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Friday, August 29, 2008
Five pressing questions for the Sooners

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma enters the season intent on redeeming itself for some recent bowl-game embarrassments that have stripped some of the national prestige from Bob Stoops' program.

After a 48-28 loss to West Virginia last season in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners have lost their last four BCS bowl games. Those struggles have left this team hungry to make amends.

The Sooners have developed into a Big 12 dynasty under Stoops with unprecedented back-to-back championships. But to make history again with a three-peat, here are some questions that the Sooners must answer heading into Saturday's game against Chattanooga.


1. Are their enough linebackers to play defense like Stoops expects? MLB Ryan Reynolds has never played a full season without getting hurt. WLB Austin Box will miss the start of the season with a knee injury. Replacement Mike Balogun was a construction worker in high school while most top athletes were getting scholarship offers. And Keenan Clayton, a converted safety, will be starting on the other side. No wonder that defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the position made have to be played by rotation.

2. Where will the defensive playmakers emerge from? Curtis Lofton and Reggie Smith were consistent multi-year starters who dominated offenses better than almost any player in recent Stoops defenses. While the Sooners have plenty of defensive talent, somebody else needs to step up

3. How will the Sooners operate in the "no-huddle" offense? While Chattanooga should barely provide competition for the Sooners Saturday night, one thing to watch will be how the Sooners and QB Sam Bradford have grasped the nuances of the philosophy after preseason practice. Questions remained after the Sooners struggled through a turnover-marred outing in the spring game. And they only intensified because of the lack of public scrutiny of the Sooners' recent scrimmages.

4. How does K Jimmy Stevens fit in? Garrett Hartley was an underrated part of the Sooners' recent success, converting 32 of his last 35 attempts and becoming a Groza Award finalist. Stevens struggled in the spring but has been kicking solidly in camp, Stoops said.

5. Will Sam Bradford struggle through a sophomore slump? On first glance, the Sooners should have all the elements of one of the nation's most productive offenses. But what would happen if Bradford stumbled after tossing an NCAA-freshman record 36 touchdown passes? Defenses sometimes pick up tendencies and play quarterbacks with more success the second time around. Just ask Texas QB Colt McCoy.