|Running back Roy Finch :: ZUMApress.com|
Despite a growing reputation for its prowess in the passing game (a rep owing lately to the record-breaking pace of quarterback Landry Jones), Oklahoma remains a run-first offense that works best when one guy hogs the carries. For a good chunk of the past four years that ball hog was DeMarco Murray, who set school career marks for all-purpose yards (6,718) and touchdowns (65) but is now in the NFL. Given the Sooners' track record for cranking out dominant backs, the expectation was that OU would simply pluck another game-breaker from its assembly line and pencil him in for 1,000 yards.
So when Josh Heupel, the quarterbacks coach who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator at the end of last season, says that OU will run the ball "by committee" -- often an indication that a coach is deciding among underwhelming options -- it leaves one wondering whether the Sooners' backfield production is headed for a decline.
Does Oklahoma, which has national title hopes after winning the South and routing Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, have a chink in its armor?In a word: no. The Sooners have a surfeit of dynamic and now seemingly healthy runners to choose from. Sophomore Roy Finch, a 5-foot-8, 173-pound speed merchant who finished as OU's second-leading rusher in 2010 (398 yards), despite being hobbled by a stress fracture, will battle for touches with classmates who had strong springs?Brennan Clay (a shifty 5-11, 185-pounder who missed five games last season after suffering a concussion in Week 2) and Jonathan Miller (a 5-11, 197-pounder coming off knee surgery). They will be augmented by two Texas-born, highly rated freshman rushers in Brandon Williams and Danzel Williams (they're not related) and buttressed by six offensive linemen with starting experience as well as one of the nation's best blocking fullbacks in sophomore Trey Millard. It seems that Oklahoma has the kind of rushing attack problem most any other team would happily take."The reason why we've been so good is we always find out which personnel gives us the best opportunity to be successful," says Heupel, who led OU to its last national title as a senior quarterback in 2000. "We're going to get our best players on the field and let them make plays." And let the assembly line speak for itself.
Can the talented running backs return from their injuries and help the rushing game maintain its high standard?
38 -- Consecutive games with a reception for Ryan Broyles, whose 131 catches last season were the most in the FBS.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Sr. -- After breaking Oklahoma single-season records with 131 catches and 1,622 receiving yards, he'd like to end the Sooners' 10-year national title drought before taking his game to the NFL.Travis Lewis, LB, Sr. -- The outside linebacker has led the Sooners in tackles for three straight seasons, and his 362 career stops rank ninth all time at the school. He's going to miss time with a broken foot, but he bypassed the NFL for one reason: to win a title with OU.Aaron Colvin, SS, So. -- The graduation of both of last season's starting safeties has forced this 5-11, 175-pound Owasso, Okla., product to slide over from cornerback, where he made 34 tackles, broke up three passes and forced a fumble while playing in every game.James Hanna, TE, Sr. -- Seven of Hanna's 18 receptions in 2010 went for TDs. At 6-4, 237 pounds he presents a big target in the red zone, and he can also get down the field. Among his seven scores was a 76-yarder against Oklahoma State.Frank Alexander, DE, Sr. -- The 6-3, 259-pound Baton Rouge product finished second on the team in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (13) in 2010. He'll try to pick up any slack created by the loss of sack-monster Jeremy Beal, who's now with the Broncos in the NFL.
Landry Jones, QB, Jr. -- Once overshadowed by Heisman winner Sam Bradford, the 6-4, 230-pound Jones distinguished himself last season when he threw for 4,718 yards and 38 TDs while completing 65.6 percent of his passes. After the consistency he showed last year and with the offensive talent around him, Landry could one day distinguish himself as a Heisman winner too.
Brandon Williams, RB, Fr. -- Superior speed, elusiveness and hands give this willowy 5-11, 189-pound five-star recruit from Brookshire, Texas, a chance to emerge as the replacement for departed senior DeMarco Murray and likewise become a special player.This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' Big 12 Preview.