Expectations aren’t quite as high in Norman this season for the Oklahoma Sooners as last year, which is saying something considering that OU will be in the Top 10 of the preseason polls, is the Big 12 favorite and one of the national title leaders.
I say expectations aren’t quite as high because last year’s team was expected to be one of the best in school history with so many returning stars – OU was the consensus preseason No. 1 and easily the national title odds-on favorite. But injuries, an occasionally porous defense and a subpar (half) season from quarterback and 2011 preseason Heisman favorite Landry Jones led to a third-place finish in the Big 12 (6-3) and a 10-3 overall mark, capped by a win over Iowa in the Insight Bowl – only the third non-BCS bowl for the program in the past 10 seasons.
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Anything short of another Big 12 title and BCS bowl will be considered a huge disappointment in 2012.
Bob Stoops is often linked to other jobs (Florida, Ohio State, Notre Dame, several in the NFL) but no one has been able to lure him away from Norman quite yet. Last season, Oklahoma registered its 10th 10-win season under Stoops and it has won seven Big 12 titles in his tenure, more than twice as many championships as any other school in the league. Stoops is 139-34 at OU and an unbelievable 44-18 mark against opponents ranked among the Associated Press Top 25.
The big move on Stoops’ staff this offseason was defensive coordinator Brent Venables leaving for Clemson and being replaced by Stoops’ brother, Mike. Actually, Mike Stoops, the former Arizona head coach and OU defensive coordinator until taking that UA job in 2004, was hired while Venables was still on staff and the two were supposed to be co-coordinators. But clearly Venables saw the writing on the wall and left soon after.
One positive of Jones struggling some last season was the he didn’t declare for the NFL Draft, which he likely would have done with another huge season. It’s not like Jones stunk last year, throwing for 4,463 yards and 29 TDs, but he also was picked off 15 times. He had at least one interception in all three of OU’s losses and was a different QB when star receiver Ryan Broyles went out with a season-ending injury. Jones is the school leader in passing yards (12,379) and games started at quarterback (37) and should own every OU mark by the end of this season. There will be no more experienced QB in the nation in 2012.
Oklahoma is set at running back with Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch. Whaley was a former walk-on who became a starter in 2011, gaining 627 yards in seven games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Finch didn’t live up to expectations, rushing for 605 yards and three scores, although he did have 34 receptions.
While Broyles is gone at receiver, Kenny Stills is back and he should put up huge numbers. Stills had 849 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. But there are big-time questions elsewhere at this position with the suspensions of Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks. It looks like neither will be back at OU.
Many are expecting Oklahoma’s offense line, with four starters back, to be the school’s best since the epic 2008 group. Six players return with a combined 102 starts.
As noted above, the Sooners’ defense struggled at time last year, especially against the pass. OU gave up at least 41 points in each of its three losses and all were against pass-heavy teams: Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Mike Stoops has come in and revamped the secondary. Senior Demontre Hurst, who has started 27 games, will lead that group. He had 11 pass breakups and one interception last season.
There is a bit of uncertainty on the line. Since 1999, Bob Stoops has had a first-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman every season, including 2011 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander. But he and fellow stalwart Ronnell Lewis are gone. They combined for 14 sacks and 32 tackles for loss in 2011. Linebacker Travis Lewis, the leading tackler in the Stoops era, is also gone, but the Sooners should be fine there with Tom Wort and Corey Nelson back.
Overall, seven starters are due to return on this side of the ball.
2012 Oklahoma Sooners Football Schedule Analysis
The Sooners should be 4-0, just like last year, when they enter the annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas against Texas. OU will open with easy wins at UTEP and vs. Florida A&M. Kansas State is next and no pushover, but the Sooners get a bye week to prepare and KSU comes to Norman. Texas Tech and its aerial attack, especially in Lubbock, could cause a few problems in Game 4 if OU is looking ahead to Texas. But in a schedule quirk, Oklahoma gets another bye week to prepare for the Red Raiders, and the Sooners will well remember how TTU ended Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak a year ago.
Last year, the Sooners showed how far ahead of the Longhorns they are these days with a 55-17 shellacking. OU is already a 7.5-point favorite this year’s game on 5Dimes. Presuming that Oklahoma beats Texas, the Sooners should be 9-0 (winning vs. Kansas, vs. Notre Dame, at Iowa State, vs. Baylor) heading into the Big 12 Game of the Year at West Virginia. That likely decides the conference title and Morgantown will be jumping (OU an early three-point favorite). Oklahoma finishes at home vs. rebuilding Oklahoma State and then a challenge at TCU.
2012 Oklahoma Sooners Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, OU is +1000 to win the BCS title (fourth favorite) and +600 to play in the game. To play in any BCS bowl game, the Sooners are -260, compared to +180 not to. Oklahoma is the +120 favorite to win the Big 12. “Over/under” wins totals: 9.5 (over -230 favorite), 10 (both -110) and 10.5 (under +170 favorite). Jones is +200 to finish in Top 3 of Heisman voting and +1100 to win it.
2012 Oklahoma Sooners Football Predictions
My only worry with OU is at receiver. Teams are likely to double Stills, so the young players will have to step up. If they do, I think the Sooners play in the BCS Championship Game – but don’t win it. A huge plus is they won’t have to play in a dangerous conference title game like LSU or USC, etc. I only see two realistic losses on the Oklahoma regular-season schedule: at WVU and TCU. But I’m not overly sold on West Virginia being able to stop the Sooners, and the Frogs aren’t supposed to be quite as good as they have been.
At worst, I see Oklahoma at 11-1. The Big 12 title should be a lock barring a major injury/suspension when the team travels to West Virginia. I also like Jones to finish in the Top 3 of the Heisman.
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