Expectations Running High for OU Next Season

Thursday, May 26th 2011, 12:09 pm
By: News On 6

Originally Published: Jan 13, 2011 10:47 AM CDT

Corey DeMoss
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer

NORMAN, Okla. – While the 2010 college football season has only been over for a few days, several media outlets have begun looking ahead to 2011. And many of them are expecting great things from the Oklahoma Sooners.

OU already was brimming with young talent, but the announcements that Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis both will return for their senior seasons guaranteed that the Sooners also will have important veteran leadership on both sides of the ball.

The Sooners’ rare combination of talent and experience has led several outlets to predict they will be given the preseason No. 1 ranking when next season begins. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Robert Smith each gave OU their top ranking, as did Rivals.com.

All three reports cited the OU’s lack of player turnover as the reason for their top ranking. the Sooners' only major loss on offense will be DeMarco Murray, but the they have a stable of young running backs – most notably Roy Finch and Brennan Clay – available to replace him.

The losses on defense could be more damaging. Starting safeties Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson both are graduating, as is defensive end Jeremy Beal. Beal and Carter have been the leaders of their respective units for years, and their backups are significantly less experienced.

Beal likely will be replaced by linebacker-turned-lineman Ronnell Lewis, who is one of the most athletic members of the defense and one of the Sooners’ hardest hitters. However, he has yet to prove he can be an every-down defensive end and maintain his energy level for 60 minutes.

Carter was the lynchpin of the secondary this season and acted as an on-field tutor for young cornerbacks Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst. Carter was a model of work ethic and one of the Sooners’ most respected players, but his leadership will not be as necessary next year as the experience in the rest of the secondary progresses.

Carter and Nelson likely will be replaced by Sam Proctor and Tony Jefferson. Proctor has been almost universally praised by the OU coaching staff since he arrived, but he has seen very little playing time. Jefferson showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman this season and is one of the defense’s most promising young players.

The Sooners also have an advantageous conference schedule, with their only tough road opponent being rival Oklahoma State in a Bedlam game that could determine the new Big 12’s champion. OU’s other major road test will come early in the season when it travels to face Florida State, a team ESPN and Rivals.com also ranked in the preseason Top 10.

The initial odds for the 2012 BCS Championship Game were released later Thursday, and OU was No. 1 at 7/2 odds. Alabama came in second at 15/2, with Florida State third at 10/1.