For the Oklahoma schools, the 2010 college football season came to a close last week. No need to stop talking football, however. It’s never too early to look ahead to 2011 and see what next season might have in store for the Sooners, Cowboys, and Golden Hurricane.
2010 was another banner year for Bob Stoops and the Sooners. OU will likely finish in the Top 10 when the final polls come out next week. With a 7th Big 12 title and those BCS demons finally exorcised, the Sooners will start 2011 as a favorite to play for the national championship.
UPSIDE – Ryan Broyles and Travis Lewis gave Sooner fans belated Christmas presents this week when both announced they will return to Norman for their senior seasons. Broyles is OU’s most reliable offensive weapon. This season he hauled in 131 passes for over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns. About his decision, Broyles said, “We’ve got a chance to be a very good team next season and I really want to be a part of that.
Lewis is the heart and soul of the Sooner defense. Although he’s rated as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country, Lewis is far from satisfied. “I’m coming back to win a national championship point blank,” Lewis said in an OU press release. “Anything else would be a disappointment.”
Along with Lewis, the Sooner secondary is young and cornerback could be an especially strong position for Brent Venables’ defense. Freshman Tony Jefferson and Sophomore Demontre Hurst more than proved themselves this season. The DB duo combined for 115 tackles, five interceptions, 18 pass break-ups, and three forced fumbles.
You could almost see Landry Jones gaining confidence with every passing game, but the Sooner signal-caller still has some maturing to do. Jones’ play can only be described as mostly good sprinkled with a dash of disaster. You can get away with interceptions for touchdowns against Connecticut; you can’t let it happen against an evenly matched opponent. Jones will be fine because he has plenty of help. It’s scary, but with Broyles and two sensational freshman wideouts in Kenny Stills and Trey Franks, the OU passing game could be even better next season.
Josh Heupel has already shown he can command an offense, and there are few coordinators in the country as sharp as Heupel. He’s won a national title as a player, and in 2011, the stars may just align for another championship.
DOWNSIDE – The biggest loss will be that of Demarco Murray. As one of the most complete back to ever put on a crimson jersey, Murray will be dearly missed for his versatility, his toughness, and his leadership. Roy Finch showed flashes of brilliance, but it will be a tall order to perform at Murray’s level.
Jimmy Stevens kicked beautifully down the stretch, but hasn’t proven he can be consistent over an entire season. That has to change. Kick coverage also has to improve dramatically. OU gave up four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. It’s those plays that can alter a game and potentially a season. It’s time for Stoops to hire a special teams coordinator.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS
Most so-called experts predicted this team near the bottom of the Big 12 South, but OSU proved everybody wrong with a school record 11 wins, a fifth straight bowl appearance and a likely finish in the Top 15. Next season, there will be much bigger expectations. How will the Pokes respond?
UPSIDE – Hard to say right now since we’re still awaiting the decisions of Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden on whether or not to enter the NFL Draft. Weeden seems likely to return, but Blackmon is a sure-fire first round pick. Should both return to Stillwater, the Cowboys top-ranked offense may be able to pick up right where it left off in 2010. The loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen hurts, but it’s not disastrous. Whether under Gundy, Larry Fedora, or Holgorsen, the OSU offense seems to always find a way to put up points.
The Cowboys cleared plenty of hurdles in 2010 and that experience should be invaluable in 2011. Gone are the losing streaks in Lubbock and Austin. Gone are the road woes, and the inability to win close games. Plus, the Pokes get the Sooners in Stillwater, again. Come September, this should be a very confident group of Cowboys.
DOWNSIDE – Plenty of talent will have to be replaced and we’re not talking about bench-warming talent. We’re talking players who made major contributions. Just to name a few, Kendall Hunter, Orie Lemon, Justin Gent, Ugo Chinasa, Bo Bowling, and Groza award winner Dan Bailey won’t be around in 2011. Even though Gundy’s recruiting classes continue to get stronger, talented youth is no substitute for talent and experience. There may not be a huge drop-off, but it’s something Poke fans will want to keep an eye on.
The Cowboys are fighting their own history. OSU has won ten games in back-to-back seasons only once (1987, 1988). No longer will this team be able to operate under the radar. OSU fans have every right to expect a conference championship and more. Gundy has the coaching pedigree and the players to do just that in 2011.
TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE
Six games into this season, this team was 3-3. The Hurricane ripped off seven wins in a row to win ten games for the third time in four years. The streak included a win at Notre Dame and a 62-35 drubbing of Hawaii in the bowl game. TU has a great chance to finish in the Top 25 for the first time since 1991.
– Quarterback G.J. Kinne will be a senior, and as long as he stays healthy, the TU offense will stay in capable hands. Kinne threw 31 touchdowns and only ten interceptions this season while directing the nation’s fifth ranked offense.
No one outside of Conference USA has heard of him, but Damaris Johnson may be one of the best athletes in all of college football. Johnson set an NCAA record for career all-purpose yards and he led the Hurricane with 13 TD’s. With veteran players getting the majority of the touches, it can only mean good things and plenty of points for TU in 2011.
DOWNSIDE – The stability of the coaching staff remains unknown. Todd Graham’s name has come up in the Pittsburgh coaching search, while offensive coordinator Chad Morris is in contention for the same position at Clemson.
Regardless of which coaches stay or go, improvement needs to happen on defense. TU was 111th in total defense this season, and gave up 30 points per game. It puts too much pressure on an offense week in and week out to produce at a high level just to have a chance to win.
If the Hurricane wants to get back to the top of Conference USA, it’s going to have to start beating the conference’s top tier teams. Over the last four years, TU is a combined 1-7 against Central Florida, East Carolina, and SMU. Start beating those teams, and the Hawaii Bowl turns into a Liberty Bowl.
2011 holds a lot of promise for college football fans in this state. Only eight more months of waiting.