2013 Oklahoma football's 10 things to know: A pretty good rut is still a rut

"I think it's time to make some changes..." - Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of advanced stats, Oklahoma has ranked in the top 10 for six consecutive seasons. So why is Bob Stoops so feisty this offseason? And what the hell happened to the Sooners' defensive line? For more OU, visit SB Nation's Crimson and Cream Machine.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. When consistency isn't enough

From the standpoint of the F/+ ratings, Oklahoma's last four years have been absurdly consistent. In 2009, following the record-setting offensive performance of the previous season, the Sooners lost Sam Bradford and fell apart (relatively speaking) offensively, but they put the best defense in the country onto the field and finished ninth in F/+ with a plus-27.3 percent rating. In 2010, they were plus-28.4 percent and eighth. In 2011, they were plus-27.7 percent and eighth. In 2012, they were plus-27.0 percent and eighth.

The F/+ Progression chart below looks like a flatline -- a high flatline, but a flatline. The offense and defense have seen plenty of ups and downs in the process, and close-game record has dictated overall success (OU went 1-4 in one-possession games in 2009 and finished 8-5, went 6-0 in such games and finished 12-2 in 2010, and went 10-3 in each of the last two seasons), but the overall product has been almost exactly the same: very good, never quite elite, and prone to random breakdowns.

The Sooners haven't been involved in the national title race late in November for four seasons now, suffering demoralizing losses to former minions away from Norman (Oklahoma State 44, Oklahoma 10 in 2011; Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13 in 2012) and showing actual mortality at home. They lost one game in Norman from November 2001 to October 2011, but have lost three since. Playing consistently well doesn't really cut it in Norman, and Bob Stoops knows it.

2. Bob Stoops has been busy ... and feisty

It's been a loud offseason for Bob Stoops. The Oklahoma head coach has shot his mouth off on everything from paying college football players, to Playoff selection, to SEC dominance (or lack thereof), to the unfair BCS, to paying players again. In the process, he has also anonymously(ish) helped Moore tornado victims, had his house burglarized, and flipped over a good portion of his assistant coaching staff.

I love Feisty Bob. I have disagreed with a vast majority of his public statements this offseason, but I think it has belied a general sense of insecurity, frustration, and defiance from the 52-year-old. The best Bob Stoops is the Disrespected Bob Stoops, and he seems to be finding his fire again ... or at least trying.

Fire or no, the staff changes will have the biggest direct impact on the field. Stoops brought in West Virginia's Bill Bedenbaugh as his new offensive line coach, Auburn's Jay Boulware as his new tight ends and special teams coach, and, perhaps most importantly, Michigan's Jerry Montgomery as his new defensive line coach. Combine that with two moves from last year (Mike Stoops returning as defensive coordinator and Tim Kish coming on as linebackers coach), and Stoops has turned over more than half of his primary assistants in about 18 months.

He's searching; he's not happy with eighth. But will the changes take hold? Will the angry, explosive Sooners of a few years ago make a return to Owen Field?

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 8
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep at UTEP 24-7 W 24.9 - 10.4 W
8-Sep Florida A&M 69-13 W 39.9 - 20.2 W
22-Sep Kansas State 19-24 L 32.1 - 22.3 W
6-Oct at Texas Tech 41-20 W 32.3 - 16.7 W
13-Oct vs. Texas 63-21 W 41.8 - 16.3 W
20-Oct Kansas 52-7 W 34.1 - 17.9 W
27-Oct Notre Dame 13-30 L 33.0 - 25.2 W
3-Nov at Iowa State 35-20 W 41.4 - 21.8 W
10-Nov Baylor 42-34 W 30.8 - 17.4 W
17-Nov at West Virginia 50-49 W 37.9 - 38.8 L
24-Nov Oklahoma State 51-48 W 39.0 - 23.6 W
1-Dec at TCU 24-17 W 38.6 - 24.0 W
4-Jan vs. Texas A&M 13-41 L 20.8 - 35.0 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 40.3 9 24.2 40
Adj. Points Per Game 34.5 16 22.2 16

3. The defense gave out

An early, them's-the-breaks loss to Kansas State (one in which the Sooners lost a fumble at their own goal line, which resulted in a fumble recovery touchdown, and lost a fumble at Kansas State's goal line) prevented Oklahoma from playing a direct, early role in the national title race. But through the first two months of the season, this was still a tremendous team. The Sooners whipped Texas, won at Texas Tech for the first time since 2003 (seriously), held off Baylor, and entered mid-November a borderline top-five team despite another loss to Notre Dame.

But after holding Baylor to just 5.0 yards per play, the defense ran out of gas.

Adj. Points per game (first 9 games): Oklahoma 34.5, Opponent 18.7 (plus-15.8)
Adj. Points per game (last 4 games): Oklahoma 34.1, Opponent 30.4 (plus-3.7)

The wins continued -- by one point over West Virginia, three over Oklahoma State, and seven over TCU -- but Mike Stoops couldn't figure out the right recipe for stopping WVU's Tavon Austin, and after gathering themselves against OSU and TCU, the Sooners were crushed in just about every conceivable way by Texas A&M, which averaged 9.6 yards per play on the way to 633 total yards.

The primary culprit behind the defense's demise: a feckless line. But we'll get to that in a bit.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 12 24 16 33
RUSHING 61 53 28 63
PASSING 5 28 13 33
Standard Downs 43 18 54
Passing Downs 7 9 8
Redzone 15 31 7
Q1 Rk 44 1st Down Rk 48
Q2 Rk 12 2nd Down Rk 5
Q3 Rk 13 3rd Down Rk 4
Q4 Rk 17

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Landry Jones 367 555 4,267 66.1% 30 11 12 2.1% 7.3
Blake Bell 6'6, 263 Jr. **** (5.9) 9 16 107 56.3% 0 0 2 11.1% 5.2
Kendal Thompson 6'1, 191 So. *** (5.7)






Trevor Knight 6'1, 202 RSFr. **** (5.8)






Cody Thomas 6'5, 220 Fr. **** (5.9)






4. The creative juices flow

The Oklahoma offense shows more confidence in its quarterback than almost any in the sport. There is no bailing them out, no draw plays on passing downs. With both Sam Bradford and Landry Jones, Oklahoma had a 50-50 run-pass split on standard downs and was almost all-pass on passing downs. Risk the sack or the pick in the name of going for the first down.

And it's an approach that worked well under Jones; the Sooners' offense in 2012 got better as the game and down markers progressed compensating for a lack of standard-downs big plays with a top-10 passing-downs offense.

That approach could change drastically in 2013. Or it might not change at all. We have no idea. If junior Blake Bell is able to hold onto the first-string job at quarterback, play-caller Josh Heupel will be dialing up schemes and tactics for the Belldozer, the enormous Wichita product who has spent most of the last two years as a short-yardage back. Granted, he's been one of the best short-yardage backs in the country, but he's attempted 104 rushes to just 20 passes in two years, and he's only completed 10 of those passes for 115 yards and an interception. We have no idea what he will do when the entire offense is handed to him, because we haven't seen it. And we don't yet know for sure that he will even be the starter.

Oklahoma hasn't had a true dual-threat quarterback in charge since the version of Jason White that had healthy knees. (And before you say Paul Thompson was in 2006, look at his career rushing line. He was not.) It is a foreign concept. Among potential top-10 teams this year, the makeup and personality of Oklahoma's offense is one of the most exciting, mysterious story lines.

Whatever Oklahoma tries to do on offense this year, however, it would benefit from an improved offensive line. The quick OU passing game resulted in a nice sack rate as always, but the run blocking was sorely lacking. It kept defenders out of the backfield for the most part but didn't give the potentially explosive Damien Williams nearly enough opportunities in the open field.

Blake Bell. Matthew Emmons, US Presswire.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Damien Williams RB 5'11, 214 Sr. *** (5.6) 159 906 5.7 9.0 11 +13.8
Brennan Clay RB 5'11, 197 Sr. **** (5.9) 83 511 6.2 4.4 6 +10.8
Blake Bell QB 6'6, 263 Jr. **** (5.9) 56 204 3.6 6.9 11 -3.7
Dominique Whaley RB 39 243 6.2 3.8 1 +3.3
Trey Millard FB 6'2, 259 Sr. **** (5.8) 29 170 5.9 3.8 0 +2.5
Roy Finch WR 5'7, 167 Sr. **** (5.9) 7 62 8.9 5.1 1 +2.2
Alex Ross RB 6'1, 218 RSFr. **** (5.8)





Keith Ford RB 5'11, 195 Fr. **** (6.0)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kenny Stills WR 123 82 959 66.7% 7.8 22.4% 58.5% 7.7 120.2
Justin Brown WR 117 72 870 61.5% 7.4 21.4% 59.8% 7.5 109.1
Jalen Saunders WR 5'9, 160 Sr. *** (5.5) 76 62 829 81.6% 10.9 13.9% 71.1% 11.5 103.9
Jaz Reynolds (2011) WR 6'2, 198 Sr. *** (5.6) 65 41 715 63.1% 11.0 11.9% 58.5% N/A N/A
Sterling Shepard WR 5'10, 188 So. **** (5.8) 62 45 621 72.6% 10.0 11.3% 54.8% 9.8 77.8
Damien Williams RB 5'11, 214 Sr. *** (5.6) 41 34 319 82.9% 7.8 7.5% 46.3% 7.3 40.0
Trey Millard FB 6'2, 259 Sr. **** (5.8) 38 30 337 78.9% 8.9 6.9% 73.7% 8.0 42.2
Trey Metoyer WR 6'1, 184 So. ***** (6.1) 29 17 148 58.6% 5.1 5.3% 69.0% 5.0 18.6
Brennan Clay RB 5'11, 197 Sr. **** (5.9) 27 15 100 55.6% 3.7 4.9% 48.1% 3.8 12.5
Durron Neal WR 5'11, 201 So. **** (5.9) 12 5 75 41.7% 6.3 2.2% 41.7% 7.1 9.4
Brannon Green TE 6'2, 264 Sr. *** (5.6) 7 3 45 42.9% 6.4 1.3% 42.9% 6.3 5.6
Dominique Whaley RB 7 4 14 57.1% 2.0 1.3% 71.4% 3.2 1.8
Lacoltan Bester WR 6'3, 208 Sr. *** (5.6) 5 3 29 60.0% 5.8 0.9% 40.0% 5.5 3.6
Roy Finch WR 5'7, 167 Sr. **** (5.9) 3 2 6 66.7% 2.0 0.5% 100.0% 1.2 0.8
Taylor McNamara TE 6'5, 253 RSFr. **** (5.8)








Derrick Woods WR 6'1, 186 RSFr. **** (5.8)








5. Welcome back (maybe), Jaz Reynolds

College football was a bit less maddening and confusing with you gone.

The best news of 2013 for Oklahoma might be this: Jaz Reynolds is probably back, and OU doesn't have to count on him for much. The senior-to-be was the most frustrating player in college football in 2011, capable of making the difficult look easy, doing it again, then disappearing the moment you begin to count on him. He was suspended for the 2012 season, and his return could ease the pain of losing two steady, if limited, top receivers in Kenny Stills and Justin Brown.

But this receiving corps belongs to the jittery, explosive Jalen Saunders; the Fresno State transfer lived up to expectations once deemed eligible four games into the season. He and Sterling Shepard, who saw 25 of his 45 catches in the last six games, give OU some reliability. Throw in occasional doses of Trey Millard (the most under-utilized player in college football) and perhaps sophomore Trey Metoyer, along with maybe a little bit more of a threat from the tight end position, and you've got yourself a decent receiving corps whether or not Reynolds comes to play.

Jalen Saunders. Justin K. Allen, Getty.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 92.6 2.67 3.37 38.8% 68.9% 17.1% 310.7 1.0% 2.5%
Rank 102 98 50 67 58 31 6 2 11
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Gabe Ikard C 6'3, 298 Sr. *** (5.7) 37 career starts; 2012 1st All-Big 12
Lane Johnson LT 23 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big 12
Tyler Evans RG 6'5, 305 Sr. *** (5.6) 29 career starts
Adam Shead LG 6'4, 311 Jr. *** (5.7) 18 career starts
Bronson Irwin RG 6'5, 310 Sr. **** (5.8) 13 career starts
Daryl Williams RT 6'6, 315 Jr. **** (5.8) 11 career starts
Tyrus Thompson RT 6'5, 316 Jr. **** (5.8) 5 career starts
Ty Darlington C 6'3, 282 So. **** (5.8) 1 career start
Austin Woods LG 6'4, 310 Sr. **** (5.8)
Nila Kasitati LG 6'4, 309 So. *** (5.7)
Derek Farniok RT 6'9, 324 So. *** (5.6)
Josiah St. John LT 6'6, 305 Jr. *** (5.7)
Dionte Savage OL 6'5, 345 Jr. ** (5.2)
Andrew Feo OL 6'4, 275 Jr. NR

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 65 14 8 16
RUSHING 94 58 24 84
PASSING 29 2 2 5
Standard Downs 16 10 19
Passing Downs 18 8 25
Redzone 18 20 16
Q1 Rk 4 1st Down Rk 8
Q2 Rk 7 2nd Down Rk 13
Q3 Rk 26 3rd Down Rk 55
Q4 Rk 57


Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.2 3.28 3.64 36.2% 80.0% 15.6% 103.7 4.7% 5.1%
Rank 107 109 103 34 120 106 56 62 89
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chuka Ndulue DE 6'3, 262 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 34.0 4.8% 6 5 0 0 1 0
R.J. Washington DE 13 26.0 3.7% 3 1.5 0 1 1 0
Jamarkus McFarland DT 13 22.0 3.1% 6 3 1 0 0 0
David King DE 13 19.0 2.7% 2 2.5 0 1 0 0
Casey Walker DT 11 18.5 2.6% 3 0 0 1 0 1
Stacy McGee DT 6 10.0 1.4% 2.5 1 0 0 0 0
Jordan Phillips DT 6'6, 324 So. **** (5.9) 11 9.0 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rashod Favors DE 6'1, 262 Jr. *** (5.6) 9 7.0 1.0% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Geneo Grissom DE 6'4, 254 Jr. **** (5.8) 12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Onuoha DE 6'5, 235 So. *** (5.7) 4 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charles Tapper DE 6'4, 253 So. *** (5.7) 5 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Torrea Peterson DT 6'3, 280 Jr. *** (5.7)

Jordan Wade DT 6'4, 290 RSFr. **** (5.8)

Quincy Russell DT 6'3, 311 Jr. *** (5.7)

D.J. Ward DE 6'3, 245 Fr. **** (5.9)

Kerrick Huggins DT 6'4, 283 Fr. **** (5.9)

6. The most passive OU line in memory

107th in Adj. Line Yards. 120th in Power Success Rate. 109th in Standard Downs line yards per carry. 106th in Stuff Rate. And only 89th in Passing Downs Sack Rate.

Are we sure Oklahoma even had a defensive line last year? Do we have any proof? The line barely made an impact in the stat sheet, and the line stats above suggest that this was one of the worse BCS defensive lines in the country. Oklahoma!

In 2011, Sooner ends Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander combined for 32 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 15 passes defensed, and four forced fumbles. And that was with Lewis missing three games. When you lose players of that caliber, there is never any guarantee that their replacements will be as good, no matter how well you've recruited. But … damn. Oklahoma still had former five-star end R.J. Washington and four-star players like David King, Geneo Grissom, and Marquis Anderson. And this was still OU, home of Gerald McCoy and pre-injury Auston English and so many dominant recent linemen.

Last year's entire line combined for 24 tackles for loss, 75 percent of Lewis' and Alexander's total. It barely got to the passer, it never batted down a pass, it never forced or fell on a fumble.

That five of the top (well, "top") Sooner linemen are gone could be cause for alarm, simply because they were the best of a relatively sorry bunch, but they did not exactly leave behind mammoth production. This was a good time for a new line coach to come in and press some new buttons; there is still upside here, obviously -- Chuka Ndulue was the one reliable pass rusher and is back, and there are still some former four-star recruits in the mix for playing time -- but any improvement up front might be matched by regression in the back seven.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tom Wort MLB 13 40.0 5.7% 5.5 2 0 1 2 0
Corey Nelson OLB 6'1, 215 Sr. **** (5.8) 13 35.0 5.0% 3.5 1 0 2 0 0
Frank Shannon MLB 6'1, 230 So. *** (5.7) 12 31.0 4.4% 3.5 2 0 0 0 1
Aaron Franklin OLB 6'1, 217 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 17.5 2.5% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Jaydan Bird MLB 13 14.0 2.0% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Striker LB 6'0, 198 So. **** (5.8) 13 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
P.L. Lindley MLB 6'2, 249 So. *** (5.6) 7 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joseph Ibiloye OLB 13 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tony Jefferson FS 13 102.0 14.4% 3.5 0.5 2 3 0 0
Javon Harris SS 13 72.0 10.2% 2.5 0 6 5 0 0
Aaron Colvin CB 6'0, 181 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 54.0 7.6% 2.5 2 4 11 0 0
Demontre Hurst CB 13 53.0 7.5% 1 1 0 9 0 1
Gabe Lynn NB 6'0, 199 Sr. **** (6.0) 13 33.0 4.7% 2.5 0 0 3 0 0
Julian Wilson FS 6'2, 191 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 27.0 3.8% 2 0 0 5 0 0
Lamar Harris CB 13 15.5 2.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jesse Paulsen FS 13 14.0 2.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cortez Johnson
(2011 Arizona)
CB 6'2, 198 So. *** (5.5) 8 13.0 2.0% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Kass Everett NB 5'10, 180 Sr. *** (5.7) 11 5.0 0.7% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Quentin Hayes (2011) FS 6'0, 181 Jr. *** (5.7) 8 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zack Sanchez CB 5'11, 170 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Stanvon Taylor CB 5'11, 165 Fr. **** (5.8)

Hatari Byrd SS 6'1, 190 Fr. **** (5.8)
L.J. Moore DB 6'1, 170 Fr. **** (5.8)

Ahmad Thomas SS 6'1, 199 Fr. *** (5.7)

7. Rebuilding an outstanding secondary

Oklahoma's pass rush was mediocre at best, but the Sooners still ranked second in Passing S&P+. That should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the OU secondary. The Sooners may have not had an answer for Tavon Austin or Johnny Manziel, but they accounted mostly well for mortal athletes with their nearly permanent 4-2-5 attack.

But playing five defensive backs works a lot better when you have five defensive backs. Only four returning Sooners got any playing time last year, and Mike Stoops will be relying on newbies (and oldies) to maintain form in the back. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson, 2011 reserve Quentin Hayes (like Reynolds, suspended for the 2012 season), and a bunch of freshmen will comprise a good portion of the rotation.

I'm confident enough in Aaron Colvin at this point to figure that Oklahoma's secondary will at least be alright. The Sooners will have a corner capable of battling Big 12 No. 1 receivers, even if they play freshmen at safety. And in Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson, they do have a couple more pieces with experience. But wow, is this unit green.

Aaron Colvin. Matthew Emmons, US Presswire.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tress Way 53 44.2 8 13 22 66.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Patrick O'Hara 58 63.0 27 46.6%
Mike Hunnicutt 6'1, 169 Jr. 30 62.0 8 26.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Mike Hunnicutt 6'1, 169 Jr. 57-59 15-17 88.2% 2-4 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Brennan Clay KR 5'11, 197 Sr. 20 25.4 0
Roy Finch KR 5'7, 167 Sr. 12 31.0 1
Justin Brown PR 22 13.6 1
Jalen Saunders PR 5'9, 160 Sr. 5 17.6 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 34
Net Punting 28
Net Kickoffs 32
Touchback Pct 55
Field Goal Pct 23
Kick Returns Avg 7
Punt Returns Avg 9

8. One hell of a return game

Jalen Saunders is terrifying with the ball in his hands; that should translate quite well to the punt return game. Throw in Brennan Clay and Roy Finch on kick returns, and you've got a lovely field position boost on every return. But the Sooners also benefited from some lovely punting and coverage in 2012, and now they have to replace both punter Tress Way and kickoffs guy Patrick O'Hara.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug UL-Monroe 86
7-Sep West Virginia 41
14-Sep Tulsa 56
28-Sep at Notre Dame 8
5-Oct TCU 16
12-Oct vs. Texas 11
19-Oct at Kansas 104
26-Oct Texas Tech 42
9-Nov at Baylor 36
16-Nov Iowa State 76
23-Nov at Kansas State 40
7-Dec at Oklahoma State 6
Five-Year F/+ Rk 3
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 11
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -5.6
TO Luck/Game 0.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (7, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin** -4.1

9. I just have no idea

Desperation can often prompt solid changes, especially when you've got some pretty talented pieces involved. The thought of an insecure, angry Bob Stoops bringing in new coaches and shooting from the hip in interviews actually intrigues me, as does the thought of OU using a dual-threat quarterback for the first time in a decade. I can sign onto OU's offense, and I'm not as worried about the Sooner secondary as I probably should be.

But that defensive line. Man oh man, that defensive line. For years, I talked myself into the Sooner defense because of the line, now I'm talking myself out of it. It was damn impressive that Mike Stoops and OU were able to field not only a competent defense, but (for most of the season) an actually good one for most of last season, considering the push it was not getting up front. This time around, with an inexperienced secondary perhaps less capable of bailing it out, the line simply has to come through. And I don't trust that it will.

Teams this strangely consistent aren't supposed to be complete wildcards, but here we are. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from a team that finishes eighth in the country basically every year. The Sooners are capable of winning any game on their schedule, even the trips to Notre Dame, Baylor, and Oklahoma State; they won't win them all, but the trick will be stealing at least one of those three and avoiding potential landmines against the ULMs, WVUs, and Texas Techs of the world. We should probably just assume OU will win 10 games again -- that's happened 11 of the last 13 seasons -- but the capacity for something worse is certainly there this time around.

10. Big 12 balance of power

At the end of each set of conference previews, I present what I see as the conference balance of power for the coming season. This has nothing to do with schedules or likely finish -- only a list of best-to-worst as the teams stand today.

Tier 1
1. Texas
2. TCU
3. Oklahoma State
4. Oklahoma
5. Baylor

Tier 2
6. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech

Tier 3
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State

Tier 4
10. Kansas

To me, Baylor's a little closer to Tier 2 than the other Tier 1'ers, but I love that half the conference has a legitimate shot at the Big 12 title. Unless Texas really gets rolling, this conference probably won't have a national title contender, but it should have some high-stakes, high-enjoyability games in every week of conference play. Can't wait.

More from SB Nation:

This year’s FUNNEST games for each conference

What happened to those 15 players who left Penn State football last year?

Preseason All-America team led by Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel

Bill Connelly’s Big 12 preview countdown almost done

National recruiting coverage

Today’s college football news headlines

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