2009 Record: 8-5 (5-3, Big 12)
Scheme: Under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma often runs a high-octane, no-huddle attack that preaches balance, but often reverts largely to the passing game. Wilson, who came to Oklahoma from Northwestern several years ago, has led some very potent offenses at Oklahoma, including record-setting units in 2007 and 2008. Although Oklahoma lost offensive players at the rate Spinal Tap lost drummers, the Sooners still managed to average 424 yards and 31 points per game, although they were held to 20 points or less by some of the better foes they faced (BYU, UM, Texas, Nebraska, Texas Tech).
Quarterbacks: Perhaps the biggest in the myriad of injuries OU suffered last year was the loss of QB Sam Bradford. Bradford, who won the Heisman in 2008, was injured in the opener against BYU and eventually was lost for the season. In stepped Landry Jones. Jones, now a sophomore, had his share of growing pains, but also showed flashes of brilliance. Jones (3,198 yards, 58%, 26 TDs, 14 ints.) showed off a good arm and pretty good poise and led all NCAA freshmen in passing yards. Working behind a makeshift line, Jones was often pummeled and threw 7 interceptions in losses to Nebraska and Texas, but coaches hope the year of experience will allow Jones to put his considerable physical tools to better use. Jones will likely still have his rough spots, but he has the ability to be a great QB.
If Sooners fans were worried about their QB depth last year when Bradford went down, they should be just as worried this year. Just like last year, behind the starter is zero college experience. Redshirt freshman Drew Allen enrolled early last year and, thus, has extra time in the system, but even the coaching staff has acknowledged that he isn’t ready for prime time. Despite being 6-5, 220, Allen is a great athlete who has great speed, strength, and a rocket arm. He just needs experience and seasoning. True freshman Blake Bell was considered one of the best pocket passers of the last recruiting cycle and has great size and a big arm. Unless injuries occur, he’ll redshirt.
Running Backs: It isn’t too often that you lose your leading rusher and don’t break a sweat, but that is the situation OU finds itself in despite the departure of Chris Brown. No one is worried because senior DeMarco Murray is back for what seems like his 10th year on campus. Murray (705 yards, 4.1 avg, 8 TDs, 41 receptions, 522 yds, 4 TDs) is an elite, NFL talent who has had bad luck with injuries. Technically, Murray only missed one game last season, but a slew of injuries kept him hobbled for much of the season. With nearly 2,500 career rushing yards and 86 career catches, Murray is a guy who can carry the offense on his back either running or catching the ball. If he stays healthy and OU wins, he could force his way into the Heisman discussion, he’s that good.
With Brown gone, several players are jockeying to be the top option off the bench. Sophomore Jermie Calhoun appears to be the top pick as of now. Calhoun (220 yds, 4.9 avg, 1 TD) got his feet wet last year mostly in mop-up duty, but flashed the speed and vision that made him a top recruit. He has the talent to have a big year if he gets the carries. Classmate Jonathan Miller (130 yds, 7.2 avg, 1 TD) blew out his knee in 2008, but was able to get some action last season as he recovered. Miller may be the fastest of the bunch, but still has a redshirt year open and may sit out this season to get completely healed. That may happen if either Brennan Clay or Roy Finch, two incoming freshmen, make the coaches put them on the field. Clay was considered one of the top running back recruits in the country and most expect him to see the field while Finch is a lightning-fast kid who can catch.
If and when a fullback is used, redshirt freshman Marshall Musil will step in. He isn’t the biggest guy (6-0, 218) for a FB and needs work on his blocking skills still, but has shown nice hands, good running ability, and surprising speed during practices. He could be a secret weapon of sorts coming out of the backfield.
Wide Receviers/Tight Ends: Despite the wealth of talent on the OU roster, one of the best overall players is junior Ryan Broyles. While OU lacked great depth at WR last year, what they did not lack was a go-to target. Broyles (89 recs, 1,120 yds, 15 TDs) led the team in every receiving category except yards per catch and had three different games where he scored three touchdowns. Tough, fast, and with great hands, the only knock on Broyles is the lack of bulk on his frame (5-11, 178), which makes some worry he could be injury-prone.
Last season, there were serious questions about the depth of the WR corps. Those questions do not really appear this season. While Broyles is far and away the most talented Sooner wideout, there is depth in numbers around him. Junior DeJuan Miller (36 recs, 434 yds, 1 TD) is a great mixture of size (6-4, 224) and speed who should start. Sophomore Jaz Reynolds (13 recs, 256 yds) showed flashes in 9 games as a true freshman and looks to be the dependable, chains-mover of the group. Senior Brandon Caleb (26 recs, 408 yds, 2 TDs) has never blown up as expected, but brings good experience, athleticism, and toughness. Senior Cameron Kenney (22 recs, 268 yds, 1 TD) was the rare JC recruit who came in and produced right away. Kenney has great speed and will be the deep threat of the group. Senior Mossis Madu started off as a RB (and rushed for over 100 yards in the 2008 Big 12 Title game), but moved to WR last year and caught 7 balls. Madu has the potential to be a decent slot receiver, but was recently arrested for a DUI and many around the OU program feel he might get the boot.
At tight end, OU loses Jermaine Gresham, but Gresham missed all of last season anyway due to injury. After the now-departed Brody Eldridge went down himself after 9 games, senior Erik Mensik started the final 3 games. Mensik only hauled in two passes and is not the talent that Gresham was, but he has great size and is an excellent blocker. Junior Trent Ratterree (11 recs, 152 yds) will fill the role of the pass-catching tight end and has nice route-running ability and hands, but is nothing special. Star TE recruit Austin Haywood easily has a chance to work his way into the rotation, if not start at some point.
Offensive Line: Just like the rest of the OU offense, the line saw its share of injuries as well last season. The coaching staff hopes that the growing pains of last year will pay off this year as multiple players got starting experience. The big question is who replaces All-America LT Trent Williams. As of now, junior Donald Stephenson is the front-runner. While extremely strong and athletic, Stephenson played only sparingly last season and not at all in 2008. He has the upside, though, to be a great one once he gets through his growing pains.
Senior Cory Brandon has gotten a look at LT, but most observers think he will end up at RT. Brandon shuffled back and forth between LT and RT last year, but his skill set makes him better suited to the right side. While not overly athletic, Brandon is a big guy who is a terrific run blocker. Anchoring the middle will be sophomore center Ben Habern. Habern has suffered through ankle injuries during his entire OU career, but is an extremely talented guy who has all-star potential.
Lining up at the guard spots will be junior LG Stephen Good and sophomore RG Tyler Evans. Good is a veteran who is considered probably the best run blocker, but one of the weaker pass protectors. Evans is a strong blocker, but is another who has battled ankle problems. He is one of the biggest lineman on the team and coaches think he can become an elite run blocker.
Most of the depth is at tackle where junior Jarvis Jones and redshirt freshman Josh Aladenoye are both pushing for playing time. Jones spent time last season at RT, but was injured and missed the remainder of the year. He is poised to push Stephenson at LT this season. Aladenoye is a massive mauler with tons of upside who should push for time at RT. The depth on the interior of the line is shaky, with just backup RG Tavaris Jeffries, a senior, having seen any playing time.
Scheme: After watching the spring and Samford games, FSU fans may recognize the OU defense. That’s because Mark Stoops runs a very similar unit to brother Bob’s Sooners. Sure, Bob Stoops isn’t the defensive coordinator, but this unit has his fingerprints all over it. The Sooners play a multiple 4-3 that puts a premium on pressure and often utilizes various zone looks. Although usually a very speedy unit, Oklahoma does not sacrifice size for speed and boast a good-sized front seven. The Sooners finished 7th in scoring defense and 8th in total defense and appear to have another top ten unit ready to roll out.
Defensive Line: OU lost stud DT Gerald McCoy to the NFL Draft, but with three starters back, the defensive line should still be a strong spot. The new star of the interior line will be senior Adrian Taylor. Taylor likely would’ve bolted for the NFL himself if not for a broken leg suffered in the Sun Bowl victory over Stanford. Taylor (37 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) is big, quick, smart and equally adept at stuffing the run or rushing the passer. If the leg doesn’t give him any problems, he’ll be an all-star. Taking over for McCoy at NG will be sophomore Jamarkus McFarland. McFarland (2.5 sacks) was considered one of the top DT recruits and has great strength and quickness. He’ll have some growing pains, but could be a star in time.
The ends should be solid. Senior Jeremy Beal has had back-to-back amazing seasons, compiling 131 tackles and 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Beal added 19 tackles for loss last year and has the size (6-3, 261) and quickness to play the run and pass. Junior Frank Alexander isn’t the most celebrated Sooner, but he has been a solid contributor thus far. Alexander (23 tackles, 7 tfl, 1.5 sacks) got his feet wet starting 4 games late in the season last year and the coaches hope that experience will help Alexander take off. With great speed, he should be more of a force as a pass rusher.
The depth at both end and tackle is young, but OU has recruited well so there is talent. At end, sophomore David King and redshirt freshman Justin Chaisson should be the first guys off the bench. King isn’t the biggest guy (6-5, 236) and only appeared in 4 games last year, but he has a terrific motor and is a good athlete. Chaisson has more natural talent and size to boot and with his linebacker speed, the coaches think he can be a situational pass rusher as he learns the ropes. At tackle, sophomores Casey Walker and Stacey McGee will provide the bulk of the depth. Walker is a 300-pounder who featured in just 3 games last year, but has the size to plug up the middle. McGee appeared in just 2 games, but has great athleticism. Still, expect a drop-off from the starters to the backups, especially at tackle.
Linebackers: Only one starter is back here, but boy is he a good one. WLB Travis Lewis is an amazing talent who is one of the best LBs in the country. After posting 144 tackles in 2008, Lewis (109 tackles, 9.5 tfl, 1 sack) had another great year in 2009 on his way to postseason honors. Featuring size, speed (timed at 4.34 according to some), range, and instincts, Lewis is the total package at LB. The question is, who will join him?
Taking over at SLB will be sophomore Ronnell Lewis, arguably the nation’s top LB recruit of 2008. Lewis (22 tackles, 1 sack) is a big hitter with great range and hitting ability. While up to 230+ pounds, Lewis still appears a bit thin and could stand to bulk up a bit. That being said, he has tremendous ability and should only get better with seasoning.
The projected MLB is redshirt freshman Tom Wort, who takes over for the departed Ryan Reynolds, who was a great player and leader. Wort was expected to play last season, but suffered an ACL injury in the summer and sat out. Wort could stand to bulk up to take the pounding of the middle, but is equally adept at run and pass defense.
Beyond Travis Lewis, the other two starters are young and much of the depth is just as untested. Backup MLB Daniel Franklin is a sophomore who played mostly special teams last year. Franklin, like Wort, isn’t the biggest guy, but studies film and knows the game plan as if he was a coach. Behind Lewis at WLB will be sophomore Jaydan Bird. Bird was a top recruit who saw action in 12 games, but made little impact. Bird has decent size and is expected to grow into a playmaker. Junior Austin Box brings the most experience off the bench and will be the top reserve at SLB. Box (33 tackles, 3.5 tfl) has started 6 games over the past two years and has nice athleticism.
Secondary: The secondary is a good news-bad news situation. The good news is that both starting safeties return. The bad news is that both cornerbacks need to be replaced. The strength of OU’s defense may largely depend on if the new corner’s just play good. Senior Jonathan Nelson is moving over from safety to try to solidify the CB spot. Nelson (46 tackles, 3 ints.) is smart and tough, but is still learning the position and will likely be picked on. Sophomore Demontre Hurst is expected to join Nelson as a starter. Hurst (14 tackles) got his feet wet as a true freshman and has tremendous upside. Not blessed with great size or speed, Hurst has a high football IQ and uses great technique, leverage, and positioning to excel.
The safety positions are in the capable hands of senior Quinton Carter and junior Sam Proctor. Carter (88 tackles, 4 ints.) is a smart, rangy, athletic free safety who also has great hitting ability. Proctor (44 tackles) did not have a special season, but has a combo of size, speed, and smarts that the coaches think will make him at least solid.
The coaches feel they have at least four players who can contribute in the secondary as backups. Junior Jamell Fleming (14 tackles) has the versatility to play corner or safety, but will likely line up as a CB in nickel and dime situations. Redshirt freshman Gabe Lynn was considered one of the top high school corners and has all the talent and skills to excel. Like Fleming, he should be a top option at CB in nickel and dime situations. Sophomore Marcus Trice is pretty small (5-8, 180) for a FS, but he has great speed and leaping ability. Junior Desmond Jackson has mostly played special teams to this point, but is projected as the top backup at SS. Jackson is raw, but the coaching staff likes his smarts, strength, and range and think he can be solid with some grooming.
Special Teams: Much like the secondary, this is a mixed bag. Punter Tress Way is one of the best in the country. He averaged 45.7 yards per kick last season. The kicking job, though, could be a headache. Junior Patrick O’Hara and sophomore Jimmy Stevens will battle likely until the first game, if not beyond. O’Hara was the man at the end of the season and made 6 of 9 attempts, but doesn’t have a big leg, going 1 of 4 from 30+ yards. Stevens started the season and made a respectable 11 of 13 attempts, but was 0 for 2 from 40+ yards. Some believe Stevens will kick the short ones and O’Hara the long ones.
Ryan Broyles is one of the nation’s best return men, averaging over 15 yards per punt return. Broyles may also help out kick returns, as could Mossis Madu if he isn’t booted from the team.
Schedule: On paper, OU has one of the tougher non-conference slates with FSU and Air Force visiting Norman and the Sooners making a road trip to face Cincinnati. The Big 12 season will largely rest on the annual battle with Texas and road games as OU faces Missouri, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Oklahoma State on the road, getting Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Colorado at home.
Overall: When you bring up Oklahoma, you get mixed reviews. Most everyone agrees they are likely a top 10 team, but where they fall in the top 10 varies. The king of preseason magazines, Phil Steele, has picked OU as his #1 team. Steele has a track record picking teams who last many close games to reverse the trend the next year. Steele famously tabbed the hated Florida Gators to win the national title on the back of a 9-4 season. Steele thinks this OU team is similar. On paper, Oklahoma does appear to have a lost a lot of difference-makers from last year’s team. However, Bradford and Gresham missed basically the entire season so guys like Landry Jones aren’t new by any means. Facing FSU, Cincinnati, and Texas in the first 5 games, we should know a lot about OU early on. If they exit those games at 5-0, Steele just may be right. My gut tells me that this is a very good team, but Jones might still need another year to get to the elite level and this offensive line looks suspect, as does the secondary. OU may very well return to the Big 12 title game, but a trip to the BCS title game may not be at stake. Still, this is probably a 10 or 11-win team and might be the best team FSU faces all year.