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Five Keys To The 2013 Season
It is obvious you are playing to a tough crowd when 10-win seasons are no longer accepted as highly successful, especially when 95 percent of the college football programs around the country would kill to be included on that elite list every year.
But monstrous expectations have long been the norm for Oklahoma, and it seems feeding that monster is becoming harder and harder where Bob Stoops and his charges are concerned. The Sooners have finished 10-3 the last two seasons and even shared the Big 12 crown last fall, only to hear rumblings about how the program has underachieved lately.
Well, things certainly don’t get any easier for OU in 2013 when the Sooners are slated play one of the top-5 toughest schedules in college football. Finding a way to put all of the pieces into place has been paramount for Stoops and his staff, as they look to replace a record-setting quarterback and reestablish a good measure of respectability on defense.
There are all sorts of keys for the Sooners if they expect to make a legitimate run for a Big 12 title and national title. Here are five that are near the top of the list:
1. Quarterback Steps Up
With Landry Jones lost to graduation, the Sooners have been focused on finding his replacement over the last eight months. Junior Blake Bell seems like the logical choice, having spent the last two seasons working in OU’s short-yardage and goal-line packages, and experiencing quite a lot of success doing so. In fact, Bell scored 24 touchdowns during that time and has proven himself to be a leader in key situations. While he has been pushed for the starting job by Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound Bell has continued to demonstrate solid composure and a knack for stepping up when the heat is on. While he is yet to prove his overall passing ability in game situations, Bell possesses a strong arm and a playmaking mentality that have landed him on several Heisman Trophy watch lists. He has the run-pass versatility to give the Sooners more of an option threat at QB, something they did not have with Jones, who almost never left the pocket. But the biggest elements Bell brings to the field are attitude and his leadership ability.
2. Offense Picking Up The Slack
There is no question the OU offense figures to be well ahead of the defense when the season kicks off on Aug. 31. There are a ton of full- or part-time starters back on the offensive side of the ball, including four linemen, three running backs and a handful of receivers. With Blake Bell capitalizing on his playing experience from the last two campaigns, the offense should not miss a beat as it rolls into the season with its up-tempo style. Its ability to put up points and put pressure on opposing offenses should help give the OU defense a little bit of time to find itself. Both Bob and Mike Stoops believe they have the players to make major improvements on defense, but patience is going to be a key. And of course, that is easier said than done.
3. Defensive Improvements
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has been on a mission since returning to lead the OU defense a season ago. After experiencing a 2012 season that tested everyone’s resolve, especially his, Stoops is confident that the Sooners are pointed in the right direction with a renewed hunger and focus. “In some areas, we’re a little disappointed in the way we ended (last season) defensively,” said Stoops. “That was frustrating in a lot of different areas — personnel, coaching, everything that kind of led to our collapse down the stretch. It’s something that we’re very conscious of. We want to make some adjustments in our style and our play — in everything we do. We want to a little more diverse in our looks and our approach.” So the Sooners will go into the 2013 season with a revamped defense that figures to be more aggressive with an overall tougher mentality. Defensive back and All-America candidate Aaron Colvin is someone his teammates can rally around, but ultimately, it will come down to individual players stepping up and making plays, forcing more turnovers and basically wreaking havoc on opponents for four quarters.
4. Beating Notre Dame
There are very few sore spots when it comes to the history of Oklahoma football and the standard of tradition and excellence it has established over the last century. But one team that has found a way to be a thorn in OU’s side by consistently beating the Sooners is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish improved their record against OU to 9-1 last season when they marched into Memorial Stadium and broke open a 13-13 game by scoring the final 17 points. It was another chapter in the ongoing frustration Oklahoma has experienced against their rival over the years. Notre Dame ended college football’s longest winning streak at 47 by knocking off OU 7-0 back in 1957 and it has won all five meetings between the two schools since. The revenge factor has to be at an all-time high as the Sooners head to South Bend for a Sept. 28 showdown. Provided OU has taken care of business over its first three games, this game could be a springboard to a possible national championship. Of course, the Irish will have title hopes of their own on the line and a hostile crowd primed to create a home-field advantage in front of a national television audience. After going 5-0 on the road last season, the Sooners’ first road trip of 2013 figures to be monumental in every way imaginable.
5. Finish Strong
Last season, the Sooners won their final five regular season games, despite surrendering more than 33 points a contest. That stretch included a 50-49 win at West Virginia and a 51-48 overtime victory against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State. After that, OU finished up with a 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. It goes without saying that Oklahoma must be playing its best football of the season as it approaches the home stretch of the schedule, which will include trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Sound offense, improved defense and the ability to ride some momentum into those battles will be critical to the Sooners’ success. That means taking care of business in October and early November against teams like Kansas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Iowa State — all games where the Sooners should be favored to win. But some of that will depend on OU’s early-on success against Notre Dame and Texas, two matchups that will go a long way toward determining where the Sooners stand as they approach the finish line and a bowl game. OU is 4-0 against K-State at Manhattan during the Stoops era and 5-2 vs. OSU at Stillwater. Finding a way to knock off both of those teams the final two weekends of the regular season will not be easy. But as history has shown, it certainly can be done. And with possible titles in their sights, the Sooners will have plenty of motivation to succeed.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the August 2013 Football Preview Issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 10877-841-8877)