Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

Breaking down the preseason favorites for the BCS championship. Previously: LSU, Stanford, Oregon. Today: Oklahoma.

Hide the women and children, and most of the men. If football is a metaphor for combat, Oklahoma's offense amounts to a carpet-bombing raid. The Sooners ran significantly more plays than any other offense in college football in 2010, and second-year starter Landry Jones put the ball in the air more often than any other quarterback, with mostly blockbuster results. Jones hung at least 300 yards and multiple touchdown passes on nine different opponents, including Florida State (380 yards, 4 TDs), Missouri (303 yards, 3 TDs), Colorado (453 yards, 4 TDs), Texas Tech (317 yards, 5 TDs), Oklahoma State (468 yards, 4 TDs) and UConn (429 yards, 3 TDs in the Fiesta Bowl), regularly putting in a full day's work for most QBs by halftime. For the year, Jones led the Big 12 and finished second nationally in both yards and touchdowns, behind only Hawaii's Bryant Moniz.

Jones didn't quite evoke Heisman-winning predecessor Sam Bradford in efficiency terms — Bradford's career efficiency rating (175.6) is the highest in Division I history — but he'll have every opportunity to move into that territory this fall as a fourth-year junior, operating behind a veteran line with four returning starters and a nearly intact receiving corps. The headlines there may be reserved to senior All-American Ryan Broyles, who earned the hosannas by leading the nation with 131 grabs, but it's Trey Franks, Dejuan Miller and deep threat Kenny Stills who fill out the deepest set of reliable targets in the country.

All the ways you will disappoint us. Oklahoma plummeted from eighth nationally against the run in 2009 to 58th last year, struggling at one point or another against every variety of ground attack it encountered: Air Force's traditional triple option ground out 351 yards and three touchdowns on well over 5.5 per carry in a near-upset in September; Missouri's spread attack went for 178 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the Tigers' actual upset on Oct. 23; Baylor's spread broke off 237 and a pair of scores a month later. In the meantime, Texas A&M sent tailback Cyrus Gray straight ahead for 122 and a touchdown in the Aggies' upset on Nov. 6, which also included a 48-yard run by quarterback Ryan Tannehill on A&M's first snap to set up another score. For the season, opponents averaged upwards of four yards per carry, for the first time in Bob Stoops' 12-year tenure.

On one hand, units with the talent and experience of Oklahoma's front seven rarely set negative benchmarks two years in a row. Then again, there's no specific reason to expect much improvement: The base personnel is largely the same (minus All-Big 12 defensive end Jeremy Beal and late linebacker Austin Box), remains nickel-oriented in a conference saturated with spread offenses and is still searching for an inside force who remotely compares to former All-American Gerald McCoy, whose dominant presence anchored a top-10 effort against the run in 2009. Barring a breakthrough by once-hyped tackles Jamarkus McFarland and/or Stacey McGee, establishing the run remains the surest way for opposing offenses to keep Oklahoma's own arsenal off the field and make inroads against a unit that yielded at least 24 points in half of its games — and that's before we get to the possibility of breaking in three new starters in the secondary.

Stumbling blocks. The schedule is bookended by trips to Florida State and Oklahoma State, with a visit from upwardly mobile Texas A&M and the annual Red River showdown with Texas in between, likely as tough a regular season run as the Sooners have faced under Stoops. But all four are eminently winnable games — OU destroyed Florida State last season in Norman, Texas is still in deep rebuilding mode and Oklahoma State and Texas A&M promise Sooner-friendly shootouts — and the final obstacle, the Big 12 Championship Game, is no longer waiting at the end. (The addition of the ninth conference game merely provided the Sooners with another easy win at Kansas' expense.)

It's a good schedule on multiple fronts: Tough enough to get the point across — and possibly even to absolve an early loss against FSU, Missouri or Texas — but not too brutal to emerge unscathed.

Visions of champions past: Florida State (1999). Like the 2011 Sooners, the '99 Seminoles a) Opened the season as the consensus No. 1, becoming the first of only two teams in the BCS era (along with USC in 2004) to go wire-to-wire at the top of both major polls; b) Were led by a prolific, pocket-bound quarterback in his fourth year in a pass-happy system, Chris Weinke, who benefited from the talents of c) An undersized yet dynamic star at wide receiver, Peter Warrick. FSU was held under 30 points only once all season, and eventually had to outscore Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, 46-29, to secure the title.

Florida State is also the last team to win a national championship under a head coach who's been on the job for more than a decade, and did it with a less-than-elite defense: While solid, FSU remains one of the most generous defenses to bring home a championship in the BCS era at 305 yards and nearly 16 points per game, better numbers than Oklahoma delivered in 2010 but well within reach.

Crystal ball says… It's been a rough offseason in Norman, most recently in the wake of the untimely death of Austin Box last week. Come August, though, the Sooners remain a virtual lock to open the season at No. 1 in the preseason polls, and arguably have a more favorable path to New Orleans than any of their fellow contenders, with the possible exception of Stanford. No other team hits as many points on the checklist.

Tailback uncertainty notwithstanding, a virtuosic offense is a given. The question is whether the defense has the consistency to keep games from getting away from it: The more shootouts the offense has to win, the higher the odds it's going to come up one bullet short.
out of five.

- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

Related Articles

Dr. Saturday

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Related Photo Gallery

Y! Sports Blog