The Oklahoma Sooners anticipated a big year in 2011, but they went bust instead. Now, one of college football's proudest programs will try to achieve what it couldn't a season ago.
Oklahoma entered 2011 as the No. 1 team in the nation, and when the Sooners defeated No. 5 Florida State on the road in the middle of September, they had seemingly justified the preseason hype. They entered the middle of October without a loss and were headed to the national title. Then, the wheels on the Sooner Schooner fell off, as a team lost focus, lost bodies, and lost all of its hopes and dreams. Oklahoma's home game with Texas Tech on Oct. 22 was delayed a few hours by a massive storm, and that delay hijacked OU's concentration. The Sooners played a pancake-flat first half, scrambled to make a late rally, but fell short against the Red Raiders, 41-38. The out-of-nowhere stumble against a clearly inferior foe, one that went 5-7 last season, confounded football experts. It also affected Oklahoma's psyche for the rest of the campaign.
Returning Starters: 8
Can quarterback Landry Jones avoid bad games? That's a foremost topic on the mind of head coach Bob Stoops and his offensive braintrust. When on, Jones is sensational, but a few times each season, Jones plays poorly. Nobody is perfect, but Oklahoma is merely asking Jones to be steadier on a weekly basis. If Jones lacks a spectacular performance in 2012 but avoids a horrible showing, the Sooners and their coaches should be very happy this season.
Returning Starters: 7
The secondary, albeit touched by injuries, still should have been able to play at a half-decent level, but it was eviscerated by Baylor and Oklahoma State in the final three weeks of the season. The loss to Baylor was particularly hard to take because the Sooners tied the Bears in the final minute of regulation, only to give up a touchdown seconds later. The loss also marked OU's first loss to Baylor in program history. The season-ending loss to a great Oklahoma State squad was not cause for worry or embarrassment; falling short against Texas Tech and Baylor, two regular whipping boys in the life of the Big 12 Conference, marked the full measure of the Sooners' disappointment last season. Yes, OU suffered greatly when receiver Ryan Broyles was lost for the season with an injury suffered against Kansas State on Oct. 29, but for all of the offense's limitations in November, it was the paper-thin back seven – the linebackers, safeties and corners – who did not have the depth or the experience to keep up with the likes of Robert Griffin (Baylor), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Seth Doege (Texas Tech), and other prolific passers in the Big 12. Yes, Griffin and Weeden are gone this season, but with West Virginia and TCU joining the Big 12, Oklahoma will still have to stare down elite signal callers. Geno Smith (WVU) and Casey Pachall (TCU) will thoroughly challenge the Sooners' secondary. It's not as though this version of the Big 12 will be any easier than last year's incarnation. Texas, the Sooners' hated archrival, should be better, and Oklahoma State will still be formidable.
The Sooners aren't going to sail through the Big 12, but with Oklahoma State losing some top talent and OU being able to host Kansas State, the Sooners should be able to win the league as long as they can split road games at West Virginia and TCU. It won't be easy, but the Sooners will barely win their conference.
Prediction: Big 12 Champions