The Oklahoma Sooners are poised to jump back into the national picture in 2010 after a very disappointing 2009 season full of injuries and inconsistency.
The Sooners return a ton of talent on both sides of the ball and are hoping that these returning players can push the Sooners back into the country's elite. A Big 12 title or run at the national title is certainly not out of the question with this team.
However, for that to happen, several key players need to step up this season. Here are 10 players that have to have solid seasons for the Sooners to be the most successful in 2010.
2009 Statistics- 3,198 yards passing, 26 TDs, 14 INTs
For obvious reasons, Landry Jones starts off this list. As the quarterback, Jones is the most important player on this team and a ton hinges on how he plays in 2010. Jones stepped up last year and played fairly well for the situation into which he was thrown.
He has got to show the growth that he says he has experienced. He also has to show more consistency in the way that he plays. He had some great games last year, such as throwing for a school record six touchdowns against Tulsa, but he also had some awful ones as well, such as when he threw five interceptions at Nebraska.
He must learn to check down to his second and third options, stay collected in the pocket, and just develop into a solid leader.
2009 Statistics- 171 attempts, 741 yards, eight touchdowns, 41 receptions, 522 yards, four touchdowns
Murray came to Oklahoma as one of the biggest recruits in the country. During his time in Norman, Murray has shown that he has a ton of talent and big-play ability.
However, he has also shown that he is a pretty fragile guy. Murray has missed time every year at some point because of injury. He also has never been the feature back in the Sooners' offense. Allen Patrick and Chris Brown shared the load with Murray the past three seasons.
This year is all about Murray. He says that he is the healthiest he has been in quite some time. Sooner fans want to see consistently the Murray that lit up Texas his freshman year.
Since this is Murray's senior season, it's now or never.
2009 Statistics- 89 receptions, 1,120 yards, 15 TDs
Broyles burst onto the scene as a sophomore after playing quality time as a freshman in 2008. He not only led the Sooners in receiving, but was also dynamic on punt returns, averaging nearly 16 yards a return, including an 87-yard touchdown that punctuated the Sooners' Bedlam domination of Oklahoma State.
Broyles is no longer an unknown commodity in the realm of college football and defenses will be adjusting accordingly. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will have to find different ways to get the ball into Broyles's hands because he is easily one of, if not the, biggest playmakers on offense.
2009 Statistics- 69 tackles, 19 TFL, 11 sacks
Beal returns for his senior season after leading the Sooners in sacks in 2009. Beal's return provides Oklahoma with a loaded defensive end rotation that is sure to give offensive lines fits.
Beal is an interesting breed because of his size. He is extremely quick and mobile and often rushes out of the standing position. Beal's return helps keep what was a fantastic unit in 2009 extremely tough and dangerous in 2010.
Beal is one of the leaders of the defense without question, but for the vocal leader, we turn to. . .
2009 Statistics- 109 tackles, 9.5 TFL, one sack, one FF, one INT
Lewis returning for his junior season is a giant boost for a unit that lost two starters, Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds, to graduation. Lewis led the team in tackles for a second straight season in 2009 after leading the team with 144 tackles as a freshman in 2008. Lewis has started every game for Oklahoma since he arrived on campus and will maintain his position at weak side linebacker.
Lewis has also taken up the role of vocal and emotional leader of the defense, a role vacated by former All-American Gerald McCoy. Lewis was in his element before the annual Red and White spring game, claiming his White team only needed a field goal to win the prize of a steak dinner. His prediction held true as the White team won 23-0.
Lewis being back in Norman is huge for this defense because of the energy and talent he brings.
2009 Statistics- eight tackles, 2.5 sacks
With Gerald McCoy gone to the NFL and the return of senior Adrian Taylor still up in the air, the focus of the interior of the defensive line falls on the shoulders of McFarland. The sophomore showed signs of the talent that had Oklahoma and Texas virtually waging an all-out war to sign him in 2009, posting 2.5 sacks and playing significant minutes late in games.
This season, McFarland is going to have to step up in a big way and take on a major leadership role. McFarland isn't the next Gerald McCoy, not yet anyway, but he will provide an adequate replacement and is a star in the making.
2009 Statistics (combined)- 17-22 FG, 48-50 PAT
In 2008, the Sooners special teams unit struggled mightily covering kickoffs, giving up four returns for touchdowns. In 2009, the problem shifted to place kicking, specifically field goals. Oklahoma used all three kickers last year in an attempt to find something that worked.
Out of the three kickers, Jimmy Stevens, Patrick O'Hara, and Tress Way, only one made a field goal longer than 40 yards in eight attempts. O'Hara made a 47 yarder against Texas Tech.
The Sooners need consistency in the kicking game, especially from deep. The kickers were perfect from inside 30 yards. If Oklahoma can't find a reliable placekicker, close games could become an issue.
2009 Statistics- 45.7 yard average, 17 inside the 20
Way was a huge asset to the Sooners in 2009, helping out an already stout defense by controlling the field position. Way had a coming-out party against OSU when he averaged almost 60 yards a kick, including a 74-yard bomb.
Way has a lot of talent and it will be important for him to continue keeping the Sooners on the positive end of the field position battle. Field position is an often overlooked part of the game that can really help or hurt and offense or defense. In Way, Oklahoma has a weapon that they can use to control it, and thus, control the game.
Spring Game Statistics- six catches, 84 yards, one TD
In 2009, Ryan Broyles caught almost triple the amount of passes that the Sooners' second-leading receiver caught. In 2010, Landry Jones has another dynamic option at receiver in freshman Kenny Stills.
Stills, a native of Encinitas, Cal, signed late with the Sooners once the NCAA ruled that he was in fact eligible to play. Stills has a ton of speed and great pass-catching ability.
In the OU spring game, Stills had several leaping catches that wowed the crowd on hand and propelled the White team to a dominant win. Stills may not start the season at the No. 2 receiver position, but he has the talent to be the perfect complement to Broyles in 2010.
2009 Statistics- Carter: 88 tackles, 2.5 TFL, four INT
Nelson: 46 tackles, one sack, three INT
The Sooner secondary is very deep and very talented this year, but it also has a lot of youth. The Sooners will need veterans to step up and lead and that leadership comes in the form of seniors Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson.
In 2009, Carter was second on the team in tackles and led the team in interceptions. Nelson came on late in the year and recorded an interception in each of the Sooners last three games. Carter will stay at strong safety in 2010, while Nelson will slide over to cornerback to replace the departed Dominique Franks or Brian Jackson.
Both seniors will provide stability to the defensive backfield, a unit that has the potential to be fantastic should the talent on paper carry over to the field.