10 Reasons the Oklahoma Sooners Will Finish Year Where It Started

Alex Joseph@alex_brosephAnalyst IAugust 17, 2011

10 Reasons the Oklahoma Sooners Will Finish Year Where It Started

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    There's no doubt that the Oklahoma Sooners are always contenders. Year after year, with the exception of 2009 when the Sooners were struck with injuries, they constantly finish towards the top of the rankings. 

    Last season was no exception. The Sooners finished the season with a 12-2 record, a Big 12 Championship and a BSC Bowl birth, which they used to demolish the University of Connecticut by 28 points. 

    Even though the Sooners lost some key impact players to the NFL Draft, such as DeMarco Murray and Jeremy Beal, most of the squad is returning and ready to improve on their success from last season. 

    This is why, when the first edition of the Coaches Poll came out on Aug. 4, it was no surprise to see the Sooners sitting at the top. 

    Unfortunately, the Sooners have suffered a major blow already. Star linebacker Travis Lewis is set to miss up to eight weeks with a broken bone in his toe. 

    But is this enough to knock the Sooners out of the spotlight? Not a chance.

    Lewis will be back in time for the Texas game, which means he'll miss the Florida State game, but that will be the only challenge that OU will have to face during his injured stint. 

    If you're still skeptical, here are ten reasons why Oklahoma will stay on top throughout the season.

10. Their Schedule

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    The first and likely most logical reason the Sooners will stay on top throughout the season is their schedule. 

    Of their 12 regular season games, only three opponents could give them any trouble: Florida State in Week 2, Texas A&M in Week 9 and Oklahoma State in Week 12. 

    Texas is down and in rebuilding mode and Nebraska is no longer in the conference. This makes for an easier year than the Sooners are used to. 

    Like I addressed in the introduction slide, Florida State is going to be the toughest endeavor for the Sooners this season due to the injury of Travis Lewis. The Sooners' defense is going to have to step up and stop Florida State's running game without their leading tackler. 

    If the Sooners get by Florida State, then everything is downhill until the last week of the season. 

    Then, it's time for Bedlam. This year's Bedlam match could be the most historic and competitive in the history of the two programs. There's a great opportunity for both teams to be ranked in the top five or even the top three. 

    Recent history would say that OU has an extreme advantage, but Oklahoma State is a new team. Barring any other significant injuries, Oklahoma should be undefeated when they play this game.

9. Home Field Advantage

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    In the Bob Stoops era (1999-present), the Sooners are a ridiculous 72-2 at home. 

    They are currently riding the longest home winning streak in the nation at 36 games, which is also the longest home winning streak in the program's history. 

    This face Tulsa, Missouri, Ball State, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Iowa State at home this season.

    Of those teams listed, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M are all likely to be decent, with A&M probably the best of the bunch. It's a blessing that OU doesn't have to go on the road to College Station, because it is one of the most difficult places to play in the nation. 

    As you can see in the picture, the sea of red is actually 85,000 dedicated fans. When there are 85,000 people anywhere chanting in unison, cheering, screaming and going crazy, that's sure to put some pressure on the opposing side. 

    They just always seem to step their game up a notch when playing in front of the home crowd. The Sooners will make this the sixth year in a row to go undefeated at home.

8. Lack of Competition

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    For some reason, it really feels like the competition this year will be more lackluster than normal. 

    The top four teams in the country (according to the Coaches Poll) are the most likely to make it to New Orleans in January: Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon and LSU. 

    With deductive reasoning, we can already get rid of either Oregon or LSU due to the fact that they play each other in what will be a heated match-up in the first week of the season. 

    Granted, one team could in fact lose this game and still go on to play in the National Championship, but I'm just assuming that one or more teams will run the table this year.

    Teams with an outside shot at running the table and making a case for themselves are Boise State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and TCU. 

    Let's go ahead and eliminate Oregon just for argument's sake. That leaves Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and TCU.

    Now, let's eliminate TCU because they play Boise State in Week 10. Let's also eliminate Nebraska because they will play at Wisconsin in week five. 

    That leaves Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Boise State and Wisconsin. Can we eliminate one more? We sure can! LSU plays at Alabama in Week 9, which means we can eliminate LSU (again, for argument's sake).

    Oklahoma, Alabama, Boise State and Wisconsin are the only four left that hypothetically have a chance at running the table. Boise State will have to get by a young and athletic Georgia team in week one, but if they do, their only other tough game will be against TCU (which I've already decided they're going to win).

    So, let's say Boise State goes undefeated. Obviously, I'm going to argue that Oklahoma will also be undefeated, but what about Alabama and Wisconsin?

    I'm going to go ahead and count out Wisconsin. While I think they're going to be a surprisingly good team, the Big Ten is just too even this year. They have the big game at home against Nebraska, and they also have to travel to Illinois and Ohio State. They're capable of winning all these games, but I think they'll lose one.

    Alabama always has a tough schedule because they play in the toughest conference, and even though they travel to Florida and Mississippi State, their toughest game should be at home against LSU. I think that Alabama is also going to lose one game this year, which would be a good record for a tough schedule.

    That leaves Oklahoma and Boise State as the only two undefeated teams in the country. Will they play each other? Or will a one-loss team such as Alabama, LSU or Wisconsin get the upper-hand?

    Whatever the case, OU won't have to matter. They'd be guaranteed a spot.

7. They'll Be Motivated

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    "They'll be motivated" is a really vague and underwhelming reason why the Sooners will remain on top, I know, but here's what I mean:

    The Sooners are still young, but they're experienced now. They've experienced what it's like to win a BCS game and they're going to be ready to improve. 

    While all of the aforementioned statements are true, I'm sure the same could be said for a lot of teams around the country, but the Sooners are going to have another reason to be motivated this season.

    This summer the Sooners tragically lost an important member of their team, Austin Box.  Box was found unresponsive at his home in El Reno on May 19.

    The Sooners lost a starting linebacker, but more importantly, they lost a teammate, a friend and a brother. 

    A tragic loss is never a "good thing" for a program to go through, but the Sooners will take the loss of their friend to heart and play with a chip on their shoulder this season. 

    They'll be motivated. 

6. The Red River Rivalry

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    The Red River Rivalry is one of the biggest games in college football every year. This is largely due to the intense rivalry between the two schools, but more importantly, the two teams are almost always near the top of the rankings when they meet.

    Not this year. 

    After a shockingly disappointing season, Texas will be looking to rebuild and figure out where they stand among the rest of the pack. Unfortunately for them, OU happens to be the leader of that pack this year. 

    This game is still going to be hard fought, and I'm sure it won't be as lopsided as 2003's memorable 65-13 Oklahoma victory, but I really don't see the Longhorns having any shot this year against the Sooners.

    This will be a huge game for the Sooners, though, because they'll be getting their defensive star in Travis Lewis back for the first time. 

    A huge victory in a huge rivalry will ignite the Sooners' spirits for the rest of the season.

5. The Defensive Line

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    The key to a great defense starts up front with the defensive line. Even more true than this is that a great defense is normally dependent on great defensive tackles. 

    This is the one "flaw" that the Sooners have. In the past, the Sooners' defenses have been anchored by a star defensive tackle, such as Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy. This year, however, the defensive tackle duties will be divvied up between juniors Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland (shown in the picture), Stacy McGee and red-shirt freshman Torrea Peterson.

    Walker, McFarland and McGee all took turns starting last season. Walker started the first four games of the season for the Sooners before suffering a knee injury that kept him out of the next six games. 

    McGee started in 11 games last season, so he has the most experience, but according to their depth chart, Walker and McFarland are currently the starters. I'm sure this isn't set in stone, though, because it was last updated a month ago. 

    Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables believes that Peterson could provide a boost to this group:

    "We were hoping that Torrea could come along,” Venables said. “He’s got some special ability, we feel like, that’s maybe different than some other guys we have there."

    The defensive tackles will surprise the critics this year, but one group that won't be a surprise are the defensive ends: Ronnell Lewis, R.J. Washington, Frank Alexander and David King. 

    Alexander, the lone senior on the line, will anchor the defense while fellow senior starter Travis Lewis is out. Alexander finished the season with 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. 

    Lewis is a man-child. He's a hybrid of a defensive end and linebacker. He started to look really in sync with the defense after he started the last four games of the season. 

    Like Lewis, King is a ridiculous athlete, but is even bigger. He started three games for the Sooners last season and he will be looking to add to that number this year. 

    Washington was the No. 1 defensive end prospect when he came out of high school. Since being with the Sooners, he has only played in 13 games with zero starts. He's a tad inexperienced and has underperformed, but hopefully he will get it all together this year.

    OU will have a strong defensive line this season, much stronger than the one that let opposing teams average over 140 yards rushing per game last season.

4. Ryan Broyles

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    After having a stellar junior season, Broyles decided to skip the NFL Draft and come back for his senior year. 

    Not only did this decision make Sooner fans happy, I'm sure Landry Jones didn't mind his decision, either. 

    Broyles has been the best wide receiver the University of Oklahoma has had to offer in quite some time. Last season, Broyles had 131 receptions for 1622 yards and 14 touchdowns! Those are ridiculous numbers. 

    He was a consensus All-American, a Biletnikoff Award finalist and he actually broke nine school records last season, making his total school record tally 10. 

    There's a good chance that Broyles will be the best receiver in the country this year. His only competition may come from his in-state rival, Justin Blackmon. 

    The receiving squad for OU should be one of the best in the nation. Aside from the extremely gifted Broyles, the Sooners are also returning senior Dejuan Miller and sophomores Jaz Reynolds, Kenny Stills and Trey Franks. 

    This group is going to make it easier on Landry Jones to have a great year, which brings me to my next slide...

3. Landry Jones

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    It's never easy trying to fill the shoes of an experienced starter, especially when that starter is Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford. 

    But, contrary to popular belief, Landry Jones has done a formidable job trying to get Sooner fans excited about the quarterback situation. 

    Last season, Jones completed 405 of his 617 passes for 4718 yards and 38 touchdowns. This is an average of 337 yards per game, which was a huge reason why the Sooners had the third best offense in the country.

    For a guy who is merely filling Bradford's shoes, and actually takes quite a bit of flack from fans and critics alike, Jones is having a really great career. 

    His stellar production garnered honorable mention All-American recognition, he won the Sammy Baugh Award and he currently owns seven passing records for OU. 

    If he doesn't get injured, Jones will likely pass Bradford this season for most career yards and touchdowns in Oklahoma history. 

    Jones is going to be a favorite for the Heisman Award this season. 

2. Josh Heupel

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    As a quarterback, Josh Heupel led OU to a National Championship victory in 2000, the only National Championship victory during the Stoops era. 

    After an NFL career never panned out, Heupel became a Graduate Assistant for the Sooners in 2004. He then moved on to coach the tight ends at Arizona, and eventually he became the Quarterbacks coach back at OU, a title he has held for the last five years. 

    Now that former offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is at Indiana, the job of calling the plays has been passed down to Heupel. 

    I love everything about this. Heupel will also remain the quarterbacks coach while he is calling the plays, which is a great thing for everyone involved. In his time at OU, Heupel has coached Paul Thompson, Bradford and now Jones. 

    Thompson only knew he was going to be the QB one day before fall practice started. Heupel's mentoring helped Thompson lead the Sooners to an 11-3 record.

    Bradford was obviously underrated coming out of high school, and a lot of his success is a product of his own talent, but Heupel was there for mentoring and tutoring the entire way through. 

    Now, he has helped Jones come out from the glorious shadow that was Bradford's legacy at OU, and he has turned him into a potential Heisman Trophy winner.

    While Wilson was an above average offensive coordinator, I have no doubt in my mind that Heupel will be everything that Wilson was, only better. 

    He knows offense. He knows quarterbacks. He knows Jones's strengths and weaknesses. He will run this team to an undefeated season.

1. Bob Stoops

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    Even though I just got through praising the job that Heupel has done since he's been a coach at Oklahoma, all of his success can be reliant on one man: Bob Stoops.

    The Ohio-born coach has been a part of OU football since 1999. In his first season with the Sooners, he finished with a 7-5 record. While this record may not seem impressive now considering the job Stoops has done recently, it was the first above .500 record for the Sooners since 1993. 

    If that wasn't enough, he turned a 7-5 team into a National Championship winning team a year later. Two years into his stint with OU and Stoops had already changed the face of the program back to its winning ways of the past. 

    If that wasn't enough, Stoops has lead the Sooners to 12 consecutive bowl games (seven BCS), three of those bowl games being National Championships (just one victory, though), eight Big 12 South crowns and seven Big 12 titles.

    His record at OU is an impressive 129-31. That's an 81 percent winning percentage! 

    Stoops is one of the best coaches in all of football; NCAA, NFL, you name it, Stoops is just as good as anyone.

    According to SoonerSports.com, since Stoops has been the head coach at OU:

    All 74 games of Stoops tenure have been sold out and the stadium capacity has been increased by some 9,000 seats since his arrival. In a state of 3.5 million people and two other FBS programs, attendance in Norman routinely exceeds 84,000. 

    When a head coach can turn around a program this much, his team should always be a contender for the National Championship. 

    This is the reality for Stoops and his football team. They're always near the top, which really says something about Stoops and what kind of coach he is.

    The Sooners will remain at the top of the rankings throughout the season. Let's just hope they can pull through in New Orleans this time.