The Oklahoma Sooners will enter 2013 spring football without the weight of national title pressure that they have faced for the past three years. The departure of quarterback Landry Jones is a big part of that, as the Sooner offense is expected to take a step back without the signal caller.
Oklahoma ended last year's Big 12 schedule on a roll, winning its last eight league games after falling to Kansas State in the conference opener. That loss would eventually decide their BCS fate, as the Wildcats earned the tiebreaker in the standings by virtue of the head-to-head match-up.
A trip to the Cotton Bowl ended in a 41-13 loss to former conference foe Texas A&M. Most schools would be happy with 10 wins and a trip to one of college football's most prestigious bowls, but the Sooners expected a bit more out of 2012.
The Sooners enjoyed a 63-21 beatdown of the rival Texas Longhorns in the Red River Shootout, but the two teams are likely to be much closer in the 2013 season. While the Sooners are losing some key players to graduation and the NFL, the Longhorns were young and expect to improve. The two teams will likely both be ranked in the teens for the opener.
Kansas State is like Oklahoma, in that both have to deal with the loss of a playmaking quarterback. The Wildcats are likely to hurt worse. If the Sooners can weather the storm of their own new quarterback and stay ahead of Texas, they could very well be worse in 2013 but have a more satisfying overall season result.
That starts with spring football. New quarterbacks will have to get comfortable with receivers, and new defenders will have to adjust to their roles. The Sooners will play with a few less expectations, but should be motivated to know they can take advantage of a weaker top of the conference.
Spring practice start date: March 9.
Spring game date, location: April 13 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, OK.
Approximate returning starters: Oklahoma is expected to return seven starters on offense and four on defense. Three of those returners were all-conference performers in 2012, including fullback/tight end Trey Millard, center Gabe Ikard, and cornerback Aaron Colvin.
Running quarterback Blake Bell has the biggest shoes to fill, as he is the leader so far to step in for departing four-year starter Landry Jones.
Biggest addition: Oklahoma didn't have any early enrollees this year, but they do have a number of talented players coming off of redshirt seasons in 2012. Running back Alex Ross and wide receiver Derrick Woods were both four-star recruits who have had an extra year of practice. Arizona transfer defensive back Cortez Johnson is eligible to play.
Ross is a big back who enrolled early, so he will be going through his second round of spring ball. Oklahoma blog Crimson and Cream Machine believes Woods might be better off as a safety, but the school still lists him at wideout.
Biggest loss: Oklahoma has relied heavily on the arm of Jones for the past four seasons. The quarterback took nearly every snap for the past four years, and carried a Sooners offense that relies heavily on the passing game. Finding a replacement from a bevy of inexperienced talent will be the biggest task in the spring for Bob Stoops.
New coaches? Oh yes.
New schemes? Both coordinators return, but will the Sooners drop back to pass 59 percent of the time again if they replace a four-year starter with a quarterback who's thrown 20 times in his career? That doesn't seem likely. Expect OU to call a few more running plays in 2013. They are deep at running back, and matching Jones' efficiency will be tough for the newcomer.
Of course, if Bob Stoops was able to land the front-flip kid from the commercial, all bets are off.