It may only be July, but it’s never too early to talk college football. Get your daily fix with our countdown of the preseason Top 25, the consensus picks of the American-Statesman sports staff:
No. 16 OKLAHOMA
By John Maher
The Sooners will contend if … their Belldozer — oversized quarterback Blake Bell — becomes the team’s bell cow. That’s a big if, because the Sooners have been hesitant to name him the outright starter. Maybe that’s because in his career he’s had more rushing touchdowns (24) than passing attempts (20).
Coach: Bob Stoops (15th year, 149-37)
2012 record: 10-3 overall, 8-1 Big 12
2012 bowl: Lost 41-13 to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense
Red River ‘rivalry’: The Big 12 race is being handicapped as a wide-open affair between a half-dozen teams that are pretty good, but not great. But the conference’s key game is likely to once again be the Texas-Oklahoma tilt in Dallas. Right now, it’s the only game in which Texas is not considered a favorite; it’s rated a push. Lately, the Sooners have been able to turn pretty even on-paper matchups with Texas into routs, winning 63-21 last year and 55-17 before that.
The norm in Norman: Bob Stoops isn’t getting the kind of criticism that’s been dogging Texas’ Mack Brown of late, partly because Stoops has been thumping Brown’s Longhorns in recent years, but not all is OK in Oklahoma. The Sooners have lost at least three games in three of the past four years. Stoops has brought in new coaches for the offensive and defensive lines, but it’s been years since OU has had the kind of defense that could shut down even a Vince Young. Last year, Oklahoma ranked a very mediocre 64th in total defense. The defense has only four returning starters and is short on bodies — particularly big ones — along the defensive line. It’s also short on the kind of linebackers that used to make OU feared. It’s never a good sign when your quarterback is bigger than your linebackers and your defensive linemen.
Cheer, cheer for old Oklahoma: Big 12 teams should be doing just when the Sooners face Notre Dame in late September; with marquee non-conference matchups almost an endangered species, the ones that remain are huge in shaping the national image of a conference. Last year, the Sooners got the Irish in Norman and could do no better than a 30-13 loss, which only legitimized Notre Dame’s march to the national championship game.
Finding a cure for fumble-itis: Not the Sooners offense. The Sooners defense. Last year Oklahoma’s defense recovered only three fumbles. Only Miami (2) recovered fewer. Eight players on FBS teams recovered more fumbles than the Sooners’ entire defense.
Did you know?
- Stoops needs nine wins to surpass Barry Switzer as the Sooners’ all-time leader in victories.
- Bell had four rushing touchdowns against Texas last year — in the first half.
- The Sooners rushed 434 times for 2,098 yards last season. And not a single yard or carry went to a player who hailed from Texas.
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2012: 10-3 L Cotton Bowl
2011: 10-3, W Insight Bowl
2010: 12-2, W Fiesta Bowl
2009: 8-5, W Sun Bowl
2008: 12-2, L BCS Championship
Total: 52-15, 3-2 in bowls
Passing: Blake Bell, 9-16-107 yards, 0/0
Rushing: Damien Williams, 176-946-11 TDs
Receiving: Jalen Saunders 62-829-3 TDs
Tackles: DB Aaron Colvin, 61
Sacks: DE Chuka Ndulue, 5
RETURNING ALL-BIG 12
FB: Trey Millard (1st team)
OL: Gabe Ikard (1st team)
RB: Damien Williams (2nd team)
DB: Aaron Colvin (1st team)
OL Tyrus Thompson (Pflugerville)
DT Jordan Wade (Stony Point)
DE Chuka Ndule (Dallas Jesuit)
OL Daryl Williams (Lake Dallas)
DE P.L. Lindley (Stony Point)
Sept. 7;West Virginia*
Sept. 28;at Notre Dame
Oct. 19;at Kansas*
Oct. 26;Texas Tech*
Nov. 7;at Baylor*
Nov. 16;Iowa State*
Nov. 23;at Kansas State*
Dec. 7;at Oklahoma State*
* Big 12 game
TOP 25, BY CONFERENCES
(So far …)
5: Big 12 (No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 17 TCU, No. 18 Oklahoma State, No. 20 Baylor, No. 23 Kansas State)
3: Big Ten (No. 22 Nebraska, No. 24 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern)
1: Pac-12 (No. 21 UCLA); Mountain West (No. 19 Boise State)
OUR TOP 25 (SO FAR)
No. 25 Northwestern
No. 24 Wisconsin
No. 23 Kansas State
No. 22 Nebraska
No. 21 UCLA
No. 20 Baylor
No. 19 Boise State
No. 18 Oklahoma State
No. 17 TCU
No. 16 Oklahoma
No. 15: Coming Sunday. Want a hint? This school has won 32 conference championships, though only two since 1996.