It's never to early to talk football in Oklahoma! With spring practices wrapped up around the Big 12 Conference and the long summer ahead of us I thought we'd take one last shot at a conference roundtable discussion before taking a break until August. Who am I kidding? We can't go all the way until August without talking football.
Look for responses from some of our Big 12 brethren in the comments section and please feel free to answer the questions yourself in the comments section.
1. Who are some of the new faces that emerged in the spring who could be serious playmakers for your team this fall?
The defense dominated this spring and two of the biggest playmakers were cornerback Dominique Franks and defensive end Frank Alexander. They both snagged interceptions in the spring game and were consistently in on plays in every spring scrimmage.
Franks is a shoe-in to be OU's top cornerback this fall and has the skill (hands, speed, physical) to be a shutdown corner. Coach Stoops actually made the comment that Oklahoma's secondary could actually be better this fall even with the losses of Reggie Smith, Marcus Walker and DJ Wolfe.
What concerns me about Alexander is the depth at the defensive end position. Oklahoma doesn't just have bodies at that position they have quality depth so even with the way Oklahoma coaches rotate their defensive linemen it will be difficult for everyone to find playing time. That is an exciting problem to have!
2. What is your biggest concern following the spring?
I'm tempted to say the running game or receivers here but I think OU will fill the void left by Malcolm Kelly pretty well and the lack of a consistent running game in the spring was directly related to Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray sitting out nursing injuries. So I am satisfied that both of those positions will be just fine.
What I am concerned about are the linebackers. Ryan Reynolds is the lone returning linebacker and Mike Reed has left the team for personal reasons. There is no experience at that position for Oklahoma. There are some highly touted JUCO guys coming in (J.R. Bryant & Mike Balogun) but we didn't get to see them in the spring so the jury is still out on them. That position is very uncertain at this point and will be absolutely crucial to OU's success in 2008.
3. Any major changes (philosophy, coaching or personnel) that you are concerned about?
I am both excited and concerned about Oklahoma's move to a no-huddle offensive attack. I believe that the Sooners are going to be really good on offense this season and while I'm excited about the possibilities of more snaps leading to more yards and more points I'm also from the "If it isn't broke don't fix it!" mindset.
The wind was a beast during the Red/White game but it was interception city for Sooner quarterbacks. I'm not sure what all the factors were that went into that but I hope it wasn't the new offensive system. The change was an idea brought up by the defensive coaches and Bob Stoops said that if it didn't work in the spring they would scrap it.
4. Looking over the 2008 schedule which home and away game are you most concerned about?
The Sooners have several road trips to be concerned about this season. Traveling to Washington won't be a picnic nor will Manhattan or College Station. The road trip that scares me the most at this point is the trip to Stillwater. In recent years OU has struggled in the Bedlam game when on the road and O-State at least has the appearance of improving each year under Mike Gundy.
At home it will be the Texas Tech Red Raiders who worry me. They beat the Sooners last season in Lubbock and played OU tough the season before in Norman. The Red Raiders will be the most improved team in the South this season and could actually make a push to challenge for the south division championship. They'll have one of, if not the best, offenses in the conference and are supposed to be vastly improved on defense.
I did not include the Red River Rivalry in this because it isn't a true home or road game. It is, however, a pivotal game again this year in which the winner should be in the driver's seat for the conference championship.
5. Time for your way too early predictions (Yes, you can change them in August). Rank how you see your division finishing up this coming season.
Keep in mind that this is way early and I reserve the right to change it.
BIG 12 SOUTH
1. OU - With the entire offensive line returning along with Sam Bradford and the experience at the skill positions the Sooners should still be the class of the Big 12.
2. Texas - I really feel that Texas Tech will make a push but kinda like the North winning the conference championship I have to see it first.
3. Texas Tech - I hope I'm not setting these guys up for disappointment.
4. OSU - The Cowboys don't seem to have a lot of depth but if they remain healthy they could have the best season yet under Mike Gundy.
5. Texas A&M - Mike Sherman needs a little time to get things set up.
6. Baylor - Quick, help me think of something positive to say about the Bears.