Thursday, September 3, 2009

CFI Countdown: #2 Oklahoma Sooners

2008 Record: 12-2 (Big 12: 7-1)
Bowl Game: Lost BCS Championship Game to Florida 24-12
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Overall: 109-24 (11th season)
@ Oklahoma: 109-24 (11th season)
Link to OU Football Page

Boomer Sooner overcame a loss to Texas to win their sixth Big XII title under Coach Bob Stoops (in 10 seasons), including their third straight (no other team has consecutive conference titles). Oklahoma also made their fourth BCS Championship game in the Stoops era, but fell for the third time in a row (Stoops won a title in 2000, his second season at OU). The 2008 edition—led by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford—was an offensive juggernaut, but expect the 2009 version to get back to basics with the defense leading the way, just as it did at the start of the decade.

When the Sooners Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Wilson (8th season)
Scheme: No Huddle Spread Offense (Multiple Sets)
Starters Returning: Five
Key Losses: WR Juaquin Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, OT Phil Loadholt, OG Duke Robinson, C Jon Copper, OG Brandon Walker

Bradford returns after his splendid sophomore season, giving up the chance to potentially be the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Bradford has exceptional touch and accuracy on his passes, and one of the quickest releases in the game. The Sooner signal caller makes great decisions and knows how lead his receivers with the ball, allowing them to make things happen after the catch. He can beat you underneath, over the top, and everywhere in between. Their top receivers from a year ago are gone, so look for sophomore Ryan Broyles to step in as the number one target. Broyles has the speed to burn teams deep, as well as take a short pass and work his magic in the open field. This is the last chance for 6’ 4” senior Adron Tennell to fulfill his potential, and he gives Bradford a big target. There will be several other talented players competing for playing time with former tailback Mossis Madu, a very intriguing backup. Of course in crunch time, don’t be surprised if Bradford looks for senior tight end Jermaine Gresham who, like his quarterback, looked away from NFL riches in order to wear the OU on the side of his helmet for one more season. Gresham moves like a wide receiver, owning impressive athleticism and good hands. The 6’ 6” playmaker also checks in at nearly 260 pounds—a small man he is not. At tailback, senior Chris Brown and junior DeMarco Murray give Oklahoma a classic one-two punch—each went over 1,000 yards last season. The shifty Brown excels between the tackles and has a nose for the end zone, while the powerful and speedy Murray is as explosive as they come. Losing four starters from the offensive line makes that unit the biggest question mark in Norman, bar none. They should be set at left tackle where potential All-American Trent Williams takes over. The ability is there, but they need to gain the continuity last year’s unit had when they were among the best in the nation.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) QB Sam Bradford (JR), 2) TE Jermaine Gresham (SR), 3) TE Trent Williams (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables (11th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes

The defense has a chance to be the best in the nation and the best in the Stoops era, which is saying something. It begins with junior tackle Gerald McCoy who at his best is simply unblockable. McCoy can hold the fort with his 6’ 4”/297-pound frame and use his quickness to be a penetrating force—in a word, he’s gifted. If senior DeMarcus Granger can ever get it together, watch out. On the outside, senior Auston English joins junior Jeremy Beal, and the Oklahoma bookends form what is arguably the top pass-rushing duo in the Big XII. Both bring length and are impressive athletes who excel at getting into the backfield. They have two of the fastest linebackers around in sophomore Travis Lewis and senior Keenan Clayton. Lewis had as much impact as any freshman defender in the nation last season—he flies all over the field and is a big time hitter, while Clayton is a former safety who still runs like a defensive back. If senior Ryan Reynolds and sophomore Austin Box recover from their injuries this is the best front seven in America. Both Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson are back after stepping into the starting cornerback roles a year ago. Franks is the better cover man with excellent speed, while Jackson brings a little more size. The only question mark they have is at safety, where they must replace both starters from 2008.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DT Gerald McCoy (JR), LB Travis Lewis (SO), 3) CB Dominique Franks (JR)

The Schedule

Unlike their rivals from across the border, the Sooners actually play a decent non-conference schedule, even taking on a ranked foe in BYU. They open up the season this Saturday with the pass happy Houston Cougars in Dallas and make a trip to Miami beach to take on the ‘Canes in a classic 80’s matchup (Barry Switzer versus Jimmy Johnson anyone?) before they begin conference play. Like every year this decade, the Sooners’ biggest game comes when they make the annual trip to Dallas to take on the ‘Horns in the third Saturday in October. A third journey to the Lone Star state is one of three challenging Big XII road games as they visit Texas Tech. They also make road trips to the top two teams in the North, traveling to Lawrence (Kansas) and Lincoln as they renew their rivalry with Nebraska (Barry Switzer versus Tom Osborne?). They close the season with a visit from one of the most dangerous Oklahoma St. teams in years.

Pivotal Point

With a team that is stacked with NFL prospects at every position, the one unit that could derail a return trip to the BCS Championship game is the offensive line. Everyone knows what Bradford, Broyles, Brown, Murray, and Gresham can do. It will be the job of the O-Line to make sure the offense doesn’t take a step back—Bradford and his backs can’t block for themselves. Even the one “sure thing”, Williams, is entering new territory as he shifts from right tackle to protecting Bradford’s blindside. Center Brody Eldridge is a senior and junior guard Brian Simmons has experience with sophomore guard Jarvis Jones, an LSU transfer, and junior tackle Cory Brandon manning the right side of the line. They have five games to get ready for Texas.

CFI Final Analysis

“Paging Big Game Bob…paging Big Game Bob.” The offensive line is the unit with the spotlight on them, but the responsibilities of how the Sooners play in big games fall on Coach Stoops. Early in his career the Sooners knocked off top ten teams at will, owned Mack Brown and the Longhorns, and won a National Championship, earning Stoops the “Big Game Bob” moniker. While their Big XII dominance continues, Big Game Bob has been missing. Oklahoma has dropped three of four to Texas and some of their BCS performances have been downright ugly. It’s time to turn that around and 2009 could leave many saying Big Game Bob is back.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
#7 USC Trojans
#6 LSU Tigers
#5 Ohio St. Buckeyes
#4 Alabama Crimson Tide
#3 Texas Longhorns

Photos Courtesy of OU Athletics Department