Time to put a bow on 2010 for the Oklahoma Sooners. Many more positives to write about this season than last year.
*MVP: Ryan Broyles
Broyles' second consecutive superb season probably assured his spot as the best wide receiver in OU. From 2009 to 2010, he upped his catches per game from 7.4 to 9.4 and yards per game from 93.3 to 115.9. In games in which opponents held No. 85 in check, such as the Red River Shootout, the focus on Broyles opened up the offense for DeMarco Murray, Kenny Stills and the other weapons in OU's arsenal.
No player was more instrumental in the Sooners' success this year than Broyles.
*Most Improved: Pryce Macon
Most Sooner fans had given up on Macon long ago, and it sure seemed like the coaching staff had, too. Even Macon has admitted he nearly quit before spring football started last season.
Thankfully, the big fella stuck around to become a key cog in the OU defense. Macon bolstered a thin defensive line, moving between an outside pass rushing spot and inside to provide depth at tackle. His play improved from game to game, to the point that Macon was able to own the line of scrimmage in the Sooners' Big 12 title game win over Nebraska.
*Better Late Than Never: Cameron Kenney
Like Macon, Kenney had become an afterthought around Norman. In fact, that's probably being generous, as most fans shared a similar thought about the senior receiver: Keep him on the sidelines.
Pressed into service when fan favorite Dejuan Miller went down with a knee injury, something started to click for Kenney as the season wound down. His 6 catches for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns against Oklahoma State, including a late bomb, helped push the Sooners past Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game. He also had a few clutch plays versus Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, enabling the Sooners to fend off the Cornhuskers' upset bid.
*Biggest Disappointment: Offensive Line
OU undoubtedly had a better offensive line this year than last. That was inevitable. 2009 featured a MASH unit of converted tight ends and green youngsters who struggled all season to develop cohesiveness, primarily because they never knew who would be lining up next them.
The 2010 unit made strides, but OU's offensive line just didn't seem to progress as quickly as many had hoped. As bad as the Sooner ground game was in '09, Oklahoma actually saw its yards per rushing attempt decline from 3.61 to 3.36 this season. It reached the point near the end of the year where the offense essentially gave up on more than a token effort to keep defenses honest by running the ball.
Whatever OU's national title aspirations may be in 2011, the Sooners have no shot at reaching that level without significant improvement up front on offense.
*Turning Point: Texas A&M (Nov. 6)
More precisely, the Sooners' season turned around 12 seconds into the third quarter of this 33-19 loss in College Station.
The Aggies had just padded their lead to 19-0 on a kickoff return for a touchdown. The OU offense had completely stagnated, and the Sooners appeared to be on the verge of falling apart.
Somehow, though, OU worked its way back into the game and probably would have won if tight end James Hanna had been able to secure an easy touchdown pass off of a fake field goal. The Sooners fell short, but the comeback demonstrated a resilience that would pay off later in the season.
*Life Isn't Fair: Adrian Taylor
Taylor battled back from a stomach-turning leg injury in the 2009 Sun Bowl to get back on the field for OU's season opener. Despite playing through obvious pain, the senior defensive tackle provided needed depth at a position where the Sooner D was sorely lacking.
That's what made his season-ending Achilles injury in the final home game so unfortunate. Just a horrible break for a guy who worked so hard just to have a chance to contribute.
*Fatal Flaw: Kickoff Coverage
That A&M TD return wasn't exactly uncommon in 2010. The Sooners surrendered four on the season, and they all came at inopportune times.
The poor kickoff coverage will no doubt reignite the calls from fans for Bob Stoops to hire a special teams coach to fill the currently vacant opening on the staff. Don't bet on it.
*Fatal Flaw, Part II: Run Game
As poorly as OU ran the ball in 2009, it managed to regress in 2010. Oklahoma's per rush average fell from a meager 3.61 in the previous year to 3.36.
The Sooners struggled to move the ball with any consistency on running downs, which was particularly troubling. According to cfbstats.com, the Sooners' gained 3.68 yards per attempt on first down, down from 3.93 in '09.
For all the talk that OU is a legitimate national title contender next year, it won't happen if the Sooners can't get any consistency going on the ground.
*Coach of the Year: Willie Martinez
Jay Norvell and Josh Heupel could make a strong case for this distinction, but Martinez deserves it for his work with the OU defensive backs.
With Dom Franks and Brian Jackson, finishing their eligibility in 2009, cornerback looked like a potential Achilles heel. OU's play there might have actually improved this season with Martinez tutoring newbies Demontre Hurst and Jamell Fleming. That should ease some of the fears about the loss of starting safeties Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson.
*Biggest Surprise: Jamell Fleming
Fleming entered 2010 as a complete unknown. Fourteen games later, he was probably OU's most consistent performer on defense, leading OU with 5 interceptions on the season.
Fleming's play went largely unnoticed outside of Norman, but he and Hurst will combine to form arguably the best cornerback duo in the country next year. Expect both to receive some preseason push for all-conference and national honors.
*Story of the Year: The Freshmen
Originally, this was going to be "Newcomer of the Year." I had way too tough of a time picking between all of OU's top-notch rookies, though.
Trey Millard will be a four-year starter at fullback. Same goes for safety Tony Jefferson and wideout Kenny Stills, assuming those two don't leave early for the NFL. Roy Finch will take over as the feature running back in the fall. Corey Nelson showed he's ready to take over for at weakside linebacker when Travis Lewis is finished. Aaron Colvin looked great subbing in for Fleming early in the season.
Veterans such as Broyles and defensive end Jeremy Beal provided the foundation for the 2011 run to a conference title. The young bucks put the team over the top.
*Career Achievement Award: DeMarco Murray
Few could have foreseen the transformation Murray would undergo in his five seasons at OU, turning into an all-around back who was just as good running between the tackles as he was catching the ball out of the backfield.
The Las Vegas native made the most of his senior season, combining for more than 1,800 yards in total offense and 20 touchdowns. He wasn't the flashy speedster that made waves as a freshman in 2007, but he was as dependable as they get. (Amazing stat: Murray had a combined 917 rushes and receptions in four years; he never fumbled.)
In time, Murray should get his due from Sooner Nation. His loss may have a bigger impact the OU offense in 2011 than anyone expects.