The Big 12 Conference is finally getting to know peace after two years of turmoil, with both farmers and flatlanders defecting for more humid, hostile pastures in exchange for Appalachian 'shine and bejeweled boots n twang.
Yet oddly, despite being a national title contender and ranked 4th in the preseason polls, the Big Red Propaganda Machine is in full swing, dropping pamphlets up and down the Red River, declaring early supremacy over all things Big 12 in one of the most wide races the conference has seen since ... 2011.
These paranoid pronouncements come without provocation. Stoops speaks, asshole happens. It's The Norman Way.
Sooner Nation has declared war not only its conference neighbors but modern society at large -- with evolution, dentistry, two parent families, slab foundations, varied topography, recorded deeds of trust, Texas blue-chip talent, anti-perspirants, inconvenient narcotics laws, physical limitations of the human body, and preseason hype.
You may not be aware of this threat to the virtuous game of college football because the Sooner Politik features a Hall of Fame roster of misinformation peddlers who stir the masses with a cheap musk of arrogance, a rally cry of backfiring two-stroke engines, and false promises of football immortality.
L to R: JOSEF SWITZER, MAO ZEDOOPS, KIM BOB IL, BRENT VIETNABLES, JERRY SCHMIDSTAPO
The Big Red Machine would have you believe that mounting suspensions and injuries across both offensive and defensive fronts have been a benevolent act by the football gods, letting the less capable make way for stronger, braver candidates to assume the positions, then winning them with superior STRENGTH and CONDITIONING. We already know it's not from genetics.
In reality, these offensive and defensive lines would make Andre Maginot weep. And Mark Mangino hungry for a silo of Belgian pomme frites.
But the word out of Norman is not one of concern. "We have a starting five we really like. In fact we wouldn't trade it for any other in the conference," said Bob Stoops recently while wearing a visor. One of our embedded interns revealed that starting five to actually feature two guards from the Oklahoma Federal Penitentiary in McAlester (affectionately called Big Mac), two tackles from the 1986 squad whom the compliance department discovered to have an unspent year of eligibility, and a center from Penn State who wasn't good enough to earn one of the Nittany Lions' 36 available roster spots.
So let's dive headfirst into the latest Sooner Sturm und Drang, acknowledge a few areas of strength, and decode how this 2012 Big Red Campaign will unfold.
Landry Jones returned to OU for his senior year to save his marriage. Seriously. Not to win a national title, a Heisman Trophy, or the Sooners' 8th Big 12 title in the last five years. Now that he's seen his current offensive line, a year in the CFL and divorce probably sounds good right now. It also makes you miss that lazy-eyed Chippewa, or whatever Indian blood Sam Bradford claimed 1/32nd of.
What makes the Sooner passing game tick is the ability to go up tempo, keep passing lanes clean, and make quick decisions before pressure arrives. Sooner wideouts typically run crisp routes, catch the ball in motion, and leave a receipt for six points if you miss a tackle. But once Ryan Broyles got hurt and Jones had to go through multiple progressions to find open guys, the offense started to churn like fried butter at the state fair ... which put more pressure on Brent Venables' predictable schemes with guys playing the wrong position. It all added up to a visor-tossing, fists-lodged-in-doublewide-vinyl 8-5 record, and a quick fall from grandiosity after starting the season ranked #1.
So why are the Sooners ranked so high again this year? PROPAGANDA! PUNDITRY!
Before all the injuries and suspensions, you could make an argument that the Sooner defense paired with Uncle Rico returning for his senior year added up to a theoretical top-5 ranking. It's this thinking that also keeps guys like Phil Steele employed.
The media looks at a guy who passed for more than 350 yards against 7 different teams last year, including Missouri (448 yards, 3 TDs), Texas (367 yards, 5 TDs) and Kansas State (505 yards, 5 TDs); and thinks "Who will ever stop the Luftwaffe?!"
By simply returning for his senior season, those numbers should be replicated, right?
Churchill knew better and you should too.
After decimating Texas and K. State in back-to-back weeks, the Sooners imploded, losing two of their last three games. Jones went an entire month without a touchdown pass. Even David Ash was impressed. Stoops blamed the rest of the offense for too many dropped passes. Going 16-25 for 150 yards in a winning effort over Iowa in the Insight.com Bowl didn't lend any further insight into what the hell had happened to Landry Jones.
So what has changed since last year to merit a 15 spot climb in the polls?
Broyles is gone. The OL has seen more shuffling than a Bellagio blackjack dealer. Penn State transfer Justin Brown and Kenny Stills are the only receivers starting the season who have ever played a down of college football.
At the wideout position, Texas super frosh Trey Metoyer will step in as the third guy and may not give up the job when Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks return from suspension for perpetual dipshittery. Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal are trying to get in the mix. Will one of them define his entire life by the touchdown he scores against Texas after never having caught a collegiate pass? Probably.
But this is Oklahoma, where players emerge from nowhere to win Big 12 crystal. Surely the cupboard can't be this bare.
Imagine if Trey Franks kept his track speed, didn't abuse marijuana, caught everything thrown at him, and had NFL level balance? That would be Fresno St. transfer Jalen Saunders.The question isn't whether OU will be able to make him academically eligible. The question is when. You should also be wondering how a guy who couldn't stay eligible at Fresno State can get into OU. (Nothing to see here, clearinghouse fraulein.) As a sophomore, Saunders averaged nearly 22 ypc for 12 TD / 1,000 yds.
Remember, Stoops went to the Snyder school of JUCO poaching. Your team isn't capable of finding these guys.
But at least they have an All-Conference Tight End returning, right? Or at least a functional blocking surface?
... Crosseyed stare ...
... Drool ...
DO WE HAVE A GODDAMN TIGHT END?!
Ummm, no coach.
Then MAKE me one, Schmidty.
The Sooners' TE woes actually makes Texas' situation look downright salty. Of the two guys they had with any experience, one went on medical scholarship and the other quit. That leaves JUCO enrollee Brannan Green as the designated blocking surface and true frosh Taylor McNamara at H-Back, or Schmidt's preferred term: Slot Penetrator. If those two can hold off 6'4 255 lb converted DE Geneo Grissom from turning into Jermaineo Gresham, they have a chance.
But they won't be running many passing routes if a patchwork Sooner OL can't keep Jones off his ass. We've already covered the first team OL.
Here is the second team.
A few weeks ago, Bob Stoops asked Kommissar Schmidt to pick any four cheerleaders that could bench press 80 pounds and would buy into his program. Uber-midget Vern Troyer looks to replace All-Conference Center Ben Habern, who disgraced Sooner Nation by citing future injury risk as a reason for quitting football. Within a week, Troyer grew 8 inches and the cheerleaders were all benching over 250 lbs. The fat kid either had an allergic reaction to steroids or didn't like the taste of his own urine and now repairs flats at Big Red Auto.
You probably won't see any of them in action because Sooners will only play five OL. Their depth needs are not like yours and mine. Two legs, two arms - you play. slow tempo, no tempo, up tempo. The UN-endorsed Gabe Ikard slides into center spot and should do just fine. Former Texan Adam Shead (he's an Okie now) will step up at guard and show his red ass whenever given the chance. He plays pissed off, earning winks and nods of approval from a trolling Barry Switzer during practice. Eye gouging and fingerbuggery can't be far away. Along with Habern, the Sooners lost another three-year starter in Tyler Evans to an ACL injury. This rash of injuries has to be embarrassing for a unit lauded for playing above and beyond pain, severed ligaments or not. As usual, Stoops disagrees...
"Tell us why this unit will be better with the loss of Habern and Evans, coach Stoops.."
"Bronson Irwin is the next great Sooner OL. We'll move forward with what we have, coach'em up better than your guys, and never look back. BOOMER SOONER"
"Don't you need five linemen to start the game?"
"Well technically, yeah you do but we'll convert a few Tight Ends if we need to."
"You don't have any of those either, sir. Coach. Sorry."
"Heupel - who the fuck is this guy and how did he get in this press conference?"
"His nametag says Bob Wheeler - Barking Carnival"
"Hey Bob, you're a disgrace to the name. Why don't you wheel on out here and I'll worry how we'll dominate the Big 12 this year just like we do every year. IT WILL HAPPEN. DO I LOOK LIKE A GUY THAT LACKS CONFIDENCE?"
"All I see is chins, sir --
"Schmidty - take care of him."
Thankfully our intern was able to send a recording of the interview from his phone before he was dipped in a vat of pig fat, lacquered in Goo Gone, coated in Magic Shell and dropshipped to the Texas State Fair as an exotic food offering.
Having a depleted, inexperienced offensive line can be offset by elite talent at Running Back. Unfortunately the Sooners don't have any. Dominique Whaley is the closest approximation - he blocks well, runs the screen game, and has breakaway speed. Unfortunately he gets injured while talking about injuries. He'll shoulder most of the load until he inevitably breaks it. Then he'll spend his offseason watching Inception before quitting football entirely. Vern Troyer's cousin Roy Finch has been moved to the slot, leaving former American Eagle Outfitter model Brennan Clay and incoming JUCO AA Damien Williams to back up Whaley. If Whaley stays healthy and Williams translates to this level, the OU run game should be sufficient. Either way, Demarco Murray and Adrian won't be impressed.
Bob Stoops will tell you all of that doesn't really matter because the Sooners also have human IED Trey Millard, who was considered for the role of Bane in Batman, narrowly losing out to Tom Hardy because he kept chewing through his metal facemask. Have fun tackling him, Big 12. This ain't your average fullback. I'm not sure there is an actual name for the position(s) he'll play but expect to see a lot of Millard plowing over would be tacklers.
The strength of this unit is easily in the secondary, where Tony Jefferson moves from Nickel back (queue up How You Remind Me, Sooners.) to Free Safety opposite Javon Harris. Gabe Lynn and Joe Ibiloye will alternate at nickel, with the former playing more on passing downs and Ibiloye coming in to stop the run (because he proved to anyone watching last year except Brent Venables that he can't cover). Along with Kenny Vaccaro, Jefferson is one of the best safeties in college football and is a legit conference POY candidate. He covers a lot of ground with a long, rangy frame but will deliver the knockout blow on any tentative routes across the slot. He'll be telling Javon Harris what to do a lot. Like a Millard, you want a Jefferson on your team.
The tandem of Demontre Hurst (offspring of an actual demon and a dude from Flower Mound named Tre) and
Jamell Fleming Aaron Colvin is either the best corner tandem in the Big 12 or right there with Texas' duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. Hurst and Fleming at least have seniority, which gives them pick of the litter come slumpbustin time. These guys have battled Broyles the last few years and now get to take on Kenny Stills and his shitty bleached fauxhawk fade.
Defending the Sooner air raid in practice over the last few years generally has these dudes ready for whatever will come on Saturdays. Last year, Fleming certainly came to play against Texas, notching 13 tackles, forcing a fumble and returning it 56 yards for a touchdown. Naturally, after the game, Stoops declared he was better than Derrick Strait and Andre Woolfolk combined. Let's hope we don't see a repeat performance from Colvin or Hurst.
Most of the secondary's miscues during OU's late season slide were schematic issues. Venables had been wrapping his wristband cheat sheets so tight, they were cutting off circulation to his brain, short-circuiting every play call to Deep Cover 2 on any down except fourth. RG3 and Weeden took the candy. Ash shit the bed. To beat OU you have to keep their safeties honest, working the soft zone with TE drags and seam routes, Jermichael Finley-style, or at least convert a few pump fakes. OU DBs are still Venablese creatures of habit after all and commonly display the brain power of a sunshine coast beach dingo. IBILOYE WANT SHRIMP ON BARBIE? COME HERE JOE JOE.
Another way to keep OU's safeties honest? Raise them in Texas.
The DL was also a strength until Stacy McGee was recently suspended for an arbitrary amount of games for failing an arbitrary school policy that is arbitrarily biased against synthetic marijuana use. Sorry if that was arbitrarily vague. In other words, he'll be back the week of the Texas/OU game and live in our backfield. DE David King slides inside next to Casey Walker, who mocks the training staff with the variety of ways he indulges the art of injury. Mike Stoops likes his two freshmen DEs Chuka Ndulue and Charlie Tapper, more out of necessity because they have to be good. He's like his brother that way. King will anchor the line with Senior DE R.J. Washington, who has one year left to deliver on his promise as a 5 star recruit, and three years to flame out of the NFL and knock up three different women.
This unit lacks the typical size and strength you're used to seeing in a Sooner DL. There's certainly no Tommie Harris, Demarcus Granger, or a five tool guy like Dusty Dvoracek. But in typical Stoopsian fashion, they're not worried "because they get to play Texas' OL". That's an actual quote recently spoken in private by an OU coach to a group of boosters. DICKS. But it's been true more years than not in the Texas/OU rivalry since Mack and Bob took over. Cue some tape of 2000 and 2003 if you're a masochist. Then finish off with 2005 and 2009 if you're into porn.
Another huge issue being conveniently swept behind the red iron curtain is the lingering injury issues in the core LB unit of Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Wort has been banged up since last year and while willing to play through the pain, as he is wort to do, Old Tom hasn't looked like the same guy that tore FSU a new asshole last year at the beginning of the season. Nelson may be injured more than they're letting on and if they can't get him back, Mike Stoops loses a lot of versatility in their zone schemes. If they had landed in-state stud Demarco Cobbs, that would have helped. He'll remind them why in two short months.
This D is also looking pretty light in the ass across the board, with linemen checking in anywhere from 250-295 and LBs in the 210-225 range. Dom Espinosa just flexed his guns. BOOM BOOM BABY.
But one thing you can guarantee in Dallas on the first Saturday of every October is that the Sooner defense will play its best game of the year before shitting the bed against a team like Tech a few weeks later, leaving Texas fans and national media to wonder why we couldn't similarly exploit those weaknesses. The answer is simple: they hate us more. They are defined by beating Texas. If you lived in Oklahoma, you would hate everything. Texas is just a convenient target.
Assuming they don't sustain any more suspensions or key injuries, those already hurt come back quickly, Vern Troyer doesn't get cast in a new Austin Powers movie, and the Brothers' Stoops can keep their substantial egos in alignment; this Sooner squad should contend for the Big 12 and BCS honors.
That's a best case scenario and despite the propaganda flowing from Norman, which has been bottle-fed to a willing and lazy media, OU will lose a few games this year for the 78 reasons mentioned above, one to a better team (Texas, KSU, WVU, OSU) and another to a lesser team that got to Landry Jones early by describing details of his wife's lower back tattoos.
Whether 10-2 will be enough for OU to hoist it's 18th conference trophy in 13 years is another question.
That's more propaganda math. Here's something that will never change.
(h/t ACE@BC and @nateheupel of Crimson and Cream Machine for the assistance on depth charts and military tactics)