Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 6: Oklahoma
Coach: Bob Stoops (149-37 entering 15th season; 149-37 overall)
2012 record: 10-3 (8-1 in Big 12, tied for first in Big 12)
Look back: Oklahoma entered the 2012 season a serious Big 12 title contender and candidate to reach the BCS National Championship Game. Landry Jones returned to lead the OU offense, giving the Sooners a potent offensive attack. However, Oklahoma had racked up national preseason accolades in the past only to stumble relatively early in the year. The unfortunate pattern repeated itself in Jones’ season of eligibility. Oklahoma suffered a disappointing 24-19 loss to then-No. 15 Kansas State. While the Wildcats proved to be a talented team that would flirt with an undefeated season, it was little consolation for the Sooners, who once again failed to live up to expectations. Two weeks after the loss, OU took its frustration out on rival Texas. The Sooners thrashed the Longhorns 63-21. Oklahoma didn’t lose another Big 12 game and tied for a share of the league title. The Sooners picked up losses against two of the hottest college football teams in the country, falling 30-13 to Notre Dame during the regular season and 41-13 to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: QB Landry Jones, S Tony Jefferson, S Javon Harris, CB Demontre Hurst, LT Lane Johnson, WR Kenny Stills, WR Justin Brown
Top returnees: RB Damien Williams, RB Brennan Clay, WR Jalen Saunders, CB Aaron Colvin, LB Corey Nelson, DL Chuka Ndulue, QB Blake Bell, QB Trevor Knight
Strengths: With the Sooners breaking in a new starting quarterback, coach Bob Stoops will be counting on RB Damien Williams to handle a heavy workload and step up as a team leader. Williams rushed for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns on 176 carries last season, while reserve RB Brennan Clay added another 55 yards and six touchdowns on 93 carries. Williams easily could have posted a 1,000-yard season in 2012, but he was slowed by injuries. Oklahoma can’t afford for much to slow him down this year. It helps that the new quarterback and Williams will be working with one of the most talented offensive lines in the country. Former Apopka standout Ty Darlington is a reserve center on the team. On the defensive side of the ball, the Sooners return four of their top six linebackers from last season and boast an All-America candidate at cornerback in Aaron Colvin.
Weaknesses: The team must recover from the loss of Jones, a four-year starter who claim more wins than any other quarterback in school history (39). He passed for 4,267 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. With the season opener looming, Stoops has yet to name a new starting quarterback. Blake Bell and Trevor Knight are the top candidates for the job. While both are talented athletes, it’s inevitable the passing attack will go through some growing pains.
While Colvin is set to anchor the secondary, the team lost five defensive backs from last season. Stoops has always fielded a strong defense, but this is another area where Oklahoma is sure to take a step back.
Outlook: Stoops got a lot of national attention for asserting the Southeastern Conference isn’t necessarily the best conference in the country from top to bottom. Yes, the SEC has won seven consecutive BCS titles, but he suggested the bottom portion of the league was far less competitive than the bottom portion of the Big 12. Stoops now has to help a team without an experienced quarterback navigate the tough schedule he described. While his strong recruiting efforts typically prevent Oklahoma from taking a significant step back from year to year, the Sooners are sure to be tested by Texas, Baylor and TCU, among others.
Aug. 31 Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 7 West Virginia
Sept. 14 Tulsa
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct 5 TCU
Oct. 12 vs. Texas in Dallas
Oct. 19 at Kansas
Oct. 26 Texas Tech
Nov. 7 at Baylor
Nov. 16 Iowa State
Nov. 23 at Kansas State
Dec. 7 at Oklahoma State
For more college football news, head over to our blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron or you can like us at Facebook.com/collegegridiron 365 and add him on Google-Plus and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.