Oklahoma season preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
11:30
AM ET
Today we take a closer look at Oklahoma, which enters the season looking to win its ninth Big 12 title under Bob Stoops.

OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Coach: Bob Stoops (149-37 overall record, 14 seasons; 149-37 at OU, 14 seasons)

2012 record: 10-3 (8-1 in Big 12, co-champions)

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireBlake Bell, who has rushed for 24 touchdowns in his career, is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Sooners in 2013.
Key losses: QB Landry Jones, LT Lane Johnson, WR Kenny Stills, S Tony Jefferson, CB Demontre Hurst, S Javon Harris

Key returnees: WR Jalen Saunders, CB Aaron Colvin, RB Damien Williams, C Gabe Ikard, RT Daryl Williams, DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson.

Newcomer to watch: S Hatari Byrd. The California native was so impressive early in camp that the Sooners played him at three different positions in three days, clearly looking to find a way to get the true freshman on the field this season.

Biggest games in 2013: A three-game stretch could define the Sooners' season as they travel to Notre Dame (Sept. 28) before hosting TCU (Oct. 5) and battling Texas in the Red River Rivalry (Oct. 12). Road games at Baylor (Nov. 7) and Oklahoma State (Dec. 7) are the biggest games down the stretch as OU plays three of its final four games away from Norman.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It’s easy to assume replacing Landry Jones is the No. 1 priority. But the Sooners have three quality candidates in Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, making the defensive line the biggest question mark at OU.

A lot of the Sooners’ defensive struggles in 2012 were rooted in their lack of a pass rush. OU doesn’t have proven playmakers at defensive tackle or defensive end but several youngsters like Jordan Phillips and Charles Tapper have plenty of upside.

Forecast: Watching OU's offense struggle to score touchdowns while Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ran circles around the defense in the Cotton Bowl didn’t sit well in Norman. Coach Bob Stoops replaced three assistant coaches, adding new faces in the trenches with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery joining the program.

Bell is the favorite to start at quarterback and could bring a run-pass threat at the position that was absent during Jones’ tenure. A veteran offensive line and a bevy of talented ball carriers, led by Damien Williams, should provide a strong running game that makes the transition easier for whoever is named the starter at quarterback. And top receiver Jalen Saunders is one of the Big 12’s most explosive players.

Defensively, the Sooners will need several young players to grow up quickly with just four starters returning. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin provides a foundation for the secondary and will be counted on to slow the Big 12’s top pass catchers. Linebacker Corey Nelson hopes to have a breakout senior season and junior Geneo Grissom could finally fulfill his potential at defensive end.

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