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Prelude to a Season: #3

3.) Oklahoma Sooners

OklahomaWhat You Need to Know
It’s rare in the modern college football universe that a player passes on the glitz, glamour, and fame of an NFL life to return to college. Of course, the way Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford passed all over everyone last season, his passing on the Draft shouldn’t surprise anyone. What had the potential for a gloomy offseason after their national championship defeat against Florida, certainly got a significant boost in the spring when Bradford, along with a whole host of others, announced they were returning to Norman to finish what they started, and hopefully finish it with a large crystal football.

Bradford isn’t the only star returning to the Sooners’ BCS Championship universe. TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Gerald McCoy, and LT Trent Williams all return for a repeat chance at greatness. The Sooners clearly have losses, and significant ones at that, but their returning players are the story, not those who aren’t. Cynics will point to the losses as a reason why the Sooners are not a realistic contender for the national title, but anyone who thinks that clearly isn’t paying attention.

Offensively, clearly the Sooners have tons of well known weapons. A Heisman winner in QB Sam Bradford, a two-headed rushing attack in junior DeMarco Murray and senior Chris Brown, a freshman record setter WR in Ryan Broyles, and a 1st Team Big 12 and all around impressive tight end in Jermaine Gresham all make the Sooner offense something special. They averaged over 51 points per game, nearly 550 yards of offense, and dominated the competition. They scored over sixty 5 times last season, and their season low (35 twice) was higher than many teams’ season high. Last season the unit had virtually no questions, but this year, they must replace 5 starters, 4 of whom were starting offensive linemen last season. The lone returnee in Williams is highly skilled and plays the most valuable position on the field, but it is a reason to pause a bit when evaluating OU.

Defensively, the Sooners unit may very well be the unit responsible for making the difference between contender and champion. Last season, the defense was the question mark as they were replacing seasoned veterans with newcomers and no matter what their performance was they were bound to be overshadowed by the high octane offense. This season, OU is replacing their 2 safeties (both strong and free) who were both All Big 12 team selections, but those are the only losses from a defensive unit that was not dominating, but certainly serviceable. Their play in the Big 12 skews their stats, since the conference is loaded with dynamic pass heavy teams, but the Sooners averaged 24.5 points allowed and 368 yards per game. Hoping to put a lower number on the board this season are returning stalwarts up front in DT Gerald McCoy and DE Austin English. Junior DE Jeremy Beal benefits from his dominant neighbors on the D line and uses the single teams he receives to his advantage. The unit sacked the opposition 42 times last season, an impressive feat considering their competition. The linebacking crew is paced by senior Ryan Reynolds who only had 6 starts last year because of injury and sophomore Travis Lewis, last season’s leading tackler and the Big 12 Defensive Frosh of the Year.

When it comes to coaching, the Sooners are in possession of one of the best in the business in head coach Bob Stoops. The knock on Stoops, despite his nickname of Big Game Bob, is his record in BCS Bowl Games, losing three of four title games he’s appeared in and his last 5 BCS Bowls. That stat is somewhat misleading, though, since most coaches would give their first born to even make an appearance. Stoops has shown up on the big stage 4 more times than most, and won one. Stoops is 109-24 in his 10 seasons at Oklahoma, has won three straight Big 12 titles, and played in 7 of the last 10 Big 12 title games. If that’s mediocrity or disappointment, then I must not grasp the definition of either of those words.

The Sooners schedule is challenging but not impossible, and they certainly get credit for not simply resting on their laurels. The Sooners open their season against BYU in the Cowboys new stadium in Arlington, TX and also match up at home against Idaho State and Tulsa before traveling to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. In conference, their home matchups are Baylor, Kansas St., Texas A&M, and Oklahoma St., while Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas Tech are all on the road. They face the Texas Longhorns in Dallas in the Red River Shootout, annually one of the most built up and exciting games in all of college football.

Last year, the Sooners had depth, talent, a favorable schedule, and they used all of that to their advantage to win a computer battle against the Longhorns for the right to play for the conference and the subsequent national title berth. This season, the Sooners have more of the same with an even tougher and more impressive schedule. When the rubber hits the road, should the Sooners simply execute and show up every Saturday, they’re staring undefeated and a national title berth square in the face.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Sam Bradford: 328-483, 4720 yds, 50 TDs, 8 INTs
TE Jermaine Gresham: 66 rec, 950 yds, 14 TDs
RBs Chris Brown/DeMarco Murray: 369 att, 2222 yds, 34 TDs

Game to Watch
This one is remarkably simple. Every game on the schedule pales in comparison to the next installment of the Red River Shootout against Texas on October 17. The winning squad is the front runner for the Big 12 South and the national title, despite the fact that Oklahoma demonstrated last season that a loss here is not a death knell for title hopes.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the offensive line gives Bradford enough time cut apart opposing defenses like he’s done the last two seasons. When you’re pinning your hopes on a returning Heisman Trophy winner you’re in a much better place than most every other team out there.

Season Outlook
For the Sooners, 2009 has the makings of another exceptional year. Whether it lives up to last year’s national title berth and conference championship will rest on the Red River Shootout. A win and the Sooners are looking at yet another chance to redeem the reputation in the national mind for Bob Stoops. The UT-OU game looks to be an instant classic, and one certainly deserving of the preseason hype and hoopla surrounding it already. I expect a close Texas victory, and if last year taught us anything it’s that a loss here is not the end of the road. OU finishes the regular season 11-1 with a BCS Bowl berth.

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