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Ten Questions About The Sooners And The 2008 Season
Expectations for Oklahoma football in 2008 should be as high as they were since '04, the season Jason White got to play with Adrian Peterson and the Sooners ran roughshod to a 12-0 pre-Orange Bowl record.
Sam Bradford may not be as good as White, at least not yet. And DeMarco Murray may not be as gifted as Peterson â€” who is? But the support surrounding that duo runs deep, seemingly deeper than what surrounded OUâ€™s stars in â€™04. And the defense on next yearâ€™s team easily trumps Brent Venablesâ€™ crew from four years ago.
There are questions worth asking â€” we picked out 10 â€” but Bob Stoops typically comes up with answers. Emphatic ones. Assuming thatâ€™s the case between now and next September, 2008 should be a memorable one for Sooner fans still smarting from the Fiesta Bowl meltdown.
**How long before the Fiesta fades from memory?
The last time OU got whipped like that on a BCS stage was the 2005 Orange Bowl, and the Soonersâ€™ bounceback was slow. Breaking in freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar, they lost two of their first three in September of â€™05 and were stampeded by Vince Young and Texas the second Saturday of October.
Bradford, obviously, is no Bomar, just as Colt McCoy is no Young. And OU should be a decisive favorite in both its toughest nonconference game, at Washington Sept. 13, and its annual showdown with the Longhorns.
Still, Stoops seemed ready to do some soul-searching two mornings after West Virginia slapped his team around. His admission that perhaps he put too much emphasis on winning the Big 12 was startling enough.
It will be interesting to see if he and the Sooners high-step back out onto the practice field this spring, or march, or even drag their feet a bit.
**Any chance of a sophomore slump?
There were times Bradford played out of his 19-year-old mind early his freshman season. And if he wasnâ€™t as spectacular down the stretch, he might have been steadier as he grew up under center Jon Cooper.
Thatâ€™s a credit to quarterback coach Josh Heupel more than anyone else. And it will be Heupel who keys Bradfordâ€™s encore in â€™08.
Notoriously fickle OU fans will be ready to pounce if the sophomore doesnâ€™t light up Cincinnati for 300 yards and four touchdowns this coming Sept. 6. Theyâ€™ll remember what Stoops said about Bradfordâ€™s jittery Fiesta Bowl start, when the player the coach nicknamed â€śThe Big Easyâ€ť wasnâ€™t at all.
Expect Heupel to play the mental game with his young starting QB all offseason, and gear him to handle the fact that it will be hard to duplicate the astronomical numbers he posted as a freshman.
**How many times will Murray have the ball?
With Allen Patrick gone, there becomes a clear disparity between Murray and the rest of OUâ€™s running backs. Chris Brown should be used, particularly in short-yardage situations, and the Sooners like the elusiveness of sophomore Mossis Madu.
But no other OU back can do what Murray did last Oct. 6 in the Cotton Bowl â€” take a handoff, leap over tight end Joe Jon Finley and hit a higher gear along the sideline en route to a game-changing 65-yard touchdown run against Texas.
No other OU back is going to go 92 yards to the end zone as Murray did against Utah State. Or ad lib a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as Murray did against Baylor.
Provided his dislocated kneecap is back in place, Murray must hog the Soonersâ€™ ball-carrying. He may not be Peterson, but heâ€™s the closest thing OU has had since.
**How many times will Gresham have the ball?
He may not be Keith Jackson, but Gresham is a major weapon. And if he catches enough passes next fall, Jackson may end up being the closest thing the Sooners have had to Gresham.
The sophomore hulk prospered when opposing defenses started shading coverages to outside receivers Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias around midseason. He could rake in even more riches as a junior when he doesnâ€™t have to share tight end time with Finley.
If Iglesias can draw similar outside attention, Gresham might just become Bradfordâ€™s favorite target throughout â€™08 on his way to All-America contention.
**How do they replace Kelly?
Despite the fact Kelly opted to enter tne NFL draft, the Sooners will feature of the nationâ€™s most prolific passing attacks heading into next season.
Quentin Chaney served notice with a 129-yard Fiesta Bowl performance that after four inconsistent years, he is finally ready to realize his potential. If he doesnâ€™t, perhaps Adron Tennell, the sophomore designated the Kelly-in-waiting, will.
A stable of Iglesias, Gresham, Chaney, Tennell and Manuel Johnson will be hard to contain. Even without Kelly, the Sooners have the potential to be unstoppable.
**Will there be a mean streak?
For a second straight Fiesta Bowl, the Soonersâ€™ offensive line played soft. Which was a shame, considering how hard OUâ€™s muscle men got after Oklahoma State and Missouri in what became literal crunch time in the two games coming in.
Expect line coach James Patton and offensive coordinator/former line coach Kevin Wilson to drop the gauntlet all winter, spring and summer for a group that needs to be stronger and more consistent.
On paper, the unit returns intact, though Duke Robinson could turn pro. With mammoths the caliber of Phil Loadholt and Trent Williams, as well as technicians like Cooper and Brandon Walker returning, this should be the best offensive line in the nation next season.
Again, thatâ€™s on paper. The Sooners will want to see some action.
**Will DeMarcus Granger wise up?
The shoplifting stunt Granger pulled in Arizona ranks as one of the most selfish acts ever committed by any OU athlete at any time, game situation or not. After emerging as the Soonersâ€™ top inside force, he must essentially start over again, and prove himself to his coaches and teammates as if an incoming freshman for the next eight months.
Should he do so, Granger joins Gerald McCoy, Auston English and Jeremy Beal on OUâ€™s best front four since Tommie Harris-Dusty Dvoracek-Dan Cody-Jonathan Jackson.
**What about the back end?
This could be more of a problem.
Among the senior losses are Marcus Walker, OUâ€™s best cover cornerback, D.J. Wolfe, who had a terrific â€™07 season after moving to strong safety, All-Conference safety Reggie Smith and Darien Williams, who made 10 tackles after forced into a safety start in the Fiesta Bowl.
Nic Harris, who blossomed at free safety, is back, along with Lendy Holmes, who became OUâ€™s nickel safety when Harris shifted to full-time free.
The other defections leave Venables and secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright with a locker room full of underclassmen and absolutely no certainties.
**Who replaces Garrett Hartley?
Took the place-kicking job from Trey DiCarlo late in 2004 and never gave it up en route to 47 career field goals. It stands to reason that Heritage Hall redshirt Jimmy Stevens will be given first crack to take over.
Still, it also stands to reason the security blanket OU enjoyed the past three-plus seasons with Hartley has suddenly been yanked from the bed, and there will be plenty of anxiety until the Sooners are covered again.
Incoming freshman Tress Way will also challenge for kicking duties.
**Care to make a prediction?
The 2008 season will be OUâ€™s most fascinating in years. Tons of potential that will not be sorted out until draft announcements are made and spring practice allows some highly-touted underclassmen to further develop. Any way you slice it, the Sooners are going to have the potential to do some big things next fall.
(Eidtor's Note: This story appears in the January 2008 issue of Sooner Spectator. Subscribe today by calling toll free 1-877-841-8877)