- David Ubben, College Football
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Oklahoma is one of three Big 12 teams to open up camp today. With grass and sweat officially in the air, you know football isn't far off. Let's take a closer look at the Sooners.
Schedule: Oklahoma opens camp later today in preparation for its Aug. 31 opener at home against Louisiana-Monroe. The Sooners will host a fan day on Saturday, too.
Setting the scene: The story of the offseason for the Sooners is replacing quarterback Landry Jones and a host of defensive players from a unit that started 2012 strong but finished in disastrous fashion with rough outings against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and a blowout loss to Texas A&M. The quarterback competition heated up a bit more than expected during the spring, but Blake Bell separated himself a bit in the spring game, though he hasn't been officially named the starter ahead of Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson.
All eyes on: Bell. That's going to be the story for a lot of Big 12 teams this fall. Everybody knows Bell is a physical presence, but there seems to be a lot of skepticism around the league about his ability to throw the ball. That skepticism seems to be rooted in an ignorance regarding his high school career. He's still got a lot to prove despite rushing for 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons, but Bell threw for 69 touchdowns and 15 interceptions along with just under 6,000 yards in his last two years of high school. Kansas high school ball isn't the Big 12, but the point is, Bell was recruited because of his passing acumen, and his ability to get some tough yards was simply a bonus. "Blake is a guy that does throw the football well. We have a history in my going on 15 years of having guys in quarterbacks that are really excellent throwers, and Blake fits that mold," coach Bob Stoops said at Big 12 media days last week. "We would never recruit a guy that we didn't feel would be a great passer."
Outlook: Oklahoma finds itself in an odd position of being something of an underdog. Not a big one, but this is the first time since the Big 12 went to 10 teams that the Sooners haven't been picked to win the league. Oklahoma did get eight first-place votes from 43 voters, and is second in the league's media preseason poll, but Oklahoma is not used to starting the season outside the top 15, which might happen.
Stepping up: The Sooners need major help on the defensive line, and might need even more with the lone returning starter, Chuka Ndulue, likely suspended for the season opener after an offseason DUI arrest. Last season was one of the worst defensive lines at Oklahoma in a long time, which was painfully evident in the Cotton Bowl loss to the Aggies. Oklahoma needs promising prospects like Geneo Grissom, Jordan Phillips, Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha to start turning the corner. Getting juco transfer Quincy Russell officially eligible as soon as possible would be a huge help, too.
Breaking out: Jalen Saunders is likely to emerge as Bell's top target, but keep an eye on Sterling Shepard. He showed tons of promise as a true freshman a year ago, catching 45 balls for 621 yards and three scores. He caught multiple passes in 11 games last season, and drew comparisons to Ryan Broyles along the way.
Quotable: Stoops, on fixing the defense that returns just four starters -- "Definitely, in some of our schemes a year ago, we were more coverage-conscious, and it hurt us in the run game. We'll have to make some adjustments there. And personnel‑wise, we do lose quite a few guys, but we are very excited about the talent and ability of some of the young players coming up that we're still developing, still polishing, still trying to improve skills."