Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Oklahoma Sooners
2009 Record: 8-5 (5-3 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
DeMarco Murray :: James D. Smith/Icon SMI
Texas (Dallas, TX)
at Texas A&M
at Texas Tech
Stanford (Sun Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jeremy Beal, DE: The Ted Hendricks Award finalist notched 11 sacks in 2009.
Ryan Broyles, WR: He's the first receiver in OU history to lead the team in scoring (102 points).
Landry Jones, QB: Thrust into the starting role when Sam Bradford went down, Jones threw for 3,198 yards and 26 TDs as a freshman.
Quinton Carter, FS: A complete defensive back, Carter ranked second on the squad with 88 tackles in 2009.
DeMarco Murray, RB: A triple-threat, Murray could finish his career among OU's top 10 rushers, receiving running backs and kick returners.
Adrian Taylor, DT: OU will look to the veteran to lead a transition in the middle of the front four.
Brody Eldridge, TE: The unheralded coaches' favorite showed his versatility by moving inside on the offensive line when injuries struck.
Dominique Franks, CB: A 2009 All-Big 12 pick, the Sooners' best cover corner left a hole when he exited early for the NFL draft.
Gerald McCoy, DT: He still dominated as an All-American despite facing double and triple teams.
Ryan Reynolds, LB: A gritty player who overcame multiple knee injuries, Reynolds served as the leader of the defense.
Trent Williams, LT: A veteran of 38 career starts, Williams added an athletic element to the offensive front.
11: Number of consecutive bowl appearances the Sooners have made under Bob Stoops, a school record.
The Sooners were unexpectedly thrown into a quarterback transition in 2009, but now Landry Jones is ready to stamp his identity on the program.
Oklahoma's attack faces many of the same questions that surrounded the offense a year ago. Can a retooled line become a consistent force? Are there enough reliable playmakers at wide receiver? Yet Jones' progression from Sam Bradford's sudden replacement to unquestioned leader and starter is still the main key to the offense's return to championship-caliber form.
Jones threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns in '09, albeit with 14 interceptions. He also finished strong, posting big games against Oklahoma State and Stanford, the latter in the Sun Bowl.
"I can already tell the difference in the way I'm seeing stuff now and what I was seeing then," Jones said this spring.
Of course, Jones needs help. That'll start up front, where issues doomed the Sooners from the outset and lingered all season a year ago. In 2010, the young group must grow up.
Running back DeMarco Murray is a dynamic talent as a runner, receiver and return man, compiling 4,661 all-purpose yards and 45 total touchdowns through three seasons. But he must shake a history of injury problems that have prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Ryan Broyles boasts game-breaking skills at wide receiver, with 15 touchdown catches in '09, but he is flanked by guys who have been inconsistent and unreliable due to dropped balls.
The Sooners absorbed major hits this offseason; both corners, two productive linebackers and once-in-a-generation tackle Gerald McCoy all have moved on. But the Sooners barely flinched, rolling out more elite talent.
End Jeremy Beal and linebacker Travis Lewis are Big 12 Player of the Year candidates. Beal ranks fifth on the school's career sacks list, while Lewis led the team in tackles the past two seasons and infuses an attacking attitude throughout the defense.
Tackle Adrian Taylor, end Frank Alexander and free safety Quinton Carter are all-conference candidates, and Jonathan Nelson's shift from strong safety should solidify one of the corner spots.
There are some uncertainties, with unproven young players being asked to fill some major voids. Depth is also an issue, but the Sooners have star power.
Punter Tress Way showed a booming leg a year ago, leading the Big 12 and ranking third nationally with a 45.7-yard average. The return game is also a strength behind game-changer Broyles. The major concern is fixing field goals after the Sooners tried three different kickers -- with unsatisfying results -- a year ago.
The Sooners are eager to distance themselves from last season's disappointments, which were exacerbated by a rash of injuries.
Much of that hope is tied to Jones' progression at quarterback, although there are other questions marks, mostly revolving around the readiness of youngsters who are talented, yet untested.
The schedule features early challenges at home against Florida State and at Cincinnati. By then, we should know if the Sooners are ready to make a run at reclaiming Big 12 dominance. Of course, to take the conference they'll have to beat Texas, a feat that's eluded them four of the past five years.