In January, Oklahoma's "big four" underclassmen–quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham, offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy–stunned Sooner Nation and the college football world by deciding to stick around for another year in Norman.
Of course, the feel-good story went south quickly in the fall when Bradford and Gresham suffered season-ending injuries and the Sooners slogged through a seven-win campaign. Both have decided to move on to the pros in the spring, possibly having lost millions by staying in school.
It's a hard-luck story that won't be lost on college football prospects with NFL aspirations. Now, however, OU fans are left to wonder if the cautionary tale will have an especially pronounced effect close to home. This year's batch of draft-eligible underclassmen at OU lack the star power of last season's crop, but there are still plenty with tough calls to make.
As much as Homerism loves the NFL draft, I don't fancy myself some kind of scouting expert. That said, here's a look at status of the Sooners' prospects, as well as how their departure would impact coach Bob Stoops' squad:
*Gerald McCoy, DT
Status: McCoy announced last week that he is NFL-bound after the Sun Bowl.
Buzz: From a talent standpoint, McCoy's decision to stay for a fourth year at OU surprised me the most last season. He and Percy Harvin were the two best players on the field during the BCS championship game in January, and I suspect McCoy would have been one of the first five or 10 players selected in the last draft. A year later, that hasn't changed ($).
(Yeah, I'll say it: McCoy is a better pro prospect than Tommie Harris.)
Impact: McCoy went from outstanding in 2008 to nearly dominant this season. He was the most valuable player not only for the Sooners' fearsome defense, but for the entire team. When Bradford went down, McCoy became the face of the team and carried the leadership role well. Although not unexpected, his loss will sting next season. Adrian Taylor, OU's other starting defensive tackle will return, but little depth was developed this year.
Buzz: After promising '07 and '08 seasons, Beal took a huge step forward in '09. However, Beal's size remains a sticking point with the draft gurus, who tend to see him as a mid-round pick ($). The dilemma: If you're not going to get any taller, is there any reason to stay in school?
Impact: Beal and McCoy made for a dynamic defensive line duo this year, so losing him would be tough for OU. Additionally, have similar depth issues at defensive end to what they face at tackle. Without Beal, it would be up to hyped recruits RJ Washington and David King to fill his shoes.
Status: Lewis hasn't revealed his plans.
Buzz: Most program insiders had pegged Lewis as a definite early entrant prior to the season, but the redshirt sophomore likely hurt his stock with an up-and-down year. In particular, his skills in pass coverage showed some serious holes in '09.
Impact: Despite his erratic play this year, Lewis remains a tackling machine. With OU losing starters Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton to graduation, Lewis would provide a strong building block for the 2010 linebacking corps and defense. Replacing all three starters at linebacker would be a troubling proposition.
Status: Broyles says he is staying for another year.
Buzz: Despite a breakthrough year in 2009, this seems like the right call for Broyles. This class of wide receivers is thought to be very strong, so Broyles would probably make some extra cash by going out for the 2011 draft.
Impact: Broyles emerged as the centerpiece of the OU passing game–and the entire offense, for that matter–this season. He has a good shot at blossoming into an All-American next season. His cohorts at receiver showed flashes of promise, but little consistency, making Broyles' return critical.
Status: Murray has said he's leaning towards staying for another year, but he will make his mind up after the season.
Buzz: As a redshirt freshman two years ago, Murray looked like an electric playmaker and no-doubt first rounder. Unfortunately, his checkered injury history is likely a big red flag for pro scouts, and his assorted maladies appear to have robbed him of some explosiveness. Working in his favor is that he has turned into a solid receiving threat.
Impact: Running back is one spot where the Sooners aren't lacking for young bucks, including freshmen Jermie Calhoun and Jonathan Miller. However, a healthy Murray would provide a steadying, experienced presence in the backfield and probably would see the majority of carries in 2010. He'd also continue to be a nice weapon working out of the slot.
Status: Franks says he will be back for another year.
Buzz: Much like Lewis, Franks appeared to take something of a step back this season. His occasional mental lapses proved costly in some cases. However, he's still a good cover man with speed, boosting his draft status.
Impact: With Brian Jackson gone, losing Franks early means defensive backs coach Bobby Jack Wright would be replacing both corners next season. Per usual, OU has stocked up on defensive backs, and the Sooner coaching staff seems especially high on freshman Demontre Hurst at cornerback. As damaging as breakdowns can be in the pass-happy Big 12, experience in the secondary can play a huge role in a team's success. Bottom line: If Franks comes back, Stoops sleeps just a little bit easier this offseason.