Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Defense Ever?

As the 2014 season is one week away, expectations are high in the Sooner Nation.

Not just because of the after-swell of the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Although that feeling has not worn off...yet.

No, there is something else in the air.

A confidence from the no-nonsense head coach that is unusually giddy for this time of the year.

A defensive coordinator who is spewing superlatives about his freshman players like never heard before in these parts.

Even with all of the off-the-field suspense involving suspensions, indictments and eligibility concerns, the Oklahoma coaches are downright besides themselves overflowing with confidence.

So what's the fuss?

Aren't all coaches optimistic in the pre-season?

Yes, but expectations are annually so high in Norman that the coaches intentionally downplay expectations until the season starts.

Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells used to say "you are what you are!" Namely, your record speaks for itself.

So before the season starts and everyone is undefeated, why are the Sooners coaches so optimistic?

Returning Starters

Namely, nine defensive starters return along with seven offensive starters. That's 16 starters from last years Big 12 runner ups and the Sugar Bowl champions.

Ok. Not bad. But don't a lot of schools return double digit starters?

Yes, but the depth of talent on this team behind the starters is incredible and they're young to boot.

Only 6 upper classmen return in the offensive skill positions--and two are tight ends and blocking backs. The entire offensive line that contributed over 100 game starts returns save Gabe Ikard and Bronson Irwin.

The Sugar Bowl MVP quarterback returns off of his all-time best game behind him.

A defense so deep Sugar Bowl hero Geneo Grissom is being moved to linebacker and nickel back Julian Wilson is being moved to corner. Defensive stars on the line, linebacker group and safeties aplenty.

The Big 12's #1 defense returns everyone except for safety Gabe Lynn and corner Aaron Colvin. Plus, newcomers Stephen Parker at safety, Jordan Thomas at corner and sophomore sensations Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will all push for starting time giving Mike Stoops a depth in the secondary he has never seen at Oklahoma.

So yes. This team has potential to be the best.

But what exactly does that mean?

At the University of Oklahoma that means defense.

The Top 5 Best Defenses

So let's take a look at the all-time best defenses in the history of Oklahoma football and see what the best means and where this group stacks up:


Bud Wilkinson's second and third national championship teams were a combined 21-0 in two seasons.

The 1955 squad outscored opponents 380-60 including five shutouts.

The 1956 team outscored opponents 466-51 including six shutouts.

These two teams are two of the best ever to play at Oklahoma and deserve top accolades. They kept the 47-game winning streak alive. The nation's best ever. They deserve the top notch.

Wide receiver Tommy McDonald still gets most of the buzz even all of these years later. But he also played defense along with one of the greatest Sooners ever: Jerry Tubbs.

These two teams epitomized Bud Wilkinson's team concept and the record reflects it.


Hard to separate the 1974 and 1975 back-to-back national championship teams but I'll take the '74 bunch over the 75' group.

Simply because of perfection: 11-0.

And three shutouts.

No game was close except a 16-13 win in Dallas over Texas.

Selmon brothers, Jimbo Elrod, Randy Hughes and 3-time All American Rod Shoate.

Part of the 73' group, Barry Switzer's first, that went 32-1-1 his first three seasons.

Take no prisoners.


The 85' group won the national championship with a single loss versus Miami but the 86' bunch was better.

Five shutouts along the way to an 11-1 season. A three-year lowest point total allowed with 81. The 85' and 87' teams gave up 103 and 102 points, respectively.

A lone loss in the Orange Bowl to Miami in September cost them the national championship.

Only Nebraska at 20-17 in Lincoln was close.

An overmatched Arkansas squad was beaten 41-8 in the Orange Bowl.

Brian Bosworth, Steve Bryan, Darrell Reed, Troy Johnson, Dante Jones, Sonny Brown and Rickey Dixon were the defensive stars.


This group was actually an extension of the 85', 86' and '87 bunch. A group that went 33-3.

11-0 regular season with two shutouts.

Only Missouri and Nebraska played it close.

A 20-14 defeat to a Miami team that beat them three years in a row to represent their only three losses cost them a seventh national championship.

A total of six defensive starters were drafted by the NFL including round one pick Rickey Dixon.


So you don't have to go undefeated or win a national championship to be considered among the top five Sooner defenses.

However, it helps. But doesn't necessarily mean greatness.

These five teams assembled a gaudy 54-2 record in those five seasons, won five Big 7 & 8 Championships along the way and won three national championships. A total of 23 All-Americans, 25 NFL Draftees, 7 national award winners and a nation's all-time best 47-game win streak.

A hallmark of each was a swarming, hit-you-in-the-mouth attitude. Superb team play, well-coached and well-positioned. Nothing flashy in any of them. Just good ole' hard-nosed, line up and hit you defense.

It helps when you have a once-in-a-lifetime talent anchoring the group: a Jerry Tubbs, Lee Roy Selmon or Rod Shoate. However, for every one of those guys, a Dante Jones, Paul Migliazzo, Brian Bosworth and Sonny Brown emerges.

Oklahoma has produced 14 undefeated seasons in its' 119 seasons of playing football. Four of those teams also won national championships.

I think 2014 has a very good chance of producing undefeated season #15 and national championship #8 primarily based upon the defensive outlook and potential.

At the end of the day, will they be ranked up there with these five? Check back on January 12.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Our Time Is Now!

The Big 12 unveiled a new logo last month shortly before their annual media days unfolded in Dallas.

And, once again the interesting moniker "One True Champion!" was marshaled throughout the hallways of the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas.

Something that rankled Sooners Coach Bob Stoops a few years ago when unveiled to mark the beginning of round-robin play. Stoops remarked, "I thought we proved that on the field the past ten years."

The Sooner coach was rightfully miffed because his Sooners had just completed an unprecedented run of 7 Big 12 championships in 11 years during a period when a conference championship game was held to determine the true conference champion.

But regardless of a new logo or championing an old themeline, what was past is now prologue as the 2014 college football championship season begins August 30 culminating with a new 4-team tournament.

Because Bob Stoops Oklahoma Sooners are back in the mix of national championship discussions. And, the Sooner coach knows it doesn't matter whether it's a conference championship game or a round-robin format, his Sooners are poised to make an appearance in the first College Football Championship game.

Oh, and it's no coincidence that the inaugural championship game will be played a few miles west of the Omni Hotel in JerryWorld at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Sooners fans prefer to call it "Baja Oklahoma!"

And, in 2014, all roads to the first College Football Championship game go through Oklahoma.

A Season to Remember

Bob Stoops Sooners are still riding the momentum wave of throttling defending national champion Alabama 41-27 in the All State Sugar Bowl en route to finishing off an 11-2 season.

As they should be.

No one gave Oklahoma a chance to beat the Crimson Tide outside of the state of Oklahoma. In fact, an ESPN poll showed 80% of the nation picked Alabama to beat the Sooners.

So, who can blame Stoops and the Sooners from still reveling in their post season success in New Orleans?

No, Bob Stoops told his team they could beat Alabama and they did. Heck, he even began calling out the SEC in the spring of 2013 to anyone who would listen.

Now, he returns a bevy of starters and prime-time newcomers, including a top transfer, who are all focused on one thing: bringing national championship #8 to Norman.

Why There's Only One Oklahoma

Oklahoma returns 9 defensive starters, an offensive line boasting over 100 starting games, a rejuvenated Sugar Bowl record-breaking MVP quarterback and a favorable schedule.

Meaning? The skill position newcomers on offense will get time to jell behind a massive offensive line and returning superstar quarterback and because no one will move the ball on this Oklahoma defense in 2014.

But, the team that scores the most wins. So the Sooner offense will have to make the scoreboard light up if Oklahoma has a chance to sweep through a tougher-than-it-looks early schedule to be poised to win late at home.

Here's a look at the keys to victory:

The "D"

This is Mike Stoops third season back in Norman after his first stint at Oklahoma resulted in one National Championship and another BCS National Championship appearance in 2003.

It may have taken him two seasons to get his players and defense in place but boy is he stocked in 2014. And, after experimenting with a "30" man front in 2013, he now has the players attention as well as the rest of the college football world. Oklahoma is back.

And, only one word describes the potential of this Oklahoma defense: Shut-down!

Bob Stoops wouldn't go that far in Dallas in July. But he was close to saying it.

Up front, the Sooners return the entire defensive line that finished 2013 with four straight victories including a Bedlam win over OSU followed by the Alabama victory in New Orleans and were responsible for 33 sacks.

That unit also led the Big 12 in total defense, passing defense and was second in rushing defense and scoring defense.

That's a far cry from the school-record 376 yards per game Stoopses unit gave up in 2012.


The much-aligned defensive line last year at this time will be anchored by redshirt Sophomore Jordan Phillips at tackle. The 6' 6" 334 pound Phillips was an unstoppable force last year until a back injury suffered against Notre Dame ended his season with surgery.

Phillips is 100% and will anchor the tackle position this year. However, he will have a healthy rotation that includes Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Wade and Torrea Peterson all of whom replaced him last year.

Also, redshirt freshman Charles Walker has turned heads since last spring and into this summer. Plus, Juco transfer and 2012 NJCAA All-American Quincy Russell is also back after an unheralded 2013 where he only played in two of 13 games.

So, the defensive line is stacked at tackle with two-deep talent that will keep the starters fresh and opposing Big 12 quarterbacks scrambling for cover.

The Ends

How good are the defensive ends? Sugar Bowl hero Geneo Grissom was moved to linebacker this summer.

Replacing him will be All-Big 12 first teamer Charles Tapper and newcomer D.J. Ward.

Tapper started 12 of 13 games, was a force in 2013 and will anchor the ends. Ward sat out in 2013 after spleen surgery and hasn't played since his junior year in high school but is turning heads in practice. So much so, the coaches felt comfortable moving Grissom.

Joining them will be dependable returners Matt Dimon and Rashod Favors.

And, don't fret standout Michael Onuoha's recent suspension. In a pinch, the versatile Chuka Ndulue can switch back outside as can the recently moved Grissom.

The end result? Constant pressure and harassment of Big 12 quarterbacks.


It's hard to believe that just two years ago this defense experimented without any linebackers.

Once considered the short-coming, now it is one of the strengths only second to the defensive line.

Returners Frank Shannon and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander return to anchor the linebacking unit. Alexander played in all 13 games and started the final 8 games. Shannon started all 13 games and led the Sooners with 92 tackles. Alexander had 80 tackles. And, returning sophomore Jordan Evans played in 8 games early and returns following a sensational season backing up both last year.

And, don't forget Sugar Bowl hero Eric Striker. The All-Big 12 First Team selection was sensational in 2013 coming off of the edge making spectacular, game-changing plays. If you loved the Sugar Bowl, you loved Strikers' performance: 3 sacks, matched a career high seven tackles and forced the first fumble of his career. And don't forget his Bedlam performance when he returned a fumble 3-yards for a touchdown.

Move Geneo Grissom back to this group and it is simply outstanding. Perhaps the best linebacking crew in Oklahoma in many years.

And, don't fret Shannon's pending Title IX investigation ruling him ineligible due to a school expulsion. Juco transfer Devonte Bond is turning heads in Norman and actually pushing Grissom for a starting spot.


This is both Stoopses brothers specialty so you would expect a solid unit here.

Losing Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn from last season might cause a concern of a drop off.

However, the cupboard isn't bare.

Returning starter Zack Sanchez returns and will anchor one sideline. Returners Cortez Johnson, Dakota Austin and Stanvon Taylor are batting with returning nickel back Julian Wilson for the second corner spot.

Austin and Taylor's size may be a concern but the much bigger Johnson, albeit a step slower in coverage, and the versatile Wilson add depth.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Wilson secures the second spot in camp. After all, he was recruited to play corner out of high school. And, Stoops did bring him to Dallas for media days. But either way. The rest are solid backups and will see plenty of action.

Senior Quentin Hayes returns at strong safety. Joining him will be heralded sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas who are both fighting for playing time at free safety. Thomas is versatile and can play either safety spot as well as at nickel. Byrd was highly touted coming out of high school and told the media last August Coach Stoops had told him he would start. He failed to live up to expectations but mainly because Gabe Lynn excelled at the safety spot last year. Byrd should get his chance this season to meet his incoming freshman boasts.

Freshman Stephen Parker from Jenks is also pushing for playing time at safety.

So, the secondary is loaded with plenty of talent and should be just fine.


The bottom line is this is as talented and deep a bunch as Mike Stoops has had to work with since his first stint in Norman.

And, make no question about it, the Sooners fully expect to compete for a national championship, the first since 2008. And if history is any indication, the Oklahoma defense will have to be elite to win it all in 2014. Past National Championship teams in 1955, 56', 74', '75, 85' and 2000 have been elite on defense.

And this Sooners team is already setting a goal to lead the nation in total defense something an Oklahoma team hasn't done since 1986. So they are talking the talk. But do they have "shut-down" potential?

Although expectations run high in Norman, brother Bob stopped short of using the "s" word this summer in Dallas, but he threw down the gauntlet to his team when he said this:

"We’ve got a chance,” Bob Stoops said. “But we’ve got to go earn it, perform, gotta do the preparation. Are guys gonna play intelligently and do what they need to do? So there’s potential there, but we haven’t done it yet."

And Now for The Offense

Bob Stoops has won eight Big 12 titles with six different quarterbacks.

He will win a ninth in 2014 with his seventh different quarterback.

Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight came of age in the Sugar Bowl with a record bowl game performance against Alabama.

His four touchdowns tied a Sugar Bowl record and set an OU record plus his 348 yards passing set a career high.

The off-season saw fellow starter Blake Bell switch to Tight End and fan favorite Kendal Thompson transfer to Utah.

So the job is solidly Knight's and only injury will move him out of the spot.

Behind him are redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen so there is a cautious wind blowing in Norman that hopes Knight can stay healthy. Texas Tech walk-on transfer and Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Baker Mayfield isn't currently eligible. However, he has hired the same attorney Johnny Manziel hired last year to argue immediate eligibility due to his walk-on status at Tech.

And, with an offense that only returns 6 upper classman at the skilled positions, the Sooners will need a solid year from Knight as well as his leadership if they hope to reach the first-ever National Championship game in Dallas.

So here is the offensive rundown:


The Sooners return eight players on the offensive line who have started over 109 games.

Seniors Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson anchor the tackle position with 40 starts between them.

Redshirt senior Tyler Evans returns for a sixth season with 29 starts at guard after receiving a medical hardship because of suffering back-to-back season ending knee injuries in 2012 and 2013.

Nila Kasitati and Adam Shead both return at guard with 12 starts each. Kasitati also doubles at center which is encouraging since a true freshman will serve as the primary backup.

Throw in Trevor Knight's Headington Hall roommate junior Ty Darlington at center, who is charged with replacing All-American Gabe Ikard, redshirt Juco transfer Josiah St. John and redshirt junior Derek Farniok, who made his first start against OSU, and this unit will be the difference maker in 2014.

Running Backs

After graduating seniors Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Trey Millard, one might think this unit would drop off in 2014.

However, Bob Stoops has assembled a stellar cast of replacements who are bigger, faster and stronger than last years unit.

At 5' 11" and 206 pounds, chiseled sophomore Keith Ford impressed everyone last year with his bull-like rushes and quickness on the way to a 5.8 average per carry. However, ball control issues limited his carries. Ford will anchor the running backs but will be tested for playing time with returning sophomore Alex Ross.

At 6' 1" and 221 pounds, Ross is bigger and stronger than Ford but didn't play much after an 8-yard run against Louisiana-Monroe resulted in punching a player on the Sooners sideline right in front of Coach Bob Stoops. He didn't help his case much by jawing with the Head Coach while walking off the field post-game in front of television cameras. Little surprise Ross only had two more carries and was limited to special teams action the remainder of 2013.

Sophomore David Smith and heralded freshman Samaje Perine could both make immediate contributions, as well.

Prototypical lead blocker Aaron Ripowski returns at fullback and will be joined by freshman Dimitri Flowers, a Trey Millard look-a-like who turned heads last spring.

We aren't even talking about the #1 running back in the nation freshman Joe Mixon from Oakley, California in the mix. His July 26 incident on Campus Corner in the wee hours of the morning have him suspended until Norman Police submit a report to the District Attorney, likely next week.

If he is charged with felony assault against a fellow student, consider his Sooner career over before it started. Anything less including a misdemeanor charge and he likely stays a Sooner but will most assuredly redshirt or face a lengthy suspension.

Either way, the Sooners are loaded at running back and should have enough productivity on the ground behind a massive, experienced and talented offensive line until the passing game jells with only one returning player who scored a touchdown in 2013.

Wide Receivers

Sterling Shepard is the only returning receiver with a touchdown catch in 2013. He also has 96 career receptions. The rest of the wide receivers have 21 career receptions. Junior Durron Neal is the only other returner with game experience.

But don't worry. The Sooners have a talented bunch for coach Jay Norvell to work with in 2014.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood has recovered from a foot injury and redshirt season. He has turned heads since the spring with his big frame at 6' 2" and 212 pounds and has the speed and athleticism to make Sooner fans forget Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester.

Sophomore Derrick Woods and redshirt freshmen Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young also are expected to vie for playing time as is incoming freshman Michiah Quick from California.

But who is kidding who? The big off-season news was the arrival of Dorial Green-Beckham from Missouri in June. He was kicked off the team by Head Coach Gary Pinkel for off-the-field incidents that did not result in any formal charges by local police.

The Sooners are hoping to file an appeal with the NCAA later this month seeking an immediate eligibility clearance for the former top high school recruit. He had 59 receptions for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for Missouri and was instrumental in the Cotton Bowl victory over OSU.

Oklahoma officials are optimistic DGB will be immediately eligible. If so, watch out. This Sooners offense just became explosive.

Tight Ends

Oklahoma hasn't made much more than blocking dummies out of the tight end position the past few years.

Since James Hanna left in 2011, the tight end position has basically vanished from the Oklahoma offense.

You can blame H-back Trey Millard for some of that because of his versatility blocking, running and catching the ball.

However, this year the big news is former quarterback Blake Bell's switch to tight end. At 6' 6" and 259 pounds, Bell brings prototypical size and speed to the position. Don't be surprised if Bell starts the season because Coach Stoops loves his leadership and work-ethic not to mention his nose for the end zone.

Regardless of Bell's move, incoming tight ends Tyler McNamara and Connor Knight, fraternal brother of quarterback Trevor, both have good size and hands and Juco transfer Isaac Ijalana has also turned heads. Also, Dimitri Flowers has the size and speed to take some snaps at tight end, as well.

So, look for a new wrinkle with Bell emerging as a favorite target of Trevor Knight to keep defenses honest. Also, look for a tight end reverse play-action pass also thrown in for good measure.


A deep, experienced and talented offensive line will go a long way to giving Trevor Knight time to jell with a new receiver corps while the young running backs learn their ways in big-time college football.

Knight's health is a major issue based upon his performance in 2013. However, both Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen appear talented enough to make adequate backups, if necessary. This issue becomes moot if Baker Mayfield succeeds in gaining immediate eligibility if cleared by the NCAA.

This unit has a chance to be very special. However, add Dorial Green-Beckham and Joe Mixon to this group and watch out.

Special Teams

Special Teams have been a hallmark of Head Coach Bob Stoops teams especially because he has personally overseen the unit many years under his tutelage. However, he hired his first Special Teams Coordinator last year in Jay Boulware, who did an outstanding job with three special teams touchdowns in 2013.

Returning kicker Senior Michael Hunnicutt returns and is on virtually all watch lists as one of the top kickers in the country. He hit 88.9% of his field goals in 2013 and also caught a touchdown pass from holder Grant Bothun in last years Bedlam victory.

Senior Jed Barnett returns at punter where he booted 65 punts for a 47.1 average in 2013.

Senior Nick Hodgson boomed 43 kickoffs for touchbacks last year and set a career high with a 65.7 kickoff average  in the Sugar Bowl and returns.

Key return men Brennan Clay and Ray Finch anchored the return game the past few years but have graduated so Bob Stoops will look for a new look to set-up the Sooners offense with good field position where they were 4th in the Big 12 last year with a 25.6 yard return average. Expect two of the freshman running backs to make an immediate impact in this area but don't be surprised if projected starters Keith Ford and Alex Ross open up on August 30. Stoops has a stubborn history of utilizing his starters on special teams.

The only weakness in this bunch is the loss of starter Austin Woods to graduation. Finding a deep snapper who can jell with the existing unit will help ease this loss.

So What Does It Mean?

With 9 returning starters on defense, a solid and deep offensive line, Sugar Bowl MVP quarterback Trevor Knight returning and a whole host of talented newcomers, Bob Stoops has reason to be bullish on this team.

However, as we have seen in previous seasons, injuries, suspensions and expulsions have doomed the Sooners. Career-ending injuries to seniors Corey Nelson and Trey Millard stained an otherwise stellar season in 2013 and combined with untimely injuries to center Gabe Ikard, receiver Sterling Shepard and quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, some would say cost the Sooners an undefeated season.

But you can't count on injuries and the off-the-field stuff to continue to haunt Oklahoma.

The Sooners have finished #1 in the Big 12 in 3 of the past 5 years and have 8 overall championships, 5 more than the next closest team. And, they have been ranked #1 in the nation in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 101 times since the AP began keeping track in 1936--more than any other team.

Bob Stoops has been close but never this talented and deep since his championship run in 2008. And, his Sooners have played in four National Championship games the past 14 seasons.

If his players stay healthy and eligible, this will be his fifth appearance in the National Championship game and second title.

The Sooners have had 14 undefeated seasons including four National Championship seasons in 1955, 1956, 1974 and 2000.

I have a sense they will add season number 15 in 2014.

Prediction: 13-0. Big 12 Champions. National Champions.