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?
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.