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Top 25 team preview: No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners

Photo: June Frantz-Hunt/Icon SMI

Sophomore wide receiver Trey Metoyer saw limited action last season, but is considered an elite talent.

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

Landry who? The dream scenario for coach Bob Stoops would be for 6-foot-6, 263-pound junior quarterback Blake Bell -- known as the Belldozer for his short-yardage running -- to improve his accuracy and succeed the graduated Landry Jones. The backfield is deep and experienced with seniors Trey Millard and Damien Williams, who both have big-play ability, as well as seniors Brennan Clay and Roy Finch.

Senior wideout Jalen Saunders emerged late last season as a potential star in the slot, and sophomore receiver Trey Metoyer has immense talent as an outside threat. Senior center Gabe Ikard fronts an offensive line with a nice mix of experience and potential. The defense was porous last season, but if a few promising sophomores (such as 6-6, 324-pound defensive tackle Jordan Phillips) contribute, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops won't see a repeat of last year, when the Sooners surrendered obscene yardage totals against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and West Virginia.

The case against

If no successor emerges from the three-person quarterback competition to replace Jones, opposing defenses will be able to stack the box to stop the running game. The inexperienced defensive front seven -- which is especially shaky at defensive tackle -- also has to find its footing.

Schedule analysis

Oklahoma might have the toughest opening stretch of any top-20 team, with home games against TCU and West Virginia, a road trip to Notre Dame and the annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas against Texas. The second half includes road games at Baylor and Oklahoma State. It's a massive challenge.

Key stat

192.2: The average number of rushing yards Oklahoma allowed per game in 2012, a mark that ranked 89th nationally. The Sooners struggled against power teams -- especially late in the season -- and have not ranked among the top five in the conference in rushing defense over the last three seasons.

Breakout player

WR Jalen Saunders: Saunders sat out the first four games of 2012 after transferring from Fresno State, but he was an impact performer when he stepped on the field. He had 15 catches for 181 yards in a loss to Notre Dame, 10 catches for 162 yards against Oklahoma State and seven catches for 123 yards (including a 76-yard touchdown reception) at West Virginia. With starting receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown off to the NFL, Saunders should improve significantly on last year's numbers (62 catches for 829 yards and three touchdowns).

Freshman to watch

S Ahmad Thomas: The Sooners lost both starting safeties from last season, so Thomas can make an immediate impact. The 6-1, 205-pound freshman impressed this spring (he was an early enrollee) with his instincts, tackling and desire to be coached.

X-factor

QB Blake Bell: He carries a punishing nickname and a punishing game in the red zone. Bell has 24 career rushing touchdowns out of the short-yardage package (the aptly named "Belldozer" formation), but he's untested as a passer (as are fellow quarterbacks Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight). This is not exactly a revelation: The Sooners can't win a Big 12 championship without quality play from the most important position on the field.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Blake Bell: 2,656 passing yards, 20 TDs; 737 rushing yards, 16 TDs

RB Damien Williams: 787 rushing yards, 12 TDs; 216 receiving yards, 1 TD

WR Jalen Saunders: 1,016 receiving yards, 7 TDs; 40 rushing yards

Coach speak: Bob Stoops

SI: You have not made a decision yet on a starter at quarterback. What is your time frame?

BS: I don't think there needs to be a rush to judgment. We have experience at this. I'm not sitting here saying this in a bragging way at all, but we have won eight Big 12 championships with six different quarterbacks. So we have had a fair amount of success in developing our guys. When we feel there has been enough practice and enough reps on the field and it's decided in our mind, then we go with it.

SI: What improvement can be expected from your D, given that many of last year's starters are gone?

BS: Sometimes change in personnel can help you. There is still an opportunity to play more consistently, tackle better and not give up so many big plays.

SI: The defensive line was hit hard in the offseason. How concerned are you?

BS: We did lose a lot of experienced guys, but I did not read many publications a year ago that were bragging about all of those guys, either. You hate to lose that experience, but we have some other guys who will be prepared to play.

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