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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Title criteria: How Oklahoma stacks up

By Jake Trotter

NORMAN, Okla. – The 2000 Sooners didn’t exactly follow the traditional formula to win the national title. Oklahoma didn’t have a top 38 rushing offense nationally. Nor a top 15 run defense. The Sooners didn’t have a player selected in the first round in the subsequent NFL draft, either.

The last seven national champions, however, have been able to check off all three of those items.

And, as WolverineNation’s Mike Rothstein points out, those champs also ranked at least 23rd in scoring offense, 37th in passing efficiency and 40th in sacks. They also had a rusher or receiver total double-digit touchdowns, and didn’t lose a non-conference game.

Damien Williams
Senior running back Damien Williams could be the key to the Sooners' offense in 2013.
Like the 2000 Sooners, OU’s preseason expectations are relatively low. But if these Sooners too want to surprise and contend for a national title, they most likely will have to adhere to the following championship blueprint.

Rushing offense (38th or better): The Sooners recommitted themselves to improving the run game this offseason. OU brought in West Virginia line coach Bill Bedenbaugh to improve the Sooners’ physicality in the trenches, which should help the run game. OU ranked just 61st nationally in rush offense last season. But with a loaded stable of running backs, a change of scheme that will rely on the run more, Bedenbaugh’s coaching style and a trio of mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners could certainly make significant improvements to their rushing attack.

Scoring offense (23rd or better): The Sooners have had a top 23 scoring offense the last three years. With playmakers like Jalen Saunders, Trey Millard and Damien Williams, OU figures to have plenty of firepower again. If quarterback Blake Bell meets expectations, the Sooners should be prolific offensively once again.

Rushing defense (15th or better): This is where things go south. OU ranked 94th last year in run defense, and has to replace four of its top five tacklers. The defensive line has some promising prospects, but is woefully inexperienced. Even in a best-case scenario, it’s difficult to envision the Sooners improving 80 spots in run defense.

Passing efficiency (37th or better): OU surprisingly had just the 34th best passing efficiency rating last season, even though senior quarterback Landry Jones threw for more than 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns. That said, the Sooners put a lot of pressure on Jones to make tough throws, which inevitably drove down the efficiency. OU won’t throw the ball as much with Bell or challengers Kendal Thompson or Trevor Knight. But the Sooners will likely attempt more high percentage throws with the new QBs.

Sacks (40th or better): Under new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, the Sooners have vowed to be more aggressive up front. They better be. OU ranked 69th nationally last season with just 24 sacks. Given the inexperience on the defensive line, ranking inside the top 40 will be tough. But with more stunting and blitzing, at least the Sooners will be giving themselves a chance – something they did not do last season.

NFL draft (At least one first rounder): OU has only one potential 2014 first rounder in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who came back for his senior year after considering an early jump to the pros. Colvin is no surefire first-round pick, but he gives the Sooners a chance of having one next draft.

Playmaker (10 combined rushing or receiving TDs): Williams had 11 last year. Saunders is capable of double-digit touchdowns, too. The Sooners should be fine here.

Schedule (no non-conference losses): OU plays one of toughest non-conference schedules in the country, which doesn’t bode well here. The Sooners ought to take care of Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa at home. But they likely will be underdogs at Notre Dame, which beat the Sooners 30-13 in Norman last season.