A day after Oklahoma lost 32-21 to Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl last Jan. 1, Defensive Back Scott Case was looking ahead to this fall. "I don't see any reason we shouldn't be national champions," he said. That's the way Sooners think. No matter how bad things get—7-4-1 in 1981, 8-4 in '82—they believe perfection is their birthright and that it's just around the corner.
How Oklahoma fares this season depends largely on Marcus Dupree, the out-of-this-world running back who led the Sooners in rushing as a freshman in '82 with 1,144 yards and is potentially the best football player in college. If Dupree gets his plump (240 pounds) self into shape; and if he and Coach Barry Switzer collaborate instead of feuding (SI, June 20); and if Dupree doesn't get hurt—he missed 18 of 20 spring workouts with a pulled hamstring, a type of injury that has plagued him off and on since high school—then all Oklahoma will need for success is 10 other guys on offense who have the skill to put their helmets on frontward. Dupree is that dominating.
Another outstanding player is Spencer Tillman, a superior running back, who, in deference to Dupree's abilities, is willing to play fullback and thus bruise and batter himself for the cause of better blocking. Says Tillman, a freshman who was redshirted last season and the Oklahoma schoolboy Player of the Year in 1981, "You have to have a team concept and be willing to sacrifice."
Inordinately shaky is the quarterback position, where junior Danny Bradley has the starting job. For a year the coaches searched frantically for a junior college signal caller who could come in and play immediately. No luck. So they are stuck with Bradley, who has played little (nine completions in 17 attempts with two interceptions while appearing in seven games last season), is too short (5'10") to see over onrushing linemen and has a flawed throwing motion. Furthermore, he was recruited as a wishbone-style quarterback—run down the line, hand off, pitch or keep—and Switzer reluctantly has shifted to an I-oriented offense to get the ball to Dupree more often.
Bradley's pluses are a can-do attitude and his speed, which will scare the opposition to death on the corners. And no matter how funny he throws, he's able to pass effectively for short distances on the run, which will help vary the Sooner attack. Although Switzer has promised that Oklahoma will pass a lot this fall—as often as 15 times a game, compared with an average of eight the past 13 years—nobody really believes that. The Sooner offense will be—must be—give the ball to Dupree and wait to be amazed.
Defensively, Oklahoma looks steel-tough, although All-America Tackle Rick Bryan, the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year in 1982, knows that the veteran unit often has not played up to its potential. "What we've done the last two years is not the tradition that has been passed to us," says Bryan, remembering the 41 points that West Virginia scored against the Sooners last season. "It hurts me that I'm part of that letdown." The secondary is the only spot lacking in talent, but the shift of Case from cornerback to free safety should serve to shore things up, especially against the pass. The Sooners have been vulnerable to air attacks, and Case and colleagues will be severely tested by Stanford and Ohio State the first two weeks of the season.
Potentially the most devastating Sooner weakness is the kicking game: There is none. For four years Michael Keeling handled virtually all punting and placements. Assistant Head Coach Merv Johnson says, "We don't have a solution that would excite anybody." Oklahoma's hope is that a freshman recruit from Seminole, Okla. named Darren Atyia might be able to handle the punts and some field goals. Last year Atyia averaged 45.5 yards per punt, but his place-kicking wasn't as impressive, and he'll compete with half a dozen walk-ons and one holdover for that job. This is a startling shortcoming that a powerhouse like Oklahoma should never have allowed to develop and that could be costly should a late field goal be needed.
Yet Tillman says of the Sooners, "We're great." Bryan adds, "We're good." Even if the truth lies only somewhere in between, the Sooners could ring up national championship No. 6. Says Dupree, "Let's hope we have a lot of good luck." A little would probably do.