Tomorrow morning at 6:45 a.m., it will officially be football time in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Sooners begin fall practice bright and early Thursday morning amidst unbearably hot summer temperatures and with the weight of a No. 1 ranking from many of the country's preseason publications.
The Sooners are ranked at or near the top of every major publication and are projected by all publications to win the Big 12 in its first season as a 10-team conference.
The hype surrounding this team has been growing the entire offseason, beginning when linebacker Travis Lewis and wide receiver Ryan Broyles announced that they would be returning for their senior seasons, along with the return of quarterback Landry Jones and 14 other starters.
Not since the 2004 season has there has been this much hype surrounding an Oklahoma team coming into the season, but the expectations are always sky high in Norman. It's the nature of the beast.
There are few questions surrounding this team, with the majority of them questions that will only be answered with performances on the field.
The biggest one is the depth at defensive tackle, where returning players JaMarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker are joined by incoming freshmen Marquis Anderson and Jordan Phillips. The Sooners also signed Jordan Wade, a defensive tackle out of Round Rock, Texas but eligibility issues could keep him off the field for the 2011 season.
This unit took a hit when 2010 freshman Daniel Noble decided to end his career after dealing with setbacks in his recovery from a concussion suffered against Iowa State on Oct. 16.
Questions about the Oklahoma secondary were answered when cornerback Jamell Fleming, who was not enrolled in school during the spring semester and missed all of spring practice due to academic misconduct, was reinstated to the team in early July.
Fleming is listed second on the depth chart behind Gabe Lynn, who filled in for Fleming during the spring and proved to be a solid cornerback. Whether or not that order will remain the same is yet to be determined.
Questions still surround the eligibility of incoming freshman wide receiver Trey Metoyer. The Sooners' top recruit in 2011, Metoyer has been taking classes at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas in an effort to become eligible to enroll in school and play in the fall. His status is still uncertain.
Oklahoma begins the season as the team to beat in the Big 12 and in the country as a whole. High expectations are nothing new for the Sooners, but only two teams in the BCS era have gone wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country: 1999 Florida State and 2004 USC.
The Sooners have as good of a shot as any to become that third team, and when the players hit the field Thursday morning, you can be confident that hoisting the crystal ball in the Louisiana Superdome is the goal they are have in their minds.
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