Hey folks, I know you’re excited for the upcoming football season. I thought we’d kick things off in 2016 say answering some of your questions you’ve peppered my way.  I encourage your questions and the plan is to tackle a few each week throughout the season. You can tell it’s the offseason by the tone of some of these Questions and Answers. Everyone is optimistic in August. With everyone being undefeated you’ve got to be a real loser to be a pessimist before the first piglet is booted end-over-end on September 3rd in Houston or Stillwater, depending your religious preference. Here we go.

Question: Dean, this is Tammy from Waynette. Get it? My question is where in the Sam Hill is Ricky DeBerry. He’s a 5-star recruit. Does Ricky DeBerry exist?

Answer: First off, nice try. But it’s spelled Tammy Wynette. And if you’re impersonating her, we’ve got a story. A blood clot killed her 18 years ago – God rest her country-signin’ soul. And second, you misspelled the town Wanette as well. It’s in Pott County. And I’ll have you know I once raised money back in 1981 to drill an oil and gas well. Unfortunately it was what is called a dry hole — which is an oxymoron since it was anything but dry. Too bad there’s not a market for the salty water that gushed from that baby. So God rest that dry hole, as well. And the 25 (former) friends who wrote me a check to pay for it! Back to football. 

Now, on to your question about whether OU redshirt freshman outside linebacker Ricky DeBerry exists.  All I can say is I’ve never been in a conversation where an OU coach even brought up his name — without my prompting. In a season where his Jack LB position is wide open, the Mechanicsville, Virginia recruit appears to be behind both Obo and true freshman Mark Jackson. And I’d imagine this year’s 5-star Caleb Kelly, who was slowed by injury for about a week early in camp, would move into that position before DeBerry hit the field. But that’s a gut feel. Not inside info. Oklahoma’s not Alabama. The rare 5-stars they sign need to come through. Perhaps there’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches story in the making for DeBerry. But after a spring and couple of summers and fall workouts, I wouldn’t invest in that movie script. But hey,  maybe it’s just taking the 6-2, 240 pounder extra time to learn the system. And perhaps he’ll explode onto the scene this year or later. Certainly disappointing to date. But remember who OU beat to sign the fella who’ll be in No. 22 — Alabama and a lot of big boy programs.

Thanks Tammy. Keep in touch. Maybe we should all do to DeBerry what Tammy Wanette so famously sang in her best-selling single: “Stand By Your Man"

Question: Jody from Midwest City wants to know about the center position. What’s up with center Jonathon Alvarez and why have multiple coaches suggested his starting position is being challenged by journeyman Erick Wren?

Answer: I’m guessing it’s to light a little fire under Alvarez’ booty. That’s what it smells like to me. I’m sure Erick Wren is mighty nice lad. But not often do walk-ons emerge their senior seasons and earn a starting spot on a championship caliber team. Alvarez is a proven, quality offensive lineman who is a more physical than OU has had much of the time at center. He doesn’t understand defenses the way the braintrust of Gabe Ikard and Ty Darlington did during their reign — a tandem that couldn’t make a B in the classroom even if they tried. Straight As in their sleep.  They took classes most people can’t even pronounce. Much less pass. Those two cats were exceptional at knowing all positions along the OL and being a coach on the field. I digress. Alvarez is a good football player who can play center or guard. I believe the coaches are making personnel decisions and he’ll likely wind up as the snapper and not guard. Bobby Evans is a redshirt freshman offensive tackle (brother of new starting inside backer Tay Evans), who is pushing to start at right tackle. If Brown starts it would allow Dru Samia to slide down from tackle to guard. Samia is the 305-pounder from Sacramento who held his own last season earning a starting job as a true freshman on a team that won the Big 12 and made it to the Final 4. Bottom line: OU needs Jonathon Alvarez to be a stalwart day in day out and be the all-conference player he has the potential to become. There are two ways to stop this talented Oklahoma offense. One is to contain a receiving corps that must show it has a playmaker or two to make up for the loss of dynamo Sterling Shepard. Two is if the O-Line gets hurt, underperforms or doesn’t have two new starters step up and play to the level OU got last year from center Darlington and veteran guard Nila Kasitati. 

Question: Dick from Stigler wants to know, Dean, you get to ask Coach Stoops more questions than anyone in the media. Do you have any that you kind of chuckle because you know where he’ll go with his answer?

Answer: Of course. One example is every time he’s asked anything about the stadium renovation, he begins with explaining how he hopes the increased crowd noise could help make the home field advantage a bigger factor.  I believe Bob hides his disappointment that the fans aren’t as loud as he’d like them to be. He knows that a loud stadium can wreak havoc on an opposing offense with it’s communication and execution. And he knows his teams simply play with more energy with fans that are all in.

The other involves Mayfield and his health. Stoops always answers questions about whether he’s concerned his QB suffered two concussion-related injuries last season by saying one was a result of a cheap shot and the other when he made a tackle after throwing an interception. As if in tackle football that won’t happen again.  But Mayfield Baker plays a daredevil style that can’t be throttled back too much for fear of making him play like someone he isn’t. So he’ll take hits. And in tackle football cheap shots happen all the time. As do interceptions. Not to mention a thousand other ways a young man can become concussed between snap to whistle. My take on backup true freshman Austin Kendall is that he could probably execute well enough to beat about half the teams on the schedule. Maybe Mayfield is so good now that he can define that he’ll get concussed say in the fourth quarter of a win in Lubbock and be held out for the vs. KU and at Iowa State games. Other than that timeline, a Mayfield head-rattler would likely mean the end to a major championship season.

Question: Mr. Blevins, do you really think OU could be 1-4 leaving the State Fair of Texas or be good enough to run the table? And with that said, why do you always say this could be one of the most important seasons in the Stoops Era?

Answer: Is it possible, yes. Is it likely? No. Getting to 4-1 would be great. Five and O is asking too much. Anything less than 4-1 could doom championship hopes.  Houston is a dicey opener. Toughest opener in the Stoops eara. At 13-1, including a 2-TD win over talented Florida State in the Peach Bowl, they’re mentioned as a playoff longshot. They have a scary-good coach who’ll have his Cougs thinking they’re playing in the Super Bowl. The second-best duel threat QB in college football — always a major challenge for OU. Matched up with against a Sooner defense replacing four All-Big 12 players, including three linebackers who’ll be challenged down after down by a coach and QB who’ll know that stressing those guys is where a home run plays are most likely to attack. A road game, although not officially.  Soons are 9-point faves. I expect they’ll win by two TDs. Or go to the wire and possibly be stunned. Sixty-nine percent chance of winning. A win in week two, when they open the new-look stadium against ULM. Hopefully Bob Stoops will do one of the few things he’s not done very well in his tenure in Norman: Play the back-up QB a significant number of snaps. Then the Mighty Buckeyes come to town. All I know is since Urb has started getting his mail in Columbus, I’ve had OSU the No. 2 program in the country behind only Paul Finebaum’s gladiators. Resources, tradition, an expectation of winning. One of the top three college coaches in the last quarter century. A staff that at least rivals any in the country. The second-best squadron of recruited players, which means 5-stars backed up by 4 and 5-stars. A punch-you-in-the face tough mentality that is complimented by a Heisman-capable QB. Sets up sort of like the OU-Notre Dame game in 2012 where a good but over-hyped Oklahoma team playing at home was physically whipped and embarrassed before millions on national TV. 30-13 humbling. Sure, I can build a case where Baker Mayfield and OU will be better against the Bucks than that awful evening. But I’m just saying that the smart guys who set the line at 9.5 Oklahoma are absolutely nuts. Of course, unless they’re not. Next up, a week to rest up and prepare for a hungry, talented TCU team that OU will have to play in Fort Worth. Simply put, if the season plays to form, oddsmakers will have this as the toughest game of the season. Dog-friggin’-fight. End of story. Then Texas. Who knows where the two teams will be by then. So I’ll summarize by saying Texas has outplayed OU three straight seasons, won two of the three, and has better players in 2016 than the previous three. My math says anywhere from 4-1 to 1-4. Did I give myself enough wiggle room? And yes, OU could still win the Big 12 and make a playoff run with one loss after five games. But I’m saying this five game stretch to start 2016 is a bear. And what’s the saying about assuming? Assuming the Sooners will roll to 4-1 or 5-0 would be making an arse out of you, and me. 

Finally, why do I say this could be one of the most important seasons of the Stoops Era? Because they’ve recruited extraordinarily well. Rivals has their 2017 class ranked No. 3 nationally. A successful season means they’ll add tremendous talent to a roster that would have re-established itself as somewhere between really good and a notch below Alabama. Mayfield returns in 2017 and they would be in position for another run. Quarterback recruiting has gone especially well, spearheaded by one of the most impressive assistant coaches I’ve seen in 30 years of covering college football. Lincoln Riley is special. Of course, IF it’s a successful season, he’ll have schools knocking on his door again this offseason. But under this scenario, there’s little doubt Stoops would be able to carry on with the 24/7/365 momentum the program would have gained. 

Thanks for checking in. I welcome any questions and respectful comments. I have several OSU and Thunder questions that will be included in our next post. In the meantime, it’s been a horrible summer for watermelons. If you know where I could get about 30 for next month, please pass along your wisdom!