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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Oklahoma's Offseason Questions: Will the Running Game Ever Improve?

Roy Finch
True or false: The Oklahoma Sooners ran the ball better in 2010 than they did in 2009?

Answer: It may have seemed like it, but I wouldn't be asking you that if they had, now would I?

OU did manage to increase its total rushing yards per game slightly from 134.6 in '09 to 138.7 in '10. Per carry, however, the Sooners' output on the ground fell from a terrible 3.61 yards (90th nationally) to a stunningly bad 3.36 (106th).

OU's passing attack improved so much last season that the offense had more plays. The running game was generating more total yards in the aggregate as a result, even though OU definitely was running the ball worse.

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Now, Homerism doesn't really buy into the notion that the best offenses need to be balanced or that teams should aim to run the ball a specific number of times per game. I mean, the Green Bay Packers just won a Super Bowl game in which they had three times as many passing attempts, 39, as rushing, 13. No, the best offense is the one that scores more points than the other team, no matter how you get there.

Lately, though, the teams that are winning national championships are running the ball a helluva lot better than the Sooners have lately.

National Champions' Rushing Averages
Year Team Rush Yards/Att Rank (National)
2010 Auburn 6.12 T-2nd
2009 Alabama 5.01 T-11th
2008 Florida 5.94 4th
2007 LSU 4.90 18th
2006 Florida 4.71 T-21st

For a little perspective, consider that OU's best performance on the ground last season came against Iowa State. The Sooners churned out 5.80 yards per carry that game, nearly half a yard less than Auburn averaged all season.

Let's dig a little deeper. To simply match the lowest output of the last five national champions, the 2006 Florida team's 4.71 yards per attempt, OU would need to increase increase its average 40 percent. History suggests that kind of massive improvement is rare.

Luckily for new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, he'll have a plethora of talented runners in the backfield. Dynamic freshman back Brandon Williams has already joined the team and will add some serious juice to the sophomore core of Roy Finch and Brennan Clay.

Less fortunate: OU's leading rusher in 2010, DeMarco Murray, is gone.

Aside from a loaded group of running backs, the Sooners' best reason for optimism may be an experienced offensive line that returns four starters from last year. Another year under the tutelage of offensive line coach James Patton and strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt could have OU's line ready to ground and pound in 2011.

Of course, I don't think I was alone in expecting similar strides out of the hogmollies last season. Look how that turned out.

The 2011 squad certainly will have the kind of passing game that can offset plenty of weakness on the ground. The 2010 team proved that.

Still, looking at the profiles of the last five national champs should be pretty sobering for any fan with hopes of celebrating OU's eighth title in January.