There's a (purportedly) ancient Chinese blessing that goes something like: "May you living in interesting times."
After the way this season has gone, you'll have to excuse Sooner fans if they consider this a curse.
OU's 2009 campaign has brought with it plenty of interesting news, none of it good:
- Jermaine Gresham - torn meniscus in fall camp: out for the season;
- Tom Wort - torn knee ligament in fall camp: out for the season;
- Sam Bradford - separated shoulder in first game: missed three games;
- Ryan Broyles - fractured shoulder blade in fourth game: missed one game;
- Brian Simmons - undisclosed knee injury in fifth game: out for indeterminate period of time.
Then came the coup de grace in the Red River Shootout against Texas, when standout quarterback Sam Bradford was felled yet again by the same shoulder injury en route to a 16-13 win for the Longhorns. Bradford's season is likely finished, along with his OU career.
The first six games of the season proved that the Sooners boast one of the country's best defenses and an offense that could be described kindly as a "work in progress" minus their Heisman winner. With OU sitting at 3-3, here's a look the state of the Sooners at the halfway mark.
*Biggest Strength: Defensive Line
OU's defensive line has lived up to its lofty billing so far this season. Stud DT Gerald McCoy ranks among the best defensive players in the country. Jeremy Beal has continued to develop into a top-notch pass rusher and disruptive force up front. Auston English doesn't look too far off from his form of 2007.
The only quibble at this point would be depth. As part of the rotation at defensive end, Frank Alexander hasn't made the same impact this year that he did as a redshirt freshman in 2008. McCoy, in particular, has looked gassed on occasion late in games, suggesting he would benefit from some backups stepping in to give the big fella a break for at least a few snaps.
*Glaring, Texas-Sized Weakness: Offensive Line
Even with OU losing four starters from last year's decorated offensive line, I–along with most of Sooner Nation–expected little drop-off when the talented newcomers stepped in. Instead, the replacements have struggled to develop any kind of cohesion, to the point that the coaching staff has yet to even settle on a definitive starting lineup or consistent rotation.
To be fair, injuries have ravaged this unit. Center Ben Habern missed almost all of preseason practice with a back injury, leading tight end Brody Eldridge to slide in for him with the first team in the opener against BYU. Starting left guard Brian Simmons went down in the fifth game of the year and may be lost for the season.
*Worst Appendages: Hands
Drops have plagued the Sooner receiving corp all season. Defenders have bungled easy pick-six opportunities. Ball carriers have fumbled away the pigskin. Special teamers have muffed returns. The offensive linemen can't stop holding.
Some of these guys might be better off on the soccer pitch.
*Pleasant Surprise: Brandon Caleb
Heading into the season, I had assumed Caleb would be an afterthought in the rotation at wide receiver. In the spring, speculation abounded that he would be moving to defensive back. Instead, the speedster has developed into a decent number two to Ryan Broyles. While the rest of the newcomers at receiver have disappointed, Caleb has exceeded expectations.
*Unpleasant Surprise: Stephen Good
I don't know who's puppy Good kicked, but the highly touted sophomore o-lineman has affixed himself firmly in the doghouse. Good went from guaranteed starter to barely playing. Word circulated early in the season that an illness had set Good back. Even if true, the Sooners are six games into the season; Good should have worked his way into the rotation by now if he was living up to the hype.
*Biggest Enigma: DeJuan Miller
An impressive physical specimen, the sophomore Miller has caught the attention of OU's mouthiest Sunday morning quarterbacks, who wonder why he's not seeing more action. Apparently, the Oklahoma coaches aren't as enamored with the 6'4", 225-pound New Jersey native 's physical tools.
*Sophomore Slump: Travis Lewis
On the heels of a breakout redshirt freshman year, Lewis doesn't seem to have hit his stride yet this season. Lewis isn't playing particularly badly. He just hasn't been as much of a factor as he was in '08. Maybe he's already thinking about playing on Sundays?
*Troubling Trend: Penalties
The Sooners, particularly the offensive line, long ago crossed the line from "overly aggressive" to "undisciplined." OU is getting dinged for 89.5 penalty yards per game, the most in the country. Even with all the other problems the Sooners have had this year, penalties have almost certainly cost OU at least one game this season. The Sooners simply aren't good enough this season to give away nearly 100 yards per game.
*Sayonara: Sam Bradford
Slingin' Sam proved his toughness and cemented his legend in Sooner lore this season with his bid to get back on the field. Today's news that Bradford has been ruled out of Saturday's game against Kansas suggests that he intends to play again this year. If Bradford intends to go pro at the end of the season, he should feel no obligation to return in the second half. Of course, if he really wants to play again, OU fans would love to have him back.
*On the Spot: James Patton
Some drop-off in the performance of an offensive line that lost four of five starters from the previous year is understandable; not this much, though. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson doesn't seem to think talent is an issue, so it's not like the Sooners don't have the raw materials.
Ergo, Patton, OU's offensive line coach, needs to earn his money over the last six games. With half the season under their belts, OU's big uglies should start showing some cohesion. If not, it's tough to see the Sooner offense improving much in the second half.
*Toughest Remaining Game: Texas Tech (Nov. 21)
The Sooners' recent struggles outside the borders of Oklahoma have been well-documented. Take wild and woolly Lubbock, one of the biggest snakepits for visitors in the country. OU has lost two straight on the road to the Red Raiders, with Tech benefiting from questionable officiating decisions both times.
The media loves the mentor-student matchup between Bob Stoops and Mike Leach, so this one will almost certainly end up being a night game on national television. Winning a game like this could be huge for an OU team in transition.
All things being equal, Oklahoma State looks like the best team remaining on OU's schedule. The Sooners have owned the Cowboys in Norman under Stoops, though.
*Best-Case Scenario: Big 12 Champions
Obviously, Texas now appears to be in the drivers seat for the conference title. The Longhorns, however, have dropped the ball before. If OU wins out, Texas would have to lose two more conference games to give the Sooners the Big 12 South crown. UT has road night games in the next two weeks versus Missouri and Oklahoma State, so two losses aren't out of the question. Unlikely, but still.
*Worst-Case Scenario: 5-7
Of Oklahoma's six remaining games, there is about a 0 percent chance the Sooners lose to sad-sack Kansas State or Texas A&M.
That leaves road trips to Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech, as well as the home date with OSU. OU is a 7.5-point favorite over KU and should be giving points in at least two of the other three. Still, 0-4 isn't completely out of the question.
Projection: 8-4, Cotton Bowl
Assuming Bradford sits for the rest of the year, Landry Jones has shown the chops to steer OU to a solid finish. Combine bad breaks with a rough schedule, and eight wins is a pretty good season. A chance to butt heads in the Cotton Bowl with an SEC squad such as LSU or South Carolina would offer a good growing experience for the players returning in 2010, when the Sooners will try to kick off the next decade with a national championship.