Friday, August 27, 2010
Key stretch: Oklahoma
By ESPN.com staff
The next in our series examining the stretch of games that will make or break each team's season.
Now at bat: The Sooners of Norman.
The stretch: vs. Florida State (Sept. 11), vs. Air Force (Sept. 18), at Cincinnati (Sept. 25) and Texas (Oct. 2)
The breakdown: Oklahoma's national championship campaign was derailed on the season's opening weekend in 2009. That won't happen this year when Utah State comes to Norman, but the Sooners' brutal nonconference schedule will have an opportunity to send them stumbling out of the top 10 before conference play arrives.
Oklahoma earned its second loss last year -- at Miami -- before conference play began.
In Week 2, Jimbo Fisher's offense will give Oklahoma a test. The Sooners are starting two new corners after sending Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson to the NFL, leaving sophomore Demontre Hurst and junior Jamell Fleming to step into key roles.
The Seminoles will be without Jarmon Fortson, who was kicked off the team this summer, but Christian Ponder still has Bert Reed to throw to, a 60-reception guy from a season ago. Defending Owen Field won't be easy. This game should be the toughest test in 2010 for the stadium's mystique.
The next week will be a test for the linebackers, who may here "Stay home!" a record number of times during the week in preparation for Air Force's option attack full of fake handoffs and misdirection. Oklahoma has a solid group in Travis Lewis, Ronnell Lewis and Tom Wort, but its depth suffered with the loss of Austin Box to a disc issue. True freshman Corey Nelson also might get a shot on the field. Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland could announce his presence proudly in that game by winning the battle up front, but he was behind Stacy McGee on the Sooners' latest depth chart. It's definitely an opportunity for a breakout game from either of them, especially if fellow tackle Adrian Taylor isn't back by then.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has heard the criticisms of his play on the road all summer. Away from Owen Field, he threw just four touchdowns to seven interceptions, and he'll be on spot in this game, the Sooners' first on the road. Cincinnati lost its coach, quarterback and best receiver, but Zach Collaros played plenty in relief of Tony Pike in 2009. The Bearcats aren't ranked to begin the season, but they received the most votes of any unranked team in both preseason polls, and Big East blogger Brian Bennett pegs them second in the conference to start the season.
Which brings us to the date circled on Oklahoma's calendar every year. The Texas State Fair has quite a few new things on the menu this year: fried lemonade, fried beer and the oxymoronic Fried Frozen Margarita. But this isn't new: Texas and Oklahoma are good. With two great defenses, this could be another classic, and a few key throws could write the first chapter in the legacy of Jones or Garrett Gilbert. Folks have said it all offseason and I'll say it again: This should be low scoring and come down to a few key plays. The past two seasons Texas has made those plays and have won four of five. Oklahoma will be looking to change that.
The prediction: 3-1, with a loss to Texas
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