August 28, 2012

Big 12 preview: Weakness is hard to find with Oklahoma Sooners

The Oklahoma Sooners come into 2012 bearing the same lofty expectations as they seem to always have at the beginning of football season.

The Oklahoma Sooners come into 2012 bearing the same lofty expectations as they seem to always have at the beginning of football season.

For the second consecutive year, they are favored to win the Big 12 championship, and most of that is because of returning quarterback Landry Jones.

In 2011, Jones passed for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns, but he was slowed when leading receiver Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury.

This year, junior receiver Kenny Stills looks to step in where Broyles left off by taking over as Jones' No. 1 target. He will also be helped by Justin Brown, a senior receiver who recently transferred from Penn State.

"I think chemistry takes repetitions and time," Jones said. "Ryan and I had that because we played together for so long, and now Kenny and I are getting it because we're working together every day. It comes with time, but we're getting there."

At first glance, the offense doesn't present any major weaknesses, which likely makes Sooners fans sleep well at night. On the other side of the ball, there is more of the same. The defense seems extremely solid.

Coach Bob Stoops' brother, Mike, who coached at Arizona last season, was hired as co-defensive coordinator in the off-season and will have plenty to work with.

"Our track record working together has been pretty positive," Bob Stoops said. "I trust his judgment, so it wasn't a hard decision."

The defense returns eight starters, including 2011 All-Big 12 cornerback Demontre Hurst, as well as preseason All-Big 12 selections defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and safety Tony Jefferson, whom most ballots also had listed as the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.

With such a strong defense on paper, Oklahoma will look to make that reflect on the field.

"Our defense the last couple of years hasn't been what we've been used to in my earlier years," Stoops said. "We don't feel we've played as well as we should be."

The Sooners' defense will be handed a tough task this season by facing some of the top offenses in the nation. Not only will the usual suspects -- Kansas State, Texas Tech and rivals Texas and Oklahoma State -- be on the list, but West Virginia and TCU also join the conference. They will also host Notre Dame on Oct. 27 as a nonconference opponent.

"Our league is every bit as strong as it ever has been," Stoops said. "When you add Notre Dame in with the rest of our league's schedule... I know it has the attention of our players and it will be exciting to work through."

With the usual pressure of being picked as one of the top teams in their conference, the Sooners are set on fixing what went wrong in 2011 when the conference title was theirs for the taking, until they were overpowered by Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Rivalry.

This season, Stoops said, will be different.

"Each year is different and you have new problems every year," he said. "I think you just kind of have to think of it as what you want to do, how you want to do it, and then going out and do it."

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