Previewing The Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Schedule (Part 2 of 2)
NORMAN, Oklahoma -
If you missed part one of our preview, check it out here.
10/27 Notre Dame
The Sooners' marquee nonconference game in 2012 comes in the middle of the season at Owen Field. The two teams have only played each other once since the 1960s, and that was in South Bend in 1999, Bob Stoops' first year. Last season, Notre Dame was mediocre across the board. The Fighting Irish finished the season 8-5 and ranked between 24th and 54th in every offensive and defensive category. A big reason the Irish haven't been able to turn the corner yet is inconsistent quarterback play. Tommy Rees had the inside edge to the quarterback job until misdemeanor charges were brought against him in May for an incident at an off-campus party. Now, the position is anyone's guess, with Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson in the hunt for the starter's role. There is stability at all the skill positions, particularly running back, where Cierre Wood ran for 1,102 yards last season. Senior tight end Tyler Eifert is one of the best in the country, grabbing 63 passes a year ago. Defensively, the Irish are led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o. Three of four linebackers return from a year, as well as two starters up front on the defensive line. The secondary is a big question mark, with just one returning starter. Junior Lo Wood, who was being counted on to fill one of the cornerback positions, ruptured his Achilles tendon in fall practice and is out for the year, so Notre Dame desperately needs someone to step up there.
11/3 @ Iowa State
The Cyclones scored perhaps the biggest upset of the season last year, taking out No. 2 Oklahoma State in double overtime in Ames to allow a rematch of Alabama-LSU to take place for the national championship. This season, the Cyclones are looking to build on that upset and last season's bowl trip. At quarterback, head coach Paul Rhoads has named senior Steele Jantz the starter for the season. Jantz became nationally known when he led the Cyclones to a triple overtime win over Iowa at the beginning of the season. The Cyclones have a stable of running backs returning, after averaging 175 yards on the ground a year ago. James White and Jeff Woody should get most of the carries, but Shontrelle Johnson could be a big factor if he gets cleared to return from a neck injury. Jantz will have several talented receivers to throw to in Josh Lenz and Aaron Horne, and a solid offensive line to stand behind. The Cyclone offense could be sneaky good this season. The defense has two stalwarts at linebacker in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, but everywhere else is extremely lacking. The secondary has two returning starters, including Jacques Washington, who was third on the team in tackles from his safety position. On the line, just Jake McDonough returns, although coaches are high on sophomore end David Irving, and hope he can develop into a force on the outside.
The Sooners will be looking for revenge against the Bears this season after dropping their first game ever against Baylor last year. Baylor will be trying to maintain the success Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III brought to Waco in his time as the quarterback. Nick Florence will be the lucky one trying to fill Griffin's shoes this season. Florence has starting experience, having started much of 2009 when Griffin was out with an ACL injury. However, Florence doesn't have Griffin's arm strength and nothing close to his speed and running ability. However, he does have several talented receivers on the outside to throw to in Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese, and Lanear Sampson. Running back is a big question mark where three running backs, including Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk will be vying for the starting role to replace the departed Terrance Ganaway. Defensively, Baylor was awful last season, but returns seven starters, including the whole secondary. That may not be a good thing since the Bears gave up almost 300 yards through the air last season. Everyone will be a bit more experienced, and with a decent front line, the secondary should improve by default. If Baylor wants to come close to matching its 10-3 record from a year ago, the defense has to get better, and Florence has to prove he's a competent replacement for Griffin.
11/17 @ West Virginia
West Virginia may be the new kids on the block, but the Mountaineers get the biggest game in the Big 12 this year when the Sooners go to Morgantown. Everyone is excited for the Mountaineers to join the Big 12. After all, the last time anyone saw the Mountaineers play, they were putting up 70 points on Clemson in an Orange Bowl romp. The offense is going to be excellent once again, with quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey ready to join the ranks of the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12. Running back Dustin Garrison is back from an ACL injury suffered just days before the Orange Bowl, and should be the starter once again. The offensive line has three returning starters, but is particularly thin on the second unit, so an injury up front could be devastating. Defensively, the Mountaineers should be decent, but the loss of five starters, including pass rushing specialist Bruce Irvin. The Mountaineers will be switching from Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense into a 3-4 defense led by former OSU defensive coach Joe DeForest. The linebackers should be a solid unit, but the secondary is potentially a question mark. Only two starters return, and the rest of the unit is unproven. West Virginia will put up a lot of points, but their downfall in some games could be their inability to stop the opponent from putting up a lot of points.
11/24 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys come to Norman for the first time since 2009, when the Sooners dashed their BCS hopes with a 27-0 beat down, in which the Cowboys gained just 109 yards. After last year's shellacking in Stillwater, the Sooners are looking for revenge against the Cowboys (Quite the theme for the Sooners this year.). Offensively, the Cowboys have to replace quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Luckily, they have a stellar ground game in Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith to help true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt get adjusted to the speed of the college game. Lunt, an Illinois native enrolled at OSU in January and won the starting job by the end of spring practice. He'll have a couple of quality targets in Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson, as well as a veteran offensive line to stand behind. Defensively, the Cowboys were terrible statistically a year ago, but were +21 in turnover margin, best in the country. The biggest question on defense for OSU is the defensive line, where only two starters return and they aren't the best two from a year ago. The linebackers and secondary should be excellent, with the only loss from a year ago being strong safety Markelle Martin. The defense should be one of Oklahoma State's best ever, provided they can fill some holes up front. They can rely on the run game until Lunt develops more in the season. OSU won't duplicate last year's season, but the Cowboys will be potent once again.
12/1 @ TCU
The Sooners get the unfortunate privilege of playing both Big 12 newcomers on the road in front of jacked up crowds. The Horned Frogs should be very good offensively once again, returning quarterback Casey Pachall and three of their top four receivers a year ago. Running back Ed Wesley, one of three running backs who rushed for over 700 yards a year ago, left the team for family reasons after the spring, but Matthew Tucker and Waymon James both return to lead the rushing attack. The offensive line is thin, with just two starters returning. New players have to step up if the offense is going to have success moving the football this season. The defense last season was well below the usual standards of a TCU defense, and the loss of Tanner Brock and D.J. Yendrey in an offseason drug bust doesn't help matters. The Horned Frogs still have defensive end Stansly Maponga, a dominant force on the defensive line, to anchor things up front. The line as a whole should be solid, but the back half of the defense has a lot of holes and question marks. Only linebacker Kenny Cain and cornerback Jason Verrett return out of the back seven. If the Frogs hope to have a successful 2012 season, they'll have to rely on their offense until the defense can get situated.