Articles

Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Stoops opens Sooners spring practice prickly as ever

Bob Stoops
Head coach Bob Stoops opened up the Oklahoma Sooners' spring practices with one of his typically combative media sessions. Among the highlights:

*Channeling his inner Steve Spurrier, Stoops couldn't help but needle Texas A&M and Missouri when asked about the turnover in the Big 12: "When you look at what these guys have done, we are bringing in two ranked teams at the end of the year (West Virginia and TCU) and the two that left I don't know that they were. I can't remember."

*The transcript on SoonerSports.com appears to be sanitized, but Stoops assumed his usual defensive posture about OU's special teams play. He reiterated that Bobby Jack Wright serves as special teams coach: "I don't know why people don't think I have (a special teams coach), but I do."

Um, maybe they've seen the kickoff coverage, coach.

*Speaking of the defensive ends, Stoops had some high praise for R.J. Washington. That's good news for Sooner fans fretting over the likely replacements on the edge of the defensive line. Stoops also singled out Chuka Ndulue for the work he has put in during the offseason.

*You have to take anything Stoops says regarding injuries with boulder-sized salt grains, but his comments about Dom Whaley's progress in rehabbing from a nasty leg injury are encouraging.

*OU's head honcho apparently shares my opinion about the culpability of the Sooner offense in last season's performance.

*You'll have to excuse my skepticism over the prospect of Lane Johnson starting at left tackle. More concerning: What is going on with Daryl Williams?

Williams has been billed as the future cornerstone of the offensive line. Sure, he's likely to start on the right side at tackle, but it has to be at least a little concerning that Johnson will be protecting Landry Jones' blind side, rather than Williams.

Sooners' Spring Questions: Who steps in at defensive end?

R.J. Washington
The departures of Big 12 defensive player of the year Frank Alexander and ultra-gifted Ronnell Lewis leave significant voids for the Oklahoma Sooners at defensive end. The candidates to replace the two pass-rushing demons consist of a mixed bag of solid veterans and up-and-comers.

Although it won't set Sooner fans' hearts aflutter, the betting money right now would have to be on seasoned seniors David King and R.J. Washington to take over as starters. We've seen time and again just how much Bob Stoops values the kind of experience guys like King and Washington bring to the table. Both saw action in all 13 games a season ago, combining for 7 sacks and approximately 50 tackles.

Of the two, Washington stands to gain or lose the most ground in the next 15 practices. A five-star recruit when he signed with OU in 2008, Washington has never quite put everything together. To be sure, he has had moments where he looked like a potential NFL guy. Most of the time, however, he has been on the sidelines.

The pieces are all there for Washington to be an all-conference performer, but that's if you're looking for a best-case scenario. Perhaps a more reasonable expectation would be a move similar to the one made Pryce Macon. Macon, a tantalizing talent in his own right, toiled in obscurity his first four seasons in Norman. In the spring of 2010, however, the buzz around the fifth-year senior's development started to grow. That fall Macon rang up 6 sacks and turned into a key contributor on the defensive side of the ball.

The Sooner coaches also appear to be waiting for the light to go on for rising third-year DE Geneo Grissom. A highly touted edge rusher out of Kansas, Grissom has struggled to stay healthy and failed to make the splash some were hoping for last fall. Another year in the OU strength-and-conditioning program combined with a strong spring should put Grissom firmly in the rotation.

Another name sure to attract attention this spring is junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson. Juco scouts have raved about his potential. Diamond-in-the-rough prospects such as Nelson obviously tend to have high bust potential. Stoops wouldn't bring one in with two years of eligibility to sit the pine, though, so expect Nelson to get a long look in the next few weeks.

Another somewhat raw prospect, Chuka Ndulue, should have a spot in the mix as well. The tremendously athletic Nigerian immigrant will be going into his third season in OU's program. The Sooner coaching staff undoubtedly hopes he's ready to tap into all of that potential they saw when they recruited him out of Dallas Jesuit Prep in 2010. Ndulue may need one more season to marinate, however, before the Sooners can expect to rely heavily on him.

Sooners' Spring Questions: What will Mike Stoops do in the secondary?

Mike Stoops
(Editor's note: With the start of spring practice just days away for the Oklahoma Sooners, BH is looking at some of the most pressing questions in Norman over the next month. To start, let's break down the impact of Mike Stoops' return in his area of expertise, the secondary.)

Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops and Brent Venables came up together through the coaching ranks, working together to build the perfect defense. Between their time at Kansas State and Oklahoma, some combination of at least two members of the trio have worked together for the last 19 years.

We're talking about three guys who drink from the same coaching trough. In theory, that suggests that when it comes to defensive strategy, they're all operating under a similar philosophy.

From a 10,000-foot standpoint, that may be true. Execution and emphasis – different story.

Venables based his defense around versatile linebackers who could play every down, including both passing and running situations. On the other hand, Mike, a defensive backs guru, tends to roll with more of a true nickel package as his base defense.

With Venables now gone, the Sooners are certain to experiment with a variety personnel groupings this spring as Mike gets a better feel for what he's working with on defense. Nowhere will this be more important than in the secondary.

Fortunately for Mike, he can avail himself of a bevy of versatile contributors from a year ago. The loss of dynamite cornerback Jamell Fleming hurts, but potential All-Americans Demontre Hurst, Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin will still be in the mix. We can take those three as givens in the starting lineup.

While Hurst is a fixture at corner, Colvin and Jefferson give Mike some flexibility. Jefferson's skills playing up close to the line of scrimmage mean he can line up as a de facto linebacker on running downs, then shift back into more of a safety position in passing situations. If Mike wants to run a more traditional 4-3 set, Jefferson can play exclusively on the back end.

Colvin played corner in 2010, backing up Fleming and Hurst and playing some in nickel packages. A year later, Colvin lined up as a first-team safety and was one of OU's best defenders by the end of the season. 

Mike will likely mix and match combinations of junior-college transfer Kass Everett, senior safety Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn to find the right guys to fill the other two spots. Should Harris hold onto his spot as starting safety, that would put Everett and Lynn jockeying for the nickel spot. Alternatively, Mike could opt to put Everett opposite Hurst at corner, meaning Colvin would play safety with Lynn at nickel. Of course, maybe Lynn has developed into a must-start. If so, he either plays safety or corner, and the dominoes start falling again.

Luckily, the level of talent in the secondary almost assures that Mike would have to work hard to screw things up. Still, he has a busy spring ahead of him.

2012 Red River Recruiting Rout

Mack Brown
March is here, and as is their wont, the Texas Longhorns have already locked up roughly half of their 2013 recruiting class with verbal commitments from the Lone Star State some 50 weeks or so prior to National Signing Day. This year could be the best start to a recruiting class that Texas has had since Mack Brown started down on the 40 Acres. UT recruiting is so white-hot at the moment that highly coveted prospects are committing to grayshirting for the 'Horns.

Any way you want to slice it, Mack's recruiting juggernaut is humming

Meanwhile, up north of the Red River, all is quiet on the recruiting front with Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners. OU is just drifting along, commitment-less, sparking concern among diehards that OU's recruiting is flailing.

What's more, much like the 2012 class, OU is apparently focusing more outside of its historical breadbasket of Texas, too. What little news has trickled out about scholarship offers has seemingly involved players from every corner of the United States, prompting speculation that the Sooners have more or less waved the white flag down south.

 

 

Oklahoma Scholarship Offers to Texas Recruits
Class Total
Offers
Texas
Offers
%
2011 87 36 41.4%
2012 106 24 22.6%
2013 73 21 28.8%

*Source: Rivals.com

Stoops doesn't usually clue me in on his recruiting strategy, so I have no idea what's being done intentionally and what's mere happenstance. From the outside, it certainly looks as though OU is increasingly looking nationally. For a program that has traditionally relied on Texas recruits to stock its roster, that feels like a huge role of the dice.

Honestly, though, can you really blame the Sooners for shunning the Texas talent pool?

The 'Horns are a game over .500 the last two years. They have lost two straight Red River Shootouts and got broken off to the tune of 55-17 in the Cotton Bowl last October. Yet, Mack's wall around the state's annual crop of top-tier preps remains as well-fortified as ever. Highly regarded recruits are still jumping at early offers to wear the Burnt Orange.

Fact is, Texas has always beaten OU far more often in head-to-head recruiting battles for in-state players than the Longhorns have lost. Mack has cleaned up even more so than his predecessors, but that means tilting the playing field even more in Texas' favor, rather than changing the game.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: Recruiting Rankings
Year Texas Oklahoma
2008 14 6
2009 5 13
2010 3 7
2011 3 14
2012 2 11
Avg. 5.4 10.2

*Source: Rivals.com

Ultimately, recruiting championships count are meaningless. For all of Texas' February flexing, it hasn't kept Stoops and the Sooners from owning the 'Horns and the Big 12 for the last 13 years. Somehow, I suspect Stoops and his staff will still manage to find enough players who want an OU scholarship to field a team, even if they have to go to California and Kansas and South Dakota. The Sooner coaches have shaken plenty of trees in their day, and they typically make out alright.

Another victory in October, another conference championship, hell, maybe a national championship this year if the stars somehow align properly – maybe that would start to turn the tide a bit for the Sooners in Texas recruiting. Until then, though, they will have to be content with having won where it counts.

Linking Up: March 31, 2011

*The general consensus seems to be that the Real Sports special on college athletics was a little disappointing. Most of that probably stems from the hype surrounding the allegations of pay for play at Auburn, a segment that fell a little flat when the subjects declined to name the names of those within the program who allegedly orchestrated the scam. Personally, I liked the roundtable discussions, which illustrated the dichotomy between the Pollyanna-ish side who thinks it's incumbent on people to turn down free money and those who want to blow up the system.

*NCAA President Mark Emmert says it's time to discuss revenue-sharing with college athletes. I'll write more about this at some point soon, but this is a pretty clear ploy to sway public opinion in favor of maintaining the status quo.

*Not surprisingly, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports has all the BCS bowls in his crosshairs following the revelations about the Fiesta Bowl's hedonism.

*Our buddies over at California Golden Blogs predict quarterback performance in 2011.

*College Football Matrix has its preliminary 2011 projections for Oklahoma posted.

Linking Up: March 30, 2011

The daily links return after a brief hiatus.

*Our buddies Michael Felder of In The Bleachers and Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation arrive at a consensus spring top 25. I think they're a little too high on Texas A&M and a little too low on Florida State.

*Finally got caught up on the Solid Verbal podcast with the "College Football Angel of Death," Charles Robinson, investigative reporter with Yahoo! Sports. Robinson and his colleagues Dan Wetzel and Jason Cole have pretty much lapped the field when it comes to investigative sports reporting, and it's clear they're finding plenty of graft in college football. In their new episode, Ty and Dan cover Oklahoma with Jake Trotter.

*I missed last night's Frontline episode on amateurism and college athletics. Looks like I'll miss the Real Sports roundtable/report tonight, too. Hoping to get caught up via DVR either late tonight or tomorrow. Hit me up with any thoughts in the meantime.

*Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitock, a co-conspirator with HBO, wants to take the NCAA down. I'll wait until I've seen the HBO special to delve deeper into this, but it sounds like some misplaced aggression.

*Speaking of which, USA Today claims a men's basketball scholarship is worth $120,000. Words can't even begin to describe how stupid these calculations are, but at least the reporters acknowledge their estimates have ridiculous flaws. I just can't believe they went ahead with writing the article.

Now That's What I Call a Fiesta, John Junker

Fiesta Bowl logo
The Fiesta Bowl has been in a ton of hot water lately over campaign financing and general "football relationship building." Today, the special committee appointed by the bowl to investigate the allegations of dirty deeds released its findings, and there was some damning information revealed – including some eye-raising financial expenditures.

Not surprisingly, the Fiesta turned CEO John Junker's siesta into a dirt nap.

(Continue...)

Among the highlights of the committee's report:

  • Junker had memberships to four golf courses around the country: two in Arizona, one in Orgeon and one at illustrious Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
  • Junker received a car stipend of $27,000 per year for himself and his wife.
  • Executives were reimbursed for cable, Internet and satellite radio at their homes.
  • The bowl spent a cool $33,000 on Junker's 50th birthday celebration. (Dennis Kozlowski thinks that's so cute.)
  • Bonuses for staff members for births, weddings celebrations and sometimes for no reason at all.
  • A $1,200 visit to a Phoneix strip club for Junker and two other Fiesta employees, furthering the NCAA's academic mission by helping fund the education of two Maricopa Community College students named Destiny and Cashmere.

My personal favorite: "Junker was reimbursed for a June 22, 2008, charge of $2,285.96 for Nike golf equipment... Junker was playing gof in a Nike tournament and so the Executive Committee thought it would be a 'great idea' for Junker to have all Nike equipment to play with – 'Just trying to keep our sponsor happy.'"

The bowl is also paying former Big 12 commissioner and University of Oklahoma Athletic Director Donnie Duncan $4,000 a month for "consulting fees," as well as "scholarship money" to Duncan's grandchildren.

The coup de grâce: The bowl reimbursed nearly $50,000 in employee political contributions.

(Throughout the report, Fiesta committee members claim to have no knowledge of the extra benefits provided or why they would have been provided to anyone on staff.)

So, is this the end for the Fiesta's run as a BCS bowl? Like the class dunce, the BCS execs want the Glendale, Ariz.-based bowl to write an essay explaining why it should be allowed to stay in the club.

Of course, the people who make that decision are the same people who were wined and dined by the Fiesta staff at their numerous events throughout the year, most notably at the $1.2 million Fiesta Frolic held each summer. Almost every head coach and athletic director in D-I football attends each year.

You have to think however that Cotton Bowl executives are ecstatic about this news, as they have been quietly bidding for a shot to step up to the big time in their new digs at JerryWorld. Legally, I don't think anything can happen to the Fiesta until the next TV contract negotiations in 2014, but it may have used up all its goodwill with a BCS organization that desperately needs some good news.

No amount of spin can make this look good for the Fiesta, and it could be bad news for the rest of the BCS bowls, too. You can bet that if some antsy politicians in Pasadena, Calif., or New Orleans or Miami want to make a name for themselves, there will be a few more investigations just like this one.

(Contact JJ Worthington at worthington.jj@gmail.com. Follow JJ on Twitter: @JJ_Worthington.)

Who's Going to Beat the Sooners in 2011?

Red River Shootout
We've all seen the many prognosticators picking the Oklahoma Sooners as the preseason favorite for the 2011 national championship. Despite the hype, there are definitely some potential potholes on OU's road to New Orleans.

Here's how the Sooners' 2011 opponents stack up in terms of the likelihood of an OU loss, from least likely to most likely. Keep in mind this is not a ranking of the quality of teams OU will face, but rather a ranking of where the Sooners could most likely stumble.

(Continue...)

12. Ball State (Oct. 1 - Norman)

Ball State is breaking in a new coach in Pete Lembo with a squad that went 4-8 last year. On the road against the team with the longest home winning streak in the nation? This could get ugly fast.

Ball State simply doesn't have the talent to match up with OU. At least we'll get to see what Blake Bell or Drew Allen bring to the backup position.

Turner Gill11. Kansas (Oct. 15 - Lawrence)

Year one of Turner Gill's regime as a Jayhawk was rough, but his team should be better in 2011. Still, there's no reason to think the Sooners don't win this one by double digits. The second team should get a ton of work in Lawrence barring a huge surprise.

10. Kansas State (Oct. 29 - Manhattan)

The Miracle in Manhattan 2.0 is underway, but we're still a long way from the success of the first . Bill Snyder enters his third year of his second stint and 2011 will be key to the Wildcats turnaround hopes. The home crowd will be ready to go but unfortunately for them I see the Sooners pulling away in the second half.

9. Texas Tech (Oct. 22 - Norman)

In this series the home team has won every game since 2004. The Red Raiders are breaking in a new quarterback, as well as continuing the switch towards a more SEC-style, run-oriented offense under second-year coach Tommy Tuberville. I see the home team winning again as Tech continues to seatch for a long-term identity.

8. Missouri (Sept. 24 - Norman)

The Tigers were one of two teams to beat the Sooners last year, and Gary Pinkel's squad will be confident heading to Norman. A new quarterback will be under center, but the same high-powered offensive scheme will still be in place for Mizzou. However, the Sooners will be ready to avenge last year's prime time loss.

I see this one being all OU early, as the Sooners look to make a statement to the league.

7. Iowa State (Nov. 12 - Norman)

I can already hear the snickering, but I really feel that coach Paul Rhoads has this squad heading in the right direction (comparatively speaking). The 2010 Cyclones beat a more talented Texas squad in Austin, and they went for the win in OT to just fall short against North division champ Nebraska. Rhoads had laid the groundwork for a surprise bowl season in 2011.

6. Tulsa (Sept. 3 - Norman)

The Golden Hurricane come to Norman to open the 2011 season with a new coach, but senior QB G.J. Kinne will still be taking the snaps. This could be a tougher game than most Sooner fans expect, as Tulsa will be amped to start the season against an in-state foe.

Expect a Sooners victory, but definitely not an opening day blowout.

5. Baylor (Nov. 19 - Waco)

Robert Griffin
Deja vu: Robert Griffin returns for yet another year as a Baylor Bear, and OU again travels to Waco. The Sooners started their late-season run against Baylor last season and will look to do so again in 2011. Baylor's up-tempo offense will be a tough challenge for Brent Venables defense and his D.

OU has won all 20 games in the series and should finish this one with 21 in a row.

4. Oklahoma State (Nov. 26 - Stillwater)

The majority of the Poke offense comes back, and stars Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon will get a chance to face their Bedlam rivals in Stillwater for the second year in a row.

I wanted to move this game closer to the top of the list, but I can't justify it. Oklahoma hasn't lost on the road against OSU since 2002. Whenever OU travels to town, it's a nail-biting affair, but the Sooners have found a way to leave with a win each time.

With championship aspirations, this is a game the Sooners will have to win. They have shown in the past they're up to the challenge.

3. Texas A&M (Nov. 5 - Norman)

The other of the two teams to best the Sooners last year, Texas A&M finished the regular season hot, securing a berth in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately, the Aggies have to travel to Norman where they haven't had much success since Bob Stoops arrived.

This A&M team returns 18 starters, including QB Ryan Tannehill, the key to their 2010 second-half surge. Is Mike Sherman's team ready to turn the corner and compete with the Big 12's top tier? A victory here would go along way to proving the Aggies' worth.

2. Florida State (Sept. 17 - Tallahassee)

Two preseason top five teams, ESPN College GameDay in town, night atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium – this has all the elements a college football fan could want.

The road hasn't been the kindest place for the Sooners in the last few years. 2010 was no different, with both losses coming away from Owen Field. Expect FSU to be amped and chomping at the bit to prove they are back among college footballs elite.

Stoops will find out early in the season what kind of squad he has on his hands and just how far they can go. Expect a shootout as both teams get up to speed defensively.

1. Red River Shootout (Oct. 8 - Dallas)

Mack Brown
I don't care if the Longhorns went 5-7 last year. I don't care that Texas players are called coddled and soft by NFL scouts and Oklahomans everywhere.

This is the Red River Shootout. The season begins and ends with this game. The second the teams come down the tunnel, records and analysis go out the window. The State Fair and 100,000 fans split down the middle all add to the pageantry.

This game is truly a 50-50 proposition and the one the Sooners could most likely drop in 2011. 

(Contact JJ Worthington at worthington.jj@gmail.com. Follow JJ on Twitter: @JJ_Worthington.)

Jarvis Jones' Injury a Tough Blow for Sooners

Jarvis Jones
The 2011 offseason has yet to reach the level of "full-blown disaster" for the Oklahoma Sooners, but today's news that first-team right tackle Jarvis Jones will miss significant time with a torn patellar tendon certainly doesn't help.

Throw in Jamell Fleming's absence this spring and three starters – Tony Jefferson, Kenny Stills and Stacy McGee – running afoul of the law in the first three months of the year, and Sooner fans should start hoping Jones' injury is the last bad news out of Norman for a while.

Preliminary estimates have Jones returning in October, which means he'd miss September showdowns with Florida State and Missouri. The Red River Shootout would have to be in doubt as well. In fact, if Jones is laid up from now until October, you have to wonder how much he'll be able to contribute at all this year.

(Continue...)

The loss of Jones deals a tough blow to OU's depth along an offensive line that needs plenty of help. Jones essentially served as a sixth starter on the line last season and saw significant action as a backup in 2009. Prior to transferring to Oklahoma, Jones contributed on the LSU Tigers' 2007 national championship team. That kind of experience up front usually proves valuable, especially early in the season.

The upside for the Sooners is that while the candidates to step in at right tackle lack Jones' experience, they're not hurting for viable replacements.

Josh Aladenoye ("uh-LAD-uh-noy"), a sophomore who saw limited snaps in 2010, looks like the clubhouse leader. Checking in at 322 lbs., Aladenoye would bring some heft to a somewhat undersized o-line. Also, after taking a redshirt year in '09, Aladenoye's relative experience in the OU program would have to give him a leg up in the eyes of the OU coaching staff.

Daryl Williams, a four-star recruit from the class of 2010, offers an intriguing option. The redshirt freshman quickly worked his way into the two-deep in the offseason as the second-string left tackle, a testament to the coaches' opinion of Williams' talent. Rumblings around the program have Williams pegged as OU's star lineman of the future, so no one should be shocked if he gets the nod come Labor Day weekend.

Podcast: Official Blatant Homerism 2011 NFL Mock Draft (Part I)

That annual rite of spring, the NFL draft, is just weeks away. Draft junkie Buffalo Wild Wang, M.D., joins Homerism for a podcast as they commence with their annual mock draft for 2011.

In Part I, Wang and I cover the first 16 picks, including:

  • the Carolina Panther's top overall selection;
  • a new offensive weapon for Sam Bradford; and
  • what the Dallas Cowboys will do to get back to the top of the NFC East.

(Subscribe to the podcast through iTunes. Rate the podcast with iTunes, too, if you get a chance. Thanks.)

Linking Up: March 25, 2011

*SI.com profiles Sooner Tom Wort, the British Bulldog. I actually observed a (American) football practice in England once - not impressive.

*I remember the uproar about a decade ago when Red Rocks went corporate. Next up on the Colorado landmark hit list: Folsom Field.

*Ralph Nader says the time has come to end college football scholarships. Tracy Jordan reacts:


*Don't feel bad about screwing off at work. (h/t Marginal Revolution)

*Picks for tonight's games: Ohio State over Kentucky, Marquette over North Carolina, Kansas over Richmond, Florida State over VCU (Seminoles cover at -4).

Linking Up: March 24, 2011

*Farewell, Brandon Wegher. Given the number of talented running backs on Oklahoma's roster, this one seemed weird from the start.

*Rivals' Tom Dienhart, he of the tardy coaching change reports, goes inside the inner-workings of the Sooners' new two-headed offensive coordinator plan. One thing I found interesting was the comment about Heupel's relationship with quarterback Landry Jones playing a role in the decision to give him play-calling responsibilities. Feel free to read way too much into that – like the parties involved are planning on this being a short-term situation.

*Scott Sutton is a candidate for the Missouri job. What, is Barry Hinson not available?

*Oh, and something tells me Mike Anderson isn't losing any sleep over this. (I really like Anderson, by the way. Good hire for the Hogs.)

*The state of Oklahoma takes its turn spitting in the "agents are bad" ocean.

*The Atlantic profiles the "Faulknerian" Yelawolf, a "rapper, skateboarder and drinker" out of Alabama. If you haven't yet, give Trunk Muzik 0-60 a spin.

*Picks for tonight's games: Florida over BYU, UConn over San Diego State, Duke over Arizona (Blue Devils cover the 9), Wisconsin over Butler.

Linking Up: March 23, 2011

*Toby Rowland will replace Bob Barry as the Oklahoma Sooners play-by-play announcer. Do people still listen to games on the radio?

*Love Mad Men? Well, sounds like we're going to be left longing for its return a little while longer.

*I really, really like the new Freakonomics site.

*I've been pretty firmly on Jalen Rose's side in the "Uncle Tom" controversy. Jason Whitlock puts things in a new light that go beyond the feud with Grant Hill.

*Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks will miss the rest of spring practice with a stress fracture in his foot. I doubt this will keep the beastly sophomore off the field in the fall.

*Did anyone actually expect Charles Barkley to be all that interested in college basketball? Personally, I tuned in when Barkley was dishing out his analysis – using the term loosely – for these kinds of shenanigans.

Hey, Sooners, Don't Believe the Hype

Josh Heupel
What better time to welcome the real beginning of the 2011 season than after a March Madness weekend? It's like going from kissing your hot girlfriend goodbye after she made you an amazing batch of XXX Ribs to spending the next eight hours at Riverwind raking in huge no-limit pots. I'm glad to be aboard Blatant Homerism from the beginning of what is supposed to be an elite season.

Which brings me to my point.

What's already started to wear on me are the proclamations that the Sooners are No. 1 in 2011. It makes for good print, but as someone who believes preseason polls are as meaningful as Lou Holtz predictions, "way too early" proclamations are even worse.

(Continue...)

There's absolutely no upside to it. It's just another potential detriment among the numerous potential detriments that are already present for every other team during any given season. So, since we are stuck with all the hypemongers, what can the Sooners do to prevent hubris from taking hold?

For one, the players need to disabuse themselves of the mindset that having a preseason ranking actually represents some sort of achievement.

Using imaginary trophies to measure your worth as a team are exactly that – imaginary. Even earned achievement can lead to complacency. Look no further than our neighbors south of the Red River for an example of what ensues with that mentality.

Remember how electric the Sooners were at the beginning of last decade? It wasn't the plethora of NFL talent – there was little. It was hunger.

Last season, that hunger arose from living the BCS losing streak and a tough 2009 season. Assuming last season's success didn't stamp that out, everyone blowing sunshine where it doesn't belong could.

Which leads me to the key to applying a Bones Jones beat down to complacency: leadership.

The keys to the success of the early aughts can be attributed to the leaders between the hash marks. The coaches can do what they can to set an example, but if there aren't guys who will take control of team, all the screaming and yelling will just be noise.

Back in the day, Josh Heupel was rock steady, and there was no way Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman were letting their defense become sloppy and undisciplined. So, look for the veterans to take OU to any promised land.

Linebacker Travis Lewis is primed to take on this role. He'll be the barometer on the state of the defense.

For the offense, iit has to start with quarterback Landry Jones. The jury's still out on him stepping in this role, but the end of last season looked promising. The panic witnessed in Jones' first year became more rare as his second season went on. That promise of a steely-eyed missile man became most visible during the Big XII championship game, when Jones showed nary a hint of panic after falling behind the Nebraska Cornhuskers by 17.

All-Everything receiver Ryan Broyles can also play a role along with Jones and Lewis in keeping the hellfire of OU's super sophomores reined in.

We're still five long months away from a season that can't start soon enough. Rarely does anything live up to the hype, but I'll be strapped in for every twist and turn. I'm all in baby, and my aces never looked sweeter.

Linking Up: March 22, 2011

*Forgot to mention yesterday that safety Kevin Brent has transferred. Brent arrived at Norman with high expectations, but he never cracked the two-deep. With Brent's departure, the Sooners remain two scholarships over the limit. Here's hoping everyone from this year's recruiting class makes it to campus.

*You want NCAA Tournament games, you got's to sell tickets, T-Town.

*Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight tackles the Big East's performance in the NCAA Tournament.

*I'm sure Bob Stoops and Co. will figure out a way to manufacture Greg Reid's comments yesterday into some sign of disrespect, but the guy is just saying he thinks Florida State will be better prepared to take on the Crimson and Cream this year.

*Sports by Brooks suggests that Notre Dame may have pulled a Tricky Dick Nixon with the footage it turned over to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Declan Sullivan case. Then again, what do you expect from a crew that hides behind "proprietary knowledge" to keep investigators from acquiring the tapes in the first place?

I can't even begin to describe how pathetic this all is. It actually starts with the idea that our collective obsession with sports would lead to a situation in which this kid or his superiors would have even thought to send him up on that hydraulic lift in the first place. Honestly, we all need a reality check.

Sooners Open Spring Practice

With Oklahoma running its customary closed spring practices, obviously there won't be much to report outside of Bob Stoops' typical post-practice palaver. Stoops did kick things off with an opening press conference today and dropped a few nuggets worth noting.

*Aaron Colvin's move to safety is still in the "experimental" stage, but Stoops appears pretty certain it's where Colvin will stay.

*Stoops is staying mum on Jamell Fleming.

*Stoops downplayed any potential disruption from shifting responsibilities among the coaching staff since Bruce Kittle was hired in the offseason.

*Here I've been talking up the opportunities for Brennan Clay and Brandon Williams with Roy Finch on the shelf, and it turns out that Finch is going through drills. Sounds like Dejuan Miller is a go, as is Ronnell Lewis.

*Don't think we'll be hearing much from OU's players on Twitter, at least nothing interesting.

*Stoops' mind games in the press are legendary, so when he praises the attitude of the entire team like he did today, he's not blowing smoke.

*For what it's worth, Stoops looks awfully confident. More loose than usual.

Case in point, when asked if he's anxious to see the conference schedule: "I don't really care. I mean, we'll play everybody. I guess you have to get hotel rooms on the road, so we have to know that."

5 Oklahoma Sooners to Note This Spring

Aaron Colvin
We've already discussed the opportunities available to young buck Brandon Williams this spring. Here are five other Sooners to keep an eye on as Oklahoma opens spring camp this week:

(Continue...)

1. Aaron Colvin

With Jamell Fleming's future in Norman clearly in doubt, secondary coach Willie Martinez will be throwing plenty of personnel combinations up against the wall to see what sticks.

OU's philosophy in the secondary seems to lean towards getting the four or five best defensive backs on the field, rather than getting too hung up on specific positions. If the pre-spring depth chart holds any water, that group currently comprises Demontre Hurst, Gabe Lynn, Javon Harris and Colvin, with Tony Jefferson playing a hybrid safety-linebacker.

At this point, it looks as though the stalking horse is to play Colvin as a safety, which makes sense. He has the spring and fall camps to learn the position. If Lynn doesn't work out at cornerback, Colvin could always move back there, where he saw plenty of action last season.

2. Blake Bell

In the race to be Landry Jones' understudy, sophomore Drew Allen has the edge in experience. Talk to the scouts, though, and they'll tell you that Bell, a redshirt freshman out of Kansas, has the superior skill set of the two underclassmen.

After a year on the sidelines, does Bell have a strong enough command of the offense to be 'Stache's No. 2? We'll know more by April. My guess is that even if Allen heads into the summer as the second-string signal caller, OU coach Bob Stoops would be more likely to call on Bell in the fall if Jones misses any significant time.

3. Bronson Irwin

You could blame any number of factors for OU's lackluster running game of late, but the interior of the Sooner offensive line has to be somewhere near the top of the list. For whatever reason, guards Gabe Ikard, Tyler Evans and Stephen Good just haven't put it all together.

Irwin, a mountainous sophomore out of Mustang, Okla., has a chance to shake that rotation up. As a four-star recruit coming out of high school, Irwin saw limited reps as a true freshman last year. With a full year in the program, maybe the big fella can step up and win a spot that is clearly there for the taking.

4. Justin McCay

OK, how about another member of OU's 2010 recruiting class?

In a star-studded group of receivers, McCay has kind of fallen out of Sooner Nation's view. The raw Kansan needed a redshirt year in 2010 to get up to speed, so we'll finally get a chance this spring to see if McCay is ready for prime time.

At 6-2, 209 lbs., McCay has size and speed you won't find in OU's other receiving targets. The question is whether he now possesses the polish to make it on the field in 2011.

5. Stacy McGee

After transitioning to defensive tackle, McGee provided a pleasant surprise for the Sooners in 2010. McGee's experience at defensive end could turn out to be a boon this year, as OU is rumored to be implementing more 3-4 base looks on defense. With his size, McGee seems like the kind of player who could flex out wide in those cases.

Oklahoma’s Offseason Questions: Is Brandon Williams Ready to Roll?

Heading into the 2004 season, the Oklahoma Sooners had nearly all of the pieces in place for another run at a national title – a Heisman-winning quarterback, the best receiver in school history, an experienced offensive line, a talented defense.

The big question: Who was going to carry the water in the running game?

Freshman phenom Adrian Peterson answered that one pretty quickly, running for nearly 2,000 yards on the season when all was said and done.

In 2007, redshirt freshman running back DeMarco Murray took Sooner Nation by storm. Last year, it was rookie runner Roy Finch.

Now, it's Brandon Williams' turn to turn some heads in Norman.

(Continue...)

As soon as the ink was dry on 2010, Texas signee Malcolm Brown started winning acclaim as the consensus top running back recruit in the nation for 2011. Williams, on the other hand, worked his way up the rankings with a stellar 2010 campaign at Royal High School in Brookshire, Texas. Rivals elevated him to coveted five-star status, ranking Williams 14th overall in the class of 2011 and third among running backs nationally.

Williams' natural ability would probably be good enough to earn some playing time this fall. However, as an early enrollee, Williams will have a full spring's worth of practices to start getting down to business.

Finch is on the shelf recovering from offseason foot surgery. Jermie Calhoun and Jonathan Miller are recovering from injuries as well. That means sophomore Brennan Clay and Williams will receive the bulk of the action in the next few weeks, which can only help to speed along Williams' development.

Murray is off to the NFL, taking 350 offensive touches from 2010 with him. That leaves plenty of room for Williams to contribute in 2011.

Don't expect a Peterson-like freshman year from Williams. That's asking way too much, especially given OU's relatively ineffective rushing game of late and the bevy of players vying for carries.

Even so, in terms of pure talent, no other back on the Sooner roster can match Williams. Look for the freshman to be a key cog in the Crimson and Cream offensive machine by the Red River Shootout.

Linking Up: March 18, 2011

*Have to hand it to Roger Goodell – he knows how to write a polished letter. The NFL commissioner's little communique to the players yesterday certainly makes the owners' position sound reasonable. It's not, but credit Goodell for some effective PR work.

*S.M Oliva of the Mises Institute points out that at least one group is thrilled about going to the legal mattresses: the lawyers. And, of course, the pols won't let a good crisis go to waste.

*The Skinny reports back that Tulsa is jamming this weekend.

*So Jim Tressel wants his suspension lengthened so that the he and the Tattoo Five "can handle this adversity together?" If I read one column about the Ohio State coach stepping up to do the right thing...

Sweater Vest may have just saved his job. That's it. There's nothing more to this.

*The Dagger helps you navigate your daily course of March Madness. Speaking of which, while I love having every game available, it is confusing as hell. It's just sensory overload.

*And we got this going for us.

Linking Up: March 17, 2011

*Confession: I have yet to watch the "Fab Five" documentary. Still, it appears pretty clear to me that Jalen Rose was talking about how he felt at a specific moment in time when he said Duke only recruited "Uncle Toms." Seems like Grant Hill used the opportunity to grandstand in his New York Times article admonishing Rose. Jason Whitlock, on the other hand, probably loved Hill's take.

*Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight explains the advantage of being in some of the the lower-seeded positions in the NCAA Tournament.

*Slate offers up six teams to hate in this year's Big Dance.

*My favorite bets in today's action, which seems pretty tight: Morehead State (+10), Michigan State (-1.5) and Utah State (+3).

*If you're in Tulsa for this weekend's games and don't plan on going to Ron's, what is wrong with you?

*E-mail me at blatanthomerism@gmail.com if you're interested in getting in on the annual NCAA Tournament Pick-6 Challenge. Three hours left to enter.

*Great financial writer James Surowiecki of The New Yorker delves into the NFL labor situation.