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Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

Gabe Ikard

In his first spring practices at Oklahoma, new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will have four starters back from last year and a few players who have playing experience as well. He recently told Jessica Coody of Sooner Sports TV that the best way to play the line is to be tough, physical, mean and nasty.

“I’m going to coach them hard and I expect them to be great,” he said.

But the problem isn’t that OU’s front wall isn’t tough and physical, because they had been tremendous in protecting Landry Jones in the pocket. The problem is that they hadn’t been mean and nasty when it comes to opening running lanes. Bedenbaugh, a former West Virginia line coach, is more of a spread offense guy, and the Sooners need to learn how to block better for the running game to develop.

Guard Tyler Evans (6-5, 315, Sr.) is expected to return to the lineup this year after tearing up his knee last fall, when he was penciled in at right guard. It appears that Evans could be battling against Bronson Irwin (6-5, 307, Sr.) for his old spot. Irwin did a fine job as Evan’s replacement, but he could improve. That's what this spring is all about at right guard.

The other two interior positions are solid. Gabe Ikard (6-3, 288, Sr.) was the Big 12’s best center last year and is expected to be the leader of the line again this year. Adam Shead (6-4, 307, Jr.) returns to the left guard slot where he started every game last year.

Ty Darlington (6-3, 266, Soph.) was the nation’s second-best center coming out of high school a year ago. He subbed for Ikard against Baylor when the starter had a minor head injury and got reps the rest of the year. Again, for Darlington, this spring will give him a chance to catch Bedenbaugh's eye and make a case for even more time this fall. Unfortunately for Nila Kasitati (6-4, 309, Soph.), the leading candidate to be Shead’s backup, he went down with a torn ACL early in the 2012 season and will miss spring ball, too.

Daryl Williams (6-6, 299, Jr.) started the first nine games at right tackle before suffering a sprained knee and missed the final three games. He’s expected to start at RT again this year. Tyrus Thompson (6-5, 303, Jr.) filled in admirably for Williams in the final three games. Thompson also replaced Lane Johnson at left tackle for a couple of games. Johnson has graduated, so Thompson is the odds-on favorite to take over left tackle in 2013. With those two spots locked down, Derek Farniok (6-9, 319, Soph.) may need the most work this spring. He saw some action as Williams' backup at RT, but still appears pretty raw.

The last key objective for the offensive line this spring will be integrating two JUCO newcomers into the mix. Josiah St. John (6-6, 305) from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas is expected to make a pitch for playing time at tackle in 2013. Meanwhile, Dionte Savage (6-5, 345) will try to crack the lineup at one of the guard positions. A former teammate of Damien Williams at Arizona Western College, Savage was a second-team JUCO All American last year.

Jerry Montgomery: A little better call, Bob

Jerry Montgomery

Bob Stoops’ hire of Jerry Montgomery as defensive line coach doesn't seem as baffling as hiring Bill Bedenbaugh as o-line boss.

Montgomery and Bedenbaugh are supposed to be great recruiters. That’s fine and good, but a lot of time high school studs don’t turn into football stars on the collegiate level. Like Bedenbaugh, Montgomery's ability to coach 'em up is debatable.

Montgomery spent the last two years as Michigan’s d-line coach, and two years prior to that, he held the same position at Wyoming. Coaching the d-line the past four years for the Wolverines and Cowboys, Montgomery has produced no All-Americans and only one first-team all-conference honoree (tackle John Fletcher in 2009 at Wyoming). Defensive end Josh Biezuns was named to the Mountain West's second team a year later, and tackle Mike Martin was a second-team all-Big 10 honoree at Michigan.

Not very impressive. During the same four years, OU had one All-American (Gerald McCoy twice) and three first-team all-Big 12 players (ends Frank Alexander, Ronnell Lewis and Jeremy Beal).

What is impressive, however, is that Montgomery‘s defensive front was a part of a unit that ranked 13th in total defense (320 yards per game) last year, a slight improvement from an already strong 17th (322.1) in 2010. The Sooners ranked 64th (398.3) and 55th (376.1) during those same two years.

Let's compare Montgomery’s defense against OU’s defense the past two years by using the stats of all defensive linemen for both teams. Both teams played the same number of games (26) during the 2011-12 period:

*Michigan had more tackles (411 to 379), sacks (29.5 to 28) and fumble recoveries (7 to 3).

*The Sooners barely had more tackles behind the line of scrimmage (65 to 64½), broke up more passes (21 to 11) and had a lot more quarterback hurries (33 to 9).

*Both team had the same number of forced fumbles (7) and interceptions with (2).

Also, it's notable that Montgomery has not had much experience with a 3-4 alignment, which has been the talk that OU will switch from 4-3 to 3-4.

Montogmery should be given a few years to see if he can mold a championship defensive line, but it's disappointing that he has been given oversight of the defensive ends. That has been Bobby Jack Wright’s responsibility for the last few seasons, and he’s done a helluva job with them.

Sooners Recruiting Update: A belated 2013 class review

Editor's note: We wanted to give the Sooners' 2013 class a little time to marinate before we really dug in. We've given each position a grade for both the quality of players acquired and how well OU satisfied its personnel needs. Enjoy.

Verbal Commitments

D.J. Ward, DE
(6-4, 255, 4.6)

Hatari Byrd, DB
(6-2, 205, 4.55)

Matt Dimon, DE
(6-3, 255, 4.8)

Stanvon Taylor, CB
(5-11, 175, 4.4)

L.J. Moore, DB
(6-1, 185, 4.5)

Dionte Savage, OL
(6-5, 345, 5.4)

Dakota Austin, DB
(5-11, 165, 4.5)

Cody Thomas, QB
(6-4, 220, 4.6)

Ahmad Thomas, SS
(6-1, 205, 4.5)

Matt Romar, DT
(6-3, 275, 4.75)

Charles Walker, DT
(6-4, 280, 4.8)

K.J. Young, WR
(6-1,180, 4.5)

Dannon Cavil, WR
(6-5, 205, 4.5)

Quincy Russell, DT
(6-4, 315)

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/LB
(6-3, 220, 4.6)

Kerrick Huggins, DT
(6-4, 285, 4.9)

Jordan Smallwood, WR
(6-3, 200, 4.55)

Jordan Evans, LB/DE
(6-3, 210, 4.55)

Jed Barnett, P
(6-2, 210)

Christian Daimler, OL
(6-7,285 5.1)

Josiah St. John, OL
(6-6, 310, 5.2)

Dominique Alexander, LB/S
(6-2, 205, 4.5)

Austin Bennett, WR
(6-0, 170, 4.45)

Keith Ford, RB
(5-11, 200, 4.5)

Quarterback

Cody Thomas is Sam Bradford-like elite. His skill level ceiling is that high. To paraphrase Bob Stoops, Thomas' skill level allows him to do things effortlessly. If not for going to the Elite 11 camp after playing baseball nonstop for three weeks, Thomas would have his proper ranking as the second-best passing QB in the country behind Max Browne.

Thomas is a five-star talent. He has a cannon for an arm and dominated his senior year leading his team into the playoffs against more talented teams. Thomas also showed his ability to make plays with his feet, extending plays and picking up running yardage to move the chains. Thomas was easily the best QB in Texas. The only question is whether pro baseball alters his decision to play football.

Quality Grade: A+
Quantity Grade: A

Running Back

The loss of Greg Bryant in August overshadowed just how good a prospect Keith Ford is. Ford’s senior year left no doubts that OU had gotten a great RB. Ford, like Thomas, dominated at times in leading his team to the playoffs. Ford was easily the best RB in Texas.

Ford can challenge for playing time in his freshman year if any openings appear. He’s easily OU’s other five-star commitment this year.

Quality Grade: A+
Quantity Grade: A

Wide Receiver

I really thought that OU would stick with a two-WR class of Smallwood and Bennett, but OU added Cavil (and got him on campus for spring ball) and K.J. Young. The class provides great depth with two big outside bodies in Smallwood and Cavil and two dynamic athletes in Bennett and Young for the slot position.

I really like this class and think Smallwood and Young are badly underrated. Cavil probably would have been higher ranked (still 4 stars by ESPN), but he was hurt his junior year. Young, who moved to the slot in his senior year, could be a real star for the Sooners. His film is reminiscent of Sterling Shepard – big play after big play.

Cavil is already on campus, and Jay Norvell is raving about his potential and athleticism. Texas offered Cavil just as he was driving up to OU to visit and enroll for the January semester. Smallwood apparently had a great week at the Semper Fi Bowl. For a Sooner comparison, think Travis Wilson.

UT also tried to steal Bennett during the last month of recruiting, but OU locked him down over the summer after he dominated the competition at one of OU’s satellite camps in Texas.

Quality Grade: A-
Quantity Grade: A

Tight End

OU missed out on every TE candidate. It often seemed like there was some indecision on taking a TE or not.

Incomplete

Offensive Line

Strap in, because this will be long.

OU needed to sign at least two and ideally three HS offensive tackles. OU was not going to offer many if any guard or center prospects this year.

Bruce Kittle offered probably the top 20 kids in the country regardless of location – no visits. OU offered another group of national/regional kids like Aaron Cochran, Sean Dowling, Na’ty Rodgers, and did get visits, but no real visit upswing or verbal commitments. When those kids fell by the wayside in the summer and fall, Kittle and James Patton's biggest mistake proved to be not knowing when to drop these kids and move on to other kids and get more offers out there.

For the most part, I do think fans freaking out over rankings at OL is somewhat unwarranted. In my opinion, the recruiting services miss more kids at OL than any other spot. There are lots of three-star kids who are easily as good OL projects as four-star kids. So, the group of kids who can help is large, and often you want kids with high ceilings who have not maxed out yet. The NFL draft offers a glimpse of this with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher (two-star TE) and Lane Johnson (zero-star QB/TE) being projected in the first round along with Luke Joeckel (four-star OT) and D.J. Fluker (5 star OT).

OU got an excellent JUCO OT, an excellent HS OT prospect and an interesting JUCO OG prospect. Josiah St. John is a fantastic-looking OT prospect with a serious NFL frame and athleticism. He will provide competition and depth at OT, but it’s hard to see him unseating Daryl Williams or Tyrus Thompson at OT this year. If he’s struggling at all, though, don’t be shocked if OU tries to redshirt him so that he’s available in the fall of 2015 to be a senior starter at OT.

The only HS OT signed, Christian Daimler, won’t be an impact OL player in 2013. He does have a great frame. His senior year film is so much better than his junior year film. OU can afford to wait two years for Daimler to develop, but by the fall of 2015, expect him to be in the rotation challenging for a starting job. Texas A&M really wanted Daimler to flip late in recruiting, but he stuck with OU.

The last addition, Dionte Savage, looks like more of a reaction to the injury issues at OG. Adam Shead’s back limited his play this fall, and both Nila Kasitati and Tyler Evans are recovering from ACL tears. At 6-5, 340, Savage provides a huge power run blocking presence. Savage gives OU four big guards to rotate inside. With Irwin and Evans gone after this year, Savage will become even more important. The JUCO guard move, in retrospect, was a good addition, but it doesn’t change the fact that OU is two HS OLs short in this class.

Quality Grade: B
Quantity Grade: C

Defensive Tackle

DT was the key position in this recruiting class. OU graduated three seniors and needed to replenish numbers and increase competition and talent on campus.

Huggins is a big-time talent at DT. If he can get eligible – and it looks like his odds of qualifying have improved with his first semester grades posted – then Huggins could be an athletic DT able to stop the run and provide a pass rush. His senior year film is such a big step up from this junior film.

After landing Huggins, Jackie Shipp was able to secure a verbal commitment from JUCO DT Quincy Russell. Russell, a former UT signee, had a great second year at Trinity Valley Community College and was named a first-team NJCAA All-American. Unfortunately, Russell was not able to graduate at semester as previously planned, so he will not go through spring practice. Russell provides a big body and should be in the two-deep come fall.

OU then went after Charles Walker and Matt Romar aggressively. Walker flew completely under the radar due to injury issues keeping him off the field as a junior. But his senior year film is just awesome. If Walker plays up to that film, OU got an absolute steal. He is 6-4, 280 right now, but his frame easily would allow him to go 6-4, 300.

Romar was the last addition. In his junior year, Romar played outside at DE, and his film there was pretty good. In his senior year, Romar moved inside and his level of play was much better. At 6-3, 275, Romar’s speed and quickness inside allows him to make more plays. He can easily carry 285 and be an ideal 3-technique DT or a 3-4 DE in a hybrid front.

So, despite some losses in recruiting, OU signed a very good DT class. If Huggins makes it on campus without going to JUCO, then the class goes up a notch.

Quality: B+ (like an 89 barely out of the A range)
Quantity: A

Defensive End

Bobby Jack Wright did a great job landing three DEs who will help OU down the road.

The most overlooked/underrated player OU signed in this class was D.J. Ward. Ward, who missed playing his senior year due to transfer issues, is easily the best in-state defensive prospect since Gerald McCoy. If he had played his senior year, he probably would have been close to a five-star recruit. He’s that good. As a bonus, Ward is already on campus, and he’s now 6-4, 255. He could be in the DE rotation by this fall.

If Ward is not the most underrated prospect, then Matt Dimon is. Dimon, however, had a dominating senior year for a state championship team. He still can't get any respect. Somehow, despite film showing him to be a constant threat in the backfield and terrorizing QBs, Rivals continued to rank him with 3 stars. Just ridiculous. Dimon is around 6-3, 250, and perhaps the best comparison would be former Georgia DE David Pollack. Mike Stoops compares him to a Dusty Dvoracek, who, coincidentally, was also a three-star prospect. The returning DEs better take advantage of their playing time lead, because Ward and Dimon are coming after their jobs.

The final DE signee was a former Oklahoma State verbal. Like Dimon, Ogbonnia (Oboe for short) on film is just terrorizing QBs and RBs. He’s bursting through the line and just smashing guys. Oboe’s teammate Torrodney Prevot was much higher-rated, but several coaches who have seen both thought that Oboe had the much better senior year. Oboe can easily be a 6-3, 240 rush end for OU, and he could also be a standup OLB in some hybrid 3-4 looks. Oboe was another player that was high three-star right on the fringe of a four-star ranking.

Quantity Grade: A
Quality Grade: A

Linebacker

OU only signed LBs in February, and it was really a mixed bag in LB recruiting overall. Brent Venables was OU's LB recruiters for so long that Tim Kish had a hard time recruiting this year. It wasn’t a great year in Texas for LBs, and Kish probably made a mistake focusing on too many national offers. In addition, OU’s LBs had a horrible year on the field, culminating with Mike Stoops only playing one LB in November in an attempt to stop four-wide offenses that the Sooners saw most of the month.

Jordan Evans went from being a rising junior at 6-1, 185 to being a rising senior LB at 6-3, 205. Evans had a great Sooner summer camp, and OU kept tracking the son of former Sooner DT Scott Evans. Evans had an awesome year for Norman North. He played as a return specialist (several TDs returning kickoffs), and on defensed, Evans lined up pretty much everywhere, making plays in the backfield and in coverage. His athletic potential and frame are off the charts. He could easily be a 6-3, 235 prototype MLB or end up as 6-5, 250 DE. Or, he could be a big OLB/rush end player adept at playing standing up or on the edge of the line. He’s a big-time sleeper in this class.

Alexander was having a similar year in Tulsa for Booker T Washington. With Alexander, the main question was whether he should play LB or safety since he was playing at around 6-2, 195. OU is going to use him at LB, and he’s already up to 205. On that frame, he should be easily at 220/225 with the same speed. Alexander shows excellent coverage skills, and he makes plays behind the line of scrimmage racking up tackles for loss. Evans committed to OU right after being offered, and Alexander decommitted from Arkansas after getting his OU offer. Before signing day, KSU, Arkansas (again), Nebraska and Stanford all tried to steal Alexander away from OU. He became very popular the more schools looked at his senior year film.

The big blow in LB recruiting occurred after the Cotton Bowl fiasco when Jordan Mastrogiovanni decommitted and pledged with A&M. Kish decided that with no real prospects on the board (Mitchell had decided on Ohio State probably back in November), he should to focus his efforts on 2014 LB recruiting. The Texas pool is very good for 2014, and Kish has had a chance to make connections all fall.

For those ready to tar and feather Kish for LB recruiting, remember Norvell’s first class (Cam Kenney and Jaz Reynolds) was similar to this effort, but he really turned it on in his second year in recruiting and hasn’t looked back. It generally takes new assistants two years to hit their stride in recruiting. Still, OU is one LB short in this class, and that was before Tom Wort left. Hopefully, Corey Nelson and Franklin Shannon can have big years in 2013, putting some buzz back in playing LB at OU.

Quality Grade: B
Quantity Grade: B-

Defensive Back

In Mike’s first tenure as DB coach and coordinator for OU, it’s fair to say that he was an average recruiter. If this year is any indication, his second tenure is going to be vastly different in terms of his recruiting influence. Mike signed the best DB class for OU in a while. He was able to close on prospects nationally before they even visited Norman. In addition, he locked down the best in-state player besides D.J. Ward sidelined. Finally, he went back to a Texas HS that has been very good to OU in the past.

Early on in the summer, Mike landed a pair of big safeties in Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. They are the prototype safeties for the defense Mike wants to run – big, physical players with excellent range. Both verbaled to OU without visiting the campus. Thomas is already on campus, and with two safety spots wide open and Quentin Hayes as the only returning safety on the roster, you would have to think Thomas’ head start could lead to real playing time.

In addition, in every post-signing day interview, Mike was talking about Byrd as if he could be a serious factor to start at safety. The future of Thomas and Byrd at safety could be as soon as this September.

So Mike landed two great safeties, but he also landed two great four-star cornerback prospects in L.J. Moore and Stanvon Taylor. Taylor had just an incredible senior year. Mike was comparing him to Aaron Colvin, although Taylor might be a much better overall athlete. Moore is the big CB of this class and a teammate of Byrd. Moore is an excellent athlete who played WR, QB and CB for high school in Fresno.

It’s very possible that all four of these DBs play this fall, providing depth and competition.

OU probably needed to sign five DBs. For reasons unknown, OU and CB Lamar Robbins fell off, and OU was still short a CB with Adrian Baker a lock to go to Clemson and Tahaan Goodman going to UCLA. Mike went back to camp all-star Dakota Austin, who had not yet received any BCS conference offers. Dakota had been a star at OU’s camp but his reported size of 5-11, 150 was scaring off many teams. OU, though, had serious connections with Lancaster and went to Austin, who had an excellent senior year at CB. Austin will probably redshirt, but if he can add weight and keep his speed and agility, he will be a factor in 2014.

If Mike can keep up the same level of recruiting effort for 2014, OU will likely sign a class that will challenge the talent of this class.

Quality Grade: A
Quantity Grade: A

Overall

This recruiting class has suffered more negative feedback than any top 20 recruiting class probably should have to endure. The negativity around OL and LB recruiting has completely drowned out the reminders that OU signed excellent DE, DB, DT and WR classes. The Sooners also added elite difference makers at RB and QB. It’s like the struggles at two spots just took on a life of their own.

From my viewpoint, OU landed two five-star talents in Thomas and Ford. I consider these guys four-star recruits: Byrd, Taylor, Ward, Thomas, Moore, Dimon, Huggins, Walker, Cavil, Young and St. John. So, that’s 13 players out of the 25 signed who I would give four stars. There are very few reaches in this class, and most signees played their projected college position in high school. Even Savage has excellent film, and OU stole him from Baylor, where Art Briles has done a good job in the past of evaluating JUCO talent.

Is the class missing players? Yes. It should have another LB and another HS OT, at the very least. Those absences in no way outweight the overall top-end talent acquired? There is no more important position for OU right now than QB, and OU got a great one. Ford continues OU’s lineage of top-flight RBs. The potential of Romar, Huggins, and Walker is sky-high, as is the potential of the DE trio. Thomas and Byrd could bring back an era of dominant safety play unseen since Roy Williams and Brandon Everage were patrolling the secondary. Taylor might be the best pure athlete OU has signed at CB in forever.

All the late three-star offers had excellent senior film to justify their offers. The players were just significantly better as seniors. Their junior year film didn’t necessarily justify an offer; Jordan Evans being the key example. "Film doesn’t lie" is a great quote from Josh McCuistion from SoonerScoop.com, and I’ve watched a ton of film on the players who OU signed. The senior year film is excellent for all of them.

Quality Grade: B+
Needs Grade: B

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Quarterbacks

Blake Bell

(Editor's note: With the Sooners set to kick off spring practice on March 5, BH is doing a position-by-position preview. First up, of course, are the guys under center.)

All the scuttlebutt this offseason has been that the Sooners will have a mobile quarterback barking the signals this season. Some fans are excited to see Landry Jones graduate, because he couldn’t dodge defenders.

The most experienced of the group, Drew Allen, is reportedly looking to transfer. The leading candidate, Blake Bell, is the reason for the “Belldozer,” relieving Jones in short-yardage situations – most of the time getting a first down or touchdown.

Word is redshirt freshman Trevor Knight also has some speed. He played the role of Johnny Manziel during Cotton Bowl practices. Kendall Thompson also will get a chance to be in the quarterback derby. He is said to be fast, too. He should be – after all his father, Charles, was a speedy wishbone QB for OU in the late 1980s.

But will Bob Stoops, Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell develop one of these guys’ talents as a dual-threat signal caller in 2013?

Remember, Jason White started out that way. He was elusive when he came in to relieve Nate Hybl against Texas in 2001. White rushed for 117 yards the next week against Kansas. That was the first time in 19 years (102 games) a quarterback cleared the century mark rushing in a game. Steve Collins was the last guy to do it in 1992.

After a couple of knee injuries, White came back to be the starter in 2003, and he was a pure dropback passer. No running all over the field. Of course, he won the Heisman Trophy that year by completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,846 yards with 40 TDs and 10 INTs.

Chuck Long was the guy who developed White into a dropback passer. He was co-offensive coordinator and QB coach from 2000-2005, but he’s no longer around. Well, he has been in Norman watching his son, Zach, play for Norman High. Although Zach is walking on at OU, don’t look for dad to come aboard to develop the next OU QB.

Assuming he's the guy, Bell doesn’t need to be made into a dropback passer. Given how inconsistent the OU running game has been, Stoops, Heupel and Norvell need to help Bell develop his skills as a dual-threat QB. He could wind up being the next Collin Klein, who led Kansas State to a conference championship and finished third in last year’s Heisman voting. Klein completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,641 yards and 16 TDs. He added 920 more yards rushing (4.4 average) and 23 TDs.

At 6-6, 254, Bell is one inch taller and 28 pounds heavier than Klein. If he can come close to Klein’s 2012 numbers, OU could be a strong contender in 2013.

Knight (6-1, 197) and Thompson (6-1, 184), on the other hand, should get a lot of reps during spring practice. Both would need to put on more muscle mass to hold up as running threats in live action.

The decision on who actually starts likely won’t come until coaches see who wins the job in fall camp. Spring ball should go a long way towards helping them make that decision, though.

Knee-jerk reactions to Oklahoma's hire of Jerry Montgomery

Jerry Montgomery

The semi-youth movement on the Oklahoma coaching staff continued Saturday as word filtered out that Jerry Montgomery, a 33-year-old assistant at Michigan, has accepted an offer to fill the Sooners’ vacancy at defensive line coach.

Montgomery’s relatively short career makes it hard to get a great read on what he brings to the table. His quick ascension up the coaching ranks is a good sign, as is the fact that he was handpicked by to join the Wolverines by Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison, two well-respected tacticians with deep backgrounds coaching defensive linemen.

I should have more soon on Montgomery from the Michigan perspective. In the meantime, a few initial observations:

*If a lack of fire on the recruiting trail actually did in Jackie Shipp, Montgomery looks like a step in the completely opposite direction. According to Josh McCuistion of SoonerScoop.com, Montgomery was already calling recruits today.

In his two years at Michigan, Montgomery played a key role in bringing two five-star prospects to Ann Arbor in running back Derrick Green and defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins. His 2013 haul included two four-star defensive lineman to go along with a four-star tight end and four-star linebacker.

Also, much like Oklahoma, Michigan tends to take a more national approach to recruiting. That shows up in Montgomery’s portfolio. He landed players from both inside Michigan’s Midwestern breadbasket and outside of it – Kansas City, Utah, Baltimore. That bodes well when it comes to his willingness to go on the road and lock up top-flight talent.

*How much coaching did Montgomery really do at Michigan? Given that both Hoke and Mattison have defensive line backgrounds, it seems like a fair question.

*Word has circulated since the end of the season that OU intends to switch to a 3-4 base defense. If so, Montgomery strikes me as an odd choice to coach the d-line.

As is customary for just about every team in the country, the Wolverines mixed in the occasional three-man front during the last two years. However, Michigan has primarily operated out of a 4-3 Under scheme. Granted, there aren’t a ton of college programs out there running a 3-4. Even so, shelling out to hire a position coach with no experience in the scheme would constitute a big roll of the dice.

*Bob Stoops has certainly made a splash with these hires. Few would argue that the additions of Montgomery and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will bring some much needed new blood to the OU staff.

It all sounds great right now, but keep in mind that Texas’ coaching staff underwent a similar facelift in 2011. The Longhorns still have yet to really get back on track. Ultimately, I suspect that has a lot more to do with how Mack Brown captains his ship than the guys pulling the oars.

Stoops’ underlings took a deserved share of the blame for OU’s foundering as of late. However, if the overhauled staff doesn’t light a fire under the Sooners with a quickness, it should give everyone a pretty clear indication of where the true issues with the program lie.

Toss the helmet rule

Joe Washington

The NCAA needs to eliminate the dumb rule regarding helmets this year.

You know the one I mean: When a player’s helmet pops off during a play, provided it’s not a direct result of a foul, he must hit the sideline on the following play.

Say what?

That’s like your mom telling you to go to your room for being a bad boy. “Go to your room young man until you can play nice like the other boys.”

Before this stupid rule, when a player’s helmet flew off, he just retrieved it from the turf, put it back on and returned to the huddle. How difficult is that? But now, he has to go to the sideline for one play.

Another crazy part of this rule is if the ball carrier's helmet comes off, the play must be whistled dead immediately. No more running into the open field without a helmet. Joe Washington would hate this rule. Several times during his OU career, his helmet popped off because a player could not wrap him up. Joe would keep going, many times all the way to the end zone.

You can imagine how pissed Barry Switzer would have been had Joe been told to stop running because his hat flew off. Switzer would have cried for the officials to be blackballed just like when he made the same cry when Keith Stanberry was robbed of an interception against Texas in 1984.

The rule also states that if a player loses his helmet, he cannot make a tackle, continue blocking or running a route. If the player does not stop, his team receives a 15-yard penalty.

“And since you don’t want to be nice to the other boys, you will go to bed without any dinner, young man.”

Yes, the NCAA is trying to cut down on the incidence of concussions, but this rule has wussified the game. It needs to die after just one year.

Sooners head to NFL combine

Lane Johnson
Lane Johnson is rocketing up draft boards.

Six former Sooners will get to show their stuff at this weekend’s NFL combine in Indianapolis in hopes of improving their draft status in April—Tony Jefferson, Lane Johnson, Landry Jones, Stacy McGee, Kelly Stills and Tom Wort.

The NFL has provided an analysis for each on its web site:

*Jefferson’s height (5-11) doesn’t appear to be a deterrent to scouts taking a chance on him. The bottom line of his analysis is that his “leadership skills, physicality around the line of scrimmage and his coverage skills will entice teams to pick him early in the 2013 draft.”

*Johnson improved his stock at last month’s Senior Bowl, and he has been projected to go as high as 20th in the first round to the Chicago Bears.

“Scouts saw the potential in Johnson grow throughout the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to his athleticism, strength, and solid technique despite his lack of experience,” the analysis states. “Expect his name to be mentioned frequently throughout the process."

*Jones’ draft stock will depend on his ability to perform consistently under pressure, which he had problems with many times at OU.

The report states that Jones “can be decisive and flashes the accuracy to pick apart defenses at the next level. However, his tendency to get rattled under pressure is a major issue. Also, when things start to go downhill, he lacks a short memory; his confidence is shaken. He is also inconsistent in his reads and decision making.”

*McGee is reported to possess the physical attributes that many teams love in their defensive linemen, but he is not as impressive as former Sooners Tommie Harris or Gerald McCoy. He didn’t make the kind of waves that his predecessors did while at OU (both two-time All-Americans and Harris a Lombardi winner) and his off-the-field problems kept him from living up to his promise.

The bottom line report on McGee is that he “has all the physical attributes to be a contributor as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. However, between a lack of production throughout his career, multiple off-the-field incidents, and suspensions, he is unlikely to be drafted.”

*Kenny Stills’ early exit from the OU program may keep him from being drafted in a lofty position – he is likely to be taken in the third round. Had he stayed for his senior year, he might have gone higher.

“While Stills isn't the biggest or the fastest,” the report states, “he has a knack for finding ways to get open. He has the ability to track the football, and make some extremely difficult catches. Stills will likely be selected around the third round.”

*Like Stills, Wort is leaving OU a year early, and the way he was unable to adapt to Mike Stoops’ system last year may be a dertiment for him to be drafted at all.

The report states that he “had a successful college career, but appears to lack the same tools to succeed in the NFL. He's a bit of a 'tweener in the NFL. He will have to prove he can contribute on special teams in order to earn a roster spot.”

Bob Stoops' endgame?

Bob Stoops

Mark Mangino and 2014.

The Oklahoma football program is navigating through the most significant period of transition in Bob Stoops' tenure. What’s the endgame? In evaluating the Sooner shake-up – both in terms of what has already happened and what’s still to come – those are the two things that I keep coming back to: OU’s former offensive coordinator and the 2014 season.

Allow me to explain, and please bear in mind that I have zero inside information about the program.

First, let’s talk 2014. Check out this projected starting lineup:

Offense

QB: Blake Bell
RB: Alex Ross
WR: Sterling Shepard, Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal
TE: Taylor McNamara
C: Ty Darlington
OG: Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead
OT: Daryl Williams, Tyrus Thompson

Defense

DT: Jordan Phillips, Jordan Wade
DE: Geneo Grissom, Chuka Ndulue
LB: Frank Shannon, Aaron Franklin, Eric Striker
CB: Cortez Johnson, Gary Simon
S: Hatari Byrd, Julian Wilson

They may not be the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, but that would make for a pretty talented squad. More importantly, OU should have an overwhelming amount of returning experience. That projected 22-man lineup would potentially consist of 16 returning starters (eight on both sides of the ball, including the quarterback, the entire defensive line and four of five on the offensive line) and 21 players who had been the program for a minimum of three years (eight players in their fifth year of eligibility, four players in their fourth year, nine in their third).

The schedule sets up nicely in ‘14, too. Although dates aren’t set yet, 11 of the 12 opponents are already known. OU gets Tennessee, Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home. The Sooners travel to Tulsa, TCU, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Iowa State. Of course, there’s a trip to Dallas in October to play Texas and a TBA body bag game, too. Considering the playoff will be in effect then, it even gives OU the opportunity to possibly slip up once in the regular season and still have a shot at the national title.

If 2013 now looks like a season filled with growing pains in Norman, those struggles could pay off handsomely in ‘14.

And what about Mangino?

One of the themes running through the offseason has been Stoops’ reported persistence in lobbying to bring his good friend and Broyles Award winner back to Norman. According to multiple members of the media, Stoops wanted Mangino for the offensive line position that went Bill Bedenbaugh. Now, word has come from SoonerScoop.com’s Carey Murdock that Stoops is still pushing for Mangino to fill the tight ends coach spot vacated by Bruce Kittle.

Mangino’s ugly exit from Kansas presents a major downside to hiring him on at OU. College football coaches may lead insular lives, but even Stoops has to understand that Mangino is toxic on the recruiting trail.

On the other hand, no one doubts Mangino’s coaching acumen. He elevated Kansas’ program to a level that his predecessors haven’t even sniffed. He ran the offense on a team that won a national championship in his first stint OU.

Mangino may be a crony, but given their history together, Stoops knows what the big guy can do as a coach. Even if Mangino turned out to be a disaster on the recruiting trail, Stoops has a pretty good handle on how he could help build the squad up using the personnel already on campus. Furthermore, he already knows OU’s offense and could mentor Josh Heupel.

Mangino is still unemployed, but consider what that may say about Stoops’ state of mind. A guy in Mangino’s situation may not work as a long-term solution. In a short window – like, say, two years – he could pay big dividends as part of the staff.

Add it all up, and it starts to sound as though Stoops is pushing in his chips on '14. I could add a few more developments in support of the theory, but I’ll open the floor for comments. Thoughts?

Stoops making wrong call in Bedenbaugh

Bill Bedenbaugh apparently will become OU’s new offensive line coach. Although not confirmed by the University of Oklahoma, if the reports are true, it seems Bob Stoops is not committed to improving the run game in Norman.

Bedenbaugh has served as the o-line boss at three schools (West Virginia, Arizona and Texas Tech) over the past eight years. He also served as running game coordinator and offensive coordinator for a few years at ’Zona. Bedenbaugh is supposedly an expert on the spread offense, which seems to have no respect for the running game. During his 10 years as an assistant, the best running game he oversaw ranked 48th nationally (158.4 yards per game) at Arizona in 2008. Other times, the running game has stunk where he was in charge.

He has produced zero first-team All-Americans and only two first-team all-conference players—Don Barclay in 2011 at West Virginia and Eben Britton in 2008 at Arizona. During the same eight years, the Sooners have produced three All-Americans (Duke Robinson in 2007 and 2008; Trent Williams in 2009). Oklahoma also had 10 first-team all-conference selections.

Run Games Under Bill Bedenbaugh

Year Team Position YPG National Rank
2012 WVU Off. Line 171.8 52
2011 WVU Off. Line 122.7 92
2010 UA Off. Coord./OL 139.2 88
2009 UA Run Game Coord./OL 159.4 52
2008 UA Run Game Coord./OL 158.4 48
2007 UA Run Game Coord./OL 76.7 114
2006 TT Off. Line 78.4 112
2005 TT Off. Line 107 104
2004 TT RBs 92 112
2003 TT RBs 107.5 104

When Bedenbaugh was an assistant at Arizona, his boss was Mike Stoops. Bedenbaugh’s wife is from Oklahoma. Rivals.com named him one of the nation’s top recruiters. So, what?

All that means nothing if he can’t turn his recruits into post-season honorees and improve the Sooners’ run game, which is vital if Stoops is serious about winning his second national championship any time soon. Notably, over the last six years, the national champ has finished 16th or better in the running game.

Stoops could have made a better choice.

Intelligence Report: New Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh

Bill BedenbaughThe poorly kept secret that Oklahoma planned to hire West Virginia's Bill Bedenbaugh as its offensive line coach finally got some confirmation on the Mountaineers' side of the fence, as columnist Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette reported that a deal is now done.

Carely Murdock of SoonerScoop.com reported earlier in the week that OU intended to hire Bedenbaugh.

BH reached out to Patrick Southern of Blue & Gold News for a scouting report on the newest addition to the Sooners' staff.

Many thanks to Patrick for his insights.

Blatant Homerism: General thoughts on Bedenbaugh's tenure and accomplishments at WVU? How big of a loss is this to the program?

Patrick Southern: It's a short tenure – Bedenbaugh came with Dana Holgorsen before the 2011 season – but it's safe to say he has made an impact in his time here. Offensive line play was probably the single most significant and most consistent problem West Virginia had when the late Bill Stewart was head coach. Most of the regular contributors along the offensive line in the last two seasons are the same guys who were in the mix in Stewart's last year as coach -- particularly the interior three of left guard Josh Jenkins, center Joey Madsen and right guard Jeff Braun – but they certainly played at a higher level under Bedenbaugh. Some of that is certainly due to his teaching, but some may be the result of Holgorsen's scheme as well. The ball gets out of the quarterback's hands pretty quickly in Dana's offense, and for whatever reason, it seems like the wider line splits you see in that Air Raid scheme suited these guys as well.

To sum it up, there is considerable respect for his ability as a teacher at his position and as a recruiter. It's hard to quantify how big of a loss this would be for WVU, but it doesn't seem likely anyone here would be happy to see him go.

BH: OU has really struggled to run the ball consistently in recent years. Any thoughts on how Bedenbaugh stacks up as a teacher in the running game?

Southern: Tough to tell. West Virginia hasn't exactly been a consistently strong running team in the two years Bedenbaugh has been here, but that may be the result of personnel issues at the running back position itself as much as anything else. West Virginia almost exclusively used two true freshmen (Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie) in 2011, then the team's primary back in 2012 (Shawne Alston) spent much of the season injured. Add that to what is already a pass-happy offense Dana Holgorsen runs anyway, and it's not much of a surprise the rushing numbers weren't especially lofty. But Oklahoma fans should be very much aware that WVU could run on occasion – Tavon Austin lit up the Sooners for 344 yards on the ground this season.

BH: Yeah, don't remind me. How about Bedenbaugh's chops as a recruiter? If you had to describe his style, what would it be? How do prospects respond to him?

Southern: Let me begin by saying up front that I'm not a recruiting expert or guru by any stretch, but Bedenbaugh was clearly effective for WVU. Most of his efforts were concentrated in relatively close geographic proximity to Morgantown – in this year's signing class alone, he plucked a pair of four-star recruits out of Ohio and did a solid job in New Jersey as well – but he obviously has ties in other areas from his time on the staff at Arizona. He also was the point man in the recruitment of an offensive lineman from Texas in this class. I can't speak for his "style" as a recruiter, but I'd imagine it's not far from his personality – direct, honest. Recruits can probably quickly tell he isn't the sort of guy who will try to sell them on something that's not there.

BH: Are there any particular players you would point to who Bedenbaugh helped develop?

Southern: I'd have to point to just about everyone on WVU's regular rotation from the last two seasons. West Virginia has rarely recruited highly-touted linemen, and offensive line recruiting in the final years of Stewart's tenure was largely ineffective. Joey Madsen had potential, but under Bedenbaugh, he became a consistently strong center – Holgorsen publicly said Madsen was the best center he had been around in his career. Jeff Braun had always been on the cusp of making a breakthrough, but he fulfilled his potential in the last two seasons. Josh Jenkins, a former five-star recruit, had an underwhelming beginning to his career, then was injured in 2011, but finished strong in 2012.

Simply put: Bedenbaugh is well-liked by his players and gets results.

Stoops cleaning house: Assistants Shipp, Kittle dismissed

Bob Stoops

Bob Stoops, it's like we don't even know you anymore.

According to reports, Oklahoma has given defensive line coach Jackie Shipp and tackles/tight ends coach Bruce Kittle their release. They joined former offensive line coach James Patton among those who have left Stoops' staff in the last two days.

In the past, OU has rarely seen three assistants leave the program in two years, let alone two days. Stoops has eschewed college football's customary revolving door on the sidelines during his 15-year tenure. Whereas some programs cycle through assistants and coordinators as often as Nic Cage makes a movie that you'll never see, Oklahoma has relied on maintaining continuity in its staff and grooming coaches to work up the professional ladder. Typically, when coaches have left, they've moved on of their own volition to make a move up in the food chain.

Yet, the events of the last two days point to some kind of realization on Stoops' part that OU's program needed an overhaul. If somebody had to go, Shipp, Kittle and Patton all made likely candidates.

Kittle and Patton did an admirable job keeping an injury-plagued offensive line together this season. However, the line play has been erratic ever since 2008, as the Sooners have struggled to generate consistency in the running game. Additionally, neither has ever really torn it up on the recruiting trail, and in Kittle's case, his inexperience had to have created concerns among prospective players about the training that they would receive at OU.

Jackie ShippBut Shipp? That hard to be a hard one for Stoops.

An alum who starred under Barry Switzer in the 1980s, Shipp had been a mainstay of Oklahoma's staff since Stoops became the head coach in 1999. He won more than his fair share of intense recruiting battles in his time and produced a handful of first-round NFL draft picks, including Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris.

Honestly, though, Shipp's unit was Oklahoma's weak link this season, and the quality of play from the Sooner defensive tackles tailed off dramatically after McCoy left following the 2009 season. Either they weren't developing, or OU didn't have the horses up front. The fact that Shipp lost the recruiting battle for Oklahoma legacy Justin Manning to Texas A&M this year also put a major dent in his already dwindling rep.

Ultimately, why Stoops axed the three assistants is far less important at this point than the mere fact that they did. Something lit a fire under Stoops to shake things up. Given that his career at OU has to be drawing to a close, these three new hires should play a major part in determining if he can go out on a high note.

Patton out as OL coach as Stoops shakes up staff

James Patton

The oft-rumored departure of Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton finally came to fruition on Monday, as Patton "left" Norman for some kind of utility man position on the Indiana coaching staff.

While Patton's job change is being characterized as voluntary by the school, few people – if any – in the know are buying that. As Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel points out, you don't just up and leave a program of OU's stature for a Big Ten bottom feeder.

Bob Stoops so rarely sends a coach packing that it raises the question of why Patton? And why now?

In his seven seasons overseeing Oklahoma's big uglies, the uneven play of Patton's units frequently exasperated Sooner fans, myself included. Although OU generally protected the quarterback well during that stint, blame for the Sooners' inconsistent running game and poor execution in short-yardage situations typically fell on the shoulders of the line.

Furthermore, Patton isn't one of Stoops' inner circle. Much like former defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who got the heave-ho after the 2011 season, Patton wasn't handpicked by the head coach. He lost his rabbi after the 2010 season when OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson took the Indiana job. (That all may have a lot to do with why tackles/tight ends Bruce Kittle remains employed.)

It's possible that Patton just didn't fit in without Wilson around. If Stoops is feeling heat from boosters and the administration to shake things up, that makes Patton the easiest target for a sacrificial offering.

Of course, the focus now turns to the guy who will take Patton's place. The consensus opinion for weeks has been that Stoops was angling to get his buddy Mark Mangino back in the fold. An opening for an offensive line coach signifies a step in the big fella's direction. On Monday, the talk turned to Bill Bedenbaugh, currently a member of the West Virginia staff, following a report from Carey Murdock at SoonerScoop.com that he had emerged as a prime candidate.

Both Mangino and Bedenbaugh have an Air Raid background, which would likely make integration with the current collection of coaches in Norman easy from a scheme standpoint. On the other hand, neither have shown much in the way of developing a punishing ground game.

In other words, even if there's someone new coaching the line in the fall, don't bank on massive changes to OU's offensive philosophy.

Podcast: OU's 2013 recruiting class with Josh McCuistion

Oklahoma capped off its 2013 recruiting class last week with National Signing Day. Attention has already shifted ahead to the 2014 crop. Josh McCuistion of SoonerScoop.com joins Homerism for a podcast to recap the latest signees and look ahead to next year.

Josh and I cover:

*Some fans' general disappointment with the 2013 class.

*The Sooners' image with high school recruits.

*Standouts and sleepers in the 2013 group.

*Misses in the latest class.

*Needs for 2014.

*And more.

(Subscribe to Blatant Homerism's Podcast through iTunes. Please rate and review the show if you get the chance, too. Thanks.)

Sooners Recruiting Update: First look at 2014

Oklahoma just had a very successful first junior day with more than 25 kids visiting. OU got one verbal out of the weekend, and the Sooners appear to have jumped into the lead for possibly a half-dozen additional prospects. If OU was somewhat passive at the beginning of last year’s recruiting season in making offers, then this year OU is going all out with early offers to players.

OU’s next junior day appears to be set for Feb. 16. With big talent pools in Texas for defensive backs and linebackers and good overall talent in Oklahoma, it would not be a surprise to see a flurry of early verbals again.

The biggest concern right now in recruiting is that it’s not a great year in Texas or Oklahoma for offensive linemen, OU’s ability to land out of region OL prospects is suspect at best right now. OU needs numbers at OL and, ideally, some players like Adam Shead, Nila Kasitati and Darryl Williams who were able to be productive frontline players as redshirt freshmen.

Verbal Update: First two commitments are in the books

OU now has two verbal commitments for 2014: Armanti Foreman, who is arguably the best wide receiver in Texas, and Vontre McQuinnie, a safety/outside linebacker from Lancaster, Texas.

Foreman definitely will end up in the top 50 of most Texas lists. Right now, based on their junior years, it’s either Foreman or K.D. Cannon for best WR in Texas. Foreman will continue the new tradition of fantastic slot WRs (Mark Clayton, Ryan Broyles, Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard).

McQuinnie was offered right before OU’s junior day this weekend and verbaled while in Norman. He’s a big safety and possible nickel LB. Mike Stoops seems convinced that he needs to stockpile big safeties as a response to spread passing games with mobile QBs. (It would not surprise me if the rumors of a hybrid 3-4 defense really are true.) Where is McQuinnie going to be ranked? I’m not sure, since the DB class in Texas is absurdly good – a theme that is sure to be discussed all year long.

2014 Verbal Commitments: 2
(Class size: 22-24)

Armanti Foreman, WR
(5-11, 180, 4.45)

Vontre McQuinnie, DB
(6-1, 200, 4.6)

Class Breakdown

Quarterback: 1

(*If Cody Thomas goes pro in baseball, OU might think about signing two QBs.)

Justice Hansen (6-3, 195, 4.6) – This name has been out there in Sooner recruiting circles for nearly two years. Hansen has been a factor at Sooner summer camps for the last two years and had a fantastic junior year, showing improvement over his excellent sophomore season Hansen has an OU offer, and his dad played baseball for OU in the 1990s.

David Cornwell (6-4, 205, 4.7) – Small-school QB has moved to Norman for his senior year. His film is excellent. It is just a shame that there are two great in-state QBs in the same year. He’s probably right behind Hansen in terms of an OU offer.

Running Back: 2

OU only signed one RB last year with Keith Ford, but it has three senior RBs graduating. Taking two RBs in this class seems likely.

Nathan Starks (6-0, 210, 4.45) – It’s about time that OU signed a great RB from Bishop Gorman again. Starks is that RB. He has been very clear that OU is one of his favorites and that Murray is one of his favorite RBs. A very possible five-star RB.

Joe Mixon (6-1, 190, 4.45) – Any RB who wears 28 and wants folks to call him "the next Adrian Peterson" is probably interested in hearing from OU. Mixon has an OU offer and is excellent RB with home run speed. Like Starks, he has a number of big-time offers.

Wide Receiver: 3?

OU surprisingly took four WRs in 2013, so it’s hard to know what the number will be for 2014. LaColtan Bester and Jalen Saunders are graduating, so OU is looking at least taking two. Can OU take Cannon to go with Foreman since they are very similar players?

Jeffrey Mead (6-7, 170, 4.6) – Is Mead a basketball player or a football player? His junior year showed a tall WR with great hands and excellent speed who was a consistent mismatch against smaller DBs. Seems like Mead is more interested in basketball, but offers from OU and OSU for football might make this more of a choice.

Nick Alexander (6-3, 195, 4.5) – A superstar at the OU summer camp of 2012, Alexander had an uneven junior year from all reports.

K.D. Cannon (6-0, 170, 4.4) – Best WR in Texas? Cannon is a legit contender for that crown. Extremely fast and elusive, Cannon would make an awesome slot WR for the Sooners. Can OU sign both Armanti and KD with such similar receiving games?

Dorian Leonard (6-5, 190, 4.5) – Malcolm Kelly redux? Leonard looks great on film. He's a big, fluid athlete making those big down field catches that Kelly did so well in 2006/2007. Has an OU offer.

Mark Andrews (6-7, 226, 4.6) – Huge WR/TE who has been very public about his interest in OU. Andrews on film looks like an excellent big WR, but you have to wonder if a natural move to TE is in his future.

Offensive Line: 5 (at least)

OU tanked again on Signing Day at OL, and situation is getting desperate.

Oklahoma has great depth in the junior and senior OL group, but underclassmen-wise, it’s very shallow. OU needs depth, and at least two or three of these kids need to be players who can contribute quickly, not in three years.

OU has a bunch of offers out there to national OL prospects. The list below includes players in the region who appear to have an interest in OU. After the last two years, it’s hard to project OU landing a top 10 national OL prospect. There isn’t an in-state OL prospect right now on the offer list, and it does not appear to be a great year in Texas, either.

Ty Barrett (6-5, 295, 5.2) – Athletic tackle prospect from Dallas Skyline. OU has numerous players from Skyline. Just visited for junior day and has an OU offer.

Braden Smith (6-6, 275, 5.0) – Nationally ranked OL prospect who starred last summer at the OU summer camp where he was probably the top prospect. OU will be in the hunt, but all the big powers have offered Smith.

Andy Bauer (6-6, 300, 5.0) – Former teammate of Durron Neal might be a top five OL in the country. Bama is after him along with a host of other teams. OU could get a visit in the spring.

Jovan Pruitt (6-6, 290, 5.2) – Recently offered by OU and Notre Dame. Huge-framed kid looks a little stiff in his stance, but he shows some power on film.

Blake Blackmar (6-5, 300) – Blackmar has some flexibility by playing center in HS, so he could play anywhere on the OL. Blake has expressed interest in OU previously.

Jacob Bragg (6-3, 290,5.2) – If OU wants to recruit a pure center, Bragg would be a great target. Bragg has previously expressed interest in OU and looks like an excellent center prospect.

Tight End: 2

OU struck out at TE in 2013, so two tight ends would make a lot of sense for 2014. OU really needs to use the TE more in their offense. Hopefully, Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant return the TE position to relevance this fall.

Koda Martin (6-6, 250, 4.8) – Looking for a big prototype blocking TE? Martin is it. Last year he started showing some receiving skills as well. The only question is: Like Eric Winston, does he grow into an elite mobile OT or stay at TE?

Dalton Schultz (6-5, 220, 4.7) – Top-ranked national TE who has received an OU offer. Not sure at this point where OU stands.

Nic Weishar (6-5, 220, 4.6) – Excellent pass-receiving TE from the Chicago area. Shows excellent speed with the ability to stretch the field down the seams.

Mike’Quan Deane (6-4,220, 4.6) – A possible Sooner from Tulsa Memorial! (Go Chargers.) Big WR/TE target. Shows excellent receiving skills and speed, but not much in the way of blocking footage/skills. No offer yet, but he was just at the OU junior day.

Defensive Tackle: 2

The Sooners are not quite in the desperate place for DTs that they were in with the 2013 class. Still, you’d like to see OU sign a top DT every year. No prospects in Oklahoma right now, and Texas does not look to have a deep pool of candidates.

Zaycoven Henderson (6-2, 285, 5.0) – Recent OU offer and junior day attendee. His film is excellent, and he shows run-stopping and pass-rushing ability. Nice combination of burst and strength. He might be the best DT in Texas.

Khairi Clark (6-3, 310, 5.0) – The entire world is recruiting Clark. His film is elite – massive frame, explosive burst, playmaking ability on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Travonte Valentine (6-3, 285, 4.9) – Valentine has verbaled to Louisville and now Florida, but he has an OU offer as well.

Defensive End: 2

OU signed an excellent three-player DE class in 2013, but I’m guessing Bobby Jack Wright still has the green light to add two top-flight DEs if he can find them. OU has offers out to national targets like DaShawn Hand, but I don’t see it going anywhere.

Solomon Thomas (6-3, 260, 4.8) – Probably the top overall DL prospect in Texas. Thomas could be a 3-4 DE or possibly grow into a DT. OU has offered, and he just visited for junior day. Very impressive film.

Myles Garrett (6-4, 230, 4.7) – After Thomas, Garrett is getting a lot of attention as the next best DE.

Deondre Clark (6-4, 240, 4.8) – After Justice Hansen, Clark is probably the top prospect in OK. Unfortunately, he has a brother at OSU playing basketball and seems very interested in LSU. OU is recruiting him and has offered, but he seems focused elsewhere.

Linebacker: 4

Last year it was DTs, this year’s desperate recruiting position that has the message boards worried a year before signing day is LB. Tim Kish has already been labeled by some as a disaster.

Fortunately, it’s a great year for LBs from Texas (unlike last year), and Kish appears to have made some excellent connections with these prospects. In addition, two excellent LBs from Illinois have expressed serious interest in OU.

Kish could very quickly dismiss the "problem coach" label with some early verbals at LB.

Otaro Alaka (6-3, 210, 4.5) – Wow. I love this film as an OLB to help OU deal with spread attacks. Alaka does a great job attacking the perimeter and also in coverage. Great range, power.

James David (6-3, 226, 4.6)  – Might be the best MLB in Texas. David tore his ACL last year, so there’s some question about when he will be back on the field. His junior year film is great. James is the younger brother of Derek David, whose career has been derailed by off-the-field legal issues.

Gyasi Akem (6-2, 215, 4.6) – Best-looking OLB prospect in state of OK. Very physical and excellent speed. Probably is leaning to OSU and will join his Broken Arrow teammate Devon Thomas.

Cameron Hampton (6-2, 210, 4.6) – Another great-looking OLB prospect.

Josh Mabin (6-2, 225) – With David hurt, Mabin might be the best MLB prospect in Texas. Very physical, does a great job in coverage and stopping the run with some power inside.

Niles Morgan (6-2, 215 4.5) – OU has already offered this speedy physical OLB. OU has a connection back to David Smith, so a visit is not out of the question. Has a lot of big-time offers.

Zach Whitley (6-2, 215, 4.6) – Have not heard a great deal about Whitley. He might be leaning to Texas.

Christian Sam (6-2, 205, 4.5) – Just visited for OU’s first junior day. No offer yet, but his film is excellent.

Clifton Garrett (6-2, 225, 4.6) – If Morgan is the speed LB from Illinois, then Garrett is the power LB. The entire Big Ten has offered him. OU has offered, and a visit would not be a surprise.

Defensive Back: 3-4

This might be the best and deepest talent pool of DBs from Texas in forever. There’s legitimately 15 to 16 four-star-type DBs in the state. It’s going to be nearly impossible to really rank the guys – the talent level is that high. The top 50 in Texas could easily be populated with 20 DBs.

OU has to take advantage of this group and sign three or four kids.

Darrion Johnson (5-10, 185, 4.5) – OU offer. Visited for the junior day. Very physical CB with excellent cover and open-field tackling skills.

Arrion Spring (5-11, 190, 4.5) – OU offer. Visited for junior day. Safety prospect who is excellent in coverage and very physical in run support. Excellent tackler.

Edwin Freeman (6-2, 190, 4.5) – OU offer at safety. Huge frame with excellent speed and range.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner (6-2, 190, 4.5) – OU offer at safety. Visited for first junior day. Was verbaled to Clemson.

Nick Watkins (6-1, 185, 4.5) – Best big CB in Texas? His offer list (OU included) sure lends credence to that statement.

Nick Harvey (5-11, 180, 4.5) – Might be the best CB in Texas. Verbaled to Texas A&M. OU will try to get him on campus for a junior day.

Tony Brown (6-1, 180, 4.5) – Okay, Brown might be the best DB in Texas. OU offer, but he is rumored to be a lean to LSU.

Steven Parker (6-2, 185, 4.5) – Best DB prospect in Oklahoma. Has an OU offer and was a star at the OU summer camp.

Michiah Quick (6-0, 175, 4.4) – Despite his HS having three big-time DBs just sign LOIs, Quick might be the best one overall. After signing Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore, OU will be all over this California offer.

Jamal Adams (6-1, 190, 4.5) – Both OU and UT are after this big, talented safety. Might be the best safety in Texas.

John Bonney (6-0, 185, 4.5) – OU offer out of the Houston area. He has not visited yet for a junior day.

No Mangino

Mark Mangino

Since he got let go at Kansas in 2009, Mark Mangino has, on occasion, cut a sizable figure on the Oklahoma sideline.

The former OU offensive coordinator has hovered – quite noticeably, of course – in the background of the program during his coaching hiatus, ostensibly kicking it with his good friend Bob Stoops while collecting a rather considerable termination settlement from the Jayhawks. Of course, his appearances around the program every so often have led to idle chatter that Stoops might give the big fella his second chance after an ignominious parting with KU.

The chatter sounds a little less idle as of late. Talk among people in the know of Mangino returning to coach the offensive line has picked up steam this offseason. Oklahoma City television sports anchor Dean Blevins broke the seal on the rumors today.

Kinda concerning?

This story – if you want to call it that – is standing on some awfully shaky footing. Blevins admitted that he was just parroting some information that he couldn’t confirm from colleague Mark Rodgers. Not to mention, based on Blevins’ past “scoops,” Bob Stoops has been coaching at Florida for the past 12 years and OU is leaving for the Pac-12 this summer. (There's also the matter of James Patton still being employed as the offensive line coach.)

All that being said, I can’t fathom why anyone would think rehiring Mangino is a good idea, let alone that it’s acceptable.

I have no doubt that Mangino would, at least in part, dispute the allegations of verbal and physical abuse leveled against him by his former players at KU. Maybe none of it ever happened. It doesn’t matter.

Even if it’s all bunk, those kinds of stories don’t just disappear on the recruiting trail. Opposing coaches would have a field day relating allegations of mistreatment and racially coded taunts towards players. Or, they could just let a simple Google search do it for them.

That reflects poorly on more than just Mangino and his efforts to attract talent to Norman. It stains the perceptions of the entire program.

Hopefully, Stoops is just trying to help drum up interest on the coaching circuit for his friend. Mangino may deserve another shot at coaching. Someone else can give it to him.

National Signing Day: Ford, Byrd lead Sooners' 2013 recruiting class

Keith Ford

Another National Signing Day in the books, another one that came and went with relatively little drama for Oklahoma.

The Sooners nabbed a late pledge from L.J. Moore, a four-star defensive back out of California, according to the Rivals recruiting service. Otherwise, it was pretty quiet around the war room in Norman.

Overall, the 2013 class certainly won't go down as one of Bob Stoops' best efforts.

How the recruitniks view OU's 2013 class

Recruiting Service National Ranking (Big 12)
Rivals 15 (1)
ESPN 16 (2)
Scout 15 (1)
247Sports 13 (1)

For sure, there are plenty of strong prospects in the group. Glaring holes in the roster were filled. Yet, in terms of superstar power, the class seems a little lacking.

Let's take a deeper look at the 2013 crop:

Crown Jewel: Keith Ford

The consensus highest-rated player in the 2013 class, Ford may be the best running back recruit to land at OU since Demarco Murray. The Houston product runs with authority when he has the ball in his hands. When he doesn't, his physical style of play should make him an asset as a blocker and, potentially, on special teams.

Ford faces a logjam at running back in the short term. In the long run, however, he should grow into an elite running back on the national level and possible first-round draft selection.

Charles WalkerDiamond in the Rough: Charles Walker

In a year in which the Sooner coaching staff had to make up some ground late in the recruiting cycle, Jackie Shipp mined himself a gem in Walker, a 6-4, 280 defensive tackle out of Garland, Texas.

Injuries early in his high school career apparently kept Walker off the radar of the country's top programs. However, he looks dominant in the middle of line in the film from his senior year. If he stays healthy, Walker will work his way into the rotation on the defensive line very quickly.

Quarterback of the Future (?): Cody Thomas

Thomas may be the most talented among a super-talented bunch of signal callers on campus this fall. He will redshirt in '13. However, if Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson stumble in the spotlight come fall, Thomas could find himself squarely in the mix for the starting job the following spring.

An important caveat with Thomas: He's also considered a top-flight baseball prospect, so who knows how strongly the diamond will compete for his attention in the offseason?

Couldn't Miss: Defensive Tackle

Of all the flaws in OU's 2012 squad, none hurt the Sooners more than the subpar play from the defensive line. Jackie Shipp's DTs, in particular, have foundered since all-star Gerald McCoy headed out for the fame and fortune of the NFL.

Junior college transfer Quincy Russell, a one-time Texas commitment, will have the opportunity to step in and play almost immediately following the departures of Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. (Of course, given that he's a JUCO, would it surprise you to know he might not qualify?) Looking to the future, Walker and Kerrick Huggins (another grade risk) stand to create a formidable combo.

Obviously, OU is rolling the dice with a few members of the DT group. All in all, though, Shipp appears to have come through with enough late additions to salvage the position.

Swing and a Miss: Offensive Tackle

A year after signing a grand total of one prep tackle in 2012 – who quit school as soon as fall practices began – position coach Bruce Kittle landed a single high school prospect in 2013, Christian Daimler, a Rivals three-star recruit. JUCO transfer Josiah St. John should provide depth right off the bat. The future looks awfully thin, though.

Stoops needs to light a fire under Kittle, who's undoubtedly getting torn to shreds by competitors on the recruiting trail for his lack of coaching experience.

Hatari ByrdSudden Impact: Hatari Byrd

A phsyical, do-everything safety out of California who has a chance to start from the jump. Sound familiar?

Ironically, Byrd is a strong contender to replace fellow Golden Stater Tony Jefferson after he declared early for the NFL. With Jefferson's running mate Javon Harris having used up his eligibility as well, the Sooners are re-working the safey corps. Byrd will have a chance to make his mark early.

Top Recruiter: Mike Stoops

In his first run as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, the book on Mike was that he was great in the film room and below average in the living room. In his first full year back from his sojourn to the desert, Mike looks like he added some polish to his pitch.

In addition to Byrd, Mike reeled in four-star cornerback Stanvon Taylor out of Tulsa and Floridian Ahmad Thomas, a three-star safety who may see time in the fall. Mike capped off his rock-solid class with a signature from four-star safety L.J. Moore, who the Sooners had to recruit all the way up to Signing Day.

In the pass-happy Big 12, Mike's improved ability to land quality DBs will hopefully pay big dividends for the Sooners.

Sooners Recruiting Update: Signing Day is nigh

OU continues to take a beating at the offensive line position with Aaron Cochran, Dwayne Young, Rami Hammad all off the board with no verbals to the Sooners.

However, new names continue to appear, and OU already received a visit from George Adeosun from Alpharetta, Ga. Adeosun is the definition of a high-quality sleeper. Adeosun didn’t start as a junior, he missed the summer camp circus and his film only became available in December. He has now racked up offers from Virginia, Arizona State, Tennessee, Georgia and Georgia Tech. He just visited ASU, and assuming that he does not make a late visit next week to one of the local schools, OU appears to be in decent shape with this excellent athlete.

OU also had a visit from Josh Outlaw. OU appears to be good shape here as well. Outlaw is a big-time OL talent and could play inside or outside at tackle.

The newest of the new names is JUCO offensive guard Dionte Savage, who has decided to commit to the Sooners. OU beat several other teams for his last official visit. Savage is a massive OG prospect at 6-6, 345. He probably needs to play at a weight closer to 320 to maximize his mobility. Savage will be a great addition for interior depth if Tyler Evans and Nila Kasitati have a hard time coming back from their knee injuries suffered last year.

The only other position in play is defensive back, and OU has two four-star targets left in L.J. Moore and Adrian Baker. L.J. Moore’s high school teammate Hatari Byrd certainly thinks that Moore is going to join him in Norman. Let’s hope Byrd knows something, but Moore won’t announce until Signing Day, and Oregon State is probably the other favorite. Baker won’t announce until signing day. Clemson got the last in-home coaching visit and is the presumed leader.

There’s no action at tight end at all or at linebacker. OU will stand pat on those positions and focus towards 2014 prospects instead.

Dominique Alexander is seeing a flurry of late recruiting activity with offers from KSU, Stanford and Nebraska in the last two weeks. Arkansas is pushing heavily to regain his commitment. So far, though, it looks like Alexander will stay with OU.

Verbal Update: OU adds three, no defections

*One of OU's latest verbals, as expected, was Matt Romar, defensive lineman from the Houston area. Romar had a very productive senior year moving inside to defensive tackle from playing defensive end as a junior. His speed inside was a mismatch for interior OL guys, so his highlight reel features a lot of playing behind the line of scrimmage.

At around 6-3, 270, Romar easily looks like he could carry 285 without losing any speed. At that size, Romar could play DE in a 3-4 look or play the 3-technique in a 4-3 defense (like Tommie Harris and now Henry Melton for the Chicago Bears). Romar also played some tailback for his high school. He’s a high three-star guy, but really his senior year film at DT looks more like a four-star DT. A good comparison would be that he’s a more athletic Corey Bennett (Sooner DT, 2005-2007).

*Oklahoma also picked up a pledge from defensive back Dakota Austin out of Lancaster, Texa, as well as JUCO OL Dionte Savage..

Verbal Commitments: 23
(Class size: 24 to 26)

D.J. Ward, DE
(6-4, 235, 4.6)

Hatari Byrd, DB
(6-2, 195, 4.55)

Matt Dimon, DE
(6-3, 255, 4.8)

Stanvon Taylor, CB
(5-11, 175, 4.4)

Cody Thomas, QB
(6-5, 220, 4.6)

Ahmad Thomas, SS
(6-0, 200, 4.5)

Matt Romar, DT
(6-3, 270, 4.75)

Charles Walker, DT
(6-4, 280, 4.8)

K.J. Young, WR
(6-1,180, 4.5)

Dannon Cavil, WR
(6-5, 205, 4.5)

Quincy Russell, DT
(6-4, 315)

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/LB
(6-3, 220, 4.6)

Kerrick Hughes, DT
(6-4, 285, 4.9)

Jordan Smallwood, WR
(6-2, 195, 4.55)

Jordan Evans, LB/DE
(6-3, 210, 4.55)

Jed Barnett, Punter
(6-2, 210)

Christian Daimler, OL
(6-6, 280, 5.1)

Josiah St. John, OL
(6-6, 310, 5.2)

Dominique Alexander, LB/S
(6-2, 195, 4.5)

Austin Bennett, WR
(6-0, 170, 4.45)

Keith Ford, RB
(5-11, 200, 4.5)

Dakota Austin, DB
(5-11, 167, 4.5)

Dionte Savage, OL
(6-5, 345)

Final Class Prediction

QB: Cody Thomas

RB: Keith Ford

WR: Jordan Smallwood, Austin Bennett, K.J. Young, Dannon Cavil

TE:

OL: Dionte Savage, Christian Daimler, Josh Outlaw, George Adeosun, Josiah St. John

DT: Quincy Russell, Kerrick Huggins, Charles Walker, Matt Romar

DE: D.J. Ward, Matt Dimon, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

LB: Jordan Evans, Dominique Alexander

DB: Dakota Austin, Stanvon Taylor, Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, LJ Moore, Adrian Baker

Who is left in play?

Offensive Line

Kendall Moore (6-5, 275, 5.0) – Another OT prospect whose film is starting to generate more big time offers. It’s unclear if he will go ahead and visit OU or not. Big frame very athletic. Can easily carry 300-plus pounds. Probably more of a LT prospect.

George Adeosun (6-6, 305, 5.0) – Yet another sleeper OT prospect with excellent film who has seen a flurry of recent offers. Didn’t attend any summer camps and was stuck behind a talented senior his junior year, so he went under the radar until several weeks ago. Now has offers from a number of BCS powers. Has already visited OU.

Josh Outlaw (6-4, 290, 4.9) – Recent UF decommit. Powerful mobile OG/OT combo OL prospect. Several out-of-area schools, including OU and TCU, are offering Outlaw. Just visited OU.

Maurice Porter (6-6, 285, 5.2) – A Texas Tech verbal who has reappeared on the radar. Played OG his junior year, but played mostly tackle his senior year. Film is much improved.

Defensive Back

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.

L.J. Moore (6-1, 185, 4.45) – OU is now back in the hunt for Moore. Moore is an ideal hybrid between CB and safety that would fit the OU defense perfectly. Hatari Byrd has been talking up the Sooners. Another Signing Day decision between OU, Oregon State and probably Arizona State.

Fixing the Sooners: Exploring offensive efficiency

landry-jones-450
Previously, we took a look under the hood of the Oklahoma Sooners' defense and found evidence that it might not have been quite so horrific as the firebrentvenables.com crowd would have had you think. Now, let's examine the other side of the ball.

Ever since Bob Stoops took over in 1999, the Sooners have consistently fielded strong offensive teams. When OU transitioned to an uptempo spread offense in 2007, the Sooners' output ramped up significantly.

OU-Off-Chart
As detailed previously, the rise in OU's offensive numbers coincided with an overall explosion in the Big 12. While I'd hesitate to say that OU's offense necessarily "improved" beginning in '07, the Sooners certainly saw their stats start to look more impressive at that point. Playing at a breakneck pace, OU frequently ran off 100 offensive snaps in a game, juicing the O's output.

 

We shouldn't mistake compiling Nintendo-type numbers with quality, though. As we did with the D, let's take a look at the Sooners' offensive efficiency since '07 via our friends from Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau with Football Outsiders. First up is Connelly's S&P+ series, which is based on play-by-play data and takes competition into account.

 

Oklahoma S&P+, Offense (Nat'l. Rank)
Year Off. Rushing Passing Std. Down Pass Down
2007 13 31 10 34 5
2008 1 4 1 6 1
2009 71 72 43 87 38
2010 18 11 23 52 7
2011 16 14 29 21 25

Looking at the S&P+ stats, the discrepancy between running the football and throwing it in the last two years stands out. OU's high-powered passing attack has been the Sooners' calling card, but OU actually ran the ball very effectively.

Additionally, check out how well the Sooners performed on passing downs in 2010. OU was nothing special on standard downs, a function of the offense's inability to run on first down (3.68 yards per attempt, which ranked 102nd nationally, according to cfbstats.com). The passing game was so strong that it didn't make a difference.

With production falling off on passing downs a year later, OU's third-down conversion percentage fell from 44.3 percent (34th nationally) to 41.8 percent (51st), according to cfbstats.com. Not a huge difference, but still worth noting, especially in light of the fact that OU went from an average of roughly 18 third-down conversions attempts per game in '10 to 15 in '11.

Fremeau's FEI statistics, which are based on drives, add to the picture of what the Sooner O looked like.

Oklahoma FEI, Offense (Nat'l. Rank)
Year OFEI FD AY Ex Me Va
2007 15 39 13 3 75 6
2008 1 8 2 5 29 2
2009 60 65 63 62 59 63
2010 11 40 26 51 11 23
2011 18 17 11 11 87 23

Note that OU's methodical and explosive statistics essentially flipped from 2010 to 2011. Nearly 20 percent of the Sooners' drives in 2011 averaged 10 yards per play or more, up from approximately 14 percent a year earlier. Conversely, about 19 percent of Oklahoma's drives in 2010 went 10 plays of more. That fell to nearly 12 percent a year later.

In other words, whereas the Sooners patiently matriculated the ball down the field with aplomb two years ago, OU appears to have generated more of its offense from big plays last season.

Conclusion

We've devoted much of this to comparing just the last two seasons. However, backing up and looking at all of this with a little wider lens, what was different about the 2011 version of the Sooners and the teams that won conference championships in 2007, 2008 and 2010?

Not that much.

In reality, the O moved the ball with relatively the same level of proficiency that it did in '07 and '10. It was a notch below the '08 squad, which was one of the greatest offenses of all time. Teams through the years might have taken different paths to get there, but in terms of offensive output, they generally ended up at the same destination. (You could say the same thing for the defense, really.)

As an OU fan, that's frustrating, because, numbers be damned, something about last season's offense definitely felt "off."

In the next installment, we'll look at the "momentum" of OU's offense, which may hold the key to getting the Sooners back on track.

Thoughts on Oklahoma Sooners' 2012 Schedule

Today's news that West Virginia had been "terminated" by the Big East cleared the way for the release of the hotly anticipated 2012 Big 12 football schedule. While the OU athletic department hasn't formally released the Sooners' non-conference slate, we can put two and two and two together to figure it out.

2012 Oklahoma Sooners Schedule

Sept. 1: at UTEP
Sept. 8: Florida A&M
Sept. 15: OPEN
Sept. 22: vs. Kansas State
Sept. 29: OPEN
Oct. 6: at Texas Tech
Oct. 13: vs. Texas (at Dallas)
Oct. 20: vs. Kansas
Oct. 27: vs. Notre Dame
Nov. 3: at Iowa State
Nov. 10: vs. Baylor
Nov. 17: at West Virginia
Nov. 24: vs. Oklahoma State
Dec. 1: at TCU

A few observations:

*Prior to the release of the schedule, I had heard that OU would likely be West Virginia's first ever conference game in Morgantown in September. Obviously, that didn't happen, although I think it's better for OU to catch the Mountaineers earlier than later.

*Travis Haney of The Oklahoman says the schedule was set up to prevent any more shuffling of dates, hence part of the delay in its release. Count me in with Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, though, who contends this is more of a rough draft than finished product.

Given the hits that OU has taken for the conference recently on the scheduling front, including back-to-back Bedlam games in Stillwater, I wouldn't be shocked if one of the Sooners' November contests is moved to September. Baylor, which plays eight consecutive games to close the year, looks like a logical candidate. The Bears have an open date on Sept. 8 and a game with Sam Houston St. on Sept. 15. OU has FAMU on Sept. 8 and an open date on Sept. 15. Sliding those body bag games to the same weekend would free up a date for the two conference foes to play.

Plus, if they play early in the year, the networks could still capitalize on Baylor's momentum from 2011. The Bears seem primed to take a big step back this season, which would likely mean less interest in November.

*A trip to Iowa State on Nov. 3 has "trap game" written all over it.

*At the moment, that home stretch – at West Virginia, Bedlam, at TCU – looks pretty daunting. I suspect at least one of those teams (nickname rhymes with "Porned Dogs") will fall below expectations, though. Plus, you can bet Owen Field will be rocking for when OSU comes to town.

*Right now, I suspect Vegas would favor OU in all 12 of its games this season. In fact, I suspect the Red River Shootout and the game at WVU would be the only two in which the Sooners were giving less than a touchdown.