To this point, the idea of Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders sporting the crimson and cream has remained a tantalizing hypothetical. Until today, that is, as the NCAA has cleared the slot receiver to participate this season.
Coming just days before Oklahoma's annual rivalry game against Texas, conspiracy theorists could have a field day with the timing of the news that the junior won't have to sit out the customary year required of transfers. (I have no clue what those conspiracies could possibly entail, but that's why such theorists exist.)
How can Saunders contribute, and how quickly? We'll get to that. First, however, take a moment to soak in his stats from the past two seasons.
Jalen Saunders, WR, Fresno State (2010-11)
Since OU lost ultra-productive receiver Ryan Broyles, the Sooners have tinkered with a number of alternatives in the slot with varying degrees of success. Kenny Stills' up-and-down contributions when placed there suggest he's better-suited to an outside position where he can stretch the field. Sterling Shepard has played well when called upon, but he's just a freshman. Roy Finch is… MIA.
In theory, Saunders solves the slot dilemma. His burst and ability to find holes in the defense fit the role naturally, and he has the speed and moves in the open field to pose a major threat to defenses on jet sweeps. Having the first-team All-WAC selection on the field enables Stills to do what he does best. Meanwhile, the offense won't have to rely so heavily on a rookie in Shepard.
Whether or not Saunders can get in gear fast enough to make a difference in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday is a complete mystery. Supposedly, he has participated on the scout team since the season started while in limbo with the Association. Preseason reports, however, had Saunders practicing as part of the receiver rotation, including reps with the first team.
Seeing as Emperor Stoops has forbidden the peasants from watching practice, Saunders could be the best thing to come out of Fresno since Dan Gladden. He could also be the equivalent of Trent Dilfer's combined shittiness as both a quarterback and a television analyst.
And maybe that fear of the unknown could work in OU's favor. Thanks to the NCAA's foot-dragging, Texas' coaching staff has two days to prepare for the possibility that Saunders could play Saturday afternoon. In a game where both sides are looking for an edge, such distractions never hurt.
Whatever the case may be this weekend, in the longer term, Saunders' presence should generate dividends for the Sooners in both this season and the next.