Coming off a second-place finish in the Big 12 and a Cotton Bowl loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, the Oklahoma Sooners will enter the 2013 season breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since Landry Jones was a freshman fill-in.
Oklahoma finished the year No. 15 on the AP Top 25 poll, and finished with a 10-3 record, losing to only Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M—three teams that finished ahead of the Sooners on that same poll.
While the Bob Stoops era has never consisted of a Sooner team that doesn't feature NFL-ready talent and BCS expectations, the job for the longtime OU coach and his staff will be heightened this year as they try to break in a new crop of talent at key positions—namely QB.
The Sooners will be tasked with replacing Jones, Lane Johnson and Kenny Stills on offense, while replacing David King, Casey Walker, Tom Wort and Tony Jefferson will also be a challenge for the coaching staff, even with a top 15 2013 recruiting class (via 247Sports).
OU's 2013 spring game will be a glimpse into the upcoming season, as the Sooners prepare to put their reputation on the line once more in the always-tough Big 12—this time likely without the cushion of being a Top 10 team when the season starts.
Here's a complete look of what to watch for on Saturday when Crimson and Cream teams take the field in Norman.
When: Saturday, April 13, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium; Norman, Ok.
Tickets: OU Official Website (Soonersports.com)
Watch: FOX Sports Southwest (check local listings)
Oklahoma 2013 Regular Season Schedule
|Saturday, Aug. 31||vs. Louisiana-Monroe|
|Saturday, Sept. 7||vs. West Virginia*|
|Saturday, Sept. 14||vs. Tulsa|
|Saturday, Sept. 28||at Notre Dame|
|Saturday, Oct. 5||vs. TCU*|
|Saturday, Oct. 12||vs. Texas* (at Cotton Bowl)|
|Saturday, Oct. 19||at Kansas*|
|Saturday, Oct. 26||vs. Texas Tech*|
|Thursday, Nov. 7||at Baylor*|
|Saturday, Nov. 16||vs. Iowa State*|
|Saturday, Nov. 23||at Kansas State*|
|Saturday, Dec. 7||at Oklahoma State*|
Note: (*) denotes Big 12 conference game. October 12 game against Texas is Red River Shootout, scheduled to be played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.
Position Battle to Watch
As mentioned before, Landry Jones is heading for the NFL. His 2013 draft stock isn't the only uncertainty heading into Saturday; Oklahoma has three QBs that are all gaming to be the starter against Louisiana-Monroe on opening Saturday.
That group is led by Blake Bell, known as the "Belldozer" in Norman over the past two seasons for his role as the Wildcat QB in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Bell has accumulated 24 rushing touchdowns in two seasons at OU, but has never thrown a touchdown pass under center during his college career.
The contenders for the job are Kendal Thompson and Trevor Wright, two guys that Jake Trotter of ESPN.com notes could both win the job outright over Bell, who is still the favorite despite his lack of passing experience.
Trotter also notes that the Sooners are moving to an offense that will resemble that of what Colin Kaepernick was running at Nevada during his time in college, in an effort to get the most out of the dual-threat QBs currently in contention—likely one of the reasons Drew Allen decided to transfer.
While this is still Bell's job to lose after two years of apprenticeship behind Jones and offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, Thompson's rare blend of speed and athleticism could give the Sooners a dangerous mix in the backfield with backs Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Trey Millard (as noted by ESPN's Brandon Chatmon).
QB battles aren't always won and lost in the spring game, but it's clear all eyes will be on these three guys as things get going on Saturday. Look for Bell's ability to avoid turnovers and keep the chains moving with his arm (something he's never done in Norman) to be big factors in how we see the state of this race on Sunday morning.
Area in Need of Most Improvement
The lasting memory from the 2012 Oklahoma defensive line is a group of guys chasing around Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel around without any success (although, to be fair, that could be said of several SEC teams, too).
Despite having a plethora of top recruits along the defensive line for the last several years, the Sooners have struggled to create pressure up front to take responsibility away from linebackers and secondary players in coverage.
Oklahoma finished tied for 70th in the nation in sacks per game in 2012, registering just 1.85 per game and picking up just 24 in 13 games.
That has to change in 2013.
The Sooners are excited about the depth at defensive tackle, as Chuka Ndulue is moving to the inside after spending 2012 as a defensive end. The OU coaching staff is high on what he brings to the table, as noted by Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman:
Oklahoma was widely expected to switch to a 3-4 defense — 2013 signees and even Phillips said as much — but now appears likely to stick with its traditional four-man front. Ndulue’s move inside to defensive tackle allowed OU to do that. Ndulue probably still needs to add some weight, but his pass rushing ability could make his position change fruitful for OU.
He joins Jordan Wade, Jordan Phillips and Torrea Peterson in a group that doesn't have much experience, but will look to provide more stability and interior pressure after the defense allowed 192 rushing yards per game last season (good for 89th in the nation).
On the outside, the only familiar name is Chaz Nelson, the senior defensive end who might be supplanted by younger faces this year. Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper have been pegged as the starters going into the summer, and each will have to create more chances for tipped balls and turnovers in that role.
No matter what Oklahoma does to fix the lack of QB pressure with its new group of defensive lineman, Stoops and company cannot accept the production they got from this group in 2012.
What to Expect in 2013
Oklahoma has some lingering question marks heading into the 2013 season.
Starting at QB, the Sooners are looking to give Bell every chance to prove he deserves the job. If he cannot handle it, expect him to return to his familiar post as the "Belldozer" when the offense needs it.
At the skills positions, Oklahoma returns some talented athletes. Williams, Clay and Millard are all capable of going off at any point in the Sooners' running game, maybe more so now that the offense will have the pistol feel to it and less of the shotgun one.
With Kenny Stills departing for the NFL there isn't a true No. 1 heading into the season, but Jaz Reynolds looks set to return from a 2012 suspension, speedster Jalen Saunders emerged as a Ryan Broyles-lite at the end of the 2012 season and the Sooners still expect big things from Trey Metoyer in his second season in Norman.
On defense, things will be very young.
In addition to the defensive line, the Sooners will have to break in some new linebackers, but the coaching staff and players are already high on what the future holds for the unit (from Trotter's ESPN piece). Corey Nelson has seen significant playing time over the past two seasons, and Aaron Franklin and Frank Shannon both figure to receive ample time to prove they can contribute in stopping the run.
The secondary still has shutdown corner Aaron Colvin, but the other four positions are open for competition. Gabe Lynn, who spent time as the nickelback in 2012, is getting most of the snaps at free safety, while Cortez Johnson has emerged as the No. 1 contender to start opposite Colvin.
Looking ahead to Oklahoma's 2013 schedule, it's going to be about how this team comes together through the early part of the season. West Virginia, TCU and Texas Tech are all home games, and the Red River shootout is always hotly contested—no matter each team's talent level.
That being said, two road games to close the season against Kansas State and Oklahoma State could decide if OU is playing in a BCS bowl or the Sun Bowl. It's a little early to see what kind of group this will be with an interesting mixture of returning and new talent, but a road game against Notre Dame in September could help gauge how the Sooners will finish.
Get ready for an exciting spring game on Saturday. There are position battles to be had and a crop of new talent in Norman that is eager to carry on the Sooner way in 2013—exactly what college coaches want when these games get underway each year.