Sooner football in the hunt for another national title
Pressure is something OU football players are all too familiar with.
In a state as passionate about football as Oklahoma, expectations are high every single year for the Sooners. However, there is much more added pressure when a football team enters the season ranked No. 1.
The Sooners have been ranked anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 in this year’s preseason polls. However, Oklahoma has more first-place votes than any other school in the country, topping nine polls heading into the season.
The team has nine starters returning on offense, including senior Ryan Broyles, who opted to forego the NFL draft to finish his college career.
Broyles, one of the best wide receivers in OU history, will have junior quarterback Landry Jones delivering him the football.
Both players are on the watch list for this year’s Maxwell Award, given annually to the best offensive player in the college game.
The Sooners’ potent offense also has young talent all over the field. Sophomore receiver Kenny Stills will have his fair share of catches after a breakout freshman season last year, and sophomores Roy Finch and Brennan Clay will share the majority of the load at running back following DeMarco Murray’s graduation.
Whichever back carries the ball will be running behind an experienced offensive line and a very talented fullback, sophomore Trey Millard. The one problem area for the offense last year was inconsistencies, particularly on the road. However, in the last three games of the season, the Sooners showed they are capable of putting it all together for an entire game.
After a sloppy first half in Stillwater in last year’s regular-season finale, Jones played a fantastic second half to lead the Sooners to the Big 12 title game. Then, after falling behind 17-0 to Nebraska, OU came back with one of the best all-around team performances of the year to defeat the Huskers and win the last conference championship.
OU has become known for its high-powered offenses over the last several seasons.
However, defense still wins championships, and this year’s squad looks to have all of the pieces to do it.
Senior linebacker Travis Lewis, who opted to come back with Broyles for his final year in the crimson and cream, leads OU’s defense. The senior is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player every year, and has started every game since his freshman season.
The tragic loss of senior Austin Box earlier this summer left a void the team cannot hope to replace. However, sophomores Tom Wort and Corey Nelson will be filling Box’s shoes on the field after stepping up and making an impact in their freshmen seasons last year.
The secondary is the one spot the Sooners have had a few question marks in recent years, but OU has a lot of talent at the positions this year.
Junior Demontre Hurst and senior Jamell Fleming return to their spots at cornerback after solid seasons last year as first-time starters.
Fleming is coming off of a huge junior season in which he recorded 75 tackles and five interceptions on his way to being named to the Big 12 all-conference team.
Sophomore Tony Jefferson is returning to his spot as the Sooners’ fifth defensive back after being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season.
Fleming and Jefferson are currently on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Finally, junior Javon Harris and sophomore Aaron Colvin will be filling in the safety positions. It will be the first year either player starts. However, both Colvin and Harris saw extended playing time late last season and made the most of that time.
Both the offensive and defensive lines have a ton of experience coming back this year, meaning the Sooners have a great chance to live up to all of the preseason hype.
However, as OU is well aware, polls prove nothing, especially before the start of the season.
The last time the Sooners were ranked preseason No. 1, Sam Bradford blew out his shoulder before halftime of the first game, and the team was left scrambling to pull together a Sun Bowl win to salvage its season.
In fact, the lowest preseason ranking the Sooners have had since Bob Stoop’s arrival was the very same year they captured the program’s seventh national title.
The squad will have to get past a tough top-five matchup on the road in Tallahassee, Fla., in the second week of the season. After that, the Sooners have very winnable games leading to the season finale at Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
With the departure of Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 stil is no cakewalk. The Sooners have to get past Missouri and Texas A&M, but both games are in Norman, where OU holds the nation’s longest home winning streak.
OU has a chance to run the table if it can get past the Seminoles and the Cowboys.
Nothing is certain, but with all of the talent coming back on this loaded Oklahoma team, it seems to say the Sooners will keep the 2011 season interesting.