Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

2012 Position Review: Secondary

What did we think/hope would happen?

All-conference candidates Demontre Hurst, Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin would lead the secondary and provide some big plays. Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn would thrive in their new roles. OU would stop giving up so many long scoring passes and 400-yard passing days.

The days of watching linebackers on midget slot receivers 40 yards downfield would be over. Real nickel and dime formations would be used.

What did happen?

OU's pass defense improve significanlty year over  year. Yardage was down. Passing TDs dropped by 50 percent.

Overall OU did an excellent job in coverage. There were some busts, but, overall, players were where they were supposed to be in coverage. Jefferson and Harris were first and second on the team in tackles and kept most plays in front of them. Colvin and Hurst did a good job in coverage from the CB spot. Gabe Lynn had a much better year at safety, and Julian Wilson in his first year played well in spots as OU's dimeback.

What went right?

*For about eight games, OU's defensive strategy worked. The Sooners did a good job of keeping teams out of the end zone, averaging about 18 points allowed per game. OU was forcing turnovers and making stops. There were signs of issues stopping the run, but, overall, OU was playing excellent defense and the secondary was a huge reason for the defensive improvement.

*For the first six games, Colvin was making big plays in pass coverage, and for the first 9 games, Jefferson was making plays all over the field.

*Jefferson was without a doubt OU's defensive MVP. Colvin was probably a close second.

What went wrong?

*All year long, OU was giving up too many yards rushing to teams when they spread out OU and used typical zone read QB stuff in the running game. Teams started adjusting to OU's DB-heavy scheme and OU ran into better QB-RB combos who started exploiting the OU safeties in run defense. This run threat led to the safeties taking more chances which started leading to more busts in pass defense and big plays in the passing game. It all just snowballed to a 3 game stretch were OU played terrible defense against three very good offenses.

*OU's DBs ,while in the right place in coverage, were not making plays on the ball. They were there but not getting INTs or deflecting passes.

*In particular, Colvin went thru a four-game funk were he was getting beaten on passes and not making plays (Notre Dame game in particular).

*Jefferson had a two-game funk during WVU and OSU.

Where do we go from here?

*OU has to replace at two starters in Hurst and Javon Harris. To counter these losses, OU should have three DBs with considerable experience from this year in Colvin, Julian Wilson, and Gabe Lynn.

*OU could try Julian Wilson at Hurst's position and try talented freshman Gary Simon or senior Kass Everett at the vacated dimeback position.

*If Tee Shepard is able to resolve his NCAA issues and enroll in January, by going through spring he could make a play somewhere in this picture. He's that talented.

*Replacing Harris is a trickier proposition, where you could move Lynn to the position, but then that opens up the nickel safety spot. That spot could go Cortez Johnson, a transfer from Arizona ,or maybe Zach Sanchez .

*Losing Jefferson early to the NFL would creates the biggest problem. Just like replacing Harris, OU does not have many young safeties in the program.

*Quentin Hayes, back from suspension, is about the only real underclassman safety on the roster.

*OU could move Eric Striker to safety from LB, and while he could be a very effective LOS/ short route coverage option, there's no indication that he has the range in coverage to play center field like Jefferson.

*OU does have two excellent safety prospects verballed in recruiting, Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. In time they could be an ideal combo to replace Harris/Jefferson.

But neither player enrolls early. True freshman as the last line of the OU defense seems scary.

*Mike Stoops could attempt to poach Derrick Woods from the WR spot this spring. Woods in HS had excellent film at DB. Not sure Norvell is down with that move, but if OU gets Laquon Treadwell and or Stills returns I could see an effective argument being made to try Woods there this spring.

2012 Position Review: Linebacker

Corey Nelson

What did we think/hope would happen?

Returning starters Corey Nelson and Tom Wort would thrive in Mike Stoops' defense, which would let play like more traditional linebackers – stopping the run and covering short passing routes.

OU would also start to develop some depth by playing backups Franklin Shannon and Aaron Franklin.

What did happen?

The LBs struggled all year long. The lone bright spot was the play and potential of Shannon. Shannon showed speed and power at LB that has not been seen at the position for awhile. In addition, he's shown good coverage skills and run-stopping ability. He was the only LB that could be called a playmaker this season.

Wort is not a Mike LB. He just isn't. He appears to have lost his lateral quickness from his freshman year ACL injury. Straight line, he seems fine, but he really struggles in pursuit laterally, often overrunning plays and finding himself unable to recover. In addition, he's not tackling well, getting out of his tackle lanes and struggling in coverage.

Corey Nelson also struggled greatly, but he seemed to improve his play when Shannon replaced Wort at Mike LB. Aaron Franklin made a decent amount of plays, and shows real potential at WILL.

What went right?

*When the defensive line was effective, the LBs found gaps and made plays in the run game.

*The LBs were often very effective on third down in terms of forcing pressure and getting sacks of opposing quarterbacks.

What went wrong?

*The chain of average defensive tackles, average defensive ends and average linebackers compromised OU's run defense most of the year when spread out. Teams used three wide receivers and the zone read with the QB in the running game to get big plays in November. Both Kansas State and Notre Dame used a power version of this scheme to grind out long drives and keep the ball away from the the OU offense.

*All year long it seemed like the Sooners did not have the right personnel at LB. The super-light LBs of the Brent Venables era were unable to handle the run duties of the new defense. Mike subbed them out against pass formations, going with five, six or even seven DBs (which created another issue).

Where do we go from here?

*Shannon needs to take over as the every-down starting MIKE. Use Wort as a third-down specialist and backup.

*Ideally, Nelson will click with Kish's system and Nelson's talent can just take over in year two of the MiKish regime. Give Franklin every chance to take over at WILL if that does not happen.

*Eric Striker is more of a WILL or maybe even a strong safety. Figuring how to get this playmaker on the field will be an issue that will have to be resolved.

*OU has three LBs in the current recruiting class. Two players (Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander) are going to need to add weight before finding their spots, but tJordan Mastrogiovanni is a big LB (6-3, 225) who could see early playing time. He's the MIKE LB of the future, and if players struggle next year, that timeline could be accelerated.

Media leaves motivation in Sooners' stockings

Texas A&M Aggies

On Monday, Jordan Esco of Crimson and Cream Machine called his readers’ attention to a piece from Robert Cessna at the Bryan-College Station Eagle that attempts to... well, I’m not exactly sure.

I think the article is saying that while both teams in the Cotton Bowl may have the same record, Texas A&M’s version of 10-2 is clearly superior to the one sported by Oklahoma. I’m taking that from the headline and bits and pieces of the article, because it's far from clear to me.

Anyway – assuming I’m reading Cessna’s intentions correctly – they’d call this one “bulletin board material” back in the day. Whether or not Bob Stoops maintains a bulletin board in the OU locker room, though, I imagine the Sooners have picked up on the idea that Cessna’s opinion isn’t unique among the punditry.

A&M has rightfully received acclaim as one of the surprise teams of the 2012 season. It absolutely deserves plaudits for vastly exceeding expectations and scoring a monumental upset of Alabama in Bryant-Denney Stadium. The Aggies proved all of their doubters wrong and did so decisively. Yet, while outperforming expectations represents a notable achievement in and of itself, it strikes me that there’s an important line to be drawn between that and recognizing a team that “accomplished so much,” in the Cessna's words, this season.

A&M’s victory against Alabama represents the marquee win for any team in college football this year. Crimson Tide aside, however, A&M beat SMU, South Carolina State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, Sam Houston State and Missouri. The best win of that group is... Louisiana Tech? Ole Miss?

There were also the close losses to LSU and Florida, of course. Can’t bring those up without also noting that the Aggies nearly dropped the Tech and Ole Miss games, too, however.

I’d agree wholeheartedly with any claim that this is not one of Stoops’ better teams. I have plenty of concerns about this matchup for the Sooners. Most of them involve the Aggies’ big uglies manhandling OU’s defensive line and linebackers (when they’re actually on the field). Johnny Manziel is the kind of mobile, playmaking quarterback that has given OU fits. I worry about Landry Jones’ predictably unpredictable lapses behind center.

But A&M’s resume shouldn’t strike fear into any Sooners’ hearts. In fact, count on Stoops, who’s 11-2 in his career against the Aggies, using it to try to put a chip on his team’s shoulder.

Santa loves him some Sooners

Santa Claus

(Editor's note: In an exclusive interview with BH's Ray Dozier, Santa Claus reveals his one true love in college football.)

Ray Dozier: So, you are a Sooner fan?

Santa Claus: I’m wearing red and white, ain’t I?

RD: That’s not really crimson.

SC: The wife’s a Nebraska fan, so I have to kinda be neutral with the red thing.

RD: Really? She pulls for the 'Huskers?

SC: Yeah, that’s been tough. When OU beats those pesky 'Huskers, she doesn’t speak to me for about a week. She’s a sore loser.

RD: How long have you been a Sooner fan?

SC: It came about in 1915, when Bennie Owen's team beat Texas, 14-13. I was really impressed with Spot Geyer. Man that cat could really zing the football. He tossed the winning pass to Hap Johnson with less than three minutes to go. That team had the Hott Brothers (Willis and Oliver) on the front line. That was cool seeing two brothers playing in the line together, kinda like the Selmons in the ’70s.

RD: You’ve been following them a long time then. So you have any favorite games?

SC: Only the ones that OU wins.

RD: Do you get upset when the Sooners lose?

SC: I handle it pretty well; except for a few times I would get so upset that I nearly kicked the reindeer.

RD: A few times?

SC: Well, there’s the 1947 Texas game. Texas was given a touchdown after the halfback touched his knee on the ground. There were some other rulings that didn’t go OU’s way and fans pelted the field with pop bottles and cushions. Just about anything they could get their hands on. They had to get a police car to midfield to get the refs out of there.

RD: Any other games that you got upset about?

SC: Oh yeah. Losing to Notre Dame in 1957 in the game that broke the 47-game streak. Losing to Miami in the 1988 Orange Bowl. Nebraska in 1971. That was a heckuva a game—could’ve gone either way. We should have won the BCS title games against LSU and Florida.

We got screwed in that tie with Texas in that downpour in 1984. Keith Stanberry had that darned interception and that ref said he was out of bounds.

Oh, that game against Texas Tech in 2005. That guy was down on the one-yard line but they gave him a touchdown anyway. And then there’s that mess in Oregon a year later. Allen Patrick came up with that onside kick.

RD: Do you get a lot of requests for glasses from referees?

SC: Oh yes. Ho-ho-ho! But those guys got lumps of coal.

RD: Some folks think you’re really Mark Mangino.

SC: Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!

RD: Are you?

SC: Next question.

RD: Have you been to any OU games?

SC: Oh, yeah, I have season tickets. I make most of them, but I usually miss the ones after Thanksgiving—busy time of the year for me; delivering presents and doing those Chevy commercials.

RD: Do you go to any bowl games?

SC: I’ve made a few. Try to make the bowl games if I’m not too whipped from Christmas. The New Year’s Day bowls and after that I try to go. I didn’t make it to the Fiesta Bowl in 1976, obviously, since that was on Christmas Day. The 1993 Sun Bowl was on Christmas Eve and the ’81 Sun Bowl was the day after; wasn’t able to make those. I plan on going to the Cotton Bowl and watching us clean up with the Aggies.

RD: So, why haven’t we noticed you at the games?

SC: Oh, I go incognito.

RD: Incognito?

SC: Yeah, I shave my beard so it’s not obvious.

RD: So, how do you grow your beard back so quickly, or is it fake?

SC: Oh, it’s not fake. Magic—kinda like Sooner Magic. Ho-ho-ho!

Happy holidays from the staff at BH.

Sooners Recruiting Update: Shooting up the rankings

For those who were freaking out eight days ago when OU was ranked 31st in Rivals recruiting rankings, please note that with 18 commitments, OU is now ranked 10th by Rivals and 19th by ESPN. Momentum.

So OU has 18 verbaled and anywhere from 5 to 7 ships left in play.

With the general fan panic over defensive and offensive line recruiting now somewhat mollified by an influx of verbal commitments, OU is heading into the home stretch of January. It’s going to be slow going for recruiting news until after the Cotton Bowl.

OU’s first visit weekend will be January 11th, and OU is already scheduling kids for that weekend. Right now visits are scheduled by verbal commitment Christian Daimler and defensive tackle target Charles Walker. Last year OU added nine verbal commitments after Christmas, so seven more verbals is easily possible. In addition, there are bound to be even more de-commitments throughout the nation. In the last seven recruiting classes, from Ryan Broyles to Zach Sanchez, OU has gotten a late de-commit from a rival. Will that trend continue?

OU took its shot at wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell didn’t verbal to the Sooners and will probably wait until February. OU’s in the battle here, and it may swing on whether Michigan can re-engage with the kid. Otherwise, it’s going to be a battle between OU and Ole Miss for his sugnature. (OSU will get a visit as well, but Monken leaving might have hurt them.) A big day from the OU receiving corps in the Cotton Bowl could not hurt.

At tight end, it's tough to tell who is at the top of the wish list. Could OU skip the TE position in this class? Yes. A high-school TE would be great, unless there’s some can't-miss JUCO ready to help that was missed in recruiting initially. There are several excellent HS candidates, but none that looks ready to push for playing time.

The OL now has two clear verbals – one HS, one JUCO, both tackles. Ideally, OU should add three more HS OL. (If OU accepts John Michael McGee back, four total OL would be fine.)

Defensive tackle needs at least one more name, preferably an HS DT. Still, it would be nice if OU signed a four-DT class. That might depend on the status of OU’s young DTs Marquis Anderson and Torrea Peterson, both of whom had suspension issues this fall. Expect OU to keep talking to Justin Manning up until signing day. Apparently his mom and brother, Demarcus Granger, are not overjoyed with his commitment to Texas A&M.

Linebacker and defensive end are done unless some amazing prospect reappears on OU’s radar. Defensive back recruiting seems close to finished. OU just needs to play out January and see who will fill those last two or three spots.

Verbal update

OU added five commitments and lost one.

The loss was fairly predictable at this point. Dalton Rodriguez decided that he wanted to play DE in college and not even try out OT. OU needed him at OT, not DE. Better for Rodriguez to bail now and not later in the cycle, which would make it harder to replace him.

Now the five new verbals. I’ll admit to being surprised that OU took Ogbonnia Okoronkwo after backing off Dimarya Mixon several weeks ago. It looked liked OU was only focusing on Okoronkwo’s teammate Torrodney Prevot instead. However, OU last week visited his school and landed a commitment.

At 6-3, 220, Okoronkwo is going to need to add some bulk to his frame. (There's a legit chance that Okoronkwo might end up taller as his dad is 6-7.) Fortunately, he looks like he can easily handle another 20 or so pounds. There’s also a possibility that OU uses him as a big OLB on running downs and then a pass-rushing specialist on later downs.

His highlight reel is great – making plays and tackles all over the field and showing both power and speed in his game. He lines up inside and outside and is still making plays. He’s a powerlifter, and you can see that strength in how he disengages from blocks to make plays. OU has scored a very good, overlooked DE class at this point.

Now to the main event, the new verbal commitments at DT landed by OU.

After absorbing the Manning news, OU almost immediately landed the first DT commitment from Dallas Skyline's Kerrick Huggins. Huggins had been an early A&M verbal commitment from back in the spring. The M.O. with Skyline recruits tends to be: Grab an early offer, commit and then after the season is over decide where you want to go. So, either A&M dropped Huggins due to having four DTs committed, or Huggins decommitted in favor of OU. It’s hard to tell, since the Aggie spin is that Huggins won’t qualify. OU seems to think that he will.

Huggins is a big DT with the frame to easily be 6-4, 300 in a year or two. He’s a four-star DT according to most services, just below Manning and A’Shawn Robinson in the Texas rankings.

After getting the good news about Huggins, OU got more immediate help at DT with the commitment of Quincy Russell (6-4, 310), JUCO DT out of Texas. Russell originally signed with the Longhorns out of HS. He didn’t qualify and went to Trinity Valley Community College, where he sat out 2011 with an injury.

Russell had a productive second season, being named first-team NJCAA All American with 75 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.

The story on Russell in HS was that he had an amazing frame and big-time athleticism for a guy his size, but he was raw technique wise and took some plays off. He certainly seems to have solved the production/energy issues, and he gets to enroll at OU for winter conditioning and spring ball. It’s not exaggerating to say Russell is the most important player that OU will sign in this recruiting campaign. (His letter of intent is already in.)

Russell increased the numbers, talent, experience and competition at DT this spring. Finding replacements for the departing trio of senior DTs is very much job one this spring.

Trinity Valley also provided OU with the addition of the verbal commitment of Josiah St. John (6-6, 300). St. John is not a mid-term enrollee like Russell, but he’s in good academic shape and should be in Norman by August. St. John should be able to compete for a spot at OT, or St. John will be provide depth at OT and OU can perhaps go with another three-player rotation: St. John, Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams. St. John also provides depth against any kind of injury issues at OT. He’s rated the top JUCO OT by ESPN.

If St. John is projected to help OU’s present situation at OT, then Christian Daimler represents the future. Daimler, who decommitted from Arizona State when he received his OU offer, is a 6-6, 275 OT from Houston. Daimler’s film from junior to senior year shows great improvement, but his best days at OL are likely ahead of him.

He shows a nasty attitude in run blocking and has great agility and a huge wingspan that could make him an elite pass protector down the road. It’s not hard to project Daimler as a key contributor on the Sooner OL down the road. He’s the kind of prospect OU has done a good job developing on the OL.

Class prediction

QB: Cody Thomas
RB: Keith Ford
WR: Jordan Smallwood, Austin Bennett
OL: Aaron Cochran, Christian Daimler, Josiah St. John
DT: Quincy Russell, Kerrick Huggins, Charles Walker
DE: D.J. Ward, Matt Dimon, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
LB: Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Jordan Evans, Dominique Alexander
DB: Stanvon Taylor, Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, Lamar Robbins, Tee Shepard

Mid-term players: Russell, Ward, Bennett, Shepard

Position updates

TE: Well, Emmanuel Bibbs is back to Iowa State. Cam Clear is with A&M. Beau Sandland is going to Miami.

Position coach Bruce Kittle is 0-3 for JUCO TEs. Not a very good return rate at all. I’m sure OU’s limited use of the TE didn’t help. Somehow, Jermaine Gresham and James Hanna being NFL TEs is not aiding OU.

There are a number of HS names out there. I’m not sure if OU will offer any of them. Personally, I’d offer a TE a year to keep a solid development line in the program. The position is that versatile in OU’s offensive scheme.

Also, OU has offered a preferred walk-on spot to Nick Jeffreys (6-4, 235, 4.9) from Bishop McGuinness HS in Oklahoma City. He looks very good for a walk-on offer. He could be a bigger, more athletic Trent Raterree or a potential Aaron Ripkowski at H-back/fullback.

*Jason Reese (6-4, 228, 4.7) – Reese is a relatively new name in recruiting circles. He plays for powerhouse Euless Trinity, which usually has a power running game. In his highlight reel, he shows excellent hands and speed. He’s often playing almost as a big flanker. He’s really used all over the place: traditional TE next to the tackle, H-back lead blocker. When asked to block, Reese looks pretty good, but the majority of the highlights are as a receiver.

*Mitchell Parsons (6-5, 230, 4.6) – A top-flight HS TE who shows great ability to get downfield. Parsons would be a great addition to OU’s young TE corps if OU offers a HS TE. Looking for a comparison? Trent Smith easily comes to mind.

OL: It’s time for OU’s two coaches dedicated to OL to finish off the class.

Nico Falah (6-5, 275, 5.0) just visited for the banquet weekend. Not sure that OU has a real shot at this USC commitment, so until some news changes, I’m going to leave him off. Caleb Beneoch chose UCLA, Na’ty Rodgers is completely off the board and Trenton Brown chose Florida, as expected.

So, OU now has one JUCO OT committed. Do Kittle and James Patton continue to recruit the other two August enrollees in OTs Desmond Harrison and Matt Finnin?

I think OU will go with three HS kids. I love the potential of Harrison at OT, but OU doesn’t need two JUCO OTs, not with two redshirt junior OTs with extensive playing time returning in Williams and Thompson. OU has also offered two in-state kids preferred walk-on positions: center Heath Newland (6-2, 290) from Edmond and Sam Noble (6-5, 295) from Oologah. Both have some potential and could help OU down the road and earn scholarships.

Christian Morris (6-6, 295, 5.1) – Another UCLA verbal who has blown up in recruiting. OU has offered and will try and get him on campus. He’s a big athlete who looks like he could be a great LT/RT. OU visit seems like it’s been pushed out until Jan. 20. Not sure it will even happen.

Aaron Cochran (6-7, 330, 5.3) – A big RT prospect from California who is still on OU's radar.  He visited for the Baylor game. California, where his brother plays, may not be the leader everyone thinks with Jeff Tedford gone and Sonny Dykes now hired. Will that help OU??

Kyle Meadows (6-6, 285, 5.0) – Meadows is from a big-time Ohio program that produces D-I talent. Meadows is a very athletic big man with a frame to add more weight.

Desmond Harrison (6-8, 310, 5.2) – A tall, mobile JUCO OT prospect with the potential to turn into an absolute star. Unreal ceiling. OU visit went well from all reports.

Matt Finnin (6-8, 330, 5.3) – Finnin is the latest OT offer and is scheduled for a visit in early January. His film looks good, but his offer list is pretty average right now. His offer list could blow up as folks find his film. He’s a big aggressive RT. Some talk he might have three years to play.

DT: I don’t think that OU will continue to pursue Toby Johnson now that Quincy Russell has signed. That leaves only one remaining name: Charles Walker, who seems very interested in OU.

So how do Huggins and Walker compare to Justin Manning and A’Shawn Robinson? Manning has the best collection of film over the last thee years. He’s a perfect 6-2, 285 3-technique DT in a 4-3. There’s little risk at all unless you try to bulk him to 300-plus, where he might lose the explosive burst that is the best part of his game.

A’Shawn Robinson is a huge DT (6-5, 310) who might end up being a much better OG. His film is good, but he’s very raw. If he adds any more weight, he won’t have the burst to stay at DT. Frame and potential are off the charts, though. He has a higher ceiling than Manning, but the risk is greater.

Huggins' senior year is so much better than his junior film. It’s easy to see why Jackie Shipp offered him in September and made a big push. Huggins is 6-4, 285 and has an elite frame and mobility. He looks light at 280, so he can easily add another 15 pounds to his frame. His technique was much better as a senior, and he’s making more plays in the backfield and in pursuit. He looks a little like Gerald McCoy in HS. He could be an elite run stopper with pass rush potential.

Everyone is looking for DTs, so how does Charles Walker fall between the gaps? No film due to injuries the last two years.

The injury issue is a big red flag. Ignoring that and solely focusing on his senior year film, Walker has the best film of any DT in Texas. He’s making plays constantly in the backfield. He’s explosive with a powerful frame that can add additional weight at 6-4, 285. The level of physicality is just impressive. Run stopping and pass rushing both are featured in the highlights. You watch it and wonder where the hell he came from.

If he can stay healthy, Walker’s ceiling is probably the highest of any DT in Texas. But he carries the greatest risk. So a DT class of Huggins and Walker has serious potential (similar to the DE class of Tapper and Onouha last year), but would have serious bust risk as well. Manning is a much more certain product at DT.

Demetrius Campbell (6-4, 270, 4.8) – Campbell plays both inside and outside and has racked up some great stats with more 30 tackles for loss. Great athleticism and a frame to add some weight. Does OU want another JUCO DT mid-term guy? With Russell being the big nose guard, Campbell could be the speed 3-technique guy.

DB: Four down, 2 to go.

Mike Stoops has got a great four-player class going (counting Shepard for now) and just needs to get some official visits/verbals from his remaining targets. Lamar Robbins just visited along with teammate Jamal Carter. Adrian Baker visited for the banquet weekend and has officially de-committed from FSU. You also have to wonder if Mike makes a call to Tyler Foreman, who had verbaled to Wisconsin, now that Bret Bielema has left. L.J. Moore has reappeared on the OU radar with a January visit scheduled. Lamar Robbins could drop at any moment, but I’m starting to wonder if distance is an issue.

Lamar Robbins (6-3, 185, 4.45) – One of the top big CBs in Florida. Very similar to OU CB Gary Simon. Mike has made great progress in getting him to consider OU. OU fans should be loving the thought of an OU secondary loaded with top DBs from Florida and California. Robbins visited for the OSU game and now appears close to committing to OU. Robbins could also end up being a safety in the OU defense.

Adrian Baker (6-1, 170, 4.4) – A big-time cover CB from Florida. Verbaled to FSU, but with Mark Stoops leaving FSU along with his recruiting coach, Baker has de-committed. He’s already visited Clemson and OU and now appears ready to choose between those two teams on signing day.

L.J. Moore (6-1, 185, 4.45) – OU is now back in the hunt for Moore with an official visit upcoming. Moore is an ideal hybrid between CB and safety that would fit the OU defense perfectly. Hatari Byrd has been talking up the Sooners.

Jamal Carter (6-2, 195, 4.45) – Teammate of Robbins who verbaled to Miami but just visited OU with Robbins and verbal Ahmad Thomas. He’s the kind of big, physical safety OU is recruiting under Mike. He just fits with Byrd and Thomas. And Mike wants to play three safeties most of the time.

2012 Position Review: Defensive end

Chuka Ndulue

What did we think/hope would happen?

R.J. Washington and David King would have great senior years, minimizing the losses of Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander.

Depth would come from redshirt freshman Chuka Ndulue, JUCO transfer Chaz Nelson and possibly Rashod Favors.

What did happen?

David KingDavid King was forced to split time between defensive tackle and defensive end due to depth issues. Washington's inconsistent level of play meant that he was often replaced as a starter by Ndulue.

Geneo Grissom returned to DE in late October following a detour to tight end. By the TCU game, he was probably playing the best of any of the DEs.

Oklahoma did not redshirt Charles Tapper and Michael Onouha, but the coaching staff didn't really get them many game reps, either.

What went right?

*At times King, Ndulue and Washington provided an effective three-man rotation on the edge.

*Grissom's return was a real bright spot for 2013.

*Overall, Ndulue was OU's most effective DE, productivity wise. He led in both sacks and tackles for loss.

What went wrong?

*OU's overall sack numbers dropped from 40 to 25. Tackles for loss dropped from 98 to 52. King and Washington had more sacks/TFLs last year as backups.

*A big part of the reason why OU got continually gashed in the running was the DEs' inability to maintain outside discipline, get off blocks and make tackles.

*OU's average level of play from the DEs really set back the overall defensive effort. (DT and LB play deserve plenty of blame, too.) OU patched up the passing game issues, only to open a gaping hole in the defensive run game.

Where do we go from here?

*The Sooners return their most productive DE in Ndulue. The wasted time at TE was a setback for Grissom, but he looks to be on track now.

D.J. Ward*OU has to get better DE play overall, but especially in run defense. The DEs need to improve to offset any issues that might arise at DT.

*A playmaker needs to emerge. OU needs a DE to reach double-digit sacks and TFLs.

*Athletically, Tapper and Onouha are the best duo that OU has brought in for years. Tapper could be a faster Frank Alexander, while Onouha has the kind of length and speed that OU has not seen recently. (A breakout season by one of these young DEs would go a long way towards ending the tiring debate regarding OU not offering Davonte Fields, now starring at TCU.)

*D.J. Ward, arguably the Sooners' best defensive recruit, will be enrolling early and go through spring practice. Ward (6-4, 240) has elite athleticism and skills for a defensive end.

*OU's other DE verbal, Matt Dimon, has had an awesome senior year at Katy High School. At 6-2, 255, he could be ready to take some reps at DE. The best comparison I've heard on Dimon is that he reminds folks of former Georgia star David Pollack.

*JUCO transfer Chaz Nelson, who redshirted, could also provide some depth, as well as Favors and P.L. Lindley. Talent wise, though, the young DEs have it.

Props to Kenny Stills

Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills is one of those guys opponents love to hate. He’s flamboyant. He’s cocky. I’ve seen nothing to make me believe he gives a damn what you think about him.

I love him. Unlike the vast majority of automatons who play college football these days, he actually looks like he’s having fun. I mean, there’s a reason why he’s considered one of OU’s best recruiters, right?

And amid all the antics are the moments like this one:

Yesterday, Stills announced that he is autographing the pair of gloves that he wore when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass against West Virginia this season and auctioning them off. The proceeds will go to the family of a victim of the Newtown shootings. (He even went the extra mile and made sure it's cool with the NCAA.)

Like I said, I doubt Stills cares if that kind of gesture affects how you might think about him. But he can play on my team any time.

Aggies provided Sooners with some memorable wins in Big 12 days

The Oklahoma Sooners have won eight Big 12 titles in Bob Stoops’ 14-year tenure in Norman. Three of those championship seasons included wins in tough road trips to College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies. On any given Saturday in the fall, Kyle Field is one of the loudest stadiums anywhere. A&M's vociferous, towel-waving fans have earned the reputation of “The 12th Man.”

The Sooners had climbed atop the college football summit in 2000 with an 8-0 record after defeating top-ranked teams in Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska. The Sooners rolled into College Station that November to meet the No. 23 Aggies (7-2). OU had never won at Kyle Field in five previous trips.

The Aggies carried a 24-13 lead into the fourth quarter. Quentin Griffn scored on a 21-yard run on the first play of the final period after All-American safety J.T. Thatcher intercepted an A&M pass. Quarterback Josh Heupel fired a two-point pass to Matt Anderson to close the gap to 24-21. The Aggies, however, moved quickly down the field for a 31-21 lead. Fullback Ja’Mar Toombs lumbered 27 yards for the score, dragging three Sooners on his 275-pound frame.

OU consumed six minutes en route to its next score. Three times the Sooners converted third-down plays in the 15-play, 77-yard drive. Griffin’s two-yard run capped the drive, and OU was again within three, 31-28, with 7:43 remaining.

The Aggies’ Dwain Goynes brought the ensuing kickoff out to their 32. On the next play, QB Mark Farris passed over the middle. Oklahoma linebacker Torrance Marshall grabbed the pigskin out of the air at the A&M 41-yard line and threaded through would-be tacklers down the right sideline into the end zone. Tim Duncan tacked on the extra point, and suddenly OU was on top, 35-31, but nearly half a quarter remained with 7:18 left on the clock.

A&M took the ensuing kickoff and drove from its 20 to the OU 4, but a fourth-down pass was deflected by OU defender Ontei Jones. The Sooners gained only seven yards on the following drive and had to punt. A&M got the ball back with no timeouts to burn. Jones swatted away another pass, the next pass went through the hands of an A&M receiver and safety Roy Williams sacked Farris for a six-yard loss.

There was 1:21 remaining. A&M was flagged for illegal substitution on the next play, moving the ball back to the Aggie 45. Farris completed a pass to receiver Greg Porter, but Derrick Strait tackled Porter four yards short of a first down with 36 seconds left in the game. OU held on for a 35-31 victory on the way to its first Big12 title and seventh national championship.

In 2004, Texas A&M (No. 22 with a 6-2 record) was looking forward to the Sooners coming to College Station after getting slapped around, 77-0, the previous year in Norman.

The Aggies held a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter, and twice when the Sooners scored in the half, A&M answered. OU got the final first-half tally to cut its deficit to 28-21 just before intermission.

OU cashed in on two Aggie fumbles for 14 points in the third period, but the Sooners had to reach into their bag of tricks in the fourth.

A&M scored a touchdown on a fake field goal early in the fourth quarter to again notch the game at 35-35. The Sooners responded with an 80-yard TD drive for the final score. On third-and 10 at the A&M 39, quarterback Jason White completed a throw to receiver Mark Bradley down the middle of the field at the 25. Bradley turned and raced to the end zone.

The Aggies’ final possession began at their 13-yard line. Backup quarterback Ty Branyon had replaced Reggie McNeal, who was injured in the third stanza. Branyon directed the Aggies to the OU 33 with nine seconds remaining. After an illegal procedure penalty on A&M, Branyon sailed a pass beyond the back of the field. With two ticks left, his Hail Mary pass barely missed wideout Chad Schroeder’s hands in the end zone.

Two years later, the Sooners rolled into College Station ranked 18th in the country and sporting a 6-2 record. A&M was 8-1.

OU took the opening kickoff and rolled 80 yards in 13 plays for a 7-0 lead. Tailback Allen Patrick, who carried eight times for 55 yards on the drive, scored on a one-yard plunge. QB Paul Thompson sparked the drive with a seven-yard pass to Malcolm Kelly on fourth-and-three at the A&M 34.

The Aggies answered with a field goal, but the Sooners countered with another 80-yard drive to take a 14-3 lead with 57 seconds to go in the first quarter. Patrick and runnning back Jacob Gutierrez hammered out 59 yards in the drive. Thompson had one pass for nine yards and he carried the ball the final seven yards up the middle for six points.

The Aggies marched the length of the field to again close the gap, 14-10, early in the second stanza. Two huge penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct and a personal foul) against Oklahoma aided A&M with 23 yards in the drive. Tailback Javorskie Lane, all 274 pounds of him, powered one yard up the middle to finish the drive.

Garrett Hartley’s 23-yard field goal provided the only scoring in the third period. The Aggies added two field goals in the fourth quarter—the last to cut OU’s lead to 17-16 with 3:26 to go.

Patrick was dumped for a three-yard loss on the first play after the kickoff. He sliced through the left side of the line and gained 12 yards on the next play. That left the Sooners facing third-and-one at their own 29 with 1:35 remaining.

Patrick took the ball again and was stopped near the first-down marker. Officials brought out the chains for a measurement, and the Sooners were inches short.

Texas A&M called a timeout, and the Sooners followed with a timeout of their own. Bob Stoops had to make a decision—punt and give the Aggies another chance with the ball and the wind behind them, or try to power ahead to get the first down and milk the clock. After all, A&M has burned its final timeout.

Stoops opted to go for it. On fourth down, Thompson sneaked the ball across for the first down, but Stoops had called timeout before the play began to talk about it some more. The drama was unnerving for the Sooner faithful. Nearly six minutes had elapsed since the officials had measured for a first down.

Thompson again powered through the line. Initially, he was stopped for a moment, but he drove his legs and the ball across the 30-yard line for the first down. As he did, penalty flags flew. The Aggies, known for the 12th Man, had been caught with 12 players on the field.

Thompson twice took a knee to run out the clock.

Hopefully, Landry Jones will be striking the same pose when the Sooners and Aggies meet again in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4.

2012 Position Review: Defensive tackle

Casey Walker

What did we think/hope would happen?

Senior defensive tackles Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacey McGee would finally play up to their potential and give Oklahoma consistency up front on defense. OU would be able to work young DTs Jordan Phillips, Marquis Anderson, and Torrea Peterson into the rotation to get them ready for 2013.

What did happen?

McGee got suspended and wouldn't play until Notre Dame game. He really made very little impact on the season, because he wasn't in game shape.

Walker missed OU's first two games and wasn't really a factor until the Texas Tech and Texas games. Actually, he wasn't a real factor in most games after those two, either.

McFarland probably had the most consistent season. Overall, he notched 6 TFLs and 3 sacks. He also made key stops late in the season in close wins against OSU and TCU.

With the seniors struggling, OU gave Jordan Phillips more and more playing time. In fact, for most of November, Phillips was probably playing the best at DT when he was in the game.

Unfortunately, after some encouraging play early, Anderson got suspended and we never saw him again. He was reinstated by the end of the year. Likewise, Peterson started the year suspended, and while he did get reinstated, he never really saw the field.

What went right?

*Phillips showed enough in spurts to think that he can be factor at DT next year.

*At times, the DTs did a good job providing an inside pass rush.

What went wrong?

*The suspensions never allowed the three-senior DT rotation to get going and derailed attempts to build depth.

*When OU was spread out by teams, the inside tackles were routinely gashed for big yards in the running game. They weren't beating one-on-one blocking and making tackles. At times, the DTs weren't even keeping offensive linemen off of the linebackers, leading to even bigger plays. Combined with poor run defense by the defensive ends, it left OU exposed. (LB issues also playing a big role.)

*OU was unable to get any other DTs ready for next year to any meaningful degree.

*Where do we go from here?

*Seriously, how can OU fans expect the DT spot to be improved next year with three graduating seniors who have soaked up all the reps in the last three seasons?

*On the bright side, Jordan Phillips' potential is sky high. He could take the great leap forward that OU saw from Gerald McCoy in 2008 and Demarcus Granger in 2007 as redshirt sophomores. But after that...

*OU should have at least one JUCO DT in place for spring ball. Right now, OU has no JUCO DTs verbally committed. The high-school DTs being recruited by OU don't look ready to contribute next year, either.

*Marquis Anderson, who actually looked good in limited reps, may be in danger of being out of Norman. Torrea Peterson also was suspended this season and hasn't shown much in three years in the program. Damon Williams hasn't left bench and may be a bust. (Williams looks like a serious transfer candidate.)

*Jordan Wade is redshirting, so we have no idea what he might bring to the table. Great potential at DT, but he hasn't played in two seasons.

Landry Jones stands chance to go undefeated in bowls

Landry Jones

Landry Jones is bringing a 3-0 bowl game record as Oklahoma's starting quarterback to the fight against Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl on January 4. In those three bowl games combined, Jones completed 80 of 125 pass attempts (64 percent) for 1,008 yards with 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. That computes to a passer rating of 145.4.

Texas A&M’s defense is about on par with the other defenses that the Sooners played in each of those three bowl games. Below is a comparison of defensive statistics prior to meeting OU in a bowl game.

Defenses faced by Oklahoma in bowls (2009-12)

Year Bowl Opponent Total Def. (YPG) Pass Def. (YPG)
2012 Cotton Texas A&M 389.3 248.4
2011 Insight Iowa 387.0 228.1
2010 Fiesta Connecticut 353.7 206.4
2009 Sun Stanford 396.5 252.0

How has Jones performed in those games?

Landry Jones in Bowl Games

Game Comp. Atts. Pct. Yards TDs INTs Rating
Insight 16 25 64.0 161 1 1 123.3
Fiesta 34 49 69.4 429 3 1 159.0
Sun 30 51 58.8 418 3 1 143.2

The Aggies have allowed 22.5 points per game this year. Stanford gave up an average of 26.2 prior to the 2009 Sun Bowl. The Sooners scored 31. UConn yielded an average of 19.8 points per game prior the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, and Oklahoma put up 48 on the Huskies. Iowa allowed 23.2 points per game prior the 2011 Insight Bowl, but the Sooners scored 31.

If Jones brings that same ammunition to the Cotton Bowl, OU has a good chance of taking home another trophy. And he will end his career as a Sooner 4-0 in bowl games.

2012 Position Review: Offensive line

Gabe Ikard

What did we think/hope would happen?

It looked like in early August that OU finally had quality OL depth that would go ten deep allowing OU to keep their OL fresh.

Starting tackles would be Darryl Wlliams and Lane Johnson with Tyrus Thompson providing depth. Starting guards would be Tyler Evans and Gabe Ikard with Bronson Irwin, Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati providing depth. Starting center would be Ben Habern with Ikard as the primary backup Derek Farniok would get some reps at tackle during blowout time. Freshman center Ty Darlington would redshirt.

What did happen?

All elements of depth would disappear during the year.

OU ended the season starting Johnson and Thompson at tackle, Shead and Irwin at guard, and Ikard at center, with the only meaningful depth provided by Darlington at center allowing Ikard to play guard and Farniok backing up the first-team tackles.

Despite all the chaos, the OU OL had a great season, holding up well enough for the Sooners to generate 4,000 yards passing and nearly 2,000 yards rushing for the year. Landry Jones got elite pass protection through most of November, including the TCU game in December where Johnson and Thompson kept the Horned Frogs' vaunted duo of defensive ends at bay. As bodies continued to fall due to injury, the only part of the O that really suffered was the Sooner ground game to a certain degree.

What went right?

*OU's 2010 OL class made up four-fifths of the starting OL at times, and those kids did an excellent job keeping the unit afloat.

*The line just dominated Texas all game in both pass and run blocking.

*For the year, the line enabled OU to post 505 yards and 40 points per game. It provided Landry with time to throw nearly the whole season, and at least at times, the running game was a real weapon.

*The ability to be consistent while constantly juggling the lineup was amazing.

What went wrong?

*Habern had to retire due to neck injury.

*Evans tore his ACL in August.

*Kasitati tore his ACL against Texas, robbing OU of interior depth and the Sooners' best run blocker.

*Gabe Ikard had to miss a game with a concussion.

*Shead and Irwin fought ankle injuries most of November.

*Darryl Williams tore his MCL and missed the last three games of the season.

*With all the injuries, OU had to burn Darlington's redshirt.

Where do we go from here?

*Evans should be back in time for August Camp. Kasitati will probably be about a month behind him.

*OU has a set starting five of Thompson, Williams, Irwin, Shead, and Ikard. It's the best situation in terms of returning linemen with starting experience in a while for OU.

*Williams, Shead and Ikard are likely preseason All-Big 12 candidates.

*The new quarterback they should have a veteran OL to help. In addition, Kyle Marrs, Farniok, Nathan Hughes, and Darlington should provide further depth come August. The Sooners will need to figure out if they can redshirt Darlington and get a year back for him.

*A JUCO OT is a strong possibility to enroll in the fall to provide further depth.

2012 Position Review: Receivers

Kenny Stills

What did we think/hope would happen?

There was no position that had more uncertainty for Oklahoma than receiver in the preseason. Kenny Stills was the only returning contributor. The roster was in flux: Courtney Gardner turned out to be ineligible; Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks were still suspended; and transfer Jalen Saunders from Fresno State was going to have to sit out a year.

Justin Brown transferred in from Penn State and immediately seized a starting spot. The Sooners also had a young trio of Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal hoping to crack the rotation. Metoyer had a big spring and August camp, and he looked like a star in the making.

OU planned to start Brown and Metoyer at the outside spots and Stills at the all important slot position.

What did happen?

OU started with the three-wide look of Stills at slot, Brown and Metoyer on the outside. While there were some moments of success early, Landry Jones was not clicking with that group. He was locking in on Stills at the slot and not seeing the flankers when they were open.

Starting with the Kanas State game, OU was having the most success with a four-wide package. Then everything really started clicking when the NCAA ruled Saunders eligible prior to the UT game. That enable receivers coach Jay Norvell to move Stills back to the outside with Brown, as Saunders took over the slot. Metoyer's playing time got reduced as he was now backing up Stills and Brown on the outside.

Landry started passing to the outside spots again while hitting Saunders in the slot. The passing game went into overdrive in November when OU moved to a four-wide look with Saunders and Shepard inside and Stills and Brown outside. Landry played at an elite level, perhaps even higher than the end of 2010 when he was throwing to the combo of Ryan Broyles, Stills and Cameron Kenney.

Overall, this WR group probably approached the elite level of the Mark Clayton-led corps from 2003-04.

What went right?

Landry hit 4,000 passing yards thanks to four frontline receivers with nearly 600 yards receiving each. Stills will probably hit 1,000 yards in the bowl game, and there's little doubt that with a full season Saunders would have had
1,000 receiving yards as well. With the efficiency of the WR lineup after Saunders became eligible, it's not hard to imagine a 5,000-yard season from Landry with three 1,000-yard WRs if Saunders was in the lineup from day one.

What went wrong?

*OU probably should have redshirted Durron Neal.

*Trey Metoyer's inability to click with Landry means that his superstar season never happened.

Jalen Saunders

*Saunders' ineligibility probably cost OU the KSU game – OU's passing game struggled at times versus the Wildcats. OU's offense could have been in much better sync by eighth game of the year against Notre Dame's excellent defense.

Where do we go from here?

*Stills will probably leave for the NFL if he gets a second-round draft grade. Even if that happens, the Sooners will be in great shape. Shepard and Saunders both return, as well as Metoyer, Lacoltan Bester and Neal, who all saw
time this year and should improve with a spring to get additional reps. For a new QB, it will be the best inherited WR corps since Sam Bradford had Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias.

*In addition, OU will take the redshirt off Derrick Woods, who has been very impressive on the scout team.

*One last note: It appears OU is in the final running for Laquon Treadwell, one of the top prep WRs in the country. There aren't many incoming freshmen who could make an impact for OU in 2013, but Treadwell is one of them. (Think A.J. Green for a comparison.)

"What if?" the story of 2012 for Sooners

Manti Te'o

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?”

I remember Don Meredith making that quote on Monday Night Football years ago when explaining how the outcome of a football game might have been had certain plays been made. The same quote pertains to the 2012 Oklahoma Sooners, as a handful of plays could have produced an undefeated season and a bid to the BCS Championship.

Some may ask why am I drudging up some stuff to piss fans off about the two losses this year, but if not for a few “straws that broke the camel’s back,” the Sooners had a damn good year.

OU held a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter against Kansas State, and the Sooners were backed up to their own 13-yard line. Landry Jones fumbled under pressure and the Wildcats recovered for a touchdown.

The Sooners marched to the KSU 1-yard line on the next possession, but Blake Bell fumbled the snap and K-State recovered. The Cats marched to a field goal. So, instead of OU taking a 10-7 lead, the Purple Kitties had a 10-3 advantage.

Jones had a pass picked off late in the third period at the OU 38, and the Wildcats scored a TD seven plays later for a 17-13 lead. Each team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late for the Sooners.

Like the K-State game, OU jumped to a 3-0 lead against Notre Dame, but Cierre Wood’s 62-yard dash up the middle gave the Irish a 7-3 lead on the next series. Just before halftime, Oklahoma had an impressive drive and the crowd went nuts when Bell score on a 4-yard jaunt. But Bronson Irwin was flagged for holding. OU settled for a field goal, so instead of taking a 10-7 lead, OU trailed 10-6.

The Sooners tied the game at 13-13 when Bell scored on a 1-yard run midway though the fourth quarter. Two plays into the next series, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson fired a 50-yard pass to Chris Brown to the OU 15. The Irish took a 20-13 lead five plays later.

Mantei Te’o then intercepted one of Jones’ passes at OU’s 45 to set up an Irish field goal, and the Sooners never threatened again.

Hopefully, the Sooners can take heart that it was only a handful, and not a truck full, of ifs and buts that could have produced a 12-0 year.

2012 Position Review: fullbacks and tight ends

Trey Millard

What did we think/hope would happen?

JUCO transfer Brannon Green and freshman Taylor McNamara would provide enough of a threat to keep a tight end on the field.

For the fullback position, OU would finally use Trey Millard consistently as a weapon in the running and passing games.

What did happen?

Well, the tight end position disappeared after the Kansas State game. McNamara got hurt, and Green only saw the field during Belldozer formations.

OU finally got Millard involved. For the season, he posted more than 330 yards receiving, nearly doubling his total from 2011. His rushing performance was about the same as last year. Still, Millard's had a great game against UT and contributed all year long.

In addition, OU used multiple FB formations to great success. Millard and Aaron Ripkowski would line up along with a running back behind the quarterback in the shotgun. Jaydan Bird also provided some FB depth and blocking help.

What went right?

OU correctly figured out that Millard was a better weapon to have on the field than Green. The Sooners figured out Ripkowksi was a better blocking option.

OU's offense operated at its best when Damien Williams and Trey Millard served as dual threats.

What went wrong?

It took too long to get Millard involved. Landry Jones often missed Millard wide open in the flat for big passing plays.

The lack of a TE option in the passing game hurt against teams like Notre Dame that played a Cover 2 scheme where the best passing gaps were over the linebackers between the two high safeties.

OU had to settle for going with four wide receivers far too often, which limited the offense's ability to threaten with the run and pass.

Where do we go from here?

Assuming Millard does not leave for the NFL (I'm guessing there's a chance with the right NFL grade he could leave early), he should be poised to have a big senior year both running and catching the ball, especially if OU has more of a balance on offense in terms of running the ball. Millard as a one back with Bell could get more running reps. Ripkowski should continue to provide extra blocking punch in the short-yardage situtations.

Tight end? Ideally, having been rehabbed from his shoulder surgery, Taylor McNamara seizes the position in the spring and is up to 245 lbs. He is able to be a big-time receiving threat while providing some run blocking.

Is Sam Grant ready to help after his redshirt year?

Is there at JUCO TE in play? OU lost out on Beau Sandland but is still chasing Emmanuel Bibbs, who could enroll in time for spring practice.

Oklahoma's ghost a of Cotton Bowl past

Expectations were high for the Sooners to repeat as national champions 11 years ago even though Josh Heupel’s graduation had left a vacancy at quarterback. Nate Hybl and Jason White shared duties under center to lead OU to seven straight wins before dropping a 20-10 decision to Nebraska. White injured his knee in that game and Hybl took over the rest of the season.

The Sooners won the next three but were upset by Oklahoma State in the season finale. This put No. 10 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to meet unranked Arkansas on New Year’s Day with a 10 a.m. kickoff. OU had never played in the Cotton Bowl Classic in the bowl’s 66-year history.

The defense was suffocating that year—the best of the Bob Stoops era—with guys like Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman, Tommie Harris, Jimmy Wilkerson and Roy Williams. The D allowed 13 points and 246 yards per game.

That defense played one of the greatest games in the history of Oklahoma football in Dallas. It held the 7-4 Razorbacks to six first downs and only 37 yards in 42 rushing attempts. Arkansas was held to 50 total yards in 55 plays and converted only once in 14 third-down situations. The Razorbacks had averaged 37.8 points in their previous five outings.

OU’s offense sputtered at times, but the Sooners claimed a 10-3 victory before a bundled up crowd (35 degrees at kickoff) of 72,955.

Hybl scored on a 1-yard plunge late in the opening quarter, capping a 63-yard, 13-play march after a Matt McCoy interception. The drive consumed six minutes and 34 seconds. Tim Duncan converted the extra point.

Another time-consuming drive ended with Duncan’s 32-yard field goal midway through the third stanza. The 65-yard, 12-play drive milked 6:15 off the clock from the second half kickoff. The Razorbacks got on board with a field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

With less than three minutes to play, the Hogs drove to midfield, but Lehman sacked quarterback Matt Jones and Calmus (2001 Butkus Award winner) recovered Jones' fumble with 1:42 remaining to seal the victory for the Sooners.

OU gained 231 total yards. The Big Red defense tied a Cotton Bowl record with 9 sacks. Hybl set the Cotton Bowl record with 24 completions, and Curtis Fagan set the punt return record with seven returns. Williams (2001 Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe award winner) had 6 tackles—three for a loss–and 2 sacks. He was named the game’s defensive most valuable player. Quentin Griffin had only 56 yards rushing, but caught 9 passes and was named the offensive MVP.

The 2001 Sooners finished the season with an 11-2 mark, 6-2 in the Big 12, and sixth in the polls.

Dumpster Fires of the Year

Dumpster fire

We've been counting down college football's biggest dumpster fires week by week. With the season now over, the time has come to take stock of all the flaming piles of garbage and figure out who left the largest smoldering heaps of refuse.

1. Colorado football (and coaching search)

No program has sustained the level of awfulness that CU has been able to achieve this year. The descent truly began with a 69-14 loss to San Jose State and was maintained through a five-game conference stretch where the Buffaloes lost by an average of 52 to 10.

CU fired Jon Embree and then spent three weeks offering around the job, only to be turned down by multiple candidates. The stories of Embree buying his coaches' beverages for team meetings because the football budget did not have enough cash probably didn't help the coaching search.

Ironically, CU just hired the ex-San Jose State coach to put out the fire.

2. Texas' SEC-style defense and quarterback recruiting/evaluation/development

Neither UT's defense nor its QB play deserve a spot by themselves, but combine them and you get a smoldering Bevo Sandwich.

No one play better personified the horrible effort by the Texas defense than the Trey Millard screen pass and run that featured one Burnt Orange defensive back falling to the ground like a stunned goat while another UT DB bounced off Oklahoma's fullback. In dominating UT, the Sooners had nearly 700 yards of offense.

The week before, West Virginia rushed at will. The week before that, Oklahoma State probably should have beat the Longhorns in Stillwater.

Later, UT lost its last two games mainly because of a completely muddled QB position. David Ash and Case McCoy don't look like All-Big 12 QB candidates. Insiders are already suggesting Connor Brewer isn't the answer. QB commit Tyrone Swoopes may not end up playing the position in college. Everyone else is able to find Heisman Trophy winners or first-round draft picks or starting NFL QBs from the Texas high school ranks. Meanwhile, UT has not been able to develop a replacement for Colt McCoy.

3. Bo Pelini and the Smoldering Shirt Defense

Based on his reputation as a defensive geniusPelini was given the Nebraska job after the dumpster fire that was Bill Callahan. It seemed like a good idea with Pelini having coordinated top-ranked defenses at LSU, OU and Nebraska. In his first three seasons as the head coach at NU, he certainly seemed to live up to his rep with All-American players in Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Prince Amukamara.

However, cracks started to appear on defense a year ago. This year things just fell apart. First, NU got exposed by UCLA's new offensive attack to the tune of 35 points and nearly 650 yards of offense, 344 of which came on the ground.

Then Nebraska got torched for 63 points and 371 yards rushing by Ohio State.

Then came the indignity of playing a four-loss Wisconsin team only in the Big Ten title game because probation had sidelined both Ohio State and Penn State. Nebraska gave up 70 points and more than 500 yards rushing.

Now, while OU suffered some defensive setbacks this year, NU was gettting bombed by some pretty mediocre offenses. That included a Wisconsin team that can barely pass the ball at all. Those vaunted Black Shirts are now charred by the ashes of a dumpster fire.

4. Lane Kiffin's coaching prowess

Lane Kiffin's career mostly consists of being given great jobs for no apparent reason. USC is just latest employer to be suckered into the mystifying appeal of Lane Kiffin, Head Football Coach.

With the presumed Heisman front runner and No. 1 draft pick at quarterback and the best receiving duo in the country to go along with a host of four- and five-star recruits, USC was the preseason choice to derail the SEC's dominance in the BCS.

Instead, USC never got untracked and was exposed early as being vulnerable by Syracuse in the second week of the season. Stanford smacked Barkley around multiple times and shoved around the USC D (again). Arizona outscored the Trojans in a shootout. Oregon embarrassed Kiffin's dad by dropping 61 points and 700 yards on 'SC. The season ended with bad back-to-back losses to UCLA where, again, Barkley got smacked around all game. The USC D had its best game in the season finale against Notre Dame, only to have Kiffin's game management issues cost them a season-saving win.

It's the worst showing from a preseason No. 1 in a very long time. The awesome USC recruiting class is starting to fall apart as kids wonder what is going on. The real question USC fans should be asking themselves is how bad this dumpster fire could get once Kiffin is managing a 55-player roster mired in the mess of reduced scholarships.

The fire was smoldering all year long in Troy, but it could get very hot next year.

5. Allburned

We knew Cam Newton was a great college QB, but it looks like he might have been the best ever.

Two years removed from Cam, the entire Allburned football program completely collapsed. The Tigers did win two more games than Colorado, primarily because of the three creampuffs teams that they played out of conference. Auburn went 0-8 in SEC play and got carpetbombed in several games, including humiliating losses to Alabama and Texas A&M. The offense sucked all year long, and about mid-season, the defense, which had some talent, pretty much quit.

If that's all not bad enough, it appears some Auburn assistant coaches may have tossed their NCAA rulebooks in the fire as well.

Good luck, Coach Malzahn.

2012 Position Review: Running backs

Damien Williams

What did we think/hope would happen?

The RB position would be shared by a healthy Dominique Whaley and newcomer Damien Williams. Brennan Clay would be used primarily in a third-down role. Roy Finch would be used primarily as a slot wide receiver.

If any injuries issues occured, Oklahoma could pull the redshirt off of impressive freshman Alex Ross.

What did happen?

*Starting with the UTEP game and ending with the TCU game, Damien Williams seized the starting RB job all season and only let go during a brief bout with a high ankle sprain that hurt his productivity. Williams' 95 yard touchdown run was arguably the play that supercharged the rout over Texas, and his home run speed and moves gave OU its best RB weapon since Demarco Murray in 2010. Williams easily would have been a thousand-yard rusher save for that injury stretch. In addition, Williams was an excellent weapon out of the backfield all season long.

Brennan clay*Surprisingly, Brennan Clay made for an effective second weapon out of the backfield with nearly 500 yards rushing. He was a clutch RB all November for OU.

*The person who suffered in all this was Whaley. Whaley never seemed fully recovered, and he lost his starting job. Clay's versatility kept Whaley out of the back-up role. He would end up being the seldom-used third RB.

*Like Whaley, Finch's touches also suffered. He never clicked in his role as a slot WR/RB.

What went right?

*OU's running game posted nearly 2,000 yards rushing combined from the RBs. They averaged nearly 5 yards per carry, which was a half yard improvement.

*OU found a real star at RB in Williams. Williams seems on track to be the next Sooner RB drafted into the NFL. His blend of power, moves and speed is reminiscent of Demarco Murray.

*Clay proved to be a perfect complement to Williams. In the ISU game, he showed power and speed not seen before from him in a Sooner uniform. Finally healthy and in great shape, Clay showed the talent that was seen in his high school career.

*Clay and Finch on kickoff returns were deadly. Clay had huge kickoff returns three games in a row that aided OU. Finch had a kickoff return TD as well as other good returns. The return game a real weapon for OU this season; the credit for that goes to Clay and Finch.

What went wrong?

*OU was never able to integrate Roy Finch into the flow of the offense. Finch has explosiveness and big-play potential, but OU's coaches never could come up with a way to use him effectively.

*Whaley's unique story got derailed this year in part by some lingering issues from the ugly ankle injury he suffered in 2011. More so, though, the talent that Damien Williams brought to the position hurt Whaley's standing.

Where do we go from here?

OU ended 2011 with a running back spot that was in disarray – injuries, injuries and transfers. OU ends 2012 with the position in the strongest shape since 2007 when the Sooners returned Chris Brown and Demarco Murray. OU's two primary RBs will return with almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage and an average of nearly 6 yards per carry.

OU will also take the redshirts off of promising RBs Alex Ross and David Smith.

Finally, for his senior year, it would be nice if OU could create a series of plays/formations to use Finch effectively.

(Previous reviews: QB)

One impressive season with Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Justin Brown, we hardly knew ye. Thanks for some great memories in your short stint as a Sooner.

Who could forget his 90-yard punt return against Kansas? Brown stretched out and dove four yards into the end zone. He also caught a 52-yard pass from Landry Jones to set up a fourth quarter touchdown for a 52-0 lead.

Brown had an electric game in his home debut against Florida A&M. He returned a punt 43 yards to set up OU’s second touchdown, caught a 51-yard pass to set up the Sooners’ third score and had a 62-yard punt return to the FAMU 8-yard line setting up Oklahoma’s fourth TD.

He got his first touchdown pass on a 13-yard strike from Jones against Texas Tech and had a 44-yard punt return to the Texas’ 39-yard line to set up a 46-8 lead over the Longhorns. Three weeks later, Brown was the Sooners’ leading receiver against Iowa State with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in a 40-yarder to set up OU’s 14-3 lead just before halftime against the Cyclones.

A week later against Baylor, he had his best reception on a 35-yard scoring strike from Jones. Brown turned his torso to get into position to catch the ball in the end zone. He also led that game with 6 grabs for 83 yards.

Brown was a catalyst in helping OU to win both of its next two games. Brown had 6 receptions for 112 yards against West Virginia, and four of his catches enabled OU to continue touchdown drives. He was the leading receiver with 15 grabs for 146 yards against Oklahoma State. He had several catches to set up touchdowns against the Cowboys, and he hauled in a two-point conversion to tie the game early in the fourth quarter.
Against TCU Brown had two receptions in one drive to help the Sooners take a 14-7 lead.

Brown came to Oklahoma after spending three years at Penn State. He will graduate in May with a Penn State degree.

“No disrespect to Oklahoma,” he told The Oklahoman in September, “I’m sure this is a great university, but I felt like it meant a lot to get that Penn State degree.”

“He’s made a great contribution in many ways. His leadership, his attitude, how businesslike he is and how he works.” –Bob Stoops

None taken, Justin. Thanks for letting us call you a Sooner, even if it was for only a brief time.

Oklahoma's slow slide from great to good

Bob Stoops

Ever since Oklahoma's final game against TCU wrapped up, I've been trying to decide if this season should be considered a success for the Sooners.

It was fun. OU overcame plenty of adversity to win 10 games and managed to pull out some nail-biters. The only losses came against teams that went a combined 23-1. And the Big 12 claims the Sooners won another conference championship.

I guess the most appropriate mark I could give these Sooners on their year-end evaluation would be "meets expectations." In fact, this is exactly where I expected they would end up in the first place.

But that brings us to the thornier issue of setting those expectations.

Back in the Sooners' salad days, it was taken as a matter of course that Bob Stoops would have his team in the title hunt. From 2000 to 2008, the Sooners played for four national championships, winning one.

This year marked the fourth in a row in which OU hasn't really factored into the national championship race. While some once-successful programs have managed to crash and burn lately – Texas comes to mind – Oklahoma has been slowly fading. Take a look at a four-year moving average of the Sooners' winning percentage since Bob Stoops started at OU in 1999:

Sooners' Slide

Year Wins Losses Win %*
1999 7 5  
2000 13 0  
2001 11 2  
2002 12 2 82.7
2003 12 2 88.9
2004 13 1 87.0
2005 8 4 83.0
2006 11 3 81.1
2007 11 3 79.2
2008 12 2 77.8
2009 8 5 76.3
2010 12 2 78.2
2011 10 3 77.8
2012** 10 2 76.9

*Four-year moving average.

**Bowl game still to be played.

Starting with the 2005 season, the overall trend in OU's record has been one direction: down. At best, you could say OU has plateaued. At worst, the decline indicates that the Sooners are gradually slipping down the ladder of the country’s elite college football programs.

Not coincidentally, Oklahoma's recruiting has gradually eroded during Stoops' tenure:

Year Rank* 4-Year Moving Avg.
2002 7  
2003 4  
2004 11  
2005 3 6.25
2006 9 6.75
2007 14 9.25
2008 6 8
2009 13 10.5
2010 7 10
2011 14 10
2012 11 11.25

*Source: Rivals (2002 is first year with class rankings)

To this point, Rivals has OU's 2013 recruiting class ranked 29th in the country. If that holds up, the program's four-year moving average through that class would be 15.25.

That doesn’t exactly bode well for the future.

To be fair, Stoops and his staff have shown an ability time and again to identify and develop underrated high-school prospects. They truly have made due with less a number of times.

It's a nice story and all, but that dog won't hunt for a national championship with any kind of regularity. ("Cry me a fucking river," say 90 percent of college football fans.)

Taken as a whole, the trends paint a picture of a program running in quicksand. For whatever reason, OU’s coaches simply aren’t reeling in the same caliber of players that they once did. Not surprisingly, those players aren’t winning as many games as their more talented predecessors.

The Sooners are far from falling off the map, and their overall consistency speaks volumes to the quality of the outfit Stoops has set up. Still, Oklahoma has dropped from a program that should be expected to contend for a national championship to one that should be aspiring to win the Big 12.

Sooner fans can demand another national title all they want, but they can't change that reality.

Sooners Recruiting Update: OU misses out on a sure thing

Justin Manning

Let’s get to it: Justin Manning chose Texas A&M. It’s a huge blow for Oklahoma's recruiting, mainly due to the fact that he was probably the best defensive tackle in Texas. There are very few elite DTs in Texas this year (Manning and UT verbal A’Shawn Robinson). There are none in the state of Oklahoma, again.

Manning was not going to be a freshman star like Tommie Harris, but after a redshirt year, he could be a factor as a 3-technique DT in OU’s scheme. Of course, there’s also a downside with Manning. He’s not overly big – would he maintain his speed and explosiveness after adding some weight?

The situation with Manning illustrates a number of  real concerns for OU's recruiting:

1. A&M’s move to the SEC is aiding the Aggies' recruiting, particularly in Dallas, an area where OU has dominated them in the past. Kevin Sumlin is turning A&M into a Texas-based recruiting juggernaut, creating all kinds of problems for OU.

Jackie Shipp2. Apparently, defensive line coach Jackie Shipp badly misread this whole recruiting situation. Is he getting stale and lazy on the recruiting road? Shipp’s only real recruiting role is signing blue-chip DTs. He signed no one last year.

3. OU is going to need to adjust its recruiting strategy and offer more out of region DTs. The Sooners have to get really aggressive in extending those offers, which is counter to Shipp’s M.O. Shipp hasn’t landed a big-time DT outside of Texas or Oklahoma, save for Jordan Phillips. Shipp has not shown an ability to recruit well nationally.

Moving on from the Manning debacle, OU still needs two JUCO DTs and ideally two high-school DTs. Nothing has changed. OU has three prime JUCO DT targets in Quincy Russell, Ben Bradley and Toby Johnson, along with two or three other targets on hold waiting on their decisions.

OU needs these JUCOs to go with the returning young players, but the Sooners also need young DTs to get into the program. High-school DTs are where the problems lie. Outside of Maquedius Bain, who just visited but also has interest from LSU and Miami, there’s no one on the board that’s leaning to OU: Greg Gilmore is with LSU; Keith Bryant is a great-looking DT prospect, but there's no sign of an OU visit; D’Asian Richardson has fallen off the map; Deadrin Senat seems locked into FSU.

Put simply, OU cannot keep putting off signing blue-chip DTs.

Verbal/Update: OU has added a potential January enrollee in cornerback Tee Shepard. Shepard, a top five CB in the 2012 signing class, enrolled early at Notre Dame, but ran into Clearinghouse issues.

In addition, in his attempt to enroll early at ND, Shepard changed high schools. Like D.J. Ward this year, Shepard was not allowed to play football during his senior year, so he’s been out of football for a bit. He left ND around spring practice. He spent all fall working on his testing and appears to now have a qualifying score.

Now, he’s on the record talking about enrolling at OU if the paperwork is all good. Shepard, if he can get on campus, is the highest rated corner signed by OU since Marcus Walker in 2004. He will have four years to play and will go thru spring football. He’s a huge addition in conjunction with Mike Stoops' efforts to rebuild the talent in the secondary.

(Note: Get up to speed on OU's current commitments and targets in the previous recruiting update.)