Oklahoma Sooners: Jed Barnett

During the summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 44 Jed Barnett, punter, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Barnett became the Sooners’ starting punter during his first season in 2013. He averaged 41.7 yards per punt on 65 punts including 22 punts inside the 20-yard line and 11 punts of 50 yards or more. His 12.3 punts inside the 10-yard line rate ranked second in the Big 12. But his 35.25 net yards per punt average was ninth in the conference.

Impact in 2014: Barnett should continue to be one of the better punters in the Big 12 but his net yards per punt average will need to improve before he can cement his name among the Big 12’s best this fall.

Long term upside: He’s shown the ability to be one of the nation’s top punters if he can improve his net punt average because his accuracy in pinning opponents deep in their own territory is already among the nation’s best.

Evaluation grade for Barnett: A. He’s done exactly what the Sooners recruited him to do. He stepped into the starting punter role and is an asset, particularly when OU is trying to pin their opponents inside their own 25-yard line.

Development grade for Barnett: A. Even though they signed him from the junior college ranks, OU didn’t just hand Barnett the job. He’s won it and never looked back.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Friday, we take a closer look at the kicking specialists to wrap up the series.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt was close to automatic for the Sooners in 2013.
Starter/contributors: K Michael Hunnicutt (Sr.), K Nick Hodgson (Sr.), P Jed Barnett (Sr.)

Hunnicutt was outstanding. He made 24 of 27 field goals, 47 of 48 extra points and even had a touchdown reception against Oklahoma State. What more can you ask for? Especially since Hunnicutt solidified a position that was in major flux when he arrived on campus.

Hodgson went unnoticed but led the Big 12 in yards per kickoff (63.7), touchbacks (43) and kickoff touchback percentage (62.3 percent). He was a key contributor for an OU’s special teams group that was among the Big 12’s best.

Barnett was average or below average in pretty much every category except punts downed inside the 10-yard line. He put 8 of 65 punts inside the 10 but was ninth in the Big 12 in net punting (35.25 yards per punt) and saw 63.2 percent of his punts returned for five yards or more.

On the cusp: P Jack Steed (So.), K Daniel Schwarz (So.)

Steed is an invited walk-on punter who could take over for Barnett when he leaves if he’s unable to unseat the senior in 2014.

Schwarz was Tulsa’s kicker in 2012 before being dismissed from the program and walking on at OU before the 2013 season.

On the recruiting trail: None

OU could look to add another kicker and punter simply to add competition to the roster but there’s no need to recruit a scholarship kicker unless he’s a guy who can handle at least two of the three duties.

Overall Grade: A-

The combination of Hunnicutt and Hodgson could be the Big 12’s best and that pushes this grade above a B while Barnett is solid but not spectacular. The Sooners have two guys on the roster who can take over kicking duties in the future, making the overall future and present look pretty good in Norman, Okla.

Sooners' report card: Special teams

December, 18, 2013
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Jay Boulware had a solid first season as Oklahoma's special teams coach. The special teams helped win multiple games during OU's march to the Allstate Sugar Bowl yet they weren't a dominant unit that did everything well.

Here is a unit-by-unit report card for the Sooners' special teams:

Placekicking: A. Remember the days when each OU field goal attempt was an adventure? Michael Hunnicutt has put those days in the past. He hit 23 of 26 attempts, including 21 of 22 from inside 40 yards. He also hit 41 of 42 extra point attempts. Hunnicutt’s average attempt came from 33.2 yards, so his long-distance ability wasn’t tested much but his accuracy and ability to be automatic on closer kicks cannot be overlooked. His 23 field goals led the FBS and his 26 field goal attempts was second among FBS kickers.

Punting: C+. Jed Barnett had games where he played a key role in the Sooners winning the field position battle but he didn’t finish among the Big 12 leaders in several of the main punting categories. Barnett averaged 41.64 yards per punt, sixth in the Big 12, and was last in the conference in net punting at 35.17 yards per punt. The junior college transfer did rank No. 3 in the Big 12 in punts inside the 10 yard line (13.6 percent). Barnett wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination but he wasn’t a game-changing weapon either.

Kickoffs: A. Easily the most overlooked contributor on the squad, Nick Hodgson was very good. He led FBS and the Big 12 in yards per kickoff (64.3) while his kickoff touchback percentage (65.6 percent), ranked first in the Big 12 and No. 7 among FBS kickoff specialists. OU decided to focus on simply getting touchbacks and taking opportunities out of the hands of kick returners and Hodgson executed that plan with precision.

Kickoff coverage: C-. The Sooners were bad on kickoff coverage, allowing 23.68 yards per kick return, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 106 among FBS teams. Opponents’ average starting position was 26.7 yard line, meaning they had to go, on average, 73.3 yards to score against OU’s defense. Because its kick coverage was subpar, OU was better off going for touchbacks than allowing the opportunity to return a kickoff while trying to pin opponents inside the 25-yard line.

Kickoff return: B. The Sooners averaged 22.76 yards per kickoff return, ranking fourth in the Big 12. Running back Roy Finch was the biggest threat, averaging 27.5 yards per return on 14 returns. The senior returned 28.6 percent of his returns for 30 yards or more. It wasn't a unit that put fear into the heart of opponents but Finch, Trey Franks and Brennan Clay consistently put OU in pretty good position to begin drives.

Punt coverage: F. OU allowed 16.33 yards per punt return, ranking ninth in the Big 12 and No. 117 among FBS teams. Yikes. The Sooners are lucky their horrible punt coverage didn’t cost them a game. It’s an area that must improve in 2014.

Punt return: A+. As bad as OU’s punt coverage was, the punt return game was better. That unit actually turned the momentum of games around, particularly with Jalen Saunders' punt returns for touchdowns against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Saunders averaged 16.78 yards per punt return, second in the Big 12 and No. 7 in the FBS.

Overall: B. Hodgson, Saunders and Hunnicutt are stars but OU’s coverage units were average or below average. Nonetheless, the Sooners won some games thanks to their special teams.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma’s special teams have gone from an area of weakness to an area of strength in recent years. After poor coverage teams and subpar place kicking made people question the Sooners' commitment to those units, OU has been second to none with their special teams since 2011.

Here are three reasons to be hopeful about OU’s special teams this season and three reasons to be concerned.

Hope

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Icon SMIMichael Hunnicutt provides solid field goal kicking for the Sooners, but long field goals and kickoffs could be an issue.
Dynamic returners: Jalen Saunders is a major threat on punt returns and boasts the ability to change a game with those skills like he did in Bedlam 2012. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay bring terrific return abilities of their own on kick returns. New special teams coach Jay Boulware raved about his returners during spring football and there are several talented young guys who could step in at a moment’s notice as well. Don't be surprised if a kick or punt return makes a major impact on a Sooners' game this year.

Solid place kicking: There was a time the Sooners’ kicking game was a hot topic in Norman. It hasn’t been mentioned much this August. Junior Michael Hunnicutt has excelled as the Sooners’ starting kicker for the past two seasons, hitting 38 of 45 career attempts (84.4 percent). He doesn’t possess an exceptionally strong leg but his accuracy overcomes his limitations.

Trey Millard: The senior fullback has arguably been the Sooners’ best special teamer since his freshman season. He’s a great blocker on return units, terrific on coverage units and sets the tone with his physical, aggressive play. He will be the perfect example to his younger teammates on special teams units as they get their feet wet on special teams and begin to understand the third element of the game is a way to separate themselves.

Concern

Kickoffs: Boulware would like to have the ability to kickoff through the end zone whenever he feels like it. He does not have that right now. Or, if he does, it hasn’t been shown yet on Saturdays. Hunnicutt recorded touchbacks on just 26.6 percent of his kickoffs in 2012. Fortunately for the Sooners, their kick coverage was outstanding and opponents’ average starting position was the 22-yard line, which led the league and is better than the standard 25-yard starting position after a touchback.

New punter: Tress Way was the Sooners’ punter for the past four seasons. His career average was 44 yards per punt with a career long of 85. He had 71 punts of more than 50 yards and 91 punts downed inside the 20-yard line during his 250 career punts. He won’t be easily replaced. Jed Barnett is set to get the first shot at replacing Way after signing out of junior college in February.

Long field goals: Hunnicutt missed two of four attempts of over 40 yards last season and didn’t attempt a field goal longer than 50 yards. The junior was solid at those yardages as a freshman, however, going 3-of-3 from over 40 yards and 1-of-1 from over 50 yards in 2011. Nonetheless, Hunnicutt is not the type of long range threat that puts the Sooners in field goal position shortly after they pass midfield.

Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

August, 12, 2013
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Damien WilliamsAP Photo/Cal Sport MediaSenior Damien Williams is one of a deep stable of Oklahoma running backs that are capable of making an impact for the Sooners this season.
It's an unusual role for Bob Stoops' program as Oklahoma prepares for 2013 season with minimal expectations to insert itself into the BCS title hunt. The Sooners have several talented, deep position groups and other position groups full of uncertainty. Here's a look at OU's position groups ranked from strongest to weakest.

Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

June, 17, 2013
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The last several days, ESPN Insider Phil Steele has been rolling out the rankings of his top individual position units in the country. In that vein, SoonerNation has ranked OU’s position units for the upcoming season, from best to worst:


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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma’s special teams units have had their ups-and-downs in the past five years. Multiple kickers on scholarship and shoddy coverage teams left lasting images in the minds of Sooners fans. Fortunately for OU, the production of its special teams units has improved recently, including a stellar performance in 2012 as those units played direct roles in helping OU win multiple games.

Jay Boulware hopes to take the Sooners’ special teams units to another level.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesNew special teams coach Jay Boulware thinks OU running back Brennan Clay is a special kick returner.
The Sooners' new special teams coordinator has several talented pieces to work with, including punt returner Jalen Saunders and kickoff returners Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Saunders broke open Bedlam with his 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, Clay helped the Sooners capture a Big 12 road win at West Virginia with his 46-yard kickoff return in the final minutes and Finch had OU’s lone kickoff return for a touchdown with his 100-yard gallop against Kansas.

“None of the kids that I've been around at my last two stops were nearly as talented as these kids are as return men,” said Boulware, who coached Iowa State and Auburn before his arrival in Norman. “I tell these kids all the time, there's no reason they shouldn't be the most feared return unit in the country because they are that talented.”

Kicker Michael Hunnicutt, too, has provided much-needed stability in the kicking game for the past two seasons. He has made 36 of 43 career field goal attempts, but the Sooners are looking to transform Hunnicutt into a better weapon from 40 yards and beyond.

“He’s an 80-percent field goal guy,” Boulware said. “We just need to continue working and progressing on our field goals outside of 40 yards.”

The major concerns with the special teams this spring are replacing four-year starter Tress Way at punter and finding a kickoff specialist. OU recruited junior college punter Jed Barnett to replace Way and he’s been solid so far.

(Read full post)

Coaches' corner: P Jed Barnett

March, 13, 2013
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After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff finally was able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

OU will have to replace four-year starter Tress Way at punter this fall. And it won't be easy. Way was one of the nation's top punters and brought peace of mind to the Sooners coaching staff.

Coach Bob Stoops hopes Jed Barnett (Camas, Wash./Laney College) can step right in to fill the void.

"Jed Barnett is a guy we really needed," Stoops said. "He’s one of the best junior college punters in the country. His hang time is around four seconds or better. He averaged over 40 yards per punt. No one gets really excited about Jed until next year when you’re punting the ball. I was focused on it and really excited about Jed. He’s got a big leg, and I really believe he’s going to be a key ingredient for us when we’re on the field next fall."

Stoops said the Sooners went out of their way to land a punter who was ready to make a immediate impact because he felt the punters already on the roster (Dylan Seibert and Jack Steed) weren't quite ready yet. Now, OU is counting on Barnett to win the job and solidify the position for the next two seasons.

"Really excited about getting Jed," said Bobby Jack Wright, who was OU's special teams coordinator in 2012. "He had a heck of a season, I’m anxious to get him out this spring and see how he can do with live bullets coming at him. He’s got a big strong leg, can really boom it."

SoonerNation signing day live blog

February, 6, 2013
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Dakota AustinDamon Sayles/ESPNCornerback Dakota Austin committed to the Sooners over the weekend and signed on Wednesday.
Welcome to SoonerNation's live coverage of national signing day for the Oklahoma Sooners. We'll be with you throughout the day providing up-to-the minute updates on OU's class of 2013.

Watch live coverage on ESPNU | Talk signing day on our SoonerNation forum Insider | OU class

Follow the live blog after the jump.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: OU's best recruiter in 2013 

January, 31, 2013
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Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

[+] EnlargeCale Gundy
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCale Gundy's work of adding one of the top tailbacks in Texas earns high praise.
Today's question: Which Oklahoma coach has recruited best for the Sooners in 2013?

• In two years, Bobby Jack Wright has loaded up the defensive end spot for bear in Norman. Last year, he signed promising athletes Charles Tapper and Mike Onouha. This year, he augmented the position further, garnering commitments from two of the Top 25 DEs in the country in D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. That foursome, along with upside prospect Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, whom the Sooners swiped from Oklahoma State, should ensure that defensive end is a position of strength for years to come.

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Sooner Snapshot: P Jed Barnett 

January, 28, 2013
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Each week SoonerNation will take a closer look at the Class of 2013 prospects currently committed to Oklahoma. The in-depth analysis pieces will take a look at the ranking, estimated year of impact and potential role of each future Sooner.


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Sooner Intel: Recruiting news and notes 

December, 20, 2012
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Every Thursday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • More on the nation's top wideout's Oklahoma visit
  • How close was a Texas DT to committing to OU last week?

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OU's eyes on St. John, Bibbs, Russell 

December, 19, 2012
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Going into the first day of the junior college signing period, Oklahoma knows it has one commit locked down. Punter Jed Barnett (Oakland, Calif./Laney CC) is not going anywhere.

Toby Johnson
Hutchinson CC Sports InformationToby Johnson is one of the top juco priorities on Oklahoma's recruiting board.
But if the Sooners have their way, three more names are going to enter the fold. Two of them could come from the same juco, Trinity Valley in Athens, Texas.

As OU prepares to see which letters of intent come its way, here are some of the top junior college targets on OU’s board.

Commit

Jed Barnett: Again, no question about Barnett. He said he is expected to reach Norman Jan. 11 weekend and is going to live with friend and fellow kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

Targets

DT Toby Johnson (Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson CC): Johnson is ranked No. 4 in the ESPN JuCo 100 despite the fact he is currently recovering from a torn MCL and partially torn ACL.

He has made official visits to OU, Georgia and Missouri and has one set for Mississippi State in January. He feels like a strong lean toward the Bulldogs, but OU defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp has not stopped trying to lure Johnson to the Sooners.

Johnson said he is not going to sign during this period and will wait until February before making his decision.

OT Josiah St. John (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley): A four-star recruit, St. John is ranked No. 6 in the ESPN JuCo 100. He made an official visit to OU earlier this season.

He also made unofficial visit to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State during the summer, but it feels like this might be a battle between OU and Kansas.

Yes, that Kansas. St. John took an official visit to KU earlier this month. Though the program hasn’t had much success, the Jayhawks are making a living off juco kids for their 2013 class. St. John would be the seventh ESPN JuCo 100 signee for KU if it happens.

The Jayhawks have already enticed No. 1-ranked overall prospect Marquel Combs (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce College) to come to Lawrence.

TE Emmanuel Bibbs (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western): Bibbs sort of snuck on OU’s radar in the last month, but it’s clear he has become one of the top priorities for OU tight ends coach Bruce Kittle and OU coach Bob Stoops.


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One setback after another for OU on trail 

December, 7, 2012
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Sept. 21 was supposed to be a magical weekend. Oklahoma was hosting Kansas State in one of the best matchups of the week. A number of top recruits were going to visit the campus.

The Sooners were going to win, followed by a slew of commitments from some of the prospects in the coming weeks and months.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Benenoch
Max Olson/ESPN.comThe Sooners appear to be on the outside looking in with four-star offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch.
OU was upset by Kansas State. And the Sooners netted zero commits from the weekend. Not one. Worse yet, OU didn’t even have stand a realistic chance of getting any from that weekend.

That has been the story for OU on recruiting trail during the football season. One disappointment after another. One ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 target going elsewhere.

Take a look at the non-OU commit official visitors from that weekend.

• ESPN 300 ATH Chevoski Collins (Livingston, Texas/Livingston): Shortly after the visit, he chose Texas over OU.

• Four-star offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes): Following the visit, he has ended up being down to Baylor, Texas and UCLA. Benenoch is scheduled to make his announcement Monday.

• Three-star safety Tyler Foreman (Encino, Calif./Crespi Carmelite): Down to OU, Wisconsin, Utah and UCLA before recently committing to Wisconsin.

• ESPN 150 safety Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips): A long shot throughout, Harris picked Florida over OU, Florida State and Texas.

• Four-star offensive tackle Na’Ty Rodgers (Pomfret, Md./McDonough): Still uncommitted but appears South Carolina is the clear leader. Maryland, Michigan and Washington in hunt, too.

• Juco defensive tackle Toby Johnson (Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson CC): OU continues to show incredible interest, but it’s tough to gauge if Johnson shares same enthusiasm. Originally from Georgia, Johnson is taking an official to Georgia this weekend.

• And then there’s ESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball). A shoo-in for OU, right? No, sir. Manning broke the collective hearts of OU fans everywhere by committing to Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon.

Seven top official visitors. No commits.

But that trend wasn’t only for Kansas State weekend. Florida A&M had three-star defensive end Dimarya Mixon (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite). Mixon actually ended up wanting to commit to the Sooners before being told last week OU was full at the position.

Notre Dame weekend saw two more big-time targets disappear. Four-star cornerback Cole Luke (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) visited OU and then committed to the Irish less than a week later. Texas was his other finalist.

ESPN 150 defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (Hope Mills, N.C./South View) was also there. Gilmore committed to LSU two weeks later, picking the Tigers over Florida and the Sooners.

Visits before the season didn't fare well, either. Top juco tight end target Beau Sandland (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce College) was OU's No. 1 man since the spring. He visited Norman right before the season.

But late Wednesday night he said the Sooners are out. His top three consists of Miami (Fla.), Arizona State and Nebraska. OU, again, left out in the cold.

Even Bedlam weekend wasn’t immune to this problem. Juco tight end Cameron Clear (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western) took an official to OU and committed to Texas A&M 72 hours later.

The only official visitor OU was able to nab a commitment from was juco punter Jed Barnett (Oakland, Calif./Laney CC). Originally committed to Louisiana Tech, the Sooners came in and swooped up Barnett with less than three weeks of conversations.

Official visitors weren’t the only problems for OU, though. The Sooners lost their highest-ranked offensive tackle commit Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) through no fault of Beyer or OU.

Beyer was diagnosed with spinal cervical stenosis in September and has been forced to give up football. He attended two OU games this season and said he would do anything to be out there, but he simply cannot risk the long term health problems that could occur.


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