For me, this is the game that has been circled from the moment the schedule dropped this spring. Oklahoma is the bluest of blue blooded programs, top 10 in all time winning percentage, top 10 in total wins, top 10 in National Titles won, seven of them as the official football website so humbly reminds you. So for UC, a program which is still trying to develop an of legitimacy nationally, the Oklahoma game is a huge opportunity, particularly coming off the Sugar Bowl beat down at the hands of Tim Tebow and company. This is the return leg of a home and home. I would stop well short of declaring that UC needs to win this game at all costs, but Oklahoma presents a unique declaratory opportunity, the kind that comes along once a season, if at all.
The Oklahoma offense is obviously talented. By common consensus each of their position groups on offense is among the strongest in the country. Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and Demarco Murray comprise one of the best sets of triplets in the country. Last year the offense was a bit of a mixed bag. Broyles brought it with a great deal of consistency (and was really good at outrunning punters), Murray battled injury problems as he has for most of his career while Jones perfected the art bombing on the hapless defenses on the schedule while looking like the red shirt freshman he was against the good. That epitaph could defiantly be applied to that offense as a whole.
And that was certainly not unexpected. The offense in 2009 was unlikely to reach the transcendent heights of the 2008 group that smashed school, conference and national records and finished a respectable 2nd behind 2005 USC in the race for best offense of the decade. Once Jermaine Gresham went down in the pre-season and Sam Bradford was knocked out, effectively for the season, against BYU just 2 quarters into it the Sooners had to reboot. They did, and they were more or less successful in their attempt behind Landry Jones and his patchy goatee. They should be better this year compared to last, but they won't be able to hang 40 at will on people like they were in 2008.
Oklahoma was pretty nasty on defense last year when they were the unquestioned strength of the team. They posted top ten finishes in scoring, rush and total defense. Things fell off a bit in the secondary, they only manged to be 20th nationally in passing defense. Looking beyond the obvious metrics the same story holds true, top ten in sacks, pass efficiency D, 3rd down defense, and top 20 in takeaways. They were very good on defense last year, but the attrition was very harsh on them. Upfront they lost Gerald McCoy, and Auston English in the line backing core they are without Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton and Dominique Franks in the secondary.
All that being said, this is a talented defense, just inexperienced. There are some very, very dangerous weapons at the disposal of Brent Venables. Chief among them is Jeremy Beal who might well be the Dr. Manhattan of Big 12 defensive ends this year taking over the post vacated by Sergio Kindle and Brian Orakpo before him. Beal is the only player in OU history to record multiple 3 sack games in a season. Considering how many great defensive linemen have worn the Crimson and Cream over time that is a big statement. Beal isn't it though Travis Lewis is still in Norman. Bearcat fans might recall Lewis as "That guy who couldn't be blocked" in 2008. Though to be honest, there were several "That guy who couldn't be blocked"s the last time UC played Oklahoma. If there is an area where UC has a distinct advantage against this defense it is in the secondary. The Sooners are christening two brand new starters at the corners and given the depth of the UC receiving unit that should be an advantage. In totality Oklahoma has the potential to be a very disruptive force. In all likelihood, given the depth of talent on hand, and the always excellent coaching they will be one of the top defenses in the country at the end of the year. I just don't think that they will get it all to come together in time for the UC game.
What to Expect
If this was soccer I would be calling for a draw in this game. I think that these two teams are pretty evenly matched. Both have some very bright spots (offense) that over shadow legitimate questions (defense) surrounding the teams heading into the year. In all honesty this is one of the only games where my expectation going into it isn't a win. I think that UC has a great chance to knock off the Sooners because of their questions on defense, the back end to be specific. But if I am forced to put a percentage on a Bearcats win it would be less than 50, not much less, but still, less.