SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Oklahoma Sooners

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Bob Stoops (5th year, 43-9)
2002 record: 12-2 (Beat Washington State 34-14 in Rose Bowl)
Big 12 finish: 1st (South)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 190.6 ypg (4th in Big 12, 32nd in nation)
Pass: 202.0 ypg (8th, 68th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 107.9 ypg (2nd, 14th)
Pass: 185.3 ypg (4th, 25th)
Projected Starters
Offense (4 returning starters in bold)
WR  Mark Clayton  Jr. 
WR  81  Brandon Jones  Jr. 
WR   29   Will Peoples   Jr.  
LT   60   Wes Sims   Jr.  
LG  70  Kelvin Chaisson  So. 
C   50   Vince Carter   Jr.  
RG  77  Davin Joseph  So. 
RT   55   Jammal Brown   Jr.  
TE  86  Lance Donley  Sr. 
QB  18  Jason White  Sr. 
TB  20  Kejuan Jones  So. 
FB  38  J.D. Runnels  So. 
Defense (9)
DE   49   Jonathan Jackson   Jr.  
DT   93   Kory Klein   Sr.  
DT   97   Tommie Harris   Jr.  
DE  80  Dan Cody  Jr. 
WLB   11   Teddy Lehman   Sr.  
MLB   10   Lance Mitchell   Sr.  
SLB   53   Pasha Jackson   Sr.  
CB   2   Derrick Strait   Sr.  
CB   28   Antonio Perkins   Jr.  
SS  Donte Nicholson  Jr. 
FS   7   Brandon Everage   Sr.  
Special Teams
83  Trey DiCarlo  So. 
87  Blake Ferguson  Jr. 
PR  28  Antonio Perkins  Jr. 
KR  28  Antonio Perkins  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  North Texas 
Sept. 6  at Alabama 
Sept. 13  Fresno State 
Sept. 20  UCLA 
Oct. 4  at Iowa State 
Oct. 11  #Texas 
Oct. 18  Missouri 
Oct. 25  at Colorado 
Nov. 1  Oklahoma State 
Nov. 8  Texas A&M 
Nov. 15  Baylor 
Nov. 22  at Texas Tech 
   #Dallas, Texas 
After a decade of decline, Bob Stoops awakened the beast. These days, Sooner fans expect nothing less than another national championship. Even Stoops, who normally is not given to effusive praise and bold predictions, has a hard time finding reasons to dampen enthusiasm. "We have a chance to have another really special year, I believe," he said.

Coaches like the quarterback contenders, and they love the rest of the team, including a first-string defense that returns nine starters and may have improved. "We felt a year ago we were a year away from being really good and really special," Stoops said. "Hopefully, that will be the case. This has the potential to be one of our best defenses."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Contrary to popular opinion, Oklahoma's offense wasn't a problem in 2002. Led by record-setting tailback Quentin Griffin, the Sooners finally found an effective running game, which took pressure off quarterback Nate Hybl.

Though both are gone, along with three of the top four receivers, the Sooner offense should again be potent. That's because Oklahoma finally has an experienced, talented offensive line -- in fact, it should easily be the best in Stoops' five years as coach.

Stoops named Jason White, the injury-prone senior, as the QB starter in July. Brent Rawls, a highly touted sophomore who was battling White for the starting job in the spring, plummeted to No. 4 on the depth chart. White's health and durability are still a concern, though, as he has suffered two ACL -- one to each knee, in 2001 and 2002.

At tailback, sophomore Kejuan Jones (613 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2002) and senior Renaldo Works (152 yards, 2 touchdowns) will battle, and could share time. Jones emerged in 2002 as OU's short-yardage back; Works didn't get many opportunities, but his two catch-and-runs accounted for 62 yards in the winning drive as Oklahoma rallied late to beat Alabama.

Though the Sooners lost Antwone Savage, Curtis Fagan and tight end Trent Smith, all among the top four receivers in school history, the replacements appear more than capable.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

A year ago, coaches felt the defense was a year away from being, as Stoops put it, "special." With nine starters back in the first unit, the designation could fit.

Led by All-Americans Tommie Harris and Teddy Lehman, the unit is talented and deep. Add talented junior-college transfer Donte Nicholson to the mix at strong safety, and OU appears stout.

Harris anchors a deep line that's finally healthy and shouldn't be hurt much by the early departure of end Jimmy Wilkerson. Ends Jonathan Jackson and Dan Cody should take up the slack.

Lehman and Lance Mitchell might form the best one-two punch at linebacker in college football. And despite the loss of cornerback Andre Woolfolk, the Sooners could have a better secondary this season than in 2002.

Free safety Brandon Everage, suspended in the offseason for a marijuana-related arrest, was reinstated into the Sooner lineup at the start of fall practice by Stoops.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Trey DiCarlo stepped into a void last year as a freshman and set school records, hitting 16-of-22 field-goal attempts. He's back and has a stronger leg. Blake Ferguson was inconsistent while averaging 38.5 yards per punt; he'll be challenged by incoming freshman Cody Freeby.

Returning punts isn't a problem. Antonio Perkins averaged 15.0 yards per return and took back three for touchdowns last season.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

In a switch, the Sooners missed out on the Fiesta Bowl last year because of defensive lapses. Led by a resurgent ground game, Oklahoma's offense was productive. And despite the departures of Griffin and Hybl, the offense should be potent again, thanks to a solid offensive line.

For the most part, the Sooner defense lived up to expectations in 2002. But in two losses, opponents baffled the secondary with long passes. The Sooners are confident those were aberrations, but they've spent plenty of time studying film from losses to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The Sooner defense should be better than last season's, making OU a frontrunner for the national title.

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