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Big 12 Media Days: Stoops speaks, says nothing

Bob Stoops

"That is probably the dumbest question I've ever been asked, Chip." (Photo courtesy: Yahoo! Sports)

OK, so it's not like Bob Stoops said nothing today during his opening session at Big 12 Media Days. However, in an offseason in which Stoops has had plenty to say about seemingly everything pertinent in college football, Oklahoma's coach offered precious little insight into anything relevant about the upcoming season.

A few of what I guess you could call the highlights from Stoops' time at the podium:

*Stoops got testy with Brian Baldinger from Fox over the assumption that Blake Bell will win/has won the nod as the Sooners' starter at quarterback. I liked that part.

Um, to reiterate: If Bell isn't running with the first team come Labor Day weekend, I'll be flabbergasted.

*Maybe the most interesting nugget to come from the Q-and-A period was Stoops indicating that OU could roll out a Belldozer-esque package for Trevor Knight or Kendal Thompson. Bell's big frame makes him better-suited to short-yardage situations, so I wonder if Josh Heupel is toying with a package for Knight or Thompson that could be used outside of those scenarios?

*Stoops did a nifty tap-dance routine around a question about competition in recruiting the state of Texas from schools like TCU and Texas A&M. For some of the more, shall we say, "involved" fans out there, the answer that it's always competitve in the Lone Star State just won't cut it.

*Stoops acknowledged the potential problems created when no-huddle offenses stall on three-and-out drives. Of course, I didn't hear anything to make me think he had plans to fiddle with the pace of play.

*If you hadn't figured it out already...

*Stoops said that if he stays at OU another five years, he doesn't think the Sooners will win the Big 12 every year.

Unacceptable.

Big 12 Media Days: No B.S. from Bowlsby

Bob Bowlsby

"You are getting sleepy... Sleeeeepppyyyyy..." (Photo courtesy: Des Moines Register)

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12's second-year head honcho, comes off like a pretty drab dude.

The former athletic director at Iowa and Stanford wears suits straight from the Brooks Brothers racks. He has a delivery that sounds tailor-made for hypnotism. I imagine he has a bowl of Cream of Wheat every morning for breakfast.

The presentation might have been characteristically bland, but the rhetoric coming from Bowlsby up at the podium today during his commissioner's address at the conference's media extravaganza was not.

Most notably, Bowlsby took direct aim at the structure of college athletics. He stopped short of calling for the big dogs to leave the NCAA – to the contrary, he indicated that there was no traction behind the idea of breaking away.

On the other hand, when Bowlsby says something like this, it's easy to read between the lines:

“I really think the time has come to think about federation by size and scope and equity brought to the system. There are about 75 schools that win 90 percent of the championships in the NCAA, and we have a whole bunch of others that don’t look much like the people in our league, but yet through rule variation they’re trying to compete with us."

His remarks about the need for "transformational change" fit right in with the gist of comments from the other power conferences about overhauling the organization.

To me, it seems clear where this is heading. Breaking away from the NCAA would bring tons of headaches for the power conferences in terms of the logistics of overseeing non-revenue sports. As Bowlsby indicated, however, some type of new division for the largest, richest schools sounds imminent.

Other notes and observations from the first day with the hacks:

*News flash: The Big 12 isn't expanding anytime soon.

*Invoking the Nature Boy will always draw admirers, but in keeping with the theme of straight shooting, the general lack of puffery in Bowlsby's characterization of Big 12 football was interesting to me. He pretty much conceded that everyone takes a backseat to the Southeastern Conference right now. Departure from the usual commissioner playbook.

*The plan to show highlights during media timeouts at Big 12 games generated some positive buzz from the Twitter punditry.

 

 

Color me skeptical that it will stop the bleeding in attendance, though. If I want highlights, I can get them a lot easier from my couch than inside a stadium.

*Speaking of shooting straight, I'm assuming you heard that Kansas head coach Charlie Weis referred to his team as a "pile of crap." I'm guessing that his players did, too.

Yeah, we get it, Chuckles: You didn't recruit the guys who went 1-11 in your first year. What a waste of your abundant genius.

*Bill Snyder pulled the boss move of forgoing an opening statement during his general session with the media and getting straight to reporters' questions.

New Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury did, too – not as boss for a rookie. Who does he think he is?

Media record handicapping the Big 12 is spotty

Big 12

Oklahoma State is picked to win the Big 12 Conference this year by the members of the media who represent the conference. The media members have been correct 11 of 21 times since the Big 12’s first year in 1996. That’s a .524 batting average, which is great if you’re a baseball hitter.

Eight times, the media got it right by picking the North and South divisions (or as of the past two years, the conference champion) in the same year.

In 1996, the media hacks got Nebraska and Texas right, but it took six more years to get a perfect score. In 2002 they chose OU and Colorado to win their divisions. They got it right again the next year with OU and Kansas State.

They also got a perfect score in 2005 (Colorado and Texas), 2006 (OU and Nebraska), 2008 (OU and Missouri), 2009 (Nebraska and Texas) and 2010 (OU and Nebraska). The writers and broadcasters also were right by picking OU to win in 2010 and 2012 when the Big 12 realigned without divisions.

The media completely struck out only twice by incorrectly guessing the two division winners in 2000 and 2001. They picked Texas to win the South in 2000 and Nebraska to claim the North. Kansas State won the North, and the Sooners took the South, the conference and the whole ball of wax that year. The media poll pegged OU and Nebraska to win their divisions a year later, but Texas won the South and Colorado took the North.

Five times the writers and broadcasters got half of the picks right. In 1997, they got it right with Nebraska in the North, but missed with Texas in the South. Texas A&M won the South that year. Nebraska and Texas A&M were the choices the following year, but Kansas State won the north in 1998.

The media picked Nebraska and Texas A&M in 1999, but Texas won the South. Five years later, they got it right with their choice of Oklahoma in the South, but they missed by picking Kansas State to claim the North; Colorado did instead. In 2007, the media picked Missouri and Texas to win their respective divisions, but the Sooners claimed the South that year.

They got it wrong by selecting OU to win the conference in 2011; OSU took that title. Now, the Pokes are picked to win it this year. They have never been favored to win a conference title of any kind.

In other words, the pressure is on for the Pokes.

Tavon Austin torches the Oklahoma defense (Part II)

When we last revisited the 2012 Oklahoma-West Virginia game, we looked at the stressors that the diabolical Dana Holgorsen applied to the Sooner D.

The Austin Pistol formation forced OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to make some difficult choices regarding personnel in this game. Mike – infamously – decided to go with a bizarre grouping of four down linemen and seven defensive backs the majority of the time (34 of 39 plays).

The Sooners stuck with a Cover-2 Man Under concept. A defensive back was matched up with every designated receiver, while safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson were tasked with supporting the run and helping in pass coverage over the middle of the field.

WVU rolled up 475 total yards in the 39 plays run out of the Austin Pistol for the game, an average of 12.2 yards per play.

Clearly, this didn't work well. Let's discuss why:

1. West Virginia's offensive line manhandled OU's front four.

Out of more than 80 offensive plays for WVU in this game, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone on the defensive line got any sort of penetration. Way more often than not, the Mountaineers were blowing Sooners back or turning them every which way they wanted.

Like this:

2. OU was essentially playing four-on-five in the box against the run.

OU-WVU 2012

With the receivers spread so far out and Austin in the backfield, dimeback Julian Wilson was essentially functioning as a middle linebacker. On run plays, WVU's center (No. 74) would release almost immediately to the second line of the defense and take Wilson out of the play. That is a mismatch all day long.

OU-WVU 2012

With the defensive line getting beaten up so badly and Wilson a non-factor, the Mountaineers had plenty of room to operate in the box and set Austin up for big gains.

3. Tavon Austin and Tony Jefferson.

Tavon Austin was the sixth pick in April's NFL draft for a reason. He is a blur running in a straight line and slippery along the lines of Percy Harvin in open space. Holgo drew up a nasty plan to take advantage of both, and that tended to come at the expense of Tony Jefferson, OU’s star safety. Here’s an example.

OU-West Virginia 2012

WVU lines up in the Austin Pistol with dangerous wideout Stedman Bailey at the top of the screen matched up one-on-one against cover man Aaron Colvin.

OU-WVU 2012

Off the snap, the play looks like a stretch run going left towards Bailey’s side of the field. Colvin turns and runs with Bailey, putting his back to the action in the backfield (as he is supposed to do). This creates a potential lane for Austin to the outside. Jefferson reacts to the flow of the play and breaks to fill the lane.

OU-West Virginia 2012

The defensive line has done a decent job stretching Austin to the outside. Jefferson is in clear position to make the play in close proximity to the line of scrimmage. Then, this happens:

Pretty filthy.

Fair or not, Austin probably cost Jefferson some major cash with this performance. Not Jefferson's best night.

Alternate Realities

OK, so we know why OU’s strategy in this case didn’t work. That begs a harder question: What should the Sooners have done differently?

Maybe put some more linebackers on the field? Personnel definitely seems like the most logical reason for why WVU was gashing OU’s D on the ground. It makes sense, then, that keeping Corey Nelson, Tom Wort or both in the game would help in stopping the run.

That also brings a new set of issues into play. For starters, that’s going to put a linebacker in coverage on Austin. Bad news.

Also, who’s to say that OU’s linebackers would have done fared any better against the run? Check out what happens to middle linebacker Frank Shannon here:

How about switching up the coverage schemes and going straight zone? Swell idea, but how much of that did OU do last season? Sounds like you’re begging for massive fuck-ups. And it’s not like there are no risks in going zone. Mike’s scheme actually worked pretty well in slowing opposing passing games last year. I doubt he picked the scheme from a hat, if you get my drift.

Cutting to the chase, I’m going to propose a simple theory: OU was powerless to stop this.

Oh sure, the Sooners could have crowded the box once they realized how Holgo planned on using Austin in the backfield. Dedicating more defenders to slowing the Mountaineers’ playmaker would have stopped Austin from going nuts on the ground.

But that’s just trading one set of problems for another. Focusing on stopping Austin would have left the defense exposed against WVU’s high-octane passing game.

I can’t blame Mike Stoops for not seeing the Austin Pistol coming. In this case Holgo came up with an ingenious way to take advantage of OU’s shortcomings, particularly along the defensive line.

Fans never want to admit this, but sometimes the other team has a really good game plan. I'd contend that short of finding some ringers for the front seven, the Sooners were destined for a shootout.

Red zone defense in the Big 12

New Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury last week gave the perfect summation of the rationale behind the rise of up-tempo, spread offenses in college football:

"You want me to play slower, well, OK, you need to get smaller, less strong defensive linemen. To me, it's asking to do that. Stop recruiting these beasts up front and we won't run as many plays."

Kingsbury was responding, of course, to recent calls from the likes of Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema for the NCAA to write rules intended to slow fast-paced offenses. That quote got all the attention, but, as noted by our friend Senator Blutarsky at Get The Picture, Kingsbury, fresh off a stint as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in the SEC, offered some more intriguing observations about how we should evaluate the quality of defenses versus the spread.

“There are some really good players in the Big 12 on defenses, but yards per game is through the roof. That’s just the nature of the game. If Alabama or LSU or those guys faced these offenses all the time, each and every week, it would be different. That’s just a fact.

“We’re big on being great in the red zone, holding people to field goals and creating turnovers. I think the yards are going to be up there. It’s just the way the game is set up these days.”

I’ve shared Kingsbury’s line of thinking when it comes to life in the Big 12 for a while now, and it seems to reflect the emerging consensus on how to best defend the spread:

*Accept that these offenses are going to pick up yards and move the ball;

*Bow up as the field gets shorter and there’s less room for offenses to operate.

Put another way: We traditionally view the defense’s objective as preventing the offense from moving the ball forward. Against the spread, the objective is to minimize the damage.

In practice, that makes forcing a field goal almost tantamount to a stop. It also puts a premium on being able to convert red zone opportunities into six points instead of three.

What does that look like from a statistical perspective? Bearing in mind that these numbers include non-conference games, let’s consider the offenses from last year in the conference first:

Team Red zone trips per game
Oklahoma State 5.54
Kansas State 5.46
Baylor 5.31
Texas Tech 5.23
Oklahoma 5.15
Texas 4.85
West Virginia 4.54
TCU 4.38
Kansas 3.25
Iowa State 3.15

*Source: cfbstats.com

The conference’s median number of offensive red zone trips was five per game. Kansas and Iowa State fell well below that mark. TCU really wasn’t much better.

How about converting those opportunities?

Team Red zone TD %
Texas 69.84
West Virginia 69.49
Oklahoma 68.66
Oklahoma State 66.67
Texas Tech 66.18
Iowa State 65.85
Baylor 65.22
Kansas State 63.38
TCU 49.12
Kansas 46.15

*Source: cfbstats.com

Not much difference overall, but two teams stand out for their conversion rates: Kansas and TCU. While their conference counterparts were hitting paydirt between 65 percent and 70 percent of the time that they made it inside the opponents’ 20, the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs were trying field goals on about every other trip.

Let's look at the defenses in the red zone:

Team Red zone trips per game
TCU 2.92
Oklahoma 3.23
Kansas State 3.62
Iowa State 3.92
Oklahoma State 4.08
Texas Tech 4.15
Baylor 4.46
Texas 4.46
West Virginia 4.92
Kansas 5.42

*Source: cfbstats.com

Defensively, the conference’s median number of red zone trips was approximately 4.1 per game. Again, Kansas looks like an outlier on the wrong end.

And conversion rates:

Team Red zone TD %
TCU 47.37
Kansas State 48.94
Oklahoma State 56.6
Iowa State 56.86
Texas 58.62
Kansas 61.54
Texas Tech 62.96
West Virginia 64.06
Oklahoma 64.29
Baylor 68.97

*Source: cfbstats.com

Kansas State and TCU clearly did better than the rest of the league when it came to forcing field goals.

A few observations within the framework of Kingsbury's comments:

*The Big 12 had six teams finish the year with records between 9-4 and 7-6: Texas, OSU, Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and WVU. The overall picture painted by the red zone numbers indicate that balance shouldn't have come as a surprise.

*League champ K-State fits the mold of a good defensive team. The Wildcats excelled at stymying offenses inside the 20. Not to mention, KSU led the conference in turnovers forced (32). Would you expect anything less from the Purple Wizard?

*Meanwhile, TCU’s season illustrated an offensive corollary. The Horned Frogs played well defensively in the red zone. On the other side of the ball, however, the Horned Frogs’ inability to get touchdowns in the red zone likely played a big part in their mediocre record. With Casey Pachall back behind center this fall, the rest of the league needs to watch out.

*Oklahoma presents a unique case. Despite surrendering TDs at a relatively high rate inside the red zone, the low-ish number of opponents' opportunities suggests to me that the Sooners might have played a little stouter D across the other 80 yards of the field than the rest of the league. (Same goes for TCU.) For as poorly as OU played against the run in '12, that would provide proof that Mike Stoops actually did a fantastic job coaching up the secondary and scheming against the pass.

Ndulue's arrest illustrates depth issues on defensive line

Chuka Ndulue

Ndulue will probably get a break from the season opener. (Photo courtesy: CBSSports.com)

For the Sooners to be successful in 2013, they’re going to have to have a solid front line. Right now, the line appears unstable.

Chuka Ndulue moved from end to tackle in the spring for added depth to the interior, but he got busted last Saturday for a DUI. That usually means a one-game suspension since it’s his first offense. The other three guys working on the tackle rotation are Jordan Phillips, Torrea Peterson and Jordan Wade. They have played a total of 15 games in their careers. Phillips played in 10 games last year, Peterson played in five games two years ago and Wade was redshirted a year ago.

Quincy Russell was going to be the saving grace. The JUCO All-American has had academic problems, however, and still hasn’t reported for voluntary workouts this summer. Hopefully, he will be in camp this fall, but don’t hold your breath, Sooner fans. Carey Murdock of SoonerScoop.com has reported in radio appearances that Russell hasn't returned his calls. That can’t be good when a guy can’t pick up the phone to say how he’s doing.

The Sooners signed three tackles last February, and that number apparently has been trimmed to two as Kerrick Huggins is headed to Trinity Valley Community College. That’s where Russell has been hanging out for the last two years. Maybe Huggins can let Russell know that Sooner fans are turning blue waiting to hear from him.

The guys coming back on the edges have little experience, too. Rashod Favors played nine games last year at defensive end. Geneo Grissom played a total of six games at DE after switching back and forth between DE and tight end. Michael Onuoha saw action in only four games.

Ndulue will likely miss the opener on Aug. 31 versus Louisiana-Monroe. So, from the very beginning, there are a lot of guys who will have to grow up quickly on the front wall.

Oklahoma's freshmen of influence: True freshmen

D.J. Ward

D.J. Ward has a chance to make his way into the rotation at defensive end immediately. (Photo courtesy: collegefootballscoop.com)

Yesterday we gave you a look at the redshirt freshmen most likely to play some role for the Sooners this year. Now we'll look at the true freshmen who are poised to get some run right off the bat.

You'll notice that Oklahoma could use some big help on the defensive side of the ball, of course.

1. Ahmad Thomas: This one was easy. Thomas almost won one of the two starting safety spots in spring. He didn’t have a great spring game, but leading up to the TV event,  everyone was raving about him.

Thomas is the big, fast, explosive safety that Mike Stoops wants for this defense.

2. D.J. Ward: The NCAA did its best to screw up Ward's chances of making an impact this fall with a criminally late clearinghouse ruling. Despite that issue, Ward could easily jump into the two-deep discussion at defensive end. Jerry Montgomery has even talked about Ward possibility growing into a big DE like Frank Alexander and playing at around 275-280 pounds.

3. Hatari Byrd: The early buzz on Byrd’s arrival in Norman is very positive. Will Mike feel comfortable playing two freshman safeties at the same time? If not, then Byrd may be competing against fellow freshman Thomas for potential playing time.

Matt Dimon4. Matt Dimon: Dimon was maybe the most underrated recruit on defense in this class. He had great film and led his team to a state title. The best comparison that I've heard on Dimon was David Pollack, Georgia's All-American defensive end.

Dimon is weighing in around 250 pounds, and he’s ready to hit the field if the other DEs don’t provide enough big plays.

5. Charles Walker: It’s rare that a true freshman defensive tackle makes an impact at OU – Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek being the last duo to pull off the feat. Even Demarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy redshirted.

But, if healthy, Walker could break into the two-deep at DT. He’s got great size at 6-3, 285, with unreal speed and burst.

6. Stanvon Taylor: OU'a secondary could use another cornerback with all the spread offense attacks. OU probably will use some formations with six defensive backs at times in third-and-long situations. The only question will be whether Taylor is physical enough to play this year.

7. L.J. Moore: Just like Taylor, Moore could provide added depth to an OU secondary that will play a combination of five and six DBs the majority of the time. Moore could be a versatile big CB or safety for OU.  Mike may need both Moore and Taylor for depth purposes while playing upwards of six to eight no-huddle offenses that use three and four wide receivers on every down.

8. Keith Ford: According to Twitter traffic, Ford reported to OU in awesome shape at 215 pounds and running a sub-4.5 40. Ford  is almost the forgotten superstar of the 2013 class. It will take some injuries for him to see the field at running back, but no position is more prone to injury.

9. Dannon Cavil: Cavil enrolled early, and despite missing the spring game, he allegedly had a very good spring. Cavil (6-5, 210) brings a different size and ability to the Sooner WR corps. If there are any kind of injuries at WR, Cavil has a great chance to be one of the top five receivers on the team this year.

10. Jordan Smallwood: Notice that the first seven names are defensive players, while the last three are offensive. Smallwood, like Cavil, would probably be a lock to play any other year, but he faces long odds with OU’s talented returning WRs. Smallwood has come into camp in great shape and from various reports is impressing the QBs.

Harbinger of Doom

This is split between two guys: Christian Daimler and Cody Thomas. If Daimler gets any kind of real minutes at tackle this year, then OU’s OL is in big trouble. If Thomas is forced to burn his redshirt, then OU has suffered three big-time QB injuries.

Oklahoma's freshmen of influence: Redshirts

Taylor McNamara

Sooner fans are looking forward to getting a better idea of what Taylor McNamara can do in pads. (Photo courtesy: ESPN.com)

One of the most exciting parts of starting a new college football season is the anticipation of finding out what the newcomers have to offer.

Upper-tier programs like Oklahoma always tend to have a couple fresh faces who can't be kept off the field. This season should prove to be no exception.

We'll start with the redshirts and follow up tomorrow with the true freshmen. OU played a host of true freshmen in 2012, so today's list is pretty small.

Tyler McNamara/Sam Grant: Let’s start with the most obvious – the dynamic freshman tight end duo who can hopefully restore the position at OU, or at least get the TE back on the field this year.

McNamara had a good spring, but the lingering memory from him was a bad drop off a beautiful seam route pass by Bell in the spring game. It was exactly the kind of deep throw to the TE that has been missing from the offense.

Grant seemed to have a good spring, doing a good job blocking. He also showed off some nice receiving skills.

Jordan WadeJordan Wade: Panic at defensive tackle. Pretty much a rampant disease for OU fans since the top – and I use that term loosely – four DTs from last year all graduated. 

Wade (6-4, 300) could be a huge piece of the puzzle in the DT two-deep. Can Jerry Montgomery get quality reps out of him year one after his redshirt year? Athletically, the talent is there, and Wade has better physical stature than any of the DTs from last year.

David Smith/Alex Ross: OU has four senior running backs who should be getting the bulk of the carries. However, no position can have depth disappear faster than RB. Remember 2011? An injury to Brennan Clay or Damien Williams puts Smith or Ross right in the playing rotation as the second “big” running back.

Smith looked very good in the spring game. If Ross can ever stay healthy, his abundant physical gifts could really help OU’s running game.

Derrick Woods: Woods may have the hardest time making any noise this fall. Wide receiver is probably the deepest, most talented position group on the roster. However, just like at RB in 2011, OU can never have too many talented WRs on the roster.

Woods can play both outside big spots, so he’s competing against Trey Metoyer, LaColtan Bester, Durron Neal and Dannon Cavil. Woods' ability to make an impact might depend upon how often OU is in three- and four-wide looks.

Harbinger of Doom

Kyle Marrs: If OU has to rely upon significant minutes from Marrs, then the OU offensive line has suffered injuries that would make 2009 look like a picnic.

That's no knock on Marrs, who had a good spring and is progressing as well as anyone could expect at guard. He could factor into the two-deep in 2014. If he’s playing starter minutes in 2013 after the addition of JUCO offensive linemen Andrew Feo and Dionte Savage, the shit has hit the fan.

Good God, that's Jaz Reynolds' music!

Jaz Reynolds
Will the Jaz Man be testifying in Norman this fall?

The bad news came in bunches for Oklahoma on Monday:

And in one of the more interesting tidbits doled out on Monday, OU coach Bob Stoops also seemingly laid the groundwork for suspended Sooner pass catcher Jaz Reynolds to return to the team when practices begin on Thursday.

Since Stoops booted Reynolds and teammates Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Quentin Hayes indefinitely for the dreaded undisclosed violation of team rules in the spring, the Sooners' head coach has maintained that all were in some nebulous state of limbo in which they could potentially make their way back onto the team at some point. All but Jackson had their scholarships pulled over the summer, casting greater doubt on their future.

Of course, Stoops has left himself enough wiggle room to allow for all to return as he sees fit. What kind of penance could that entail? Well, if you're a cynic – and I am – Reynolds may have made good w/ OU's head honcho when Gardner didn't make his grades.

As for whether Reynolds' return would constitute more bad news or a break in the trend, well... Let's just cross that bridge if we get there.

2012 Sooners Season Preview: Cancer or a cold?

Bob Stoops

(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing Oklahoma's upcoming football season.)

About a year ago, Bob Stoops set tongues wagging around the Sooner State and the college football world at large when he said that the time had come for Oklahoma to win another national championship.

It was a bold proclamation along the lines of what you'd expect from Steve Spurrier, one of Stoops' mentors, but out of character for Stoops himself. OU's coach may be cocky, but he normally plays up the "one game at time" spiel in the offseason. It naturally caught longtime OU fans off-guard when he embraced the expectations for a team that entered 2011 as the nation's consensus No. 1 team.

Don't count on hearing Stoops break character with that kind of tough talk much more in the future. He was back to his old self this week at Big 12 Media Days, playing up the "that means nothing" angle when asked about OU's status as league favorite.

The Sooners started the '11 season like the baddest dudes on the block, but they began playing like they were putting a ton of stock in their press clippings somewhere around Oct. 9. That was the day after OU slaughtered blood rival Texas in a 55-17 blowout in the Cotton Bowl.

The next week, OU slept walk through a victory over a putrid Kansas team. It was easy to write it off as a letdown game following the big win in the Red River Shootout... Until the Sooners laid an all-time egg a week later.

tuberville-stoops

I've witnessed some odd OU performances in my day, but last year's defeat at the hands of Texas Tech takes the cake. You could chalk it up to any number of factors – injuries, Seth Doege playing the game of his life, a weather delay before the game that sent Owen Field's denizens scrambling. Whatever the case may be, the Red Raiders made the Sooners pay for one of their most lethargic performances in recent memory. OU played that night with an attitude; the problem was that it was something along the lines of "who gives a fuck?"

Afterwards, the loss led to plenty of finger-pointing in the press among the players. Despite flashes of the powerhouse witnessed in the early portion of the season, the season descended into a psychic unraveling the rest of the way. The final product was nice enough – a 10-3 record and an Insight Bowl win. That dog won't hunt at a program like OU, though. Especially when your Bedlam rival gets its rocks off on you. Especially when you start the season with talk of a national championship.

Mike Stoops

Of course, plenty has happened in the last seven months. Turnover on the roster has been extreme, including the indefinite suspensions of three players expected to contribute at wide receiver. For the first time in his career, Stoops fired a position coach, Willie Martinez. The move made way for Mike Stoops to return in what was envisioned as a co-defensive coordinator role with Brent Venables. Venables promptly high-tailed it out east to Clemson, making way for Tim Kish, Mike's right-hand man at Arizona, to take over the linebackers.

If the play on the field didn't tip you off, it's hard to ignore the message behind Bob's moves: OU had some serious chemistry issues in '11. In that respect, Sooner fans have to at least consider the prospect that the Crimson and Cream showed the early warning signs of an empire in decline last year.

We've now reached the eve of two-a-days, and from the outside looking in, it certainly feels as though OU's system underwent a purification process that would put Master Cleanse to shame. It makes for a nice story and all, but a reboot doesn't work if what you've really got is a virus.

Mike has a well-earned reputation as a defensive mastermind. Bob remains one of the sport's elite coaches. The thought of them roaming the sidelines together again – with massive chips on their shoulders – conjures up memories of dominance and championships gone by.

But the idea that everything is back under control? Right now, that's worth about as much Stoops' bravado last summer.

Big 12 Media Days: Observations about the Sooners' palaver

Bob Stoops
"At the end of the day, we need to get better in a good way."

The amount of ink and bytes spilt over college football media days is grossly disproportionate to the amount of actual news that they generate. Oklahoma's appearance at the Big 12's event on Monday didn't break the mold.

Bob Stoops popped out plenty of his usual coach speak about "trying to get better at the end of the day." Player representatives Landry Jones, Ben Habern and Demontre Hurst didn't exactly set the world on fire either.

A couple observations from what little I paid attention to.

*Demontre Hurst's commentary on the secondary's attitude in the offseason should sound like music to Sooner fans' ears.

Hurst mentioned feeling downright "embarrassed" by the secondary's performance in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. He also talked about the time that the defensive backs have put in during the summer together in the film room breaking down video of those games, along with tape of West Virginia and TCU, the Big 12's newcomers this season.

If the secondary enters 2012 with a Mike Stoops-sized chip on its shoulder, take that as a good sign for the season.

*Although Jones has received plenty of criticism in the fallout from last season's swoon, Stoops and I seem to be of like mind that in light of the play of his receivers, OU's quarterback took way too much heat.

Jones hit on the issues created by receivers playing out of position, too, and he did so without coming off as though he was throwing anyone under the bus.

I really think it all speaks to the cold reality of college football that coaches understand and fans refuse to accept: With just 85 scholarships to fill out 22 starting positions and limited practice time, teams generally have to go "all-in" with a specific strategy. When you lose a key cog like ryan Broyles, it's easy for the whole engine to fall apart.

*Jones really is such a tough cat to get a read on. He comes off incredibly easygoing in these kinds of settings, but his play on the field can suggest he's more on the high-strung side.

*Obviously, the news about Dom Whaley being cleared for practice sounds good. I still have my doubts that he will be able to contribute much this season. That's an awfully gruesome injury to just shake off like nothing happened.

Here's hoping, though.

*Stoops dismissed the rumor circulating about Trey Franks' return to the team as "not accurate whatsoever." Makes you wonder where Nathan Hughes might have heard this, though.

*Stoops' eyebrows looked really weird, like he had shaved half of them off by accident or something. Maybe he was going for that Vanilla Ice stripes look.