August 18, 2011

Top 120 countdown
No. 1 Oklahoma
Coach: Bob Stoops (129-31 in 12 seasons at Oklahoma) | Staff
Last season: 12-2, 6-2 (T-1st in Big 12 South; beat Nebraska in Big 12 championship game, beat Connecticut in Fiesta Bowl)
Returning starters (At least seven starts last year): Offense (8): WR Ryan Broyles, G Tyler Evans, C Ben Habern, TE James Hanna, G Gabe Ikard, QB Landry Jones, T Donald Stephenson, WR Kenny Stills. Defense (7): E Frank Alexander, CB Jamell Fleming, CB Demontre Hurst, LB/S Tony Jefferson, LB Travis Lewis, T Stacy McGee, LB Tom Wort. Special teams (2): K Jimmy Stevens, P Tress Way.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW: Oklahoma employs a spread offense and can score in bunches. The Sooners have averaged more than 30 points per game in each of the past six seasons. They will make it seven. An offense with a Heisman candidate at quarterback, arguably the best pair of wide receivers in the country, an experienced line and speed at tailback will score a lot of points. The biggest question about the Sooners' offense is how much OU will miss former coordinator Kevin Wilson, now the coach at Indiana. It's undoubtedly a loss, but co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell know what they're doing, too. Heupel will call the plays.

AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Does Oklahoma have a national championship-caliber defense? In most seasons, the BCS national champion has fielded one of the best defenses in the nation. Oklahoma is a preseason No. 1 and its goal is obviously to win a second national title under Stoops. The Sooners' vulnerability to the run and the new starters at safety has to raise some doubts about the Sooners.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: QB Landry Jones picks up where he left off last season, and Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills re-affirm that they're the premier set of receivers in the country. The running game thrives, as well. Consequently, Oklahoma's offense is explosive and high scoring and carries the Sooners through the first month of the season. LB Travis Lewis' return in October then boosts the defense. Oklahoma remains nearly impossible to beat in Norman and goes on to capture its fifth Big 12 championship in six seasons. The Sooners then claim their first national title since 2000.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The defensive line remains vulnerable to the run and has difficulty getting a pass rush. The Sooners are forced to blitz to get pressure, which opens passing lanes for opponents. At the same time, no running back emerges as a consistent force, which makes the Sooners' offense somewhat one-dimensional. As a result, the Sooners fall in an early-season clash with Florida State and never play to the dominant level that's expected. They're upset victims somewhere along the line and struggle against Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. They still so talented they manage to post nine or 10 regular-season wins, but they fail to reach the national championship game.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Oklahoma allowed an average of 148.9 rushing yards per game last season. Air Force rushed for 351 yards against the Sooners. Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead gained 169. Missouri and Texas A&M both rushed for more than 150 yards. Unless the Sooners improve against the run, they'll be in trouble if the offense ever has an off-week.
BACKFIELD: Junior QB Landry Jones enters his third season as a starter. Last season, he showed remarkable improvement by throwing for 4,718 yards while completing better than 65 percent of his passes. If he progresses even more, he could win the Heisman. The only knock on him is that he has had games with too many interceptions. In the event that he misses action, the Sooners can turn to highly regarded redshirt freshman Blake Bell. The running back situation isn't quite as strong, but it's not fragile by any means. Diminutive Roy Finch has great speed and will be used in various ways, as a slot receiver among them. Sophomore Brennan Clay may head a committee approach at tailback until five-star freshman Brandon Williams is ready.

RECEIVERS: A strong case can be made that Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills is the best wide receiver duo in the nation. Broyles is a big-time playmaker who led the nation with 131 catches and scored 14 touchdowns last season. Though the second option, Stills is coming off a brilliant freshman campaign in which he had 61 catches. If that's not enough, true freshman Trey Metoyer was rated the country's No. 2 receiving prospect. TE James Hanna isn't flashy, but he caught seven touchdown passes a year ago.

LINE: The talk in Norman is that senior Donald Stephenson could be the Sooners' next great tackle. He's part of a quartet of fulltime starters that returns up front. C Ben Habert and G Gabe Ikard are among the Big 12's best. There is some uncertainty - but tremendous size - at right tackle, where redshirt freshman Daryl Williams is moving in.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW: The Sooners face serious questions on defense. They were not overpowering in '10 and the death of LB Austin Box, an injury to star LB Travis Lewis and the losses of all FS Quinton Carter and E Jeremy Beal raise doubts. OU has to bolster its run defense, which ranked 58th in the nation last season, and maintain a strong pass rush without Beal.

LINE: Improvement is needed up front. OU was vulnerable to the run last season and also must replace Beal, last season's Big 12 defensive lineman of the year. The Sooners have a lot to hope for this season. They hope E Ronnell Lewis can be a pass-rush threat. They hope E Frank Alexander can be more consistent. They hope sophomore T Jamarkus McFarland can develop into a dominant run stuffer. All of those are possible. None are assured.

LINEBACKER: This has become an area of concern for the Sooners. Box, who returned from injury and started the last five games of 2010, was a solid middle linebacker and a team leader. Lewis was the best player on the unit, maybe on the team, but he suffered a broken bone in his foot and will miss at least the first month of the season. Without them, the Sooners are a little undersized and somewhat unproven at linebacker. Still, there is talent. Sophomore Tom Wort started nine games in the middle last season, while sophomore Tony Jefferson, who plays a hybrid outside linebacker/safety position, is a rising star. He was the Big 12's defensive freshman of the year in 2010. Highly regarded sophomore Corey Nelson will fill in until Lewis returns from injury.

SECONDARY: Few teams are as secure at corner as Oklahoma, which returns 2010 starters Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst. Fleming had a team-leading five interceptions a year ago, while Hurst broke up 11 passes. But both safety positions will be filled by new starters. Junior Javon Harris and sophomore Aaron Colvin are ready to step in, but if they falter, OU has several other options. Jefferson could see time at safety, too.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Broyles is one of the most dangerous punt returners in college football. He has averaged more than 11 yards per return in his career. The Sooners need a new kickoff returner, but there are several capable candidates, including Finch and WR Trey Franks. On the other side, P Tress Way also is among the best in the country. He's coming off an excellent 2010 campaign in which he averaged 44 yards per kick and had 18 attempts killed inside the opponent's 20. Kicking responsibilities were shared by Jimmy Stevens and Patrick O'Hara last season. Stevens likely remains OU's first option, but O'Hara will get a quick call if Stevens falters. The Sooners' punt coverage unit was excellent last season, but the kickoff coverage was atrocious, with a nation's-high four TDs allowed.

THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 11th
Buzz: Like their in-state counterparts at Oklahoma State, the Sooners signed more prospects from Texas than from their home state - 12 to two. That group includes two five-star prospects on offense in RB Brandon Williams and WR Trey Metoyer. Williams was an early enrollee who impressed with his play this spring; he should see significant playing time this season. Though the last five-star back the Sooners signed out of Texas, Jermie Calhoun, failed to live up to expectations, many Oklahoma fans are hoping Williams follows the route of Adrian Peterson, another five-star Texan. - BRIAN PERRONI

IMPACT NEWCOMER

The tailback position is open with DeMarco Murray having completed his eligibility and gone to the NFL, which leaves an opportunity for Brandon Williams to make a quick entry into the starting lineup. He may already be the best running back at Oklahoma. Williams has had a strong showing in August camp. Some programs hesitate to play freshmen, but OU has had some success with freshmen running backs, particularly Murray in '07 and Adrian Peterson in '04.

SCHEDULE

Although a Sept. 17 trip to Florida State sets up as a probable clash of top-10 teams, the Sooners' schedule is set up quite advantageously. Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M must travel to Norman, where OU has lost just twice in 12 seasons under Stoops. Missouri, though, could be a trap game coming a week after the Florida State trip. The midseason clash with Texas in Dallas never can be taken for granted, and the Sooners close on the road against dangerous Oklahoma State.

OVERVIEW

The Sooners have made four BCS national-championship game appearances in 12 seasons under Stoops. That's one every three years. This will be the Sooners' third season since facing Florida in the '08 championship game, so history says they're due. Lewis' injury and Box's death are significant blows to a defense that needs improvement. But OU's strength unquestionably is an offense that has the ability to score 40 points per game. If the offense can carry the Sooners through early games against Florida State and Missouri until Lewis' expected return on Oct. 8 against Texas, Oklahoma could be on the way to another BCS championship game appearance. But unless the defense makes marked improvement over its 2010 performance, the going will be tenuous, especially against explosive offensive opponents Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

OFFENSE
QB Landry Jones (6-4/229, Jr.)
Blake Bell (6-6/245, R-Fr.)
RB Brandon Williams (6-0/192, Fr.)
Brennan Clay (5-11/194, Soph.)
WR Ryan Broyles (5-10/188, Sr.)
Trey Franks (5-10/184, Soph.)
WR Dejuan Miller (6-4/217, Sr.)
Jaz Reynolds (6-2/182, Soph.)
WR Kenny Stills (6-1/189, Soph.)
Justin McCay (6-2/209, R-Fr.)
TE James Hanna (6-4/243, Sr.)
Trent Ratterree (6-3/248, Sr.)
LT Donald Stephenson (6-6/307, Sr.)
Lane Johnson (6-6/296, Jr.)
LG Gabe Ikard (6-4/295, Soph.)
Stephen Good (6-6/305, Sr.)
C Ben Habern (6-4/292, Jr.)
Austin Woods (6-4/290, Soph.)
RG Tyler Evans (6-5/304, Jr.)
Adam Shead (6-4/314, R-Fr.)
RT Daryl Williams (6-6/313, R-Fr.)
Lane Johnson (6-6/296, Jr.)
P Tress Way (6-1/218, Jr.)
KR Trey Franks (5-10, 184, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Frank Alexander (6-4/255, Sr.)
David King (6-5/273, Jr.)
T Jamarkus McFarland (6-2/306, Jr.)
Stacy McGee (6-4/299, Jr.)
T Casey Walker (6-2/308, Jr.)
Torrea Peterson (6-3/292, R-Fr.)
E Ronnell Lewis (6-2/244, Jr.)
R.J. Washington (6-4/248, Jr.)
OLB Tony Jefferson (5-10/199, Soph.)
Joseph Ibiloye (6-3/219, Jr.)
MLB Tom Wort (6-0/229, Soph.)
Jaydan Bird (6-2/236, Jr.)
OLB Corey Nelson (6-1/219, Soph.)
Aaron Franklin (6-1/211, R-Fr.)
CB Jamell Fleming (5-11/191, Sr.)
Gabe Lynn (6-0/195, Soph.)
CB Demontre Hurst (5-10/181, Jr.)
Joe Powell (6-0/171, Soph.)
FS Javon Harris (5-11/207, Jr.)
Sam Proctor (6-0/222, Sr.)
SS Aaron Colvin (6-0/176, Soph.)
Quentin Hayes (6-0/181, R-Fr.)
K Jimmy Stevens (5-5/172, Sr.)
PR Ryan Broyles (5-10/188, Sr.)

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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