Oklahoma Sooner fans, hang in there; sunshine and the spring game are visible on the horizon.
The offseason, thankfully, is almost over. Spring practice begins in Norman Saturday, March 9, and the spring game will take place Saturday, April 13 (via Crimson and Cream Machine).
OU football followers should be in for an interesting spring camp. A highly anticipated quarterback competition alone should provide plenty of entertainment.
Young talent on both sides of the ball and a fresh start defensively will also make the preseason worth following.
It's time to dust off your Sooner memorabilia and gear up for another season. Here's what you need to know as spring practice approaches.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
When: Saturday, April 13, 2013, 2 p.m. CT
Practice Schedule: TBA
Position Battle to Watch: Quarterback
Without a doubt, the quarterback competition is the most compelling storyline this preseason. Landry Jones, the record-shattering two-time Big 12 champion, is gone.
Now we get to see whether it'll be Blake Bell, Trevor Knight, Kendal Thompson or Cody Thomas who inherits the coveted role.
Quarterback Drew Allen, meanwhile, is expected to transfer before the season begins (via Sooners Illustrated).
It would be logical to assume Blake Bell is the de facto No. 1 at this moment. After all, he was Jones' backup the past two seasons and saw considerable playing time in short-yardage situations.
However, Bell by no means has the position locked up. For his part, Trevor Knight apparently impressed teammates in practice last season and earned scout team player of the year honors.
Additionally, Kendal Thompson and Cody Thomas are two dual-threat players with plenty of ability.
Who is the next starting quarterback at OU?
Thomas, a 2013 commit, is a dazzling athlete. The 6'5",, 220-pound Texas native is expected to be an immediate contributor on the OU baseball team in the fall and awaits a possible pro career.
At this point, the only thing we can confidently say about the future at quarterback is Jones' successor will be a dual-threat player. All of the contenders have the ability to hurt defense with their legs.
The versatility of the contenders adds to the anticipation. OU hasn't had a dual-threat starting signal-caller since Paul Thompson back in 2006.
Area Most in Need of Improvement: Defensive Line
There are other areas that need work (primarily linebacker), but the Sooners' priority is bolstering the defensive front.
Last season, the Sooners were punished by opposing rushing attacks. Overall, OU finished 94th nationally in total rushing yards allowed. The defensive surrendered nearly 200 rushing yards per contest (via cfbstats.com).
A subpar linebacking effort didn't help, but the D-line is most accountable for this. The unit was thin and inconsistent and failed to take control.
Rushing the quarterback was also a challenge. The Sooners logged a mere 24 sacks in 13 games (69th nationally). A team expecting to win the Big 12 needs to pressure the quarterback more.
A dominant defensive line can take a team very far. In fact, the best Sooner squads have had dominant linemen. Historically, the Selmon brothers, Tony Casillas, Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy, for example, were all key factors in highly successful Sooner teams.
There's reason to be optimistic and expect improvement. The staff acquired a new line coach in former Michigan coach Jerry Montgomery, and coordinator Mike Stoops has new talent to work with.
The new faces include Quincy Russell, a JUCO transfer to whom Bob Stoops gave considerable praise, as well as D.J. Ward and Kerrick Huggins, who could make immediate impacts.
Hopefully, the acquisitions and current players come to spring practice with inspiration and fire to provide an immediate spark to the D-line.
What to Expect in 2013
Bob Stoops' consistent success at OU means it's natural to expect the Sooners to compete for a conference championship, and potentially more, every year.
It's reasonable to expect that for this season, but there are key questions to be answered.
Of course the primary concern is quarterback. Yes, there is considerable talent among the candidates. But until a winner is declared and he establishes himself, this uncertainty clouds the future.
How many games will the Sooners win this season?
On the other hand, the Sooner offense features plenty of firepower. At tailback, Damien Williams and Brennan Clay are back. Touted prospect Alex Ross is capable of greatness. And prized recruit Keith Ford is poised to thrive.
Despite the loss of Kenny Stills, the receiving corps should be in for a potent output and should ease the transition at quarterback. Jalen Saunders, Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard are especially promising.
Defensively, the line and linebacking units must assert themselves more. Hopefully, Quincy Russell and D.J. Ward can spearhead a rebirth up front. At linebacker, Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon need to be vocal and reliable leaders. The coaching staff also needs to make sure defensive schemes utilize the talent at linebacker.
The secondary will be reloading, but the potential is there. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin's return is huge. If replacements at cornerback and safety acclimate quickly, the secondary has a bright future. Specifically, Hatari Byrd, L.J. Moore and Stanvon Taylor are freshmen who could start immediately.
Once again, OU faces a tough schedule. In addition to formidable conference opponents, the Sooners must face Notre Dame early and on the road.
At this point, it's certainly a stretch to say Oklahoma is a clear national title contender. But if young talent steps up and fills in the holes from 2012, a conference championship is attainable.
If not, the Sooners could realistically lose three or four games.
Once spring practice begins, the clouds of uncertainty will slowly begin to dissipate.