Dr. Saturday will be looking at the 25 most interesting teams headed into spring football through March, examining which programs have the biggest questions, the most expectations and the best storylines. This isn’t the 25 best going into the spring, just the 25 we’re keeping the closest eye on.
What happened in 2012
The Sooners won 10 games. Again. That's what Bob Stoops does.
In 11 of the last 13 years, Stoops has won at least 10 games. That's an impressive run that almost every program in college football would sign up for right now.
Yet, there's the lack of the ultimate prize, at least since 2000. The Sooners haven't won a national championship in more than 12 years. For a team that is in the mix just about every single season, that's a reasonably significant drought, one that has some fans restless.
Then came the Cotton Bowl at the end of last season, in which Texas A&M completely outplayed Oklahoma. Johnny Manziel blew through the Sooners defense for all kinds of records in the 41-13 rout.
The Sooners won 10 games, including wins against rivals Texas and Oklahoma State, and grabbed a share of the Big 12 championship. Was that a disappointing year? Probably not, but it's safe to say Sooners fans were hoping for a little more. That's what happens when winning 10 games becomes the norm.
What makes them interesting in 2013
This is a very talented, intriguing team that still has some major questions, including how to replace quarterback Landry Jones.
For all of Jones' maddening moments – and there were always some – he was incredibly productive. He is OU's all-time leader in wins for a starting quarterback (39), passing yards (16,646), passing yards per game (314.1), pass attempts (2,184), pass completions (1,388), 300-yard games (27), 400-yard games (12), touchdown passes (123), total offense (16,271) and total offense per game (307). He's the Big 12's all-time leader in passing yards. You don't turn the page from that so easily.
We'll discuss Blake "Belldozer" Bell, the frontrunner for the starting spot, more in a moment. He is not going to just be handed the job, however. Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks, are the two top candidates to unseat Bell. Cody Thomas, who was ranked No. 7 among pro-style quarterbacks by Rivals in the 2013 class and will be on campus in the fall, is a dark horse.
Whoever gets the quarterback job will be surrounded by good talent at the other offensive positions, meaning that OU could be in for another 10-win season with the right choice at quarterback.
What needs to happen this spring
Manziel made many defenses look bad in 2012. So did Kansas State's Collin Klein. But the overall inability of Oklahoma to stop anyone, particularly spread/read-option/dual-threat quarterbacks like those two, was a little alarming. The revamping of the defense will be the biggest storyline in spring.
Oklahoma finished 64th in the nation in total defense, and an ugly 89th in rushing defense. Jackie Shipp, who coached OU's defensive line since 1999, was let go. Things needed to change on defense.
There was talk of Oklahoma shifting to a 3-4, which coordinator Mike Stoops said was premature. He did say the Sooners would have more flexibility and alignments. The Sooners need to get better, somehow. They need to find linebackers who are able to defend sideline to sideline and linemen who are tough at the point of attack. That starts in the spring.
Losing safety Tony Jefferson and his team-best 116 tackles a year early to the NFL draft won't help the defense. One positive for the defense is that corner Aaron Colvin decided to return instead of going to the NFL draft. He'll be one of the top cornerbacks taken in the 2014 draft.
Last year, the Sooners' lack of depth at receiver was a major concern. Even though leading receiver Kenny Stills left for the NFL draft and No. 2 receiver Justin Brown graduated, there's not that same concern about the position this year.
Sterling Shepard was a revelation with 621 yards as a true freshman last year and has the look of a future star. Jalen Saunders finished last season very strong, with three straight 100-yard games to end the regular season. Trey Metoyer enrolled early at Oklahoma last year, starred in the spring game and even though Metoyer had a quiet 2012 season the highly-touted recruit could still end up being a big key for the Sooners.
The Sooners return four of five starting offensive linemen, although they lose potential first-round pick Lane Johnson, and a full group of running backs that includes Damien Williams, who rushed for 946 yards last year. There's a lot to like about this offense.
Of course, if the Sooners don't get good quarterback play, the rest of the talent on offense will go mostly to waste. This is why Bell is such an interesting player. Bell threw just 16 passes last season but became a legend in Norman, because he would be used in goal-line situations and he plowed his way in for 11 touchdowns. At 6-6, 254 pounds, he's a load to bring down. The question is his passing ability. He did throw for 2,752 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior in high school, and his throwing ability wasn't much of a concern when Rivals ranked him as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in his recruiting class. By all indications Bell threw the ball pretty well last spring. Also, the Sooners would tailor their offense to Bell's strengths and not utilize him in the same way as the slow-footed Jones.
If Bell can throw the ball well, with an exciting crew of receivers, solid offensive line and stable of running backs as well as his own running ability, Oklahoma's offense will be fantastic.
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct. 12 vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl)
Nov. 9 at Baylor
Dec. 7 at Oklahoma State
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