Oklahoma Football: 5 Reasons Sooners Will Rule Big 12 in 2012
Oklahoma football has been a perennial contender in the Big 12 since the conference's inception.
The Sooners have won the Big 12 seven times, establishing them as one of the top teams in the conference and creating a national power at the same time.
The conference has changed much since it was founded. Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M have all left.
This year, the conference will get its first additions ever as TCU and West Virginia join the party.
Despite the new look of the Big 12, Oklahoma is still the dominant force in the conference.
Here are five reasons the Sooners will still be the top team in 2012.
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The Big 12 is the definition of a passing conference and the Sooners have the bast passer in school history on their side.
Landry Jones is returning for his senior season in Norman and will look to prove his doubters wrong.
Jones is the active NCAA leader in yards, completions, attempts and touchdowns.
He has had his ups and downs in Norman, however. In 2010, Jones helped bring Oklahoma to a conference title as well as a Fiesta Bowl victory.
Despite being strong statistically, Jones struggled in 2011.
Jones lost two key playmakers in Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles late in the season, throwing off his game. Combined with a possible lack of confidence due to the "Bell-dozer" package that used backup Blake Bell instead of Jones, the starter was given a few too many curve balls and limped into the offseason.
2012 will be the season that defines Jones' career. He has had the offseason to work with Kenny Stills. Whaley will also be healthy to start the year.
If Jones can maintain his composure and bring back his success from 2010, no defense in the Big 12 will have a chance at stopping him.
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Oklahoma's playmakers are some of the most talented in the country and have the potential to make the offense the best in the nation.
Despite losing three receivers due to rules violations, the Sooners still have some of the best weapons on offense.
Wide receiver Kenny Stills will be the centerpiece of OU's passing attack in 2012.
In his freshman campaign in 2010, Stills was a breakout star opposite Ryan Broyles. In 14 starts, Stills caught 61 balls for 786 yards, including five touchdowns.
The next season, Stills matched his catch total in only 11 games. He scored eight times and accumulated 849 yards.
In 2012, Stills should be able to increase his production. Without Broyles, Stills becomes the main target for Jones on the outside. Stills will use his athleticism to create separation as well as break tackles in a high variety of passing plays designed by Oklahoma's coaching staff.
Dominique Whaley is also returning for the Sooners and will lead a three-headed rushing attack that includes Roy Finch and Brennan Clay.
Whaley surprised the country with his strong play before going down against Kansas State.
With these players returning and the addition of freshman wideout Trey Metoyer, OU is in position to make some big plays and have an incredibly high-powered offense.
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Tony Jefferson has grown into an elite defender in college football.
Jefferson came to OU as a safety in 2010 and was extremely impressive in his freshman campaign.
Jefferson made 65 tackles in 2010, adding two sacks and two interceptions.
In 2011, Jefferson was moved to a hybrid position, playing more as a linebacker than he did at safety.
The move brought Jefferson some success, but his ability as a big-play defender is what makes him a difference-maker.
Against Ball State, Jefferson had an outstanding three-interception performance on three consecutive drives. He finished nine games with at least five tackles in 2011, establishing himself as the key defender for OU.
With Travis Lewis gone to the NFL, Jefferson's role will be even more crucial to the defense in 2012. Jefferson will see more time at safety, a position he is more comfortable with.
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With Mike Stoops returning to Norman, Oklahoma's defense will rival Texas for best in the conference.
Stoops coached the Sooners defense from 1999 to 2003, helping win a national title for Oklahoma in 2000.
Stoops left to helm Arizona in 2004. After eight seasons with the Wildcats, Stoops was let go after failing to meet high expectations.
Now, Mike is back to help out big brother Bob re-work a defense that struggled against some teams in 2011.
Stoops will revitalize the Sooners defense back to its old form by utilizing a key players. Tony Jefferson will be moved back to his natural position, according to ESPN.com's Brandon Chatman, while Tom Wort will be a strong force at linebacker.
If anyone can get the most out of OU's defense, it will be Stoops. Texas will have the best defense in the conference, but Oklahoma's will be surprisingly close.
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The Sooners are one of the most experienced teams in the country, and they'll need that experience in the tough Big 12.
OU has 15 players who have started at least one game on offense. Due to injuries, all three running backs received decent playing time in 2011.
On defense, OU has 12 players returning that will have at least one career start.
Experience will be vital to the Sooners as they go through their Big 12 schedule.
Oklahoma closes the season out with a brutal three-game stretch. After playing what will be the toughest game of the season at West Virginia, OU plays the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Norman for the first time since 2009.
The Sooners then take on a tough TCU team in Fort Worth.
The experience of playing in bowl games as well as performing in hostile environments will benefit Oklahoma in this tough stretch.
It is in these games that OU's season will be defined, and if the Sooners are playing at their highest, no one can stop them from a Big 12 title.