In less than a week, the Oklahoma Sooners will be taking the field in El Paso, Texas, to take on the UTEP Miners. The scheduled 9:30 p.m. kickoff will mark the official beginning of the Sooners' 2012 season, and I can only hope our offseason coverage has prepared you for what you might be tuning in to see.
Before that fateful kickoff takes place, I have stockpiled everything you might need to know about the Sooners' upcoming season into a quaint little slideshow. The information ranges from offensive and defensive previews, player evaluations, schedules and careful projections.
The season is finally upon us. The time is now. Ladies and gentlemen, here is your 2012 season preview for the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Sooners' offseason has been anything but lovely. With all the injuries, suspensions and position changes, one would think that the Sooners would have gone through an entire season already.
Guess again—but what more are we to expect? The Sooners are veterans when it comes to facing adversity, so everything the team has been through so far has to feel par for the course. Let's start with injuries and get those out of the way.
After an offseason of rehab for a nagging neck injury, senior center Ben Habern appeared to be back to his healthy, motivated self. However, after aggravating his back n summer practice, Habern decided to call it quits. Habern was set to be a senior leader on what was likely to be one of the most experienced and talented offensive lines in the country.
Habern's retirement essentially means left guard Gabe Ikard will slide into the starting spot at center, which in turn allows sophomore Adam Shead to take Ikard's spot at left guard. The loss of Habern, though detrimental, becomes less tough to swallow after realizing Ikard's versatility and Shead's promising future.
However, the offensive line looks pretty bleak after senior right guard Tyler Evans went down with an ACL injury in practice. The injury will keep Evans sidelined the entire season, which means junior Bronson Irwin will have to slide into a starting role after spending the last two seasons primarily as a backup.
Is the offensive line still talented? Yes, but losing two seniors definitely makes the line look a lot less strong. The defensive line has also taken two injury hits this offseason, albeit they aren't seniors, nor are they starters.
Defensive ends Chaz Nelson and P.L. Lindley are both unlikely to be around for the start of the season. Nelson, who suffered an injury to his MCL, is likely out for six weeks, while Lindley's timetable for return is uncertain after suffering a high ankle sprain.
What would it be without an offseason ripe with suspensions and transfers? The first set of suspensions, which took place back in May, have been well-documented. Wide receivers Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson, as well as safety Quentin Hayes, were suspended indefinitely after violating team rules.
After the mass suspension happened, Reynolds, Franks and Hayes initially had their scholarships revoked. Since then, all three have been allowed to come back to practice, though their return date to the playing field has yet to be determined. Jackson, who was rumored to be transferring even before the suspension took place, was officially dismissed from the team earlier this month.
Just over a week ago, senior defensive tackle Stacy McGee became the fifth player to become suspended from the team indefinitely. McGee, who was suspended for violating a university policy, has no timetable set for his return. McGee has been a part of the three-man defensive tackle rotation, also featuring seniors Casey Walker and Jamarcus McFarland, for the past two seasons.
Two Sooners have actually quit the team this season (not retired, as in Habern's case) due to personal reasons. John Michael McGee, a four-star offensive guard prospect from the 2011 class, and Bennett Okotcha, a redshirt freshman defensive back, have both decided to part with the team.
McGee's departure certainly doesn't help the offensive line depth that's already reeling, and Okotcha's absence leaves the Sooners rather thin at the safety position.
The Sooners have received two wide receiver transfers that should help the team out in a big way this season, though. Well, at least one of them for sure—Penn State transfer Justin Brown. Brown chose to play for the Sooners after the Sandusky debacle struck in State College. The senior wide receiver brings size (6'3", 214 pounds) and versatility (veteran punt returner) to the lineup.
Jalen Saunders, a junior wide receiver from Fresno State, transferred to Oklahoma right after the mass suspensions of Reynolds, Franks and Jackson were handed out. Saunders' availability for this season is still up in the air. He may have to sit out a season, but if he's around, his deep-threat ability will be a great weapon for quarterback Landry Jones to have around.
Now that we have all the frustrating news out of the way, we can talk about more promising endeavors for the Sooners roster. There have only been a few position changes worth noting; defensive end David King's change to defensive tackle is likely the most important.
King, who was set to start at defensive end opposite of R.J. Washington this season, has slid over to defensive tackle to make up for the absence of Stacy McGee. King provides the size and strength at the position that McGee is leaving behind. This puts sophomore Chuka Ndulue into the starting lineup to fill King's void at defensive end.
Running back Roy Finch may have found a new home on offense, as the junior running back has recently been taking a lot of snaps at slot receiver. While he's likely to still see time in the backfield, expect to see Finch utilized in a plethora of different packages this season. The coaches are really just trying to find a way to keep his explosiveness on the field.
Defensive end Geneo Grissom has made the move to the offensive side of the ball at tight end. The move makes sense not only because the Sooners are desperately thin at the position, but also because Grissom's size and athleticism are ideal. At 6'4" and 247 pounds, Grissom becomes a huge target for quarterback Landry Jones. He may need some time to adjust, but Grissom should fight for snaps and even a starting position.
The Sooners once again have a bevy of talent at their disposal, but most of that talent is still unproven. Senior quarterback Landry Jones will have to provide a healthy dose of leadership to a group of guys that will be playing under the lights of Gaylord Memorial for the first time.
Don't worry, there are still some familiar names. Junior wide receiver Kenny Stills will look to take over where Ryan Broyles left off, and senior running back Dominique Whaley looks to be back at 100 percent following an offseason of rehab on his broken ankle.
The Sooners will look to keep their high-flying spread offense in tact despite some key injuries and suspensions. Here is a look at the projected starters:
- Quarterback: Landry Jones, Sr.
- Running Back: Dominique Whaley, Sr.
- Wide Receiver: Trey Metoyer, Fr. (outside)
- Wide Receiver: Kenny Stills, Jr. (slot)
- Wide Receiver: Justin Brown, Sr. (outside)
- Tight End: Geneo Grissom, So. OR Brannon Green, Jr.
- Left Tackle: Lane Johnson, Sr. OR Tyrus Thompson, So.
- Left Guard: Adam Shead, So.
- Center: Gabe Ikard, Jr.
- Right Guard: Bronson Irwin, Jr.
- Right Tackle: Daryl Williams, So.
The Sooners finished the 2011 season with the No. 65 defense in the country in terms of yards given up per game. Still, they were the third best defense in the conference behind only Texas (No. 15) and Missouri (No. 64).
Surely the Sooners are capable of improving upon their ranking this season, especially after defensive coordinator Mike Stoops makes a few adjustments, but having a great defense in the Big 12 is almost irrelevant. For example, Oklahoma State, who won the conference last season, finished in the bottom 15 of defenses. So did Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas. Iowa State wasn't far behind, either.
Texas had the No. 15 defense in the country and they finished 8-5. What I'm getting at is, even if the Sooners didn't improve upon their No. 65 ranking this season, they would still have a great chance of winning the conference.
However, Stoops has made his return to the Sooners and has already moved players around to better suit their playing styles. I would be shocked if the Sooners weren't the least bit improved this season. Here's a look at the projected starters.
- Defensive End: R.J. Washington, Sr.
- Defensive Tackle: Jamarcus McFarland, Sr. OR Casey Walker, Sr.
- Defensive Tackle: David King, Sr.
- Defensive End: Chuka Ndulue, So.
- Linebacker: Tom Wort, Jr.
- Linebacker: Corey Nelson, Jr.
- Nickelback: Gabe Lynn, Jr.
- Cornerback: Demontre Hurst, Sr.
- Free Safety: Tony Jefferson, Jr.
- Strong Safety: Javon Harris, Sr.
- Cornerback: Aaron Colvin, Jr.
The Sooners actually look pretty solid on special teams to start the season. Saying this seems implausible, as finding a steady kicker has been a challenge since the departure of Garrett Hartley to the NFL. However, Michael Hunnicutt came on strong last season as a freshman, and he seems to be the answer the Sooners have been searching for.
Senior punter Tress Way may be the most underrated player on the Sooners' roster. He has started since his freshman season, and he has always averaged at least 42 yards per punt. He is as consistent as consistent gets. It's going to be hard to find a replacement for him next season.
As far as the return game goes, the Sooners really received a gift in the form of Penn State transfer Justin Brown. With Ryan Broyles off the NFL, the Sooners were having a tough time finding a punt returner that was a capable replacement. Enter Brown, who has returned punts his entire career at Penn State.
Kick return still remains a mystery, and I bet a number of different guys get an opportunity to try their hand at it. Here's a look at the special teams' specialists that are likely to start.
- Kicker: Michael Hunnicutt, So.
- Punter: Tress Way, Sr.
- Punt Returner: Justin Brown, Sr.
- Kick Returner: Roy Finch, Jr.
- Kick Returner: Brennan Clay, Jr.
- Kick Returner Backup: Sterling Shepard, Fr.
- Kick Returner Backup: Damien Williams, Jr.
It's hard to argue the validity of a coaching staff when your head guy is Bob Stoops. Stoops will be looking to win his eighth Big 12 Championship this season as the head coach of the Sooners, but he isn't the only coach that will have his say in how the Sooners fair this year. Without further ado, meet your 2012 Oklahoma football coaching staff.
- Head Coach: Bob Stoops
- Assoc. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs: Mike Stoops
- Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams/Defensive Ends: Bobby Jack Wright
- Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks: Josh Heupel
- Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers: Jay Norvell
- Director of Recruiting/Running Backs: Cale Gundy
- Assistant Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers: Tim Kish
- Assistant Coach/Centers, Guards: James Patton
- Assistant Coach/Tight Ends, OT's: Bruce Kittle
- Assistant Coach/Defensive Line: Jackie Shipp
- Director of Sports Enhancement: Jerry Schmidt
- Administrative Coordinator: Matt McMillen
- Director of Football Operations: Merv Johnson
Playing in the Big 12 gives the Sooners a tough schedule in the first place, but the way the Sooners' schedule turned out will certainly make things more difficult.
With three of their biggest games taking place in the final three weeks of the season, the Sooners are going to have to be focused and motivated to finish the season strong.
|1||Away||UTEP Minors||9:30 p.m. CT|
|2||Home||Florida A&M Rattlers||6:00 p.m. CT|
|4||Home||Kansas State Wildcats||6:30 p.m. CT|
|6||Away||Texas Tech Red Raiders||TBA|
|7||Home (Cotton Bowl)||Texas Longhorns||TBA|
|9||Home||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||TBA|
|10||Away||Iowa State Cyclones||TBA|
|12||Away||West Virginia Mountaineers||TBA|
|13||Home||Oklahoma State Cowboys||TBA|
|14||Away||TCU Horned Frogs||TBA|
Prediction: Notre Dame
Yes, I could take the easy road and pick Kansas, but I'm not going to (even though I probably should). Kansas could give the Sooners some problems, but the Jayhawks are overmatched at every position, making their Week 8 home matchup seem like a guaranteed victory.
Truth is, nothing is guaranteed in the Big 12, and the Sooners found that out the hard way last season. Instead, I'm going to pick a non-conference game (no, not UTEP or Florida A&M), and I may very well take some slack for this. I'll go ahead and put it down in writing that there is no way in the world that Notre Dame comes into Norman, Oklahoma and steals a victory this season.
What's my reasoning? Well, it's actually rather similar to my argument against Kansas: The Fighting Irish are just overmatched at way too many positions. I'll concede and say that the Irish have a better tight end (Tyler Eifert) and middle linebacker (Monti Te'o), but after that...
Running back Cierre Wood (pictured) is a huge weapon to have offensively, but is he that much better than Dominique Whaley? Can Notre Dame's defense actually slow down Oklahoma's high-scoring spread offense?
I don't think so. I just don't think they're used to seeing an offense with this much firepower. Not to mention, the timing of this game incredibly favors the Sooners—not to mention, it's a home game, and the Sooners have a pretty decent home record under Bob Stoops.
The Sooners have a really good chance of coming into this game undefeated, where as the Fighting Irish have a really good chance of coming into this game with two, three, maybe even four losses. If that's the case, the "motivation" factor is definitely leaning the Sooners' way.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Oklahoma not only covers the (current) 12-point spread, they'll go beyond it. The Sooners will win this game by three touchdowns.
Until the Texas Longhorns can get their quarterback troubles worked out, they aren't going to beat the Sooners. However, due to the intense rivalry between the teams, this game is always a toss-up. If David Ash can get things figured out, then the Longhorns have a legitimate shot at taking this game.
For now, though, the Sooners' offense is going to be a lot to handle, even for a defense like the Longhorns. Even though the Longhorns had a good defense last season (No. 1 in the Big 12), the Sooners were still able to put up nearly 500 yards of offense and 55 points. Granted, the defense does need credit for 18 of those points, but you get the picture.
Still, the strength of the Longhorns lies in their defensive line and secondary—two areas that are going to have to cause fits for the Sooners this season. Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor are going to give Oklahoma's offensive line a long day. If Jones is incapable of moving around the pocket, it could be bad news.
Also, the Longhorns have a plethora of talented running backs that could prove to outweigh their inept quarterback play. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Jonathan Gray could do some damage before the game is over with.
All in all, the Sooners should win this football game, but anything can happen in the Red River Rivalry.
Prediction: West Virginia
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article describing why the Red River Rivalry is not going to be the Sooners' most important matchup this season. Despite the heated competitiveness between the Sooners and the Longhorns, another game on the schedule this season seems to be more important in a more true sense of the term.
The Sooners have to travel to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers on Nov. 17. This game begins what I like to call the "lose and you're out" portion of the Sooners' schedule. This game precedes games against Oklahoma State and TCU, all of which are back-to-back-to-back. That already makes this an important matchup, as the Sooners need to win all three games in order to maintain a steady ranking in the polls.
When you add in the fact that the game is on the road and it's that late in the season, then things start to get really interesting. Morgantown is an unfamiliar environment for the Sooners, and Mountaineers' fans are sure to be itching to live up to their rowdy and raucous reputation.
Not to mention, the Mountaineers are loaded with talent. They have an offense that will fit in nicely in the high-scoring Big 12, and an improved defense that will challenge the Sooners' spread attack. Wide receivers Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey definitely have the ability to run circles around the Sooners' secondary, especially if the Sooners can't fix their issues from last season.
If West Virginia and Oklahoma can get through a few early season tests, both teams have a great chance of meeting each other with undefeated records. That could be huge. I mean, like, really huge. For those that want to argue that a rivalry game with Texas is more important than an undefeated late-season matchup, please, have at it.
Prediction: Landry Jones, QB
There is no other answer—the offensive MVP has to be senior quarterback Landry Jones if the Sooners want to do well this season.
Trust me, I am not meaning to discredit Dominique Whaley, Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and the rest of the Sooners' talented backfield. However, because the Sooners' are so focused on the pass and the spread attack, Jones has to be clicking in order for the offense to move down the field.
Jones may be the school's all-time leader in passing yards, but even he isn't immune to bad habits, and I'm not even referencing his inability to move around the pocket. Jones is a pocket passer—he thrives when he gets protection and he has multiple targets. All of this was true until Ryan Broyles went down with an injury last season.
Jones can't take all the blame, though. Losing Broyles while Whaley was sidelined didn't make things easy on him by any means. He also wasn't getting too much help from wide receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, as the two dropped multiple passes in the last few games of the season.
Still, something was off with Jones when he didn't have his go-to target on the field. Often times throws were too high, and while that could have been a release issue, I have to think part of it was mental, as well. Jones has to correct these issues as he leads the Sooners to championship-prowess this season.
If the offensive MVP isn't Jones by the end of the season, the Sooners are going to be in trouble.
Prediction: Tom Wort, LB
I had a hard time with this prediction. I wanted to pick Tony Jefferson because I think he's going to thrive at free safety. Then I considered both Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin, as the two NFL-caliber defensive backs should be poised for a great season.
I would have even considered David King had he stayed at defensive end. However, I don't think he's going to get to the quarterback/cause as much damage at defensive tackle as he would have done at end. In the end, though, I had to just go with ole' reliable.
Tom Wort may not be the best defender the Sooners have to offer. He may not be the biggest, or the most NFL-ready, but he's always reliable. After moving into a full-time starting role last season, Wort will be called upon for even more this year now that Travis Lewis has graduated. Wort has to provide the same vocal leadership that Lewis is leaving behind.
For some reason, I really don't see that being a problem for the junior linebacker. Wort is probably the hardest-working defensive player on the roster. He is constantly going full speed, flying to the ball with no reservations for what might happen once he gets there.
Unfortunately, this often results (at least last season) in poor tackling fundamentals, which then coincidentally result in Wort having to sit out a few snaps or series with stingers and cramps.
After totaling 137 tackles and eight sacks in his first two seasons combined, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wort hit the 100-tackle mark just this season. The Sooners have always been blessed with gifted linebackers, and Wort will certainly leave his mark this season.
Prediction: Trey Metoyer, WR
There wasn't an easier slide to predict in the entire article. Not only will freshman Trey Metoyer be the "newcomer of the year," but he absolutely has a chance to be "offensive MVP" as well. That is, if he can live up to his billing.
Metoyer has dazzled the coaches during spring and summer workouts. He is a lock for the starting lineup, and might even get more looks than junior Kenny Stills this season. One thing is for sure: Opposing defenses are going to have their hands full.
Metoyer is the first five-star wide receiver recruit in the Bob Stoops era (1999-present). At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Metoyer will provide quarterback Landry Jones with a great outside threat, and he could become the go-to red-zone receiver, as well.
It might be crazy to have such high expectations for a guy that has never played a down of Division I football, but the sky really is the limit for Metoyer. Here are my predictions for his freshman season:
75 receptions, 1,025 yards, eight touchdowns—Big 12 Newcomer of the Year
Let's get something clear before we start this slide. I'm picking quarterback Landry Jones as the best NFL draft prospect based on a few different criteria; the two big ones include: Probable draft status (how high is this prospect going to get drafted), and likelihood of being drafted (is this player actually going to get drafted/if he's a junior, is he going to leave, etc.).
By those criteria, Landry Jones is far and away the best NFL draft prospect on the Sooners roster this season. Do I think he's going to be the most successful Sooner in the NFL from this roster? No. I think that Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin, Gabe Ikard and eventually Trey Metoyer and Jordan Phillips all have higher ceilings than Jones in the NFL.
However, I don't think Jefferson, Colvin and Ikard will leave after this season, and Metoyer and Phillips aren't even eligible. That leaves my two obvious choices as Jones and Demontre Hurst. I really like Hurst as a player, but I think Jones will get more of an opportunity in the NFL. If Jones has corrected the issues that plagued him last season, he will move up draft charts at a rapid pace.
If Ryan Tannehill can get drafted No. 9, then Jones has what it takes to be a top-10 pick, as well. Quarterbacks always see their stock rise more than any other player. The problem, though, is that the NFL is already full of great quarterbacks. I'm not certain that more than one or two teams will want to take a quarterback with their first pick next season.
Jones, USC's Matt Barkley, Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Tennessee's Tyler Bray and West Virginia's Geno Smith all have a good chance of being the top two quarterbacks taken next year—it all depends on how each develop throughout the season.
Jones is in a really good position to see his stock rise due to the numbers he's likely going to put up this season. Barkley and Smith are in similar positions, while Wilson and Thomas may actually be the best of the bunch.
Regardless, Jones will remain the Sooners' best draft prospect.
I'll be honest: Following college athletes on Twitter isn't as exciting as you might hope it would be. While it might be cool to say, "Hey, I followed Landry Jones on Twitter and he retweeted something I said once," you probably aren't going be fascinating over what's going on in these players' everyday lives.
However, if you do want to follow a few Sooners on Twitter this season, look no further than wide receiver Kenny Stills and running back Brennan Clay—two parts of the Cali trio. Between the two, they have tweeted 45,581 times (this number is likely to have gone up by the time this article is posted). You can find them on twitter with these handles:
If you're like me, though, and use Twitter to keep up to date on issues that go beyond what each player is doing every hour of the day, you might be more inclined to follow three different Sooner-related Twitter accounts. If you want news and updates on recruits, practices, schedules, etc., these are the guys to follow:
- @Jake_Trotter ... ESPN Insider
- @SoonerScoop ... Football/Recruiting Information
- @OU_Football ... Constant updates on everything Sooner Football
Here's a fun fact: The Sooners are favored in every single game this season.
While I genuinely see no problem with this, covering each game is going to be rather difficult.
Let's take a look at each game that Vegas currently has a spread for, including the Sooners' season opener against UTEP.
|7||Home (Cotton Bowl)||Texas Longhorns||-6|
|12||Away||West Virginia Mountaineers||-4|
|13||Home||Oklahoma State Cowboys||-8|
|14||Away||TCU Horned Frogs||-10|
I wrote a detailed explanation over which spreads I think the Sooners will cover a few months ago that you can read here. However, if you don't feel like reading a whole other article, here's a general outlook of a few games the Sooners could have trouble covering:
- Week 11: Baylor Bears—Should be the token "lets lose our minds and play with zero energy" game this season.
- Week 12: West Virginia Mountaineers—Should be the toughest game for the Sooners this season. A raucous Morgantown environment plus possibly huge implications regarding conference/national championship hopes could make this a nail-biter.
- Week 14: TCU Horned Frogs—TCU is a good team that will be looking to make a huge statement with their last game of the season; An exclamation mark on their first season in the Big 12.
Prediction: Fiesta Bowl
By predicting that the Sooners will make the Fiesta Bowl, I am more or less conceding the fact that the Big 12 championship is the Sooners' to lose. However, due to the level of competition within the conference, I don't think the Sooners will finish unscathed.
Losing only one game could be the difference between an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl and the national championship game. Also, if USC goes undefeated and either LSU or Alabama finish with just one loss, I think the Sooners would be on the outside looking in.
Still, going to the Fiesta Bowl would be a step in the right direction for a team that fell all the way to the Insight Bowl last season.
For a team with so much talent, anything less than the Fiesta Bowl will be a disappointment. A Fiesta Bowl appearance would mean that Bob Stoops would be a proud recipient of his eighth Big 12 championship in 14 seasons.
Not too shabby.
Honestly, if you've read through this entire article, you can probably guess my "final prediction"—I mean, it has all pretty much been covered. However, if you've skipped your way to the end, here's a (very) brief recap with an idea of how the Sooners will finish.
Despite having seen their fair share of letdowns this offseason, the Sooners are starting the season as the No. 4 ranked team in the nation and appear to be ready for a season of redemption. The amount of talent the Sooners possess is seemingly limitless, but a lot of that talent is unproven.
If the Sooners play up to their potential, a national championship isn't out of the question. However, due to the level of competition in the Big 12, it's hard to envision any team finishing unblemished. As of now, a Fiesta Bowl appearance seems much more realistic.
Final Prediction: 11-1; Winner of the Fiesta Bowl over the Michigan Wolverines
Who is that one loss coming to? The easiest choice is West Virginia, while other logical choices include Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I'm not choosing any of these.
I'm choosing Baylor. Yes, I'm aware they lost Robert Griffin III. Yes, I'm aware it's a home game. However, the Sooners have grown accustom to losing games they shouldn't—last season it was Texas Tech, this season it's Baylor.
Baylor still has enough offensive firepower to keep up with the Sooners. They also return one of the top secondaries in the conference, which should keep Landry Jones busy. The fact that Baylor comes to Norman the week before the Sooners head to Morgantown to take on West Virginia is another scary thought.
I'm sure Stoops will have his troops ready and not over-looking the Bears, but too many times last season the Sooners fell victim to slow starts due to what seemed to be a general malaise that fell upon them. That can't happen this season.