Oklahoma Sooners (2000: 13-0)
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Coach and programFairy tales do come true, and one happened at OU. What Bob Stoops, his staff and his players accomplished in 2000 was truly remarkable. Not only did the Sooners record the first 13-0 season in school history, they did it with a group of players who were still scarred from being involved in a program that spent the 1990s regressing into a modern-day version of the Keystone Cops.
Stoops, who had distinguished himself as defensive coordinator in stops at Kansas State and Florida, turned the Sooners into winners. OU went 7-5 in Stoops’ first season. The players gained the confidence that they could again be winners.
“We never had a timetable,’’ Stoops said in a way to explain the inexplicable. “We just wanted to work each week."
Stoops and his staff made all the right moves. For instance:
• In the first season, the OU coaches correctly assessed the roster’s talent level and decided that several players were out of position. They moved J.T. Thatcher to safety, where he had an All-America senior season. They moved Frank Romero, one of four captains on the 2001 team, from defensive line to offensive tackle.
• When Mike Leach, who was offensive coordinator in 1999, left to become Texas Tech’s head coach, Stoops promoted from within, moving Mark Mangino to offensive coordinator. Mangino, who also coaches the offensive line, increased the team’s emphasis on running the ball. As a result, the 2000 Sooners averaged 134 yards a game rushing and had 33 rushing touchdowns.
• Against the Seminoles, defensive coordinators Mike Stoops and Brent Venables devised a kaleidoscope defense that befuddled Heisman quarterback Chris Weinke and accomplished the unthinkable, an offensive shutout of a team that was averaging 42 points and 549 total yards a game.
The undefeated season, the national championship, was accomplished with a team that was relatively inexperienced. Eight starters return on offense and defense, plus the punter and kicker are back.
The Sooners, who open their season Aug. 25 against North Carolina, face the challenge of going 14-0 to win consecutive titles.
“That would be about the only place you can go from here,’’ Stoops said. “But doing it again would be pretty special, too. And Oklahoma has done that before.’’
OffenseJosh Heupel’s departure creates a void at quarterback, but an even bigger void in Oklahoma’s leadership. Heupel never threw with Elway-type velocity. But whenever Oklahoma needed a big offensive play -- a key pass, a scramble, even an option pitch -- Heupel did it.
Spring drills didn’t produce a clear No. 1 quarterback. Junior Nate Hybl (6-3, 215), who started his career at Georgia before transferring, and sophomore Jason White (6-2, 220) battled to a draw in the spring. In the annual Red-White scrimmage to end spring drills, Hybl was 23-of-31 for 180 yards and threw a touchdown and two interceptions. White was 19-of-28 for 155 yards and threw a touchdown and an interception.
Last season, the Sooners scored their most rushing touchdowns (33) since 1988. The two main producers were junior Quentin Griffin (5-6, 187) and sophomore Renaldo Works (5-11, 208), return.
Five junior receivers return to provide a variety of targets -- speedy deep threats, physical slant runners and combinations of those talents.
Antwone Savage (6-0, 190) had 48 receptions for 598 yards and three touchdowns last season. Savage is also a dangerous threat on reverses. On 13 attempts, he gained 160 yards, an average of 13.3 per carry.
Junior tight end Trent Smith (6-5, 229) came on strong over the last half of the 2000 season. He finished with 29 receptions for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
Defense and special teamsSix players who saw extensive playing time return and the OU coaches think that the defensive line could become a strength for this season.
The returnees are led by sophomore Kory Klein, a second-team freshman All-American last season. Klein (6-2, 270) played in 13 games and recorded 30 tackles, five tackles for losses and three sacks.
Senior Rocky Calmus (6-3, 234), a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Butkus Award, figures to be one of the nation’s top defenders in 2001. Last season, Calmus led OU with 125 tackles.
There’s a basketball coach at Kansas and a hot shot wide receiver at Texas by the same name, but Oklahoma’s Roy Williams is at the top of the “Same Name List.’’ A 6-0, 221-pound junior, Williams is a dominating player who is a versatile, teeth-rattling tackler.
Said Bob Stoops, “Roy Williams at times just dominates our offense. He’s just an amazing player. He’s the best safety I’ve ever been around.’’
This secondary received a major setback with the loss of junior cornerback Michael Thompson. He was seriously injured in a one-car accident in Norman in early May. His injuries were so severe that not only is Thompson expected to miss this season, his future playing status is in doubt. Last season, Thompson and Derrick Strait provided OU with exemplary coverage. Strait, a 5-11, 191-pound sophomore, finished 2000 with 62 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
Senior Tim Duncan (6-2, 198) returns and could wind up in the running for the Lou Groza kicking award. Last season, he made all but one of his 60 extra-point tries and 13-of-21 field-goal attempts.
Bottom lineYes, the Sooners might be as good or better than last year ... and they might wind up with a Holiday Bowl trip to show for it. To win another national championship, the Sooners can do no worse than 13-1.
The Sooners open Big 12 play at home against Kansas State on Sept. 29. The next Saturday, Oklahoma faces Texas in the annual Red River Shootout in Dallas. Games with Kansas and Baylor precede a trip to Nebraska on Oct. 27. After a week off, OU plays host to Texas A&M.
Certainly, there are a lot of land mines. And, as defending national champions, the Sooners add a bull’s eye to their regular uniform jerseys.