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A closer look at Oklahomaâ€™s 2006 Schedule
Sooner Spectator breaks down the 2006 schedule:
The Sooners open at home against a Conference USA opponent they have never faced, coached by former Sooner assistant Watson Brown. During the spring, Brown took every flavor but vanilla out of the offense, announcing a switch to an eat-up-the-clock, ball-control offense. The reason: the Blazers donâ€™t have a legitimate quarterback. The only player with experience at the position is Chris Williams, who has 93 career passes. All but three of those came in the latter half of the 2003 season when starter Darrell Hackney (now a free agent with Cleveland) went down with a thumb injury. The Blazers werenâ€™t bad by any means last season, losing six games by a combined 32 points, with their largest margin of loss being a 9-point decision to Southern Mississippi. But without Hackney thereâ€™s no punch to the Blazersâ€™ offense, which should mean a big â€” albeit short day â€” for Oklahomaâ€™s starters on both sides of the ball. Watch for UAB defensive end Larry McSwain, who is on the 2006 Lott Trophy Watch List, but he won't have much help.
Itâ€™s been 22 years since the Sooners last faced off against their Week Two opponent, the Washington Huskies. That meeting, the lone previous meeting between the two, resulted in a 28-17 OU loss. The Pac-10 Huskies, however, are coming off a 2-9 season from a year ago that featured wins against Arizona and Idaho. Washington graduated leading rusher James Sims, but still maintains a solid stable of backs. Fifth-year senior Kenny James is the school leader in career rushing yards and returns after a shoulder injury limited his 2005 season. Behind him are Louis Rankin and J.R. Hasty. C.J. Wallace, a senior safety from Sacramento, Calif., ranked 11th in the Pac-10 with 7.8 tackles per game last season and is listed among the nationâ€™s best at the position this year. Senior QB Isaiah Stanback will likely give the OU defense a good early test. Stanback threw for 2,136 yards last year â€” nearly 200 yards a game â€” and the track star can tuck and run in when need be. Coach Tyrone Willingham will undoubtedly throw in a few wrinkles to make the Sooners work a little harder in the second week of the season.
The Ducks are now 0-6 all-time against Oklahoma and if that isnâ€™t motivation enough, they need only revisit their last game in last yearâ€™s Holiday Bowl to relive their last loss to the Sooners. Motivated or not, the angry Ducks will have to contend with an OU defense that is bigger, stronger and faster, a healthy Adrian Peterson and an improving Paul Thompson. An overall more seasoned Sooner lineup should also factor into the rematch. Meanwhile, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti made it a point this spring to beef up an inconsistent ground game from last season. The passing game was the teamâ€™s bread and butter, averaging 304 yards a game, but the starting QB is still an unknown with Brady Leaf and Dennis Dixon vying for the starting job. The game will be in Eugene, marking the Soonersâ€™ first ever trip to Duck Territory. With the annual Red River Showdown just two games away, the Sooners must stay focused and avoid looking too far ahead.
Middle Tennessee State
This could be the biggest mismatch of the entire season, but the Sooners canâ€™t afford to coast. With a bye week looming, Bob Stoopsâ€™ squad will need to work out any lingering early-season kinks and get in a solid tune-up. Fans will no doubt be happy with the outcome and theyâ€™ll get a chance to see some of the teamâ€™s younger talent on display by the fourth quarter. MTSU senior QB Clint Marks threw for more than 2,000 yards last season and the Blue Raiders offense did get a shot in the arm in May when coach Rick Stockstill reinstated sophomore wideout Bobby Williams, who hauled in 22 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman. He sat out spring ball for a violation of team rules. Running back Eugene Gross, who was tabbed by The Sporting News as the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year, rushed for more than 700 yards last season and scored 13 touchdowns. The best news for the Blue Raiders, who finished 4-7 in last season, comes in the form of a fat paycheck theyâ€™ll cash for making the trip.
Texas at Dallas
Rested and ready, the Sooners should ride into Dallas with a perfect 4-0 mark, primed to reclaim dominance in one of college footballâ€™s greatest rivalries. Texas winning a fourth national title didnâ€™t irk the Sooners as much as the 45-12 tattooing they received at the hands of Mack Brownâ€™s Longhorns last October. If the â€™Horns are looking to repeat, theyâ€™ll have to make it past an OU squad anxious for redemption. Texas still holds a commanding 56-39-5 series lead, but that hasnâ€™t meant much since Bob Stoopsâ€™ arrival. The Sooners own a 5-2 edge since 1999. No Vince Young means Texas must replace its most potent rusher and leading passer. That is a mighty tall order. RB Jamaal Charles could be one of the biggest surprises in the conference this season after healing up from ankle problems. OUâ€™s aggressive defense should give Texas fits in front of another packed Cotton Bowl audience, while Adrian Peterson and the rest of the OU offense poke holes in the â€™Hornsâ€™ defense.
The Cyclones are coming off a 7-5 season, fueled by quarterback Bret Meyer, who threw for 2,876 yards in 2005. Todd Blythe accounted for 1,000 of those yards and scored nine times, and he remains Meyerâ€™s favorite target. ISU will likely start five seniors up front, but thereâ€™s no running game to speak of. They finished 96th nationally in rushing last year, so the Cyclones will have to come up with something special to get past Oklahomaâ€™s secondary and stonewall what promises to be an all-day blitz. The offseason was not kind to Dan McCarneyâ€™s squad. He had to oust co-leader in tackles Matt Robertson over the summer, after the middle linebacker tested positive for an NCAA-banned substance. Three other players were also suspended during the offseason for team conduct violations. The defense will likely be patchwork, trying to make up for the loss of 13 letterwinners. The Sooners should have their way with the visitors, as Paul Thompson and company rack up major yardage.
The Buffs hit Norman for homecoming, although the Sooners just hosted Iowa State a week earlier. Last season, Colorado looked good right up until the second week of November when the wheels began to fall off. Backing into the Big 12 Championship on the heels of two straight blowouts, Colorado was dismantled at the hands of eventual national champion Texas and finished the year on a four-game skid. New coach Dan Hawkins has installed a new offense designed to kick the Buffsâ€™ scoring into high gear. Brian White and Bernard Jackson are locked in a struggle for the starting quarterback job. The Buffs are a little thin up front, so whoever gets the job will be learning on his feet. OU is 38-16-2 all time against Colorado and the last meeting was a 42-3 blowout victory in the 2004 Big 12 title game. As long as Adrian Peterson is healthy and on top of his game, there shouldnâ€™t be any reason the Sooners donâ€™t score 40 this time around.
Much like Texas and Vince Young, the Tigers are still reeling from the graduation of Brad Smith, their do-everything quarterback. Smith set 69 different MU, Big 12 and NCAA game, season and career records during his four years at Missouri. Chase Daniel, Chase Patton and Brandon Coleman are all vying for the QB job and coach Gary Pinkel will try to continue the momentum ignited by two bowl appearances in the last three seasons. Seventeen starters from last seasonâ€™s Independence Bowl team return, including their top four tailbacks and four starters up front. That should bode well for MUâ€™s ground attack. Two of the Tigersâ€™ top three receivers also return to give Pinkel a largely veteran squad. Senior defensive end Brian Smith anchors the defense, which returns its entire front and is expected to be one of the conferenceâ€™s top pass rushers. This game promises to be a good midseason test for the Sooners, if Missouri can figure out how to score points.
At Texas A&M
The last two games in the series have been close, but fans in College Station still remember the 77-0 slobberknocking the Sooners delivered in Norman in 2003. A&M finished the 2005 season 5-6 and Coach Dennis Franchione lost a little of his luster among the Aggie faithful with ugly losses to Iowa State, Colorado and Texas Tech. Even more embarrassing may have been a 16-13 overtime win at home over Baylor. The Aggies closed the season on a four-game slide, with one of those being a 36-30 loss to Bob Stoopsâ€™ troops. Defensively, the Aggies promise to be talented. Senior LB Justin Warren enters his fourth season as a starter. As a junior, Warren led the Big 12 with 9.5 tackles per game. Defensive tackle Red Bryant will also require some special attention from the Sooner front men. The former freshman All-American has a knack for getting into a teamâ€™s backfield. Seven starters return on offense with sophomore QB Stephen McGee expected to lead the squad. Senior back Courtney Lewis is a solid conference back and four returners on the line will aid the Aggie ground game.
The Red Raiders turned heads with a 9-3 season a year ago, but can Tech continue that success in 2006? The receiving corps of Joel Filani and Danny Amendola is always dangerous, as is any Mike Leach-coached quarterback, who presumably will put up the same Playstation-type numbers as did former Tech QBs Cody Hodges, Sunny Cumbie and B.J. Symons. In this case, that will probably be sophomore Graham Harrell. Throw in a few wrinkles from Leach and this game could be a challenge for the Sooners. Oklahomaâ€™s secondary will more than likely be tested and itâ€™s linebacking corps will probably be forced to drop back into pass protection to try and clog some of those passing lanes. Without graduated Taurean Henderson, who surpassed the NCAA career mark for receptions last season, the Raiders will be looking for a replacement who can effectively slip out of the backfield as Henderson did. The Red Raiders beat the Sooners via a controversial finish last season in Lubbock. That will no doubt serve as added motivation for the Sooners.
The Sooners close the regular season with two straight road trips, and if they havenâ€™t scored enough points to turn BCS pollstersâ€™ heads, then this is the time to pour it on. Then again, this isnâ€™t your fatherâ€™s Baylor squad. The Bears have talent and, if youâ€™ll remember, the Sooners were fortunate to survive with an overtime win against coach Guy Morrissâ€™ team last season. Taking the seven-time national champs to a pair of extra periods alone is enough to give the Bears a shot of confidence heading into this one. Senior quarterback Shawn Bell looked confident in the spring running a new spread offense and fifteen different Bears caught passes in the spring tilt. Baylorâ€™s attack promises to be more varied this year. The Bears, by no means, have the personnel to match the Sooners, but this is not necessarily the cakewalk it once was.
At Oklahoma State
This rivalry tends to make even the most confident Sooner fan just a little nervous â€” whether they admit it or not. National championship game hopes likely still hang in the balance and even if the Cowboys are mired in another miserable season, they can still throw a monkey wrench into the whole postseason scenario. Boone Pickens had the best arm on the team last year, using it to throw cash at OSUâ€™s facilities, followed by Al Pena and Bobby Reid. The latter duo returns this year to duke it out under center, with Reid tabbed as the heir apparent. Donâ€™t be surprised to see a tandem approach, depending on how badly the Pokes are winning or losing. Coach Mike Gundy has got to get results this year and beating the Sooners could save a horrible season and possibly the young coachâ€™s job if things look bad down the stretch. However, a couple early touchdowns from Peterson and it could turn into a long day for the Pokes. Still, if Reid can hook up with Dâ€™Juan Woods to keep things close, then the Sooners could have a dogfight on their hands.