Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Offseason Questions: Will OU's O-Line Be Less Offensive in 2010?

Cory Branson

If you need any further reason to disregard everything you read here, take a look at my preview of the Oklahoma Sooners' offensive line prior to the 2009 season.

OU was facing a major rebuilding job after graduating four starters from the 2008 group. Fear not, I said, everything would be just fine. Some highlights:

  • "Now, obviously, I'd prefer five All-American redshirt seniors with indestructible ACLs returning up front. But you go war with the army you've got, and Homerism will tell you why that's not such a bad thing in this case."
  • "The talent possessed by this unit is undeniable. (Trent) Williams should have a long career in the NFL. (Ben) Habern made every national All-American team imaginable in high school. LSU transfer Jarvis Jones, currently locked in a battle with Cory Brandon for the starting right tackle job, saw action as a freshman on the Tigers' 2007 national championship team. And we haven't even gotten to right guard Stephen Good, a stud prospect out of Texas who saw time last season as a true freshman."
  • "At the end of the day, Homerism's advice is to ignore all the doom and gloom about who won't be part of the Sooners' o-line in '09. Instead, take a long look at who will be there."

In hindsight, that article may be the stupidest thing I've ever written. That's saying something.

Ben HabernOU fans know how this one ended up playing out. The Sooners' significant offensive struggles in '09 all started in the trenches. Running backs spent all season looking for holes that never materialized. Blitzers often came after OU quarterbacks with impunity. Linemen racked up false starts and ridiculous personal foul penalties like they were going out of style.

What's done is done, though. The time for recriminations has passed. The real question now is, Will this unit be any better in 2010?

The answer seems to boil down to one of those timeless talent-versus-experience debates. With four starters on the offensive line coming back in 2010, can OU fans expect that experience will pay off? Or, does the return of a slew of underperformers mean more of the same?

(The Wall Street Journal weighed in last year with an article that generated quite a bit of discussion.)

Well, as ephemeral as such connections often prove to be, we can always try to divine some signs based on precedent.

Looking back at the past five seasons, the returning starters situation on the o-line has tended to be boom or bust for OU.

Offensive Line Experience
Year Returning Starters
2005 2
2006 1
2007 5
2008 5
2009 1

(Note: I counted a player with at least six starts in the previous season as a returning starter for purposes of this inquiry.)

Likewise, OU's offense hit peaks and valleys in its production during this small window of time.

Oklahoma Offensive Statistics
Year Rush Yds/Play Pass Yds/Play Yards/Play Points/Game Sacks Allowed
2004 4.79 8.1 6.2 34.8 0.69
2005 4.05 6.3 4.9 26.9 1.75
2006 4.45 7.9 5.8 30.3 1.21
2007 4.65 9.0 6.4 42.3 1.00
2008 4.72 9.5 6.9 51.1 0.86
2009 3.61 7.2 5.5 31.1 1.15
Avg. 4.38 8.0 6.0 36.1 1.1

The biggest season-to-season declines occurred between the 2004 and 2005 seasons and 2008 and 2009. One thing 2005 and 2009 share in common: a dearth of returning starters on the offensive line.

In contrast, OU's O hit the high notes in '07 and '08, years in which the Sooners brought back five o-line starters.

Problem solved, then. The Sooners have four starters coming back on the offensive line for 2010: Stephen Good, Ben Habern, Cory Brandon and Jarvis Jones. Print the Big 12 champs t-shirts, right?

It would be foolish to draw definitive conclusions about how well the Sooner O will perform based on such a cursory analysis. In reality, so many factors play into an offense's success that singling out one element like offensive line play doesn't reveal too much. Keep in mind that the 2005 and 2009 squads had more in common than offensive line attrition:

  • a daunting schedule;
  • a redshirt freshman stepping in for a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback;
  • a host of newcomers at wide receiver.

Additionally, the 2004 and 2008 teams were so prolific on the offensive side of the ball that a "right-sizing" in production the following season would appear that much more dramatic. Also, note that OU brought back just one starter on the o-line in 2006, and yet the Sooners showed possibly their greatest improvement of the five-year stretch in that season.

So I'd hold off on booking those tickets to Glendale just yet. At the very least, though, the evidence hints that with four starters returning on the offensive line in 2010, a major leap forward is a very real possibility.