Not too many coaches in the country can win a second straight conference title and still have to answer to disappointed fans.
Such was the case for Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops after a blowout loss to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Once known as “Big Game Bob” because of his record in big games, Stoops has now come up short in each of his last four BCS appearances.
It’s not that the fans don’t appreciate the five conference championships the Sooners have won since Stoops arrived in 1999. It’s just that in Norman, coaches are judged by how many national titles they have won, not how many they have lost.
The 2008 Sooners may be more equipped to win the program’s eighth national title than any team under Stoops since 2000, with the main reason being quarterback Sam Bradford.
As a freshman, Bradford led the nation in pass efficiency and set a new freshman record for touchdown passes with 36. The sophomore had some trouble with interceptions in the spring, which could partly be attributed to adjusting to a new no-huddle system, but if there is any improvement from his freshman year, a Heisman Trophy and national championship won‘t be out of the question.
Bradford’s favorite target, Juaquin Iglesias, returns after a breakout 2007 in which he caught 68 passes and scored five times. Senior receiver Quentin Chaney, who had 4 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl, also returns.
The Sooners will also display one of the best athletes in the country in Jermaine Gresham. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end was third on the team a year ago in both catches (37) and receiving yards (518), and his 11 touchdowns prove his big-play ability.
The passing attack will undoubtedly get a nice boost from redshirt freshman Ryan Broyles, who was very impressive in the spring. The Sooners will also be adding two elite wideout recruits in Josh Jarboe and Jameel Owens.
Sooner fans are very excited to see RB DeMarco Murray get the bulk of the carries in what should be a very potent rushing attack. Despite having his season cut short with a dislocated kneecap, and playing backup to Allen Patrick, Murray was still able to collect 764 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns.
The sophomore is already drawing comparisons to Reggie Bush, thanks in part to his two kickoff returns for touchdowns, blazing speed, and the versatility to line up as a wide receiver.
As is always the case under Stoops, the Sooners have plenty of depth at running back. Chris Brown returns after rushing for 611 yards on 158 carries while playing third string for most of last season. True freshman Jermie Calhoun, one of the nation’s top running back recruits, could make an early impact.
Despite all the talent in the backfield, the most impressive unit for the Sooners is the offensive line, which may be the best in the country. All five starters return along with two top backups. Though all five of the seniors starting on the line are solid, the left side is especially stout. Both Phil Loadholt and Duke Robinson, who weigh a combined 680 pounds, are already NFL-caliber blockers.
The strength of the defense will definitely be up front. Tackle Gerald McCoy is a possible First Team All-American and his combination of strength and speed has the attention of NFL scouts.
DE Auston English was impressive in 2007 with 9.5 sacks, and he’s also impressed scouts with his unique athletic ability. When you throw in tackle DeMarcus Granger, OU should have one of the best D-lines in the country.
With the departure of LB Curtis Lofton, the strength of the linebackers may depend on the health of Ryan Reynolds, who has battled both bad luck and injuries throughout his career at Oklahoma.
When healthy, Reynolds is an All-Big 12 caliber performer. JC transfer Mike Balogun make an impact, and coaches hope junior Keenan Clayton finally realizes his potential. There is also plenty of excitement surrounding redshirt freshman Austin Box.
Going into the spring, the secondary had some question marks thanks to the early departure of Reggie Smith. By the end of the Red-White game, most of those concerns were put to rest.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will not have to worry about safety Nic Harris (74 tackles in 2007), who will be up for several national accolades and could be the best safety in the Big 12. JC transfer David Sims made a big impression on coaches and should contribute at one of the safety positions.
At corner, sophomore Dominique Franks emerged as a shut down corner in the spring, intercepting Bradford twice in the Red-White game. The other corner spot will be manned by senior Lendy Holmes.
Holmes was solid last season, picking off three passes and returning one for a touchdown against Texas Tech. The former receiver also had eight tackles in each of the final three games.
So, the talent for a title run is there, but how does the road to a title stack up?
Oklahoma has a favorable schedule in 2008. They get Texas Tech and Kansas at home, and won’t have to play North favorite Missouri unless they meet for the conference title. Their toughest road game will be in Stillwater against Mike ‘I’m a man’ Gundy and his Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Once again the swing game will come in October in the Red River Shootout against Texas, with the winner having the inside track to the Big 12 South championship.