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College Football Preview: 20. Oklahoma Sooners

20. Oklahoma Sooners                                     
Blake Bell
The Sooners finished off 2012 10-3 last season which was a slight disappointment. Though they still won the Big 12 title even with an inconsistent defense and struggles in the fourth quarter. Record-setting quarterback Landry Jones is gone and there are gaps all over the defense. But even with all these questions the Sooners are still expected to contend and even possibly make a push for another Big 12 title.

Backfield:  With Jones gone the quarterback position is wide open but it appears junior Blake Bell is the favorite. Nicknamed "The Belldozer" for his powerful red zone scrambles Bell has proved he can dominate on the ground but he only attempted 16 passes in 2012. Bell has a strong arm but hasn't proven that he can use it yet. If Bell doesn't prove he deserves the job, coach Bob Stoops could lean towards sophomore Kendal Thompson who is also more of a scrambler. Luckily for the Sooners the rest of this backfield is stacked and is a definite strength. Senior Damien Williams had a total of 946 yards last season in a pass-happy offense. With Oklahoma breaking in a new quarterback all of his stats could skyrocket. Freshman Keith Green will be relied on to an impact player from the start. Not a lot of teams can say that there fullback is an impact player but with senior Trey Milliard, Oklahoma can. Milliard is a focal point of the offense and can run and is a strong receiver out of the backfield.

Recievers: The return of senior Jalen Saunders should really help out Bell or whoever starts. Saunders had 62 receptions and had 829 yards in only 9 games last year. If he stays healthy and plays the full season he is a no-doubt All-Big 12 threat. Sophomore Trey Metoyer also returns after a disappointing 2012. Metoyer was a big-time commit for Bob Stoops and staff and was supposed to be the next Ryan Broyles but was just average a year ago. Metoyer still has potential and is a real downfield threat. The question is; will a quarterback be able to get the ball downfield? The Sooners could rely on incoming freshman Dannon Cavil, a four-star threat who is big and plays more like a tight end. The return of Jaz Reynolds after a year-long suspension should definitely help this offense become more explosive. 

Offensive Line: Up front, the Sooners should have on the best offensive lines in the Big 12 even with the loss of Lane Johnson. The other four starters return including senior center Gabe Ikard who should anchor the unit. Ikard is athletic and mature and has proven he can handle great interior pass rushers. With his smarts and talent he could end up a starter on Sundays. The rest of this line isn't as talented as Ikard but has gained valuable experience and has a number of solid players. Junior Tyrus Thompson is massive and should hold down the right tackle spot. On the other side the Sooners should rely on junior Daryl Williams who will play an important role in protecting the quarterback's blind side. Williams is also gigantic but not very athletic but he has the potential for a big year. Oklahoma should also benefit from the returns of two impact guards, Tyler Evans and Nila Kasitati, both who missed all of 2012 with torn ACLs. 

Defensive Line: This should be a little bit of a weakness for this squad. It needs to be strong in order to help improve this defense because it needs to get pressure on opponents. There are no proven pass rushers but there is potential for stardom. Junior Chuka Ndulue proved to be an impact player through much of 2012, recording 5 sacks and being a force throughout. There is talent at end with guys like sophomore Mike Onuoha and Rashod Favors. Both are young and have some growing up to do but can apply pressure. Along with Ndulue sophomore Jordan Phillips should be a beast inside. Phillips is more of a run stuffer than Ndulue but can also disrupt backfields. The Sooners got a big pick up in Moore, Oklahoma product D.J. Ward. The four-star find has great instincts and is very strong even tough he isn't too big. 

Linebackers: Whether the Sooners run a 4-2-5 or a 3-4 or any scheme linebackers will play an important role. Senior Corey Nelson's career has been a great one here in Norman and he hopes to end it with a bang. Nelson proved to be the leader of the corps and proved that he can be an impact player no matter the score, evidenced by a 9 tackle performance in the team's loss to Notre Dame. The long time contributor has proven that he can rack up a lot of tackles but needs to be more of a pass rushing threat this year. Sophomore Frank Shannon will start alongside Nelson. Shannon had a solid 2012 and should continue to improve this year. He is also a sure tackler and makes play all over the field. Another sophomore, Eric Striker, should be able to make an impact when given the opportunity. Junior outside linebacker Aaron Franklin is a little more of a pass rusher than Nelson but isn't as experienced and doesn't have great instincts. Depth could be an issue for this unit but it's top couple 'backers are strong enough to help out in the run game.

Aaron Colvin
Secondary: The high point of the off season for the Sooners was when senior Aaron Colvin decided to return for his senior year. Colvin was the team's best defender throughout 2012, recording 4 interceptions and 61 tackles and should be shutdown at the cornerback position. The other cornerback slot should be manned by sophomore Cortez Johnson, an athletic corner with big time potential. Johnson is pretty big for a corner, at 6-2 which should help him against the long, big receivers of the Big 12 after spending time at Arizona. Senior Gabe Lynn looks like he will be the starter at the free safety position. Lynn has a nose for the ball and will be able to lay a hard hit once in a while. Junior Julian Wilson is an athletic defensive back who has proven he can make some highlight reel plays. Oklahoma got a steal when they landed a California product in safety Hatari Byrd. Byrd is a smart, athletic presence who chose Oklahoma over USC, UCLA and Cal. Byrd proved that the Sooners and Stoops can even be forces in recruiting on the West Coast. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will lean heavily on Colvin but another defensive back has to step up, perhaps Johnson.

There is talent in Norman, like usual. Though if the quarterback position is weak and the defense doesn't improve it will be tough to be a contender in the tough Big 12. If the Sooners can get through a tough end of the season stretch (Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road) it is still possible that Oklahoma can grab a Big 12 title.

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