Like every other team in college football, Oklahoma has question marks heading into the 2013 season.
How will Trevor Knight do as a redshirt freshman quarterback? Can the defense improve in Year 2 under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops? Those are legitimate questions to which the answers will become known soon enough.
But there's another concern that directly affects the outcome of the other two aforementioned ones: how will the Sooners look in the trenches?
Defensive line experience and depth has been cited as an issue all offseason for OU, and it was compounded when Bob Stoops announced this month that top freshman D.J. Ward would be out at least six weeks recovering from spleen surgery. Defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue has also been suspended for Saturday's season opener against Louisiana-Monroe for an off-the-field incident that occurred earlier in the summer—and he led the team a year ago in sacks with five.
While both figure to be back at various points this season, the concern remains about stopping opposing offenses at the point of attack. The Sooners gave up around 192 yards per game on the ground last year and were so-so (at best) at getting to the quarterback.
Though there's a healthy mix of new faces and shared responsibilities at the quarterback spot all over the Big 12 this year, it doesn't mean OU's defensive line depth is any less concerning.
But Bob Stoops isn't worried solely about that spot. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Stoops vocalized his concern about the tackle position along the offensive line.
“I wouldn't say [we're deep]," Stoops explained via the Daily Oklahoman. “I would say we're OK, but I'd say we're short-handed at tackles more than anything — if any recruits are listening.”
The Sooners had horrible luck with injuries along the O-line in 2012, yet managed to keep Landry Jones' jersey relatively clean in the process. This is a unit that will once again need to come up big with a first-year starter taking snaps behind center.
OU's game against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday isn't necessarily a true cupcake. The Warhawks shocked Arkansas early last season and gave Auburn and Baylor fits as well. Their quarterback, Kolton Browning, returns after throwing for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2012.
While Saturday's game should be a win for Oklahoma, it should also be a better gauge of where this team stands than some might think—especially in the trenches.