OK, great. So prognosticators want to anoint the Oklahoma Sooners as the team to beat in 2011. No point in running away from it—might as well embrace it.
While the offseason didn't get off to a great start off the field, the winter workouts went well by all accounts. Other than the Jarvis Jones injury, the spring has sounded like it couldn't be better. Of course since practices and scrimmages are closed, we'll just have to take the coaching staff's word for it. No problem there as they've never been ones to sugarcoat anything anyway.
So if folks outside the program want to label Oklahoma the team to beat in 2011, here are five solid reasons to back that up.
By now everyone is aware that Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis will back. While their return is a significant one, there are plenty of other positions on both Oklahoma’s offense and defense that bring back experience.
Their offensive line took a hit last week with the loss of part-time starter Jarvis Jones. Fortunately for these Sooners, the depth on their offensive line is nowhere near as bad as it was in the ’09 season. While the loss of Jones is significant, it shouldn’t put too much of a kink in what the Sooners want to do offensively.
They also have experience returning at their receiving positions. Sophomore Kenny Stills, who started every game as a true freshman in ’10 will work one side of the field, while the other side is yet to be determined. Dejuan Miller was really beginning to look the part before he went down with a knee injury in ’10, and has looked good this spring. Look for him to grab up the other side.
The Sooners also have all their tight ends returning, and Sooner fans are ready to see Austin Haywood live up to his recruiting hype this fall. It also appears as if the light went on for James Hanna too. Altogether these Sooners will be returning a whopping 29 players that have starting experience.
The Oklahoma program is blessed with probably the best head football coach in all of college football. If ever there were a program that was the model of stability, this would be it. No wonder top recruits want to go to Oklahoma. One opportunity after another continues to cross the desk of the head Sooner and he consistently says, "Thanks, but no thanks."
If you are a young coach looking to someday run your own program, there’s no better place to start than on Stoops’ staff. The Stoops coaching tree is large and still growing. There’s no doubt that Brent Venables, Josh Heupel and probably Jay Norvell will all be running programs of their own one day.
While some will say that Stoops’ big-game moxie has worn off a little in recent years, many Sooners fans believe they saw a hint of its return toward the end of the ’10 season.
Pulling off that wild win in Stillwater was huge for an Oklahoma program whose only two losses came in hostile environments. He went on to top that the very next week by spotting Nebraska a 17-point lead before snatching up his seventh conference title.
Oklahoma is known for playing challenging schedules. Oklahoma has only had to shell out cash to three Division II schools since 1998 for coming and enduring lopsided beatdowns. This is a program that isn’t interested in taking the easy road. It’s a program that believes to be champion, you beat whoever is on your schedule, regardless.
This year’s Sooners schedule may not be as tough on the surface as in recent years, but it’s no “Texas-style” schedule either. Trips to Tallahassee and Stillwater will be every bit as tough as anticipated, and the Texas game can go either way like always.
Other than that, there’s not a team on Oklahoma’s schedule that it shouldn’t take care of in simple fashion. Sure Texas A&M is supposed to be better in 2011 as well, but the Aggies still don't have the horses to get it done in Norman. Oklahoma's 36-game home win streak should extend to 42 for the 2012 season.
The Sooner defense gave up some pretty big yards to some pretty average teams in 2010, especially early. However there was also a lot of youth and inexperience on that defense. The huge hole in the middle of their defense left by Gerald McCoy didn’t help either.
They did get better as the season progressed, and young players gained a lot of valuable big-game experience. These Sooners lost two games last season in a couple of very tough environments. Those experiences will pay off in 2011 and 2012.
Write this down: Within three years there will be several programs out there that will emulate what Oklahoma will do on defense in 2011. Sooners fans have every reason to be excited about their defense in 2011.
They will have to replace Jonathan Nelson, Quinton Carter and possibly Jamell Fleming, but Aaron Colvin and Javon Harris should both fill in nicely. Gabe Lynn has been turning heads this spring too, but Sooners fans will have to wait until fall to see if he can translate that to game day.
The bottom line is Oklahoma will have a championship-caliber defense in 2011.
It’s a physical game, long season and kids are going to get hurt. Making a serious title run requires depth. These Sooners have that in spades.
They have more running backs than they know what to do with. Obviously nobody could fill Ryan Broyles' shoes should something happen, but they have plenty of very capable receivers with blazing speed.
Defensively they have too many linebackers and not enough playing time. There’ll be no “Ryan Reynolds” situation this season like there was in 2008. If Oklahoma has any concerns about depth, it would probably be in its secondary.
Unless this team loses Landry Jones, there’s not a spot on this team that couldn’t be filled by a very capable replacement. That’s no knock on Drew Allen or Blake Bell, they just don’t have that experience yet.
Oklahoma has everything it needs to add another crystal football to its collection. Since Oklahoma won its first national title in 1950, the Sooners have gone on to win one on average every 8.7 years. They are due.
Sooners fans shouldn't get too uptight if it doesn't work out in 2011, as they will still be loaded and very dangerous for 2012 as well.
Boomer Sooner, Baby!!