Oklahoma Sooners: LaColtan Bester
Team of the week: Baylor was unranked to begin the season and picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Instead, with a convincing 30-10 victory over Texas, the Bears won 11 games for the first time in school history to capture the program’s first outright conference title in 33 years. Baylor will cap its magical season against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State had a chance at a second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. And all the Cowboys had to do was beat Oklahoma in Stillwater as 10-point favorites. Instead, despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until 19 seconds left in the game, the Sooners knocked off their instate rival yet again. The Cowboys have lost 10 of 11 to Oklahoma, but given the circumstance and the ending, this one hurt worst of all.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Cornerback K.J. Morton returned from an abdominal strain to deliver the exclamation point to Baylor’s season. Morton picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice, returning the second 57 yards in the fourth quarter for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified on his celebration penalty. But by then, the party had already begun in Waco.
Special teams players of the week: The field goal tandem of Grant Bothun and Michael Hunnicutt converted Bob Stoops’ first successful fake field goal attempt in 11 years. After their drive stalled at the Oklahoma State 8-yard line, the Sooners lined up for a field goal. Instead, Bothun, the holder, took off running with the ball left and threw the ball to Hunnicutt, the kicker. Hunnicutt backed into the end zone before getting belted by two Cowboys, tying the score 17-17.
Play of the week: Cornerback Justin Gilbert appeared to have ended Bedlam with an Oklahoma State victory, as he came down with an apparent interception on a jump ball to Lacoltan Bester. But instead of landing on the turf, Gilbert landed on Bester, who tapped the ball out of Gilbert’s hands at the last moment. Officials ruled it an incompletion, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inexplicably didn’t challenge the call. Five plays later, Bell hit Saunders for the game-winning score.
Stat of the week: As Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy’s record against Oklahoma is 1-8. Gundy’s record against the rest of the Big 12: 44-22
Quote of the week: “A defining moment for our program and one I think we'll be able to repeat many times." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the school’s first Big 12 championship
I do not know how you pulled off that Kansas pick, but you better believe I will be launching an all-out investigation to see if there was any foul play involved. Seriously, though, well done! You were probably one of five people in the known universe who picked Kansas to beat West Virginia. Props where props are due.
I cannot confirm or deny whether foul play was involved. But Charlie is right about one thing -- props are due.
Like Clint Chelf in his return as Oklahoma State’s quarterback, I’m back with a vengeance in the picks following a sparkling 5-0 week. Sources have told ESPN that KU officials are planning to erect statues of both me and Charlie Weis outside Memorial Stadium to commemorate the West Virginia victory.
Can I keep the train rolling against this week’s guest picker, Wichita, Kan., resident Drew Hays?
Hey, I’m currently wrapping up my masters in sports management at Wichita State, however I graduated undergrad at Oklahoma State in 2012. I currently work in baseball, for an American Association Independent Baseball team called the Wichita Wingnuts (#GoNuts)! Currently, we are in our offseason, which means I get to sit around the house all-day on Saturday's doing nothing but watching football. You were one of two people that had the Jayhawks winning last weekend (very impressive pick I might add) -- my girlfriend was the other one. As a big Jayhawks fan, she likes to constantly remind me that her team beat the team that beat my team. So pick this Wingnut as your guest picker, so I can silence my girlfriend (until Marcus Smart does backflips again in Allen Fieldhouse).
Good luck silencing your girlfriend, Drew. Hope you have better luck than me with my wife (don’t worry, I got permission before writing that).
This weekend, Brandon and I will be in Stillwater manning the game of the week in college football. It should be a good one.
To the Week 12 picks:
Trotter last week: 5-0 (1.000)
Guest picker (Charlie “Bear”) last week: 4-1 (.800)
Trotter overall: 52-15 (.776)
Guest picker overall: 38-12 (.760)
Kansas State 31, Oklahoma 24: An early start with a freshman quarterback (Trevor Knight) with two more key offensive players (RB Damien Williams and WR Lacoltan Bester) out against a well-coached team? This is a tough spot for the Sooners. K-State is on a roll and playing with confidence, while 13 weeks into the season, Oklahoma is still trying to find its footing offensively. Even if QB Trevor Knight shines again, which he does, the Sooners lack the adequate firepower around him to keep up. Instead, K-State drops off 30 for the fifth straight week to thwart Bob Stoops’ attempt to break the Oklahoma record for coaching victories. With a road trip to Stillwater and the bowl game (Holiday Bowl?) all that’s remaining, it could be awhile before Stoops breaks that record, too.
Drew’s pick: Did anyone honestly think I would pick the dark side? The Cats are hot right now, and while the Sooners won’t make this easy, Jack Cantele nails another fourth-quarter field goal to start the party in Aggieville. K-State, 30-27
Kansas 28, Iowa State 24: Usually this time of year, the Jayhawks are the only ones in full basketball mode. But last week, Iowa State fans stormed the court after a home victory over Michigan (come on, guys, it’s November). Then again, given how south this season has gone in Ames, it’s understandable. Meanwhile, James Sims shows again why he’s one of the best running backs in the Big 12, while QB Montell Cozart makes enough plays with his feet to give Kansas -- that’s right -- the third-longest winning streak in the Big 12.
Drew’s pick: As an OSU fan, seeing anyone play a night game at Jack Trice Stadium makes me feel queasy. I don’t expect a repeat performance from Sims from last week, and Iowa State holds on for its first Big 12 win. This pick ensures I will be in the doghouse with my girlfriend for at least a week, but probably longer. Iowa State, 24-17
Baylor 49, Oklahoma State 45: Baylor coach Art Briles said this week that the Bears have played in comparable road environments this season. In actuality, Baylor has only played at Kansas State during the day and Kansas at night. A sold-out Stillwater, with “College GameDay” in town, will be a completely different animal. Especially against these Cowboys, who seem to be improving with every passing week. Especially against this veteran Oklahoma State defense, which is the class of the Big 12. This Baylor offense, however, is the class of college football. And with Levi Norwood emerging at wideout and Lache Seastrunk back to flank Shock Linwood in the backfield, the Bears outgun Oklahoma State in a Big 12 thriller to solidify their No. 3 ranking ahead of Ohio State in the BCS standings.
Drew’s pick: First, I would like to thank the Baylor faithful for returning almost your entire ticket allotment back to OSU. This will only make Boone Pickens Stadium louder. Behind the home crowd, "Choo-Choo" Chelf and Desmond Roland establish the run game early and the Oklahoma State defense keeps forcing turnovers, as the Cowboys prevail in another wild Stillwater shootout. OSU, 45-42
Disappointment of the week: West Virginia had begun to show signs of life offensively, scoring 30, 42 and 27 points, respectively, in its previous three games. But the Mountaineers took a major step back at Kansas State on both sides of the ball. After taking a 12-7 lead early in the third quarter, West Virginia was thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way. K-State scored four unanswered touchdowns on the next four drives while the Mountaineers mustered nothing, as the Wildcats coasted to a 35-12 win. West Virginia can still get to a bowl game. But the margin for error is running out.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, K-State QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters and Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard.
Roland proved he’s the Cowboys’ most effective running back, racking up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a featured back. His 58-yard rumble in the third quarter essentially put Iowa State away.
Sams and Waters were stellar in K-State’s win over West Virginia. The dual-threat duo combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and ran for 71 yards.
This will be the last time Millard will be eligible for any game recognition. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter covering a kick. On the previous drive, he took a pass and hurdled a Tech defender for a 14-yard gain to set up a touchdown from the Tech 3. Millard was also tremendous all game as the lead blocker for Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Millard’s great career in Norman comes to a close.
Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.
Edmond led a Texas defense that completely shut down TCU in the Longhorns’ 30-7 win. He had an interception, two pass breakups and helped thwart the TCU running attack.
Gilbert had a pick-six early that gave OSU an early 14-0 lead. He added three tackles and a pass breakup.
Zimmerman spearheaded the Wildcats defensively with 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The forced fumble of West Virginia QB Clint Trickett set up a K-State touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 28-12 in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away.
Special-teams players of the week: Everyone involved with the Texas Tech punt return and kickoff coverage teams. Trey Haverty’s units masterfully executed a pair of maneuvers in the third quarter that almost allowed Tech to knock off the Sooners. Down 21-14, deep man Jordan Davis ran away from the ball to draw the OU punt coverage team toward him. Toward the other side of the field, where the ball actually was, Tanner Jacobson scooped up the ball on the bounce and returned it 17 yards. The play set up a field goal. Immediately after the field goal, Kramer Fyfe's onside kick was recovered by Summitt Hogue. Three plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone to take a 24-21 lead.
Play of the week: For the second straight week, Oklahoma wide receiver Lacoltan Bester takes this category. After the Sooners fell behind 24-21, Oklahoma dialed up a double reverse pass for Bester -- the same play that resulted in a touchdown pass last week. But with no one to throw to this time, Bester took off and weaved his way through the Tech defense 35 yards for a touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.
Stat of the week: By defeating Kansas 59-14, Baylor extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to last season, the longest winning streak in Baylor history.
Quote of the week: “They’ve all had a goal and a dream to play on Sunday, and now they’ve done it.” -- Longhorns coach Mack Brown, after the weather-delayed Texas-TCU game went past midnight
The Sooners (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) reasserted themselves in the conference race by handing Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1) its first loss of the season in the Big 12 game of the year so far.
It was over when: Texas Tech QB Davis Webb's pass attempt to Bradley Marquez fell incomplete down the sidelines on fourth-and-23 with 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders had a chance for a game-tying drive, but Webb was sacked by Chuka Ndulue on first down, sending the Red Raiders scrambling.
Game ball goes to: Oklahoma wideout Jalen Saunders hauled in six passes for a season-high 153 yards and two second-quarter touchdowns to ignite the Sooners offense late in the first half. It was Saunders’ first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
Stat of the game: The Red Raiders came into the game with the Big 12’s best third-down defense, and third-best red zone defense. But Oklahoma’s offense dominated in both categories. The Sooners converted 7 of 14 attempts on third down, and scored touchdowns on three of their four red zone attempts.
Unsung hero of the game: Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, who came up with two turnovers in the first half to thwart Texas Tech drives. He picked off Webb in the first quarter inside the OU 5. Then in the second quarter, after OU’s Charles Tapper stripped Tech tight end Jace Amaro, Colvin scooped up the ball. Colvin was also solid in coverage all night against Marquez, who had just four catches.
Best call: After Kliff Kingsbury dialed up a series of trick plays to give Tech a 24-21 lead, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel dialed one back. Heupel called a reverse pass, except instead of throwing the ball, wideout Lacoltan Bester weaved through the Tech defense for a 35-yard touchdown run. OU never trailed in the game again.
What it means: After three straight shaky performances, the Sooners re-established their standing in the Big 12 race, with a Nov. 7 road trip to unbeaten Baylor up next. Tech is still alive, too, but could have taken a big step forward by pulling off the upset in Norman.
Team of the week: Texas Tech was on the brink of dropping its first game of the season, trailing West Virginia 27-16 in the third quarter. But then tight end Jace Amaro took over, QB Davis Webb made some clutch throws and the Tech defense allowed just one first down over five West Virginia possessions to end the game. Now Tech is ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, with a chance to surge even higher this weekend at Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: For the second straight week, Webb broke the Texas Tech freshman single-game passing record with 462 yards through the air. More importantly, he quarterbacked the Red Raiders to their most impressive victory of the season yet, with two huge completions in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The first converted a third-and-6 on a 27-yard loft to Jordan Davis. The second converted a third-and-goal from the West Virginia 10-yard line into a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders up by two scores to clinch the victory. All told, Webb completed 36 of his 50 passing attempts, and avoided taking a sack or throwing an interception. If he had scored instead of fumbling at West Virginia 1-yard line on a quarterback draw, it would have been a flawless performance.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Linebacker Eddie Lackey spearheaded Baylor’s most impressive defensive performance of the season. Lackey led the Bears with a team-high eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, as Baylor held Iowa State to just 41 yards rushing. Even though the game got out of hand early, Lackey & Co. nearly pitched a shutout. But the Cyclones finally got on the board with 47 seconds remaining on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Grant Rohach to DeVondrick Nealy. The Baylor offense gets all the headlines. But after eight weeks, the Bears also lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (No. 7 in the country).
Special-teams players of the week: Josh Stewart could not be corralled in Oklahoma State’s win over TCU. Basically a one-man show offensively with 10 catches for 141 yards, Stewart also delivered the highlight of the game, taking a punt return 95 yards for a touchdown that put the Cowboys on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Stewart later somehow hauled in a pass from fellow receiver Charlie Moore over three defenders, which set up the Cowboys’ game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We doubled him, we played over the top of him,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, “and he still found ways to get there.”
Play of the week: Late in the second quarter with the Sooners still trailing Kansas, QB Blake Bell handed off to wide receiver Lacoltan Bester on an end around. Instead of continuing to run, Bester pulled up and floated a pass in stride to Sterling Shepard, who coasted into the end zone to give Oklahoma a 15-13 lead. The play energized the Sooners, who never trailed again. Had Bester not converted the trick pass, Oklahoma probably would have been in a fourth-quarter dogfight with the last-place Jayhawks.
Stat of the week: Over four Big 12 games, TCU is averaging 2.5 points per first half. The Horned Frogs have been shut out in first half already three times this season.
Quote of the week: “That’s great. I hope they keep saying it. I saw 'GameDay,' [Kirk] Herbstreit picked against us. That’s good. I hope they keep giving us that locker room material.” -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, on those who say the Red Raiders’ 7-0 start is a bit of fool’s gold.
1. Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12, last week 1): The No. 8-ranked Bears got some major help in the national title picture over the weekend, as LSU, Louisville, Texas A&M, Clemson and South Carolina all got knocked out of the mix. That really leaves only Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Missouri, Ohio State and Miami (Fla.) ahead of Baylor in the pecking order at the moment. Missouri will have to beat Alabama to get the title game, and Baylor has a decent chance of passing the Buckeyes, due to the weakness of the Big Ten. The Bears, however, have virtually no shot of passing Oregon or Florida State. Those are the two teams Baylor fans need to begin rooting against.
2. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0, LW 2): The faith Kliff Kingsbury showed in true freshman QB Davis Webb on Saturday was extraordinary. Webb’s second-quarter fumble at the West Virginia 1-yard line completely changed the complexion of the game, but that didn’t shake Kingsbury’s confidence in his quarterback. And, even though Texas Tech’s defense had shut down West Virginia on four straight drives and led by a field goal, Kingsbury put the game on Webb’s arm by calling two third-down pass plays in the final two minutes. Webb completed both passes, which should also give him plenty of self-confidence heading into this weekend’s road tilt at Oklahoma.
3. Texas (4-2, 3-0, LW 3): Was the dominant performance against Oklahoma a one-game anomaly? The Longhorns have the talent to make a run at the Big 12 title. Maybe they have the identity now, too. If Texas keeps pounding the ball between the tackles with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, that will continue to set up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Davis downfield. As the Sooners found out, such a formula could make the Longhorns formidable the final month and a half of the season.
4. Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1, LW 5): The Cowboys finally turned the offense back over to Clint Chelf and not a moment too soon, as J.W. Walsh threw another two interceptions in the first quarter. But, in reality, Oklahoma State’s offense would be best off utilizing both quarterbacks going forward. The Cowboys hit their stride offensively last season only when they used Chelf as the base quarterback, then brought in the Walsh package in certain situations. Chelf’s arm strength can get the ball to Oklahoma State’s talented receivers downfield, which, in turn, opens up the running game. But Walsh brings savvy, toughness and leadership -- and he can make plays with his legs. Perhaps that quarterback blend will finally ignite this offense, which looks pretty rough at the halfway point of the season.
5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1, LW 4): The Sooners’ downfield passing game continues to be incompetent, as Oklahoma completed just two passes longer than 16 yards at Kansas. One of those was a reverse pass from Lacoltan Bester to Sterling Shepard. That’s two straight games in which QB Blake Bell has completed only one pass downfield. The Sooners were able to grind out 235 yards on the ground, but that was against a Kansas defense missing its best player (linebacker Ben Heeney). If the Sooners can’t complete passes downfield against man coverage, they have little chance of getting to double-digit wins.
6. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3, LW 7): West Virginia has begun to show some life offensively. The Mountaineers gained 473 yards of offense against a Texas Tech defense that has been pretty solid. At one point, the Mountaineers scored on five straight possessions. Clint Trickett is all over the place with his throws, but at least he makes things happen. Running back Charles Sims is a star, and backfield mate Dreamius Smith is legit, too. The schedule also eases up considerably for the Mountaineers, as West Virginia has already faced four of the top five teams in the league. If the offense keeps developing, this could still be a bowl team. That wouldn’t be a bad season, either, considering the offensive firepower the Mountaineers had to replace from last season.
7. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3, LW 8): The Wildcats have not played poorly despite their 0-3 start in the league, but with Oklahoma and Texas Tech still on the schedule, K-State almost has to beat West Virginia at home this weekend if it’s going to advance to a bowl. The good news is that starting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are expected back, which should be a big boost to QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters.
8. TCU (3-4, 1-3, LW 6): The Horned Frogs are beginning to stake their claim as one of the worst offenses in Big 12 history. Switching coordinators or switching quarterbacks -- Gary Patterson tried both Saturday -- isn’t going to make any difference, either. Even with the best defense in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs will be in danger of missing out on a bowl game if they don’t beat Texas this weekend. QB Casey Pachall is close to returning, but not even he can salvage this dumpster fire of an offense.
9. Iowa State (1-5, 0-3, LW 9): After three straight promising performances, the Cyclones took a step back in Waco, Texas. Nobody expected Iowa State to win, but to get completely annihilated was disappointing, as coach Paul Rhoads called the game a “fiasco.” Now, yet again, the quarterback position has become a moving part. Sam B. Richardson is so banged up the Cyclones considered shutting him down for the season. Rhoads replaced Richardson with Grant Rohach in the second quarter to no avail. The No. 1 obstacle that’s kept Iowa State from becoming more than a .500 program has been the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Dating back to last November, the Cyclones have put their chips on Richardson being that answer. Now, who knows what direction they'll go.
10. Kansas (2-4, 0-3, LW 10): Now that the Jayhawks have burned the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart, they might as well turn the offense over to him. Jake Heaps just isn’t getting it done, as he completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards against Oklahoma. Sixteen yards. It’s not all on Heaps: The Kansas receiving corps is terrible. But that’s all the more reason to go with Cozart, who can at least make plays with his feet.
RB Alex Ross: The redshirt freshman almost played his way out of a redshirt season in 2012 but eventually used the year off to get better prepared to be an impact runner. Even though the Sooners return three seniors at running back, Ross brings a combination of size and speed that is difficult to duplicate.
“Ross was a guy who really stood out in the scrimmage with speed and being powerful,” Stoops said.
WR Lacoltan Bester: A junior college signee in the Class of 2012, Bester barely made waves as a newcomer last fall. This season, he’s poised to earn some playing time, possibly even start, during his final year in crimson and cream.
He’s another player coming off a solid scrimmage on Saturday and he started the spring game last April. One of the most competitive receivers on the roster, Bester’s name consistently comes off the tongue of Aaron Colvin when the Sooners’ cornerback is asked which receiver could surprise in 2013.
S Hatari Byrd: The true freshman from Fresno, Calif., has been the buzz of preseason camp. His college-ready size and focused mentality should help him carve himself a role in the defense this fall. Byrd has impressed with his versatility -- he actually lined up at three different spots in the first three days of camp.
“He’s very knowledgeable,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “He’s easy to coach. He wants to be great. His maturity level is one of the highest I’ve seen this early on in a career. That’s a very unique set of tools to work with in a kid this young. He may be the biggest, fastest guy we’ve seen at this age.”
DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: It won’t be easy for the true freshman to see the field this season with several talented youngsters alongside him in the defensive line meeting room. Yet the Sooners desperately need a pass rush. And Okoronkwo might be the answer.
He has impressed with his pass rushing skills during his first few months on campus and even though he’s a tad undersized at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, don’t be surprised to see him play his way out of a redshirt season.
S Ahmad Thomas: Pretty much every time Byrd’s name comes up among his teammates, that Sooner will add Thomas’ name into the mix. People tend to forget about the true freshman from Miami, Fla., but he was one of the stars of spring after enrolling early.
With the Sooners looking to add additional depth and overall talent in the secondary, Thomas should be able to help OU immediately. His size and willingness to play physical are unusual for a true freshman.
With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:
Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)
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1. FB Trey Millard (Last ranking: 1): Millard was held out of the spring game as a precaution, something Bob Stoops usually does with his stars. Despite manning an unheralded position, Millard certainly fits the bill of a star. You wouldn’t know it by the number of touches he gets, but Josh Heupel’s new option-oriented offense -- which, like Millard, was kept on the shelf Saturday -- could get the ball in Millard’s hands more often. That’s always good for the Sooners – and bad for opposing defenses.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- With nothing open from his initial reads, quarterback Blake Bell abandoned the pocket. But instead of attempting to truck his way into the end zone, the artist formerly known as the "Belldozer" rolled right.
Near the sidelines, he waited, and waited. And then when he couldn’t wait any longer, Bell stuck a pass into the chest of receiver Durron Neal for a three-yard touchdown.
And sling it he did, demonstrating that the power running that made him a fan-favorite the past two seasons is just one facet of his arsenal.
Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns -- with no turnovers -- Saturday. He also showed the most poise and precision among the quarterbacks to seize momentum in the QB competition heading into the summer.
"I missed a couple throws," Bell said, "But overall, I thought I made some good plays, and was pretty accurate with the ball."
Bell displayed that accuracy from the opening possession, quickly moving the offense down the field with three completions to Jalen Saunders. The drive ultimately ended in a touchdown, when wide receiver Lacoltan Bester scooped up a Damien Williams fumble and raced 35 yards for the score.
Today's question: Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are locks to start at receiver for the Sooners in 2013. Who will be OU's third starting wideout?
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Gone are Kenny Stills and Justin Brown – or 155 receptions, 1,838 yards and 16 touchdowns – creating a huge void several players are vying to fill.
“There’s been a lot of competition at the receiver position,” said receivers coach Jay Norvell. “Several guys are doing a lot of good things. We’re just trying to find guys who can be accountable and trustworthy -- who can be dependable day in and day out.”
Those fighting for a starting role, or at a spot in the rotation, include seniors Jaz Reynolds and Lacoltan Bester, sophomores Trey Metoyer and Durron Neal and freshmen Derrick Woods and Dannon Cavil. While none so far has assured himself of playing time, these next two weeks of spring ball will go a long way in determining who plays -- and who doesn’t -- next season.
“We have a lot of guys that are in that range right now in that they show flashes, but haven’t been able to show that consistency to line up in that first unit,” Norvell said. “But that is what spring practice is all about, though, and we’ve had guys show up every day and compete and execute. The guys that do that at the end of spring usually win those spots for the fall.”
Going into the spring, Bester, who transferred in from junior college last year, seemed like the least likely emerge out of the competition. After playing sporadically early, Bester fell completely out of rotation as younger players passed him on the depth chart; he finished with only three catches all season.
Bester, however, has brought a new attitude to spring ball, which has helped him make the plays in practice he didn’t last year.
Through the first half of spring ball, we’ve updated the “Oklahoma 10,” which – you guessed it – features many new faces:
2. CB Aaron Colvin (4): Where would the Sooners be if Colvin had joined Tony Jefferson and left early for the draft? He is the best player on this defense by a mile. What’s just as encouraging for a unit with so many young players is the leadership role Colvin appears to be seizing. Mike Stoops has plenty to worry about as he retools his defense. But he doesn’t have to worry about having someone the rest of his guys can look up to. Nor does he have to worry about Colvin locking up the receiver on his side of the field.
3. WR Jalen Saunders (6): By last season’s end, Saunders might have been the best receiver on the roster. The stats certainly support that notion, as he topped all OU receivers in yards after the catch and completion percentage on balls thrown his way. With Kenny Stills gone, there’s no doubt who the Sooners’ No. 1 option in the passing game will be next season, and Saunders looks ready to take on the burden of being the team’s definitive go-to receiver.
4. RB Damien Williams (NR): Who knows what kind of season Williams would have finished with had he been able to stay healthy? Despite a midseason ankle injury, Williams still rushed for 946 yards, which included four touchdown runs of 60 yards or more in OU’s first five games. The home-run threat put in the work over the offseason, and now weighs close to 215 pounds, which should only enhance his durability. If he can stick on the field and avoid the training room, Williams is more than capable of producing an All-Big 12 season.
5. C Gabe Ikard (9): Bob Stoops said he isn’t worrying about his center missing contact in the spring with a broken hand, and neither should you. Ideally, Ikard would be out there developing a rapport with new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. But Ikard has 37 career starts, and two All-Big 12 seasons behind him. He’ll be ready to go when it counts.
6. WR Sterling Shepard (NR): Shepard has been dynamic since he stepped on campus, and has continued to get better this spring. Shepard has firmly entrenched himself as the offense’s No. 2 passing option behind Saunders, and is in line to be a No. 1 guy later in his career.
7. LB Corey Nelson (NR): Two springs ago, Bob Stoops said Nelson called the best player on the defense. That honor belongs to Colvin, but Nelson is the only other two-year contributor. The plan at the moment is to utilize Nelson is more ways than one, which is a step in the right direction considering he wasn’t utilized at all last season. The only chance for this defense to be more than mediocre is if Nelson plays – and plays at a high level.
8. OG Bronson Irwin (NR): The “War Daddy” has taken on a greater leadership role on the line with Ikard sidelined for the moment. Irwin, quietly coming off a banner junior season in which he played through multiple injuries, is one major reason why the offensive line has been controlling the trenches this spring.
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In 2012, however, Oklahoma was formidable at the position. So formidable, in fact, that OU went almost exclusively with a four-wide receiver set the second half of the season.
Half of that foursome is now gone, with Justin Brown graduating and Kenny Stills leaving early to enter the NFL draft. But enough pieces remain for the Sooners to be strong at wideout again.
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