruising running style make him an effective and reliable weapon in short-yardage and red zone situations.
Expect the Wichita, Kansas, native to be used in similar situations this season. He is too athletic not to be utilized. Although using multiple quarterbacks can impede rhythm, Bell seems to be the answer in the red zone, an area in which the Sooners struggled in the past.
Once the Landry Jones era concludes, Bell could seize the reins at quarterback. Even if he does not start in the near future, he will continue to see the field in key situations. It will be intriguing to see if co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell create more wrinkles for him in the 2012 offense. If not, he should still thrive. Opposing defenses expect him to run up the middle yet can’t stop him.
Finally, Oklahoma has consistency at kicker. Hunnicutt turned in a very impressive freshman campaign, making 21 of 24 field goals and 55 of 56 PATs. He was awarded All-Big 12 honorable mention for his efforts and even set a conference record for kicks made by a freshman.
In an increasingly competitive conference, special teams is crucial. Competing for conference and national championships is close to impossible without a reliable kicker. Luckily for Bob Stoops and the Sooners, Hunnicutt seems to be their man. He has gained solid experience in less than a full season as the starter and showed grace under pressure with his game-sealing kick against Florida State in Tallahassee.
Also exciting is Hunnicutt’s strength. Last season he was 4-4 on kicks from 40 yards or further. It is almost a guarantee he will be called on at least once this season for a long kick with the game on the line.
The 2012 depth chart has yet to be revealed, but there’s a good chance Williams will get the nod at tackle opposite Lane Johnson. After redshirting in 2010, he played in nine games in 2011. At 6’6”, 313 pounds, he has the size to be an effective replacement for departed Donald Stephenson, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Williams made just one start last season. For him to beat out fellow sophomore Tyrus Thompson and others, he will have to grasp the mental aspect quickly. But no other non-starter has had more experience at tackle than Williams. A starting spot seems to be his for the taking.
Tackle is the only need to fill on the O-line this season for OU. If Williams can step up and adapt quickly, the front five has a chance to be one of the best in the country.
He won’t be a starter, but Torrea Peterson will be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle this season. 2012 could be Peterson’s chance to make a name for himself after recording three tackles in five games last year.
The Sooner defensive line will be seasoned and deep. Expect Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland and Stacy McGee to get the majority of the reps at the tackle spot. However, Peterson, fellow sophomore Damon Wiliams and freshman Jordan Wade could all see spot duty.
The D-line needs to step up this season for OU to succeed in a pass-happy Big 12. Solid play from the starters is essential, of course. But just as pivotal is consistent and high-level contributions from second and third-string players who will inevitably see action in the rotation. Endurance and depth will be key for Oklahoma in this area.
Wilson also won’t start, but he will have important responsibilities. He was recently moved from cornerback and will contribute at safety and nickelback. He also should continue to see action on special teams after working there in 11 games last season. According to ESPN, Wilson will be Gabe Lynn’s backup in the secondary. Lynn has only started two games, so Wilson could see a lot of playing time.
Also encouraging for the sophomore was his April spring game performance. He logged an impressive eight tackles (two for losses) and a sack.
Even though he won’t be in the limelight, Julian Wilson will be an important facet of the secondary and special teams units for OU in 2012. He will be relied on in the secondary particularly as the unit seeks to improve from an inconsistent outing in 2011.