No team can overcome losing its best wide receiver and best running back. With the loss of Ryan Broyles and Dominque Whaley last year, OU was doomed in its hunt for the national title. The fact that the Sooners still accomplished my worst case prediction in wins last year tells you how good OU could have been. Now, it's a new season and time to get back in the groove and prognosticate the outcome for our beloved Sooner heroes.
I have to tell you that I'm nervous about the passing offense. Nobody is really proven except QB Landry Jones. Although having a proven quarterback is a slam-dunk positive, for this Sooner offense to hum, ironically Jones and the passing game should be relied on less. This was my prescription after last season, and I still believe that.
Landry Jones cannot carry the Sooners. The receiving corps is a big question mark, with only Kenny Stills being consistent during the offseason. Reinstated Trey Franks and Jaz Reynolds must be considered unreliable until they prove otherwise. Penn State refugee Justin Brown is a wild card. Trey Metoyer is potential only. Jones needs great playmakers, not merely Stills and bunch of hope and promise.
I feel the loss of offensive linemen Ben Habern and Tyler Evans hinder the passing game more than the running game. If the Sooners try to do what a Sooner offense historically does – complement a stellar pass offense with a servicable running game – this year's Sooners have no chance of winning a national title. The season will be great, but a trip to Florida will not be in the cards.
If OU is going to have a puncher's chance for the BCS title, the Sooners must trust the ground game. I'm banking on Dominique Whaley and his heart. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay are proven veterans. Fullback Trey Millard is the best offensive player at his position outside of Jones. Oh, and let's not forget backup QB Blake Bell and the extra dimension that his legs give the offense. I prayed last year before Bedlam that we would focus on the run and keep the ball out of Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden's arm. We all know how that turned out. I'm begging offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to see it my way and build a powerful running foundation for a new starting quarterback next year, but I fear he'll stick to what he knows – and we'll sputter. We've been spoiled by an elite passing game, but I fear this season's version will not measure up. It could be a long, frustrating season.
I just don't see OU being a run-first team in 2012, but perhaps Stills, Franks, Reynolds, Brown and Metoyer will knock our socks off. Additionally, the ground game will need to repeat last year's output and net at least 160 yards per game. We'll have to be mentally tougher than last season and not get bit by an unexpected loss. Despite losing Travis Lewis, Jamell Fleming, Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops injects the edge back into a defense with a lot of returning experience to make up for those losses.
Despite pulling out hard-fought, early victories against Kansas State and Texas, the Sooners can't escape a late season loss at either West Virginia or TCU. OU wins the tiebreaker for the conference title and goes to the Fiesta Bowl against an SEC team, finishing 12-1 and coming away with the Sooners' best postseason victory since the national championship season of 2000.
We'll get more of what we saw the last half of the season: a passing game that fails to produce consistently. Heupel refuses to run more than 35 times a game. Jones has his worst passing season since 2009 as the receivers fail to gel. Whaley is not the same player he was last year, and Finch is unable to be the feature back. Bell is underutilized in passing situations and doesn't get enough experience to be dominant in 2013. The defensive play keeps a lot of offenses at bay, but is still susceptible to incredulous big plays.
An early loss to Kansas St. is a harbinger of two more losses. The Sooners repeat last year's result with a win in a lower-tier bowl and a 10-3 finish.