CFN Preview 2013 - Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma RB Damien Williams
Oklahoma RB Damien Williams
Posted Jun 7, 2013 2013 Preview - Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma Sooners

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bob Stoops
15th year: 149-37
Returning Lettermen: 45
Off. 24, Def. 20, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Oklahoma Players
1. C Gabe Ikard, Sr.
2. CB Aaron Colvin, Sr.
3. RB Damien Williams, Sr.
4. FB Trey Millard, Sr.
5. LB Corey Nelson, Sr.
6. WR Jalen Saunders, Sr.
7. DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, Jr.
8. DT Jordan Phillips, Soph.
9. QB Blake Bell, Jr.
10. WR Trey Metoyer, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 ULM
9/7 West Virginia
9/14 Tulsa
9/28 at Notre Dame
10/5 TCU
10/12 Texas (in Dallas)
10/19 at Kansas
10/26 Texas Tech
11/9 at Baylor
11/16 Iowa State
11/23 at Kansas State
12/7 at Oklahoma State
It might not seem like it, but Oklahoma is the defending Big 12 champion.

Actually, co-Big 12 champ, splitting it with Kansas State, and even more impressive are the five conference titles in the last seven seasons and eight in the last 13 under Bob Stoops, so why does it all feel so … so … so … disappointing?

It's not fair. All Stoops has done is win ten games or more in six of the last seven seasons with 32 victories in the last three seasons, but the problem is the rut. Yeah, we all know that Oklahoma will probably win ten games again, and we all know that Stoops is a special coach working with an elite group of athletes on both sides of the ball, but we also all know that the clunkers are coming.

It would be one thing if OU was losing a slew of heartbreakers to elite teams – and there have been several of those over the years – but the brutal performance in the loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl only solidified the belief that the program just doesn't have its fastball anymore, at least at a national title level.

With a Big 12 title and a likely Fiesta Bowl trip on the line two years ago, the Sooners were obliterated by Oklahoma State. Last season, OU kept it close against Kansas State, but never really had control in the home loss, and was later outplayed by double digits in the loss to Notre Dame. In all, six of the last nine losses have come by nine points or more, with most of those ugly blowouts.

Okay, so what does Oklahoma have to do to get its mojo back?

First and foremost, it has to find an identity again. Whether it was the defense back in the early 2000s, or the high-octane offenses under Jason White and Sam Bradford, the team has to figure out what it wants to be.

Is it going to be physical and nasty? This year's O line is experienced and talented, but it's a front five full of technicians more than a bury-you-and-make-you-like-it unit. The defense is loaded with athletes and speed, but that didn't matter much last season as it couldn't do anything to get into the backfield and was steamrolled over way too easily.

Is it going to be dangerous with the ability to rock in shootouts? The receiving corps is in place and the talent is there on offense, but will the consistency follow? Can that skilled defense come up with enough key stops in big moments against the top teams – a major problem last year?

Again, it seems crazy to try to fix something that really isn't all that broken – Texas would kill for the Oklahoma's last few seasons – and there isn't too much to argue with considering Stoops just came up with yet another Big 12 championship, but the standard was set so impossibly high under the first part of his tenure that 10-3 just isn't good enough anymore.

What to watch for on offense: Mobile quarterbacks. It's hard to argue with the offensive production under Stoops, but now things are about to change up a wee bit. The program of Huepel, and White, and Bradford and Jones now has a real, live running quarterback to play around with – no matter who ends up grabbing the gig. Blake Bell isn't going to fly around, but the Belldozer is mobile enough to power away when needed and is far, far more mobile than Landry Jones was. Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight are smallish, quick options who can each throw, and they're getting every opportunity to take over the starting gig. Combine the running ability with a strong group of backs, and OU should balance out the attack.

What to watch for on defense: What the heck is defensive coordinator Mike Stoops going to do to get into the backfield? It might be tempting to push the panic button after the awful performance against Texas A&M, and it might be easy to look at the stats and freak out at the miserable play against the run and the inability to get behind the line, but overall, things just weren't that bad – at least for a while. The problem, though, was that the defense got worse as the season went on having huge problems against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Baylor before dealing with Mr. Football. The idea was to get lots and lots of defensive backs on the field, but the line didn't do its job to generate pressure, and once teams started running the ball a little bit they found they could gash OU at will. This is an ultra-athletic defense that has to do a better job of swarming around the ball and coming up with tough, big stops while also getting behind the line more. The Sooners have to be able to generate more than just 55 tackles for loss.

The team will be far better if … it throws multiple touchdown passes. Apparently, that turned out to be the key fun stat for last season. When Oklahoma threw two or more touchdown passes it was 10-0. One or fewer? 0-3. Two years ago the Sooners lost to Texas Tech despite throwing five touchdown passes, and in losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State the offense came up with a grand total of zero scoring throws. Fine, so that might be a simplistic and empty trend, but this year with the defense likely to be shaky for a little while, and with opponents likely to load up against the run, the quarterbacks have to crank up the passing scores.

The schedule: The Sooners have to be on upset alert from the start with Kolton Browning and ULM coming into Gaylord to kick things off, and the fun shootouts don't stop with a high-powered West Virginia team coming in next to start up the Big 12 season followed up by a date with a dangerous Tulsa squad. That should be enough tune-up time before getting to the meat of the schedule.

OU gets a week off to prepare for a revenge game against Notre Dame, but it's not crazy to suggest that the date with TCU the week after might turn out to be more challenging. And after all of that – five straight games against almost certain bowl bound teams – the Sooners make the trip to Dallas to face Texas. The schedule eases up a bit with a road game at Kansas and a home affair with Texas Tech before getting a week off, but three of the final four games are on the road going to Baylor and Kansas State – wrapped around a home game against Iowa State – before getting a week off to prepare for Oklahoma State. In all, six of the final nine games are away from Norman.

Best offensive player: Senior C Gabe Ikard. The NFL types are just waiting to get their hands on fullback Trey Millard to find some way to utilize him, and there are plenty of receivers who might be in the Best Offensive Player mix along with quarterback Blake Bell and running back Damien Williams, but it's Ikard who'll lead the way in the interior. The former guard is a whale of a pass blocking center and a good, smart anchor for the veteran line.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Aaron Colvin. Whether it's at strong safety or corner, the 6-1, 181-pound veteran will come up with lots and lots of tackle. With his size, athleticism and physical play, he's a tough and talented lock-down corner who can erase a No. 1 target. How valuable is he? He's the only returning player with an interception last season. If the defensive front struggles to hit quarterbacks again, he'll be even more important than ever.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Geneo Grissom and/or sophomore DE Mike Onuoha. Of course the quarterback situation is the key, but Blake Bell will almost certainly take the job by the horns and become a big star once he figures it all out. More than anything else, the defense has to be far, far better, and it has to start with generating more of a pass rush from the outside. If Onuoha and Grissom can do their job, then Chuka Ndulue can stay in the interior and doesn't have to move back to end.

The season will be a success if … The Sooner win the Big 12 title outright and get back to the Fiesta Bowl. There are way, way too many holes, issues and concerns to expect a surprising run to the BCS championship, but getting an outright conference title and yet another BCS game under Stoops would be a success no matter what. However, there has to be an eye on 2014 when the team is more experienced and with the upside to be national title-good.

Key game: Oct. 12 vs. Texas. It's a down season overall for the Big 12. Oklahoma State is going to be terrific, and Kansas State is going to be interesting again, but Texas should be the class of the conference. If OU can rip out the Longhorns' soul like it did last season, and if it can come up with its fourth straight win in the series, the Big 12 title might be there for the taking.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Oklahoma 20 (lost 9) – Opponents 7 (lost 3)
- Average Passing Yards Per Game: Oklahoma 336.5 – Opponents 206.1
- Punt Return Average: Oklahoma 14.3 yards – Opponents 7.2 yards
- 2013 Oklahoma Preview | 2013 Oklahoma Offense
- 2013 Oklahoma Defense | 2013 Oklahoma Depth Chart