Here we go again. The Oklahoma Sooners football team is picked to compete for a National Championship. What else is new?
With nine returning starters on defense (pending the Frank Shannon decision), plus a quarterback who torched the two-time defending national champion also returning, and the top all-purpose running back joining the team, Oklahoma Football is once again in the spotlight.
Oklahoma has been picked to finish #1 or in the top 5 just about every year in the Bob Stoops era. But the team always seems to drop a game, which ends up either knocking Oklahoma out of contention, or actually losing the national title.
- In 2001, the Sooners lost to Oklahoma State late in the season. Same thing happened in 2002.
- In 2003, they went undefeated up until the final two games: the Big 12 Championship and the National Championship.
- In 2004, they won every game. Except the one that mattered.
- 2005 was just a bad year as they finished with an 8-4 record.
- 2006 was also a year to forget. A controversial (robbery) loss to Oregon and Boise State fiasco gave the Sooners a hit in reputation.
- 2007 was okay, but not great. A Big 12 Championship happened, but Oklahoma got routed by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
- 2008 was a GREAT year. Except for the game against Texas and the National Title.
- Skipping ahead to 2011, the Sooners were preseason #1. But the team lost three games, including a big loss to Oklahoma’s in-state rival.
Don’t get me wrong. Stoops has done a fantastic job every year, but come up short of earning his second ring.
Enough of bad memories, though. Let’s take a look at this year.
The Sooners are picked to not only play in the newly-installed playoff, but to even get in the Championship game by some pundits. That’s a lot of pressure for a QB who hasn’t even played a whole season yet. But this year is different than all those other years. Why?
Reason #1: The Defense
As mentioned at the top, OU is returning nine starters from last year’s defense that ranked #1 in the Big 12 in most categories. We’re still waiting to see if Frank Shannon will also suit up but we’re sure Eric Stiker, Geneo Grissom, and last season’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Dominique Alexander, are all coming back. Cornerback Zack Sanchez, who had an interception on Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl, will also come back and take the role as the secondary’s leader with Aaron Colvin now in the NFL.
Reason #2: Big Game Bob is Back
Stoops ended up winning the final three road games, which were no cakewalk. He won against Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan, pulled off an incredible last second victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater, and of course, the Sugar Bowl win against the team many thought was the best in the country. Safe to say he’s back to winning important games (at least Sooner fans hope so).
Reason #3: The Assistant Coaches
After the 2012 season, Stoops brought on some solid assistants. Bill Bedenbaugh did a fantastic job with offensive line in his first season. Although, the Sooners haven’t used tight ends much, Jay Boulware was superb as Special Teams coordinator. Tim Kish, hired in 2012, has done a great job with the linebackers. Some of his proteges include Corey Nelson and Dominique Alexander (2013 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year).
The defensive line was, also, a big reason for the Sooners success this past season, highlighted by sacking AJ McCarron seven times, when he had only been sacked 10 times all season, and Jerry Montgomery deserves much of the credit.
Stoops has the good fortune of his brother Mike back as his defensive coordinator, and Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell have found success putting points on the board with their offense.
The coaching staff is one of the best Stoops has had in his tenure.
Reason #4: The Quarterback
Trevor Knight did something that Sam Bradford never did. He won a bowl game—a BCS bowl game at that. And it was against the #3 team in the nation in dominating fashion. If he plays to his potential this season and stays healthy, he will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Reason #5: The Schedule
As of now, the toughest game on the road is against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. But the Sooners get Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State all at home. The schedule definitely is in Oklahoma’s favor this season.
The Sooners have always been in talks of a National Championship, but have failed to win it since 2000. This season, look for the whole team to come together, and with the great fan support like every year, expect the Sooners to be in the College Football Playoff, and start the playoff era with OU’s eighth national championship.