What’s frustrating about rooting for a team that has championship potential is that so many things beyond a team’s control must be in it’s favor in order for the dream to be realized. The difference between a national championship and a non-BCS bowl can literally be a couple of tipped passes, funky ball bounces, or missed referee calls, even if a team plays up to its potential. Even if you have the best talent, a team must execute and have chemistry to reach that potential. A team’s schedule must also be favorable. I won’t even mention injuries. So, any given season could realistically have a wide gamut of end possibilities. There is usually more than one championship-caliber team, but only one is called BCS Champion.
Here’s my prognostication of how the Sooners could fare this season. I will assume that they have no season-ending injuries to key players.
The 2011 Sooners are Bob Stoops’ fifth national championship caliber team. Every individual unit of the team can rank in the Top 20 in the nation, even special teams. If there’s not proven elite starters coming back (wide receivers, quarterback), there are talented former backups with extreme upside (running backs, defensive backs). The upside must come relatively soon as the Sooner’s face a stiff test against the Florida St. Seminoles in week three. It is key that the running backs and offensive line are productive if the Sooners are going to get a tough win against a very hungry Seminole team and fanbase. The strength of the Sooner defense may not be after the loss of linebacker Travis Lewis. The defensive line and defensive backs must be solid early to offset the slight drop in linebacker strength. The Florida State game will be the first and biggest sign of what OU will become.
The next toughest tests come at the second half of the season against Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. As with every team visiting Owen Field in the Bob Stoops era, the Aggies will have a huge disadvantage at Owen Field. Additionally, revenge will be on the brain from the loss last year. The OSU game may very well be the de facto Big 12 Championship. The game is in Stillwater, which will make things tougher, but the Sooners own a big mental advantage in every Bedlam game.
The potential title game could bring a SEC beast in Alabama or a disciplined finesse team like Boise St., Oregon, or Stanford. Virginia Tech could also slide in.
Outcome: The Sooners will a victory in Tallahassee and their home field advantage will fortify a gelling squad that can cruise past Oklahoma State. The Sooners will be more talented than any team they meet in the title game besides Alabama. A Travis Lewis clamp-down defense and relentless running game opens up receivers that can give OU just enough offense to beat a Crimson Tide team with a rookie quarterback. Undefeated season and national championship.
The Sooners are just about over the road game hump. After hitting stride away from Norman last year, the pumped up Seminoles in Tallahassee just might derail the Sooners and force quarterback Landry Jones to make a single costly turnover. A porous offensive line and sputtering running game could make him force the ball where it doesn’t belong. A defense without Lewis’ leadership could also give up some big plays. A hot streak by Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. could also result in a loss or two.
A one-loss OU could also make the title game and be defeated once again by an SEC team with an amazing, athletic defense.
Outcome: The running game doesn’t produce a single 1,000-yard rusher and the early loss of Travis Lewis prevents the Sooners’ defense from truly getting on track. Tripping up in Tallahassee and a changing of the guard in the Big 12 could relegate OU to a consolation BCS bowl game against a team that won’t be as dispirited as the downtrodden Sooners. The Sooners lose to a less talented team. Final record of 10-3 record and a BCS bowl loss.