Even though the talk during Stoops’ session with reporters will likely seem tame compared to what went down at last week’s SEC hype-fest in Alabama, it won’t be for lack of intrigue surrounding his team. In Stoops’ case, the bigger questions will probably be directed more towards issues on the field than off. (Thankfully.)
Count on plenty of well-rehearsed coachspeak from Stoops and little in the way of illumination. Still, even though it will prove to be an exercise in futility, here are 10 questions that have to be asked of OU’s head man:
1. Who is the real Landry Jones?
Jones’ Jekyll and Hyde season at quarterback in 2009 has been well documented. Jones looked like a world-beater in Norman and just plain beaten-down away from home. He did manage to carve up a porous Stanford defense in a season-ending bowl win, but that’s not really saying much.
2. What’s the status of Adrian Taylor?
If Taylor can’t recover from a nasty leg injury in the Sun Bowl, it will represent a major blow to the Sooners’ defensive line. Taylor was supposed to be a steadying force this season, replacing All-American Gerald McCoy as OU’s rock on the defensive interior. With him, OU’s D-line is one of the best in the country.
3. Who’s going to start in the secondary?
Last year’s first-team cornerbacks, Brian Jackson and Dominique Franks, have moved on to the big leagues, leaving a couple huge holes to fill in the secondary. Senior Quinton Carter is a given at one safety spot, as is sophomore Demontre Hurst at corner. While talk of moving standout utility man Jonathan Nelson to corner persists, early signs are that he’ll stay at safety. Meanwhile, Jamell Fleming appears to have the inside track for the other cornerback position.
4. Why can’t OU recruit a dependable kicker?
Field goal woes probably cost the Sooners one game in 2009 – Nebraska – and a miss against Texas definitely hurt OU’s chances. For one of the premier programs in college football during the last 10 years, OU’s recent problems at kicker are all the more befuddling. It’s so bad that Jimmy Stevens remains a viable candidate for the job.
5. What’s different about the offensive line at this point than at the same time last year?
After Stoops called out the big uglies in the preseason, OU’s O-line lived down to billing in ’09. While Sam Bradford crumpled in a heap – not once, but twice – may be the defining image of the line’s ineptitude, this group’s real shortcomings showed up in OU’s rushing numbers. The Sooners ran for 135 yards per game, down from an average of 200 in 2008. OU gained 3.6 yards per carry in ’09, a decline of more than a yard from the previous year. Stoops gave the offensive linemen pretty positive reviews in the spring. So, what has changed?
6. Is Tom Wort ready to contribute?
Coaches were raving about the British import’s hard-hitting play at linebacker in preseason practices last year before he blew out his knee. Longtime starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds has finally used up his eligibility, opening up the competition between four or five different players for the vacated spot. The latest depth chart lists Wort as the starter, signaling that the coaching staff believes he’s ready to go.
7. Who’s going to be the second option at wide receiver?
Norman native Ryan Broyles made the leap to stardom at wideout in ’09. The rest of the receivers? Eh, not so much. Broyles will draw plenty of attention from opposing defenses in 2010, so OU needs another pass catcher to step up if it hopes to see any improvement in the passing game.
8. Can Jermie Calhoun be counted on?
Running backs coach Cale Gundy clearly prefers a backfield rotation. We know that one spot will go to DeMarco Murray, who should see the lion’s share of the carries this year. The second spot, on the other hand, is still TBD. At this point, Calhoun, a touted recruit entering his third season in Norman, seems like the obvious choice, especially with Jonathan Miller coming off a knee injury. Calhoun has yet to step up and lock down the job, though, which is somewhat troubling.
9. Why has OU struggled so badly in tight games?
Of OU’s five games decided by a touchdown or less last season, the Sooners won just one. Early in Bob Stoops’ career at OU, his teams thrived in those spots. The four-point win against an undermanned Stanford squad in the Sun Bowl was promising. However, until the Sooners start pulling out the tight ones on the regular, it’s hard to keep the faith.
10. Does your team deserve to be the preseason favorite in the Big 12 South?
Despite Texas’ recent dominance of OU on the field and in the recruiting rankings, the voters in the Big 12 media have installed Stoops’ team as the favorite in the South this year. Texas certainly lost a lot off of last year’s team. Still, it’s tough to get past the idea that the Longhorns may have OU’s number.