Sooners poised for another title run

Wednesday, August 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma has the kind of defense and schedule that have folks buzzing about the prospects for an eighth national title.

Those questions about quarterback? So what.

The Sooners (11-2 in 2001) lost two All-Americans on defense in safety Roy Williams and linebacker Rocky Calmus, but the coaches expect a bigger, faster and deeper unit than the one that was among the best in the country.

Oklahoma, ranked second in the preseason poll, figures to be unbeaten and virtually untested when it plays Texas in the Cotton Bowl on the second weekend of October. The Sooners play Colorado later, but that game is in Norman, and they travel to Texas A&M, but that's about it for tough games.

``We've got a chance, but we're not much on all this preseason stuff,'' said coach Bob Stoops, 31-7 in three seasons. ``We understand we've never been, and no one is, appointed a national champion. You have to go earn it.''

Oklahoma found that out two years ago when it went 13-0, and again last year when it lost any chance to repeat by losing at home to Oklahoma State in the final regular-season game.

Oklahoma netted zero rushing yards that day and saw Nate Hybl throw three interceptions. Since then, the Sooners have hired a new run game coordinator and they're expected to have a new quarterback.

Jason White won the job from Hybl midway through last season, but hurt his knee soon after and was done for the year.

White is faster and more mobile than Hybl, has a strong arm and showed promising poise when he got his chance a year ago.

He came off the bench against Texas after Hybl was shaken up and helped lead the Sooners to a victory in as difficult a setting as there is in the country. He revived the offense a week later against Kansas, again in relief, then started the following two weeks against Baylor and Nebraska. He went down against the Cornhuskers.

``Jason will do fine,'' said teammate Michael Thompson. ``He's shown everybody he's got all the intangibles you need _ he can scramble, he's smart, he's up here studying tape, he's got tape at home, he can throw. He'll have no problems doing it.''

Stoops is banking on the running game being able to take some of the pressure off his quarterback.

New assistant coach Kevin Wilson, who enjoyed success at Northwestern, has tweaked the alignment to provide less one-on-one blocking. The Sooners also have changed some of their protections. They hope to throw the ball deep more often and not rely so much on the swing passes that were a staple under former offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.

``Our guys were playing a little more at ease and with a little more confidence and purpose through the spring, and I think that will carry over,'' Stoops said.

If the offense can occassionally find the end zone, the defense should be able to do the rest.

Led by tackle Tommie Harris, an All-Big 12 player as a freshman last year, the front four figures to be among the best in the country _ and, Stoops said, could be among the best in school history.

``We'll see if they're tough and aggressive enough to get it done,'' he said. ``I believe we've got a good chance, though, to be pretty special.''

Replacing Calmus and Williams won't be easy, but Oklahoma has so much depth, particularly in the secondary, that co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops isn't sure how he can use them all. Eight players in the secondary have started at least one game.

Mike Stoops said the Sooners are faster across the board than any of the defenses he's had in his three years at Oklahoma.

``Obviously, we want to get as many good athletes on the field as we can, and that's what this defense is all about _ speed,'' he said. ``We've just got to find the best combination for us.''

The combination of a strong defense, representative offense and favorable schedule should have Oklahoma in the hunt for another piece of hardware.