Big 12: James Patton
Roughly 90 percent of college football programs would be thrilled to win 10 games in a season. Oklahoma is not one of those programs.
Sharing a Big 12 title? That trophy is a whole lot less satisfying when there are seven others waiting in the trophy case since 2000 that weren't shared with anybody.
"Our expectations are different than everybody else. Everybody’s not Oklahoma," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "When you have Oklahoma across your chest, you expect to win championships, and that’s never going to change here."
He knows firsthand. Stoops helped his brother, coach Bob Stoops, win Oklahoma's seventh national title back in 2000, and the Sooners came up short two more times, once losing in the title game with Mike Stoops in 2003 and again a year later with Stoops coaching at Arizona. Without him coordinating the defense, the Sooners gave up 55 points to USC, more points than any team has ever scored in the BCS National Championship Game.
Arizona fired Mike Stoops six games into the 2011 season, and the Sooners' struggling defense needed an offseason jolt, despite winning 10 games that same season. Mike Stoops returned and brought assistant Tim Kish with him to coach linebackers and help coordinate the defense.
"Sometimes change is good, new ideas are good always, and change is good sometimes," Mike Stoops said. "That happens for whatever reason, and whether it’s complacency or just being stagnant, those things occur. Just trying to reinvent ourselves is something we need to do."
In 2012, there were more late-season defensive struggles after a strong start, but yet again, a 10-win season and a shared Big 12 title weren't enough. Losing three games isn't good enough, and nobody wants to hear that all three losses came to teams that spent time in the top five last season. The Sooners want to get back to competing for national titles, and Bob Stoops went the route of coaching changes to help get Oklahoma back there.
Assistant coaches Jackie Shipp and Bruce Kittle were shown the door, along with offensive line coach James Patton. The Sooners scooped up Bill Bedenbaugh from West Virginia to replace Patton and brought in Jerry Montgomery from Michigan to coach the defensive line. Jay Boulware filled Kittle's spot on the staff after coaching tight ends at Auburn. The Sooners' reboot was complete, and they're working toward results in the spring.
"[They bring] a new perspective in some areas, new ideas. They’re not drastic changes," Mike Stoops said. "Obviously, the coaches we had in here were involved and knew our systems well, but there’s always little changes in technique and little things schematically that can help you, so we’re always looking for fresh ideas."
Ten wins tastes bitter when you're used to winning 11 or 12, which can be the difference between proving yourself as a very good team and a great team. Oklahoma won at least 12 games six times since 2000 and 11 games on three more occasions. Ten wins isn't good enough, and a few former players and one famed coach were more than willing to speak up about it, echoing fan concerns.
Barry Switzer started it in September when he told one local paper that the Sooners "just don't have the talent."
"We’re not as good as we have been," Switzer said. "We don’t have the Tommie Harrises or Gerald McCoys squatting down there in the middle [of the defensive line]."
Offensive lineman Jammal Brown, an All-American who played in Norman from 2000 to '04, said he was "mad as hell" about the Sooners' 28-point Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M to cap the 10-win season, calling the Sooners "soft." CBS analyst Spencer Tillman, a Sooners running back in the '80s, said Oklahoma lost concentration on what made the program great in the first place.
Considering the Sooners let Shipp go at the end of the season, it's hard to believe Bob Stoops didn't agree in part with what Switzer had to say. As for the rest of it?
"We may not be as skilled at some of the positions as we want to be, but our toughness and pride is what made Oklahoma what it is, whether it was Bud Wilkinson or Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops, I think that’s the common thread that goes to being a great team," Mike Stoops said.
"Some of those, from the outside, may have felt like we didn’t have that common thread between us. I never felt that; I always thought our teams played hard and together. They’re certainly entitled to their opinions, you know. We’ve got to look at ourselves, and if it’s true, we need to change it. The things we needed to change, we’re working on changing, and nobody knows our program like we do.
"There’s areas we certainly need to get better at, and we’re aware of those. Some of those take time. Some of those take adjustments each day to get better."
The Sooners lose a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones from last year's team, along with seven starters from Mike Stoops' defense. The task of winning more than 10 games seems difficult in a Big 12 that's deeper than it has ever been.
"We just need to get better, again, individually and schematically and play better across the board and come up with better ideas and a better scheme. We’re not far off when you look at the big picture," Mike Stoops said. "We had a chance to win 12 games, we lost them all late in the game and down the stretch and didn’t make the plays we needed to, but again, we’re not that far off."
Next up: Oklahoma.
Strongest position: Offensive line.
Don't discount Landry Jones' experience and decision-making, but Oklahoma threw the ball 571 times last year -- more than everyone in the Big 12 but Texas Tech -- and gave up just 15 sacks, third-fewest in the Big 12. The Sooners have good depth at running back but not a true gamebreaker, and the offense still averaged 4.85 yards a carry, third-most in the Big 12. Oklahoma dealt with a ton of injuries on the offensive line and at the end of the season, was basically reduced to five guys who could play and depended on true freshman Ty Darlington at times, too. The unit loses tackle Lane Johnson, but Gabe Ikard is the Big 12's best offensive lineman and returns alongside Adam Shead, Bronson Irwin and Tyrus Thompson. This unit perhaps could have been better than it was in 2011, which is part of the reason you saw position coach James Patton shown the door in favor of WVU's Bill Bedenbaugh, but it should be a big strength yet again in 2013. I'd say it's definitely the Sooners' best overall position. The Sooners fought through the loss of center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans in preseason camp last year, and Evans is out again after injuring his knee this spring. Here's betting Oklahoma fills the void yet again.
Weakest position: Defensive line
If you watched the Cotton Bowl, you know all you need to know about this position for the Sooners. Texas A&M had arguably the nation's best offensive line, but the Sooners D-line looked like a bunch of high schoolers for much of the game, applying zero pressure to Johnny Manziel and letting him get loose for a record-breaking game in a blowout loss. The Sooners lose four seniors along the line, leaving behind just Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Phillips and Mike Onuoha as contributors from last year's D-line that helped Oklahoma rank just 108th nationally in tackles for loss and 94th nationally in run defense. Oklahoma needs a big upgrade at this position to return to prominence, and I'm not sure the answer to the Sooners being as good along the front line of the defense is coming anywhere but on the recruiting trail.
More Weak and Strong.
- Charlie Weis announced some minor changes to his coaching staff, including some new responsibilities for Dave Campo.
- Departing Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton reached out to an incoming recruit, but had given inklings he was on the way out. Patton's exit is proof that all is not well in Soonerville, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, whose Jason Kersey also has three candidates to replace him.
- Colleague Ivan Maisel says Patton's departure is because of Oklahoma's mediocre running game.
- Texas is tweaking its spring football schedule.
- The University of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against a man for cybersquatting. That joke writes itself.
- Texas is already looking to fill holes at defensive end in its 2014 recruiting class.
- Texas Tech coaches made a stop in Midland, Texas, to talk recruiting with fans.
- Is Mark Mangino headed back to Oklahoma? John Hoover of the Tulsa World says he has too much baggage.
- Can West Virginia fill the holes left by the loss of Stedman Bailey and a strong senior class?
- Kansas State has named its team representatives for 2013.
- Kansas is going to need contributions from its walk-ons, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World.
Try not to get fired today, everyone.
- Dinner etiquette is on the menu for Texas this spring.
- Oklahoma is auctioning off two packages to experience the spring game in a whole new way.
- Former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is scheduled to visit both the Rams and Bills next month.
- Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune says less is more for running back Derrick Washington.
- Jake Trotter of The Oklahoman has a Q&A with Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton on his blog.
- Hutchinson (KS) running back Josh Smith is headed to Kansas as a late addition to Turner Gill's first recruiting class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the tidbits that people are talking about across the Big 12 heading into games this week.
- After his receivers struggled to get acclimated in rainy conditions at Missouri, Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore told his team to ditch the gloves and hand warmers and catch bare-handed. The biggest beneficiary was Niles Paul, who bounced back after two earlier drops to snag a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to key Nebraska’s rally.
- Iowa State coaches are enthused despite their 0-2 conference start. The biggest reason is the recent play of quarterback Austen Arnaud after the Cyclones have utilized a ground-heavy attack from the spread for most of the season. If Arnaud can continue to boost his passing, don’t be surprised if the Cyclones notch an upset or two that might be considered a surprise now.
- Robert Griffin’s knee surgery earlier this week ended any hopes he might have had of playing this season. What will be more important will be how Baylor coach Art Briles handles his starting quarterback job during the rest of the season. Blake Szymanski should get the nod as soon as he’s healthy to play. But it will be interesting to see if there’s a point later this season where Briles figures it’s more advantageous to get freshman Nick Florence the majority of the work to build for his future, rather than playing Szymanski, who is a senior.
- Colorado coaches believe that Tyler Hansen will be a different quarterback this season than the one who briefly claimed the starting position for the Buffaloes late last season. Hansen, they believe, won’t be quite as prone to run after progressing through his checks on offense. That maturity should help the Buffaloes become more productive offensively.
- The secret to Todd Reesing’s early success this season is the lack of hits he’s taken from opposing defensive linemen. Reesing’s diminutive size always makes that a concern -- particularly when the meat of the Big 12 schedule kicks in. After this week’s game against Colorado, the Jayhawks will play Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas State to start a punishing finish that also will include games against Texas, Nebraska and Missouri. If he can remains well protected and upright during that time, Mark Mangino’s pitch for postseason honors for his senior quarterback won’t be out of line.
- One reason why Missouri’s ground game has struggled so much this season has been the Tigers' struggles with penalties. It’s been difficult for the Tigers to thrive in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Tigers were penalized for offensive holding four times last week against Nebraska. In 2008, the Tigers were flagged for 10 offensive holding penalties in a 14-game season.
- The key to success in the Texas-Oklahoma game Saturday -- as it almost always seems to be -- will be running the ball. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the team that rushed for the most yardage has won 11 of the 13 games, including every game but once since 1997. Both teams will struggle against fearsome run defenses, but the team that is the most patient should have the most success.
- With the injury to starting guard Brian Simmons for the Texas game, look for Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton to go with a player-by-committee rotation to fill in. Don’t be surprised if Tyler Evans, Stephen Good and Tavaris Jefferies all get a shot at snaps at Simmons’ position.
- Keith Toston’s role as the most valuable backup running back in the conference was re-emphasized with his big game against Texas A&M. He produced 204 yards of total offense and helped take the pressure off a young group of receivers with two critical big gains on screen passes early in the game.
- The experiment of moving Texas A&M tight end Jamie McCoy into the backfield as a running threat worked well enough that Aggies coaches plan to keep tinkering with the alignment. McCoy showed strong running as he picked up 24 yards on four carries in his first work as a ball carrier since playing briefly in the 2006 season as a quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Being in the middle of Oklahoma's biggest question mark isn't something that Ben Habern shies away from.
In fact, the Sooners' freshman center is excited about the opportunity to prove something to the doubters who are wondering about Oklahoma's young offensive line heading into the upcoming season with four new starters.
|J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI|
|Oklahoma's Ben Habern has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Jon Cooper at center.|
It's made Habern wish his team's Sept. 5 opener against BYU was only a couple of weeks away.
"There are a lot of people who don't think we have enough talent to make it through the Big 12 or to a big bowl game," Habern said. "But a lot of people aren't here during our practices. We've seen how athletic we are."
Some of the doubt started earlier when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called out the unit before spring practice even began. Stoops was disappointed in the group's lack of dedication during preseason conditioning drills and didn't hesitate to make his comments known.
The words stung, particularly for a group that was looking to build some confidence before heading into practice. But Stoops' point got across and helped the group coalesce.
"We lost a lot of senior leadership and have a lot of guys to replace," Habern said. "It was a big step and a challenge to get everything settled. But I feel like we handled it pretty well."
One of the biggest reasons for the group's fast growth has been the development of Habern, who has claimed the starting job after strong work during the spring to replace Jon Cooper.
Jason Hannan, who was once considered the nation's No. 1 center prospect and Cooper's eventual replacement, couldn't beat out Habern for the job, leading Hannan to transfer earlier this spring.
"Habern has been doing a wonderful job," Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He's got a chance to be a really good one. Jon was a great leader and Ben" is from "that same kind of mold."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma president David Boren said the salary hikes given to the football coaching staff are a reflection of market forces throughout the coaching industry.
Oklahoma's Board of Trustees approved new deals for all of Oklahoma's coaches, including football coach Bob Stoops and his staff. The Sooners' football coaches staff will pocket $6.05 million in salaries this season, compared to $5.006 million last season. That represents an increase of 20.9 percent.
"Do I think that salaries are too high nationwide? Yes, I certainly do, but we can't control the marketplace," Boren told The Oklahoman. "This does not make any of our coaches the highest paid. Coach Stoops, I think, it probably puts him just inside the top five nationally, but his record is certainly in the top five."
Here's a look at the Oklahoma coaching staff and the salary increases each coach received this season compared to 2008.
The biggest raises on Stoops' staff went to Wilson, who served as the architect for a potent Sooner offense that scored at least 50 points nine times last season and at least 60 points in a string of five games late last season. And Heupel helped develop Sam Bradford into a Heisman Trophy winner after his strong play at quarterback for the Sooners, passing for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdown passes.
Including "stay" bonuses designed to keep him at school, Stoops' contract would pay him more than $30 million through the end of 2015.