The Sooners finished 10-3 in 2012 with a share of the conference championship — the team’s eighth in fourteen seasons under head coach Bob Stoops. Still, the season was a bit of a disappointment for a team with perennially high expectations and a recent tendency to come up just a bit short.
OU’s goals are always to beat Texas and Oklahoma State, win the Big 12, and then win a national championship, but questions on defense and the loss of key players from last season’s 12th-ranked offense could make those goals tough to meet in 2013.
Key Players — The Offensive Line
All eyes will be on the quarterback Stoops chooses to succeed Landry Jones, but who the new QB is may be less critical than who he has around him and, more specifically, in front of him. The new quarterback will be more of a run/pass threat than Jones, which could be helpful since the team must also replace its top two receivers from 2012.
Fortunately for OU, the team should be stacked at running back, but the veteran line didn’t do a great job of creating opportunities for its rushers last season. The O-line loses just one starter (albeit a first-round draft pick) but gains a new coach, Bill Bedenbaugh, who should instill a greater sense of physicality to the experienced line, which could be key to continued offensive success in 2013.
The big story is at quarterback, where the Sooners have a wide open competition for the first time since 2007. Stoops hopes to announce the starter next week, and it would be a shock if he named anyone other than junior Blake Bell, or “The Belldozer.”
Bell is already a familiar face for Sooners fans after being used in short-yardage situations during the last two seasons. He has 372 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground, but his arm is an unknown entity: he has just 10 completions for 115 yards and an interception.
The quarterback race is down to Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight after sophomore Kendal Thompson fractured his foot on the first day of fall practice. Knight is less experienced, but coaches called him a smart decision maker with a very accurate arm.
Quarterback might be up in the air, but there’s plenty of depth at the other offensive skill positions. Running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay lead a powerful group of backs, while senior fullback Trey Millard is regarded as one of the most underrated and underutilized players on the team, averaging six yards per carry out of the backfield.
Wide receiver Jalen Saunders will take over one of the top spots vacated by Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, while sophomore Trey Metoyer and senior Jaz Reynolds will have new opportunities to redeem themselves on the field.
The OU defense, especially the defensive line, must improve if the Sooners expect another 10-win season in 2013. Only four starters return, but the ones who left didn’t set the bar very high.
The star on defense will again be All-Big 12 corner back Aaron Colvin, who spent last season minimizing the damage caused by the absence of a pass rush. He’ll get support from Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson and senior corner-turned-safety Gabe Lynn.
The line has a new coach, Jerry Montgomery, and Stoops said the unit held its own against the offense in the spring, comparing it to last season’s group of largely inexperienced receivers that became one of the team’s strengths. Chuka Ndulue, who played ten games at end in 2012, moved to tackle to add depth. That position got another boost this week with the addition of Quincy Russell, a JUCO All-American last season.
The Sooners’ 2013 schedule is front-loaded with home games and big match-ups. OU faces three of its four toughest opponents — Notre Dame, TCU and Texas — in consecutive weeks from Sept. 28 to Oct. 12. Three of the Sooners’ final four games are on the road, including the season finale at Oklahoma State for Bedlam.