Dallas Colleges: Javon Harris

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
9:48
AM CT
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.

Postseason position ranking: Safeties

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
8:42
AM CT
We'll continue looking at the Big 12's best at positions across the Big 12 today with the guys who serve as the last line of defense: the safeties. It's a pretty strong position across the Big 12, just like pass-rushers. In this league, it has to be. Let's get to it:

Here's what you've missed so far: 1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Vaccaro is quick, explosive, versatile and has a great feel for the game. That's a fantastic combination for a safety and he patrols near the line of scrimmage for the Longhorns, but has great cover skills, too. The top three safeties in the league are really tight, but for my money, Vaccaro is the top of the list.

2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma: Jefferson was the biggest piece of Oklahoma's defense this past season, and finished second in the league with 119 tackles. The Sooners' new scheme fed ball carriers his way, but Jefferson was there to make plays all year long. He moved to a more traditional safety spot after spending much of his first two years at nickel back. He's good in coverage, though his straight-line speed isn't eye-popping, and part of that is being a very instinctive player, just like Vaccaro.

3. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: Zimmerman's got a nose for the ball that's as solid as anybody on the list, and had a great year despite missing the last few games of the regular season with a broken bone in his leg. He picked off passes in four consecutive Big 12 games and finished with 50 tackles.

4. Cody Davis, Texas Tech: Davis has tons of experience and had a great year for a very improved Texas Tech defense. He picked off three passes, broke up seven passes and made 101 tackles as part of a secondary that limited offenses through most of the season.

5. Sam Carter, TCU: Carter made a splash in his first year in the Big 12 for the league's best defense. He broke up 10 passes, picked off four more and made 63 tackles. He also forced a fumble and had three sacks.

6. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dixon's got a ton of talent and probably has the most NFL potential of any Baylor defender. He had a solid year, and could put together a big year in 2013. Baylor's defense still struggled for much of the year, but Dixon helped spur a late-season charge alongside linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey. Dixon made 102 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss, and intercepted two passes.

7. Javon Harris, Oklahoma: Harris tied for the Big 12 lead with six interceptions, though half of them came in games against FCS Florida A&M and 1-11 Kansas. He excelled this past season in Mike Stoops' defense, morphing the Sooners' biggest weakness -- defending the long ball -- into one of its strengths for most of the season.

8. Durrell Givens, Iowa State: There were more talented guys on Iowa State's defense, but there's something to be said for being a turnover machine in a breakout season like the one Givens had in 2012. He produced nine turnovers (three INTs, six fumble recoveries) and forced four more fumbles while making 80 tackles.

9. Bradley McDougald, Kansas: Kansas' defense was pretty ugly, but McDougald was a bright spot with 93 tackles, three interceptions and four tackles for loss with a pair of forced fumbles.

10. Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's secondary was a bit disappointing, but Lowe had a decent season with 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown.

Offseason to-do list: Oklahoma

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
11:15
AM CT
Every year, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Sooners up in Norman.

1. Figure out if Blake Bell is their guy. All indications are that the BellDozer is about to become the BellThrower, moving his dozing to more of a part-time gig. That said, when he's thrown out of the formation in the last two years, the results haven't been super promising. Still, Bell has a big arm and is likely the heir to Landry Jones as the next Sooners quarterback. Drew Allen's already transferred, but Bell might face some heat this spring from youngster Trevor Knight, who drew rave reviews for his acting work as Johnny Football on the scout team leading up to the Cotton Bowl. Bell is probably the Sooners' future at the position, but he's got to prove it this spring.

2. Fill about a zillion holes on defense. Oklahoma's defense is depleted, though cornerback Aaron Colvin does return. Safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Tom Wort left for the draft early, and three starters along the defensive line, including Jamarkus McFarland and David King, are gone. Safety Javon Harris grew up a bit this year, but is gone, too. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had his defense in great shape early in the season, but the wheels fell off late against WVU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Can he find suitable replacements for all the whole and keep re-establishing his defense in Norman to get the Sooners back into national prominence?

3. Figure out an offensive identity. Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, Oklahoma made it clear that the quarterback running game will be a part of the offense next season. Both Mike and Bob Stoops saw firsthand how maddening it is for a defense that has to cover a dual-threat quarterback who is a true dual threat when it comes to his arm, too. Oklahoma has traditionally been married to pocket passers, but that's going to change. Both Bell and Knight can run, and we saw some zone read from Bell in the Cotton Bowl. Trey Millard is the perfect foil for it. Oklahoma's still going to want its quarterbacks to be pass first, but how much running will be required? That probably depends on who wins and how good they are at executing the quarterback run game.

More offseason to-do lists:

Sooners losing the most talent in Big 12?

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
11:36
AM CT
Colleague Travis Haney took a look at the 10 teams who will lose the most talent in the country from 2012 to 2013.

There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.

Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.

The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.

Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.

Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.

I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.

Sooners fall victim to too much Manziel

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
12:44
AM CT


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.

Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.

"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Tony Jefferson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel sprints away from Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson during a second-half run.
"He's not a Heisman winner for no reason," said Oklahoma safety Javon Harris, who scooped up an interception off Manziel when receiver Malcome Kennedy bobbled what likely should have been Manziel's fifth touchdown of the night. "You saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into."

Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.

"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."

Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.

More like Johnny B. Great.

"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.

He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.

A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."

That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?

"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."

Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 41, OU 13

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
10:46
PM CT


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Another Cotton Bowl, another bad loss for the Big 12. Excluding current SEC member Missouri's win back in 2008, the Big 12 has lost the Cotton Bowl to an SEC opponent in eight consecutive seasons. Johnny Football put on a show after a month away and showed zero signs of rust and a zillion signs of being an endless source of frustration for Oklahoma's defense.

The Big 12 finished 4-5 in its nine bowl games, and the SEC improved to 4-3 in its bowl games. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for Texas A&M's 41-13 blowout win over the Sooners.

It was over when: Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter, Manziel hit Ryan Swope over the middle on a short slant. Swope shed a tackler and raced 33 yards to put the Aggies up, 34-13. That capped a run of three Oklahoma three-and-outs to begin the second half and spelled doom for the Sooners.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. I mean, who else? He broke the Cotton Bowl record for total yards with 516 and accounted for four touchdowns. It could have even been five, too, if not for Malcome Kennedy's bobbling a pass in the end zone that was eventually intercepted by Oklahoma's Javon Harris.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards per play. Texas A&M averaged 9.6 yards per play. It was really that simple in this one. Johnny Football made the Aggies dangerous on what seemed like every snap. Oklahoma's offense played well in the first half, but it rarely looked easy, and Texas A&M prevented the Sooners from breaking big plays. It also clamped down in the red zone.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Get a good, long look at Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews serving as bookends on this line. They might be gone soon, cashing big-time checks as NFL first-round picks. Mike Sherman had well-chronicled struggles, but the offensive line guru left some big beef for Manziel and the Aggies offense to operate behind. It showed tonight. Oklahoma rarely blitzed, for fear of Manziel running loose in the second level, but he had all day to throw and little pressure on most snaps.

What Texas A&M learned: Heisman jinx, December distractions, coaching changes, whatever. It all seemed pretty irrelevant in this game. Johnny Football looked like his usual self, if not better. He broke loose for 47 rushing yards on Texas A&M's opening drive and didn't slow down from there. Kliff Kingsbury checked out as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, but Clarence McKinney had a solid performance in his debut as play-caller. Manziel insisted he wasn't distracted and that the whirlwind of awards and television appearances after winning the Heisman hadn't changed him. His performance validated those claims.

What Oklahoma learned: Just like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the Sooners were incapable of beating the elite teams in college football this year. A 10-3 season isn't bad, but it's not good enough at Oklahoma. The Sooners might not have even been happy going 1-2 in those losses, but 0-3 will leave a very bitter taste in their mouths thinking back on a season that was very average by the Sooners' sky-high standards. Any notion that it had a formula for stopping or even slowing down the Johnny Football train went out the window. He had his way with the Sooner defense, which tackled poorly, too.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
10:30
AM CT
Let's take a look back at the week that was in the Big 12:

Best offensive performance: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State. Klein accounted for seven touchdowns (four rushing, three passing) in his first-ever game with at least three scores on the ground and through the air. He finished with a career-high 323 yards passing on 19-of-21 passing and rushed for 41 yards in the Wildcats' 55-14 win over West Virginia. For his efforts, he was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week.

[+] EnlargeKansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIREKansas State quarterback Collin Klein had a monster performance against West Virginia.
Best defensive performance: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Verrett was all over the place for the Frogs, making 11 tackles and two tackles for loss in a triple-overtime loss to Texas Tech. He also broke up three passes. Honorable mention: Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State; Javon Harris, S, Oklahoma

Best team performance: Kansas State. The Wildcats delivered a sound beating to the Mountaineers in Morgantown, one of the worst in school history. Along the way, they seized control of the Big 12 title race, despite a major test ahead when Texas Tech comes to Manhattan. The Wildcats are looking the part of national title contender.

Best quote: West Virginia QB Geno Smith, on Kansas State's performance: "They kicked our butts."

Worst team performance: Once again, you've got no choice but to leave this one to West Virginia. Two weeks in a row, two complete eggs, and this one was at home and even worse. WVU couldn't stop anything Kansas State did and gave up touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions after giving up a field goal on the first. Meanwhile, the offense has inexplicably fallen off a cliff, failing to score until the game was well out of hand late. This after looking like maybe the best offense in the country through five weeks. What the heck is happening in Morgantown?

Best game: Texas Tech 56, TCU 53 (3OT). Both teams erased double-digit deficits and TCU did it in less than three minutes late to force overtime. Both teams got clutch TDs in overtime, but Tech got the win when Seth Doege found Alex Torres for an eight-yard touchdown pass that ignited a huge celebration at Amon G. Carter Stadium for the Red Raiders, who moved up to No. 14 in this week's BCS standings.

Best play: Trailing by 10 with less than three minutes to play, it looked grim for TCU, but Trevone Boykin found fellow redshirt freshman LaDarius Brown down the left sideline for a perfect 60-yard bomb to get the Frogs within three and later force overtime against a defense that had given up fewer plays longer than 20 yards than any team in the country this season.

Most incredible play: You can't make a much better catch than the 13-yarder Alex Torres had on Texas Tech's go-ahead drive early in the fourth quarter. Facing a second-and-2, Seth Doege slung it to the sideline, but Torres fully laid out and snagged it with one hand, coming down on the sideline. The play was originally ruled incomplete, but a review overturned it and gave the Red Raiders a first down. Torres later capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown catch.

Most questionable play call: Doege had the hot hand in the fourth quarter, completing nine of his last 11 passes. With a chance to ice the game with a third-down conversion on third-and-7 after recovering TCU's onside kick attempt, the Red Raiders took the ball out of his hands and called a draw play to SaDale Foster, who was tackled by Devonte Fields for a two-yard loss. Texas Tech punted, and TCU came back to tie the score on its next drive and force OT. Dangerous stuff that almost cost Tech. Have a little faith in your QB. At least Tommy Tuberville admitted after the game he'd have thrown it if he had it to do over again.

Best quarter: Oklahoma's second quarter. The Sooners outscored KU 28-0 in the period, which included a crazy-good 90-yard punt return by Penn State transfer Justin Brown. Three other players scored. Landry Jones threw a touchdown pass, Damien Williams ran for one, and Blake Bell dozed his way in for a one-yard score. The Sooners spread the love and were stingy on defense, giving up only four first downs and earning an interception.

Instant analysis: OU 41, Texas Tech 20

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
6:20
PM CT

LUBBOCK, Texas – Coming off a disappointing loss against Kansas State, Landry Jones and the Sooners bounced back Saturday to destroy Texas Tech 41-20.

It was over when: OU safety Javon Harris intercepted a tipped Seth Doege pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners up 38-13 early in the third quarter. OU led 24-13 at halftime, but dominated the third quarter to put the game away.

Game ball goes to: Jones, who rebounded with his best performance since losing receiver Ryan Broyles to injury last November. Jones completed 25 of 40 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he took care of the ball and didn't turn it over once.

Stat of the game: Going into the weekend, OU ranked last in the FBS with just one forced turnover. But in Lubbock, the Sooners forced three turnovers, including Harris’ touchdown return. Aaron Colvin picked off a Doege pass at the line of scrimmage at the end of the first half to set up an OU field goal that gave the Sooners a two-score lead at halftime.

Best call: In its first three games, OU went with a time-share at running back, splitting carries between Damien Williams, Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay. Against Tech the Sooners rode Williams, who’s been OU’s best running back. Williams finished with 126 yards of total offense on 14 carries and had six receptions.

Turning point: The Red Raiders took the opening drive of the second half to the OU 36 with a chance to cut the Sooners’ lead to a single possession. But on fourth-and-5, middle linebacker Frank Shannon sacked Doege, and Blake Bell punched the ball into the end zone out of the "Belldozer" formation six plays later.

Unsung hero: Shannon, who replaced three-year starter Tom Wort in the first half. Wort struggled again covering the pass, prompting the Sooners to go with Shannon instead. The redshirt freshman finished with a team-high six tackles and had the huge fourth-down sack.

What it means: The Sooners could hop right back in the Big 12 title race with a victory over rival Texas next weekend. And after that, who knows? The schedule is difficult enough to vault the Sooners back into the national championship conversation down the line, should they reel off a few wins in a row. Texas Tech faces a gantlet going forward in Big 12 play with four ranked teams, starting next Saturday against unbeaten West Virginia.

Oklahoma football storylines to watch

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
3:52
PM CT


As Oklahoma kicks off football practice this week, here are five storylines to watch this preseason:

1. How does Whaley look in pads?

The injury to Ryan Broyles overshadowed the impact of the loss of Dominique Whaley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury midway through the 2012 season. Whaley has been cleared to practice, but even Bob Stoops admitted the Sooners won’t know how Whaley will handle cutting and contact until the team practices in pads. The Sooners have other options at running back, but Whaley is the most proven of any of them.

2. How will the offensive adjust to life without Habern?

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireFreshman receiver Trey Metoyer is already penciled in as an opening-day starter for the Sooners.
Stoops said this week that the offensive line will be ready to deal with the loss of center Ben Habern, who has given up football because of issues with his neck and back. The Sooners made a seamless transition for six games without Habern last season, sliding Gabe Ikard to center, and inserting Adam Shead in at guard. The Sooners shouldn’t miss much of a beat without Habern, but the line is a lot thinner than it was a week ago. Others like guard Bronson Irwin must step up.

3. Does Trey Metoyer build off his spring?

Other than Landry Jones, Metoyer was OU’s best offensive playmaker of the spring. Can the freshman phenom keep it going? By all accounts, Metoyer has busted it over the summer. So there’s little reason to doubt he won’t lock down a starting job before September.

4. Which other newcomer receivers will emerge?

With Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks expected to serve long suspensions, and Kameel Jackson still working on academics, OU will need wideouts other than Metoyer to emerge. Durron Neal has been slowed by a knee injury this summer, LaColtan Bester just got to campus and Courtney Gardner was unable to qualify. That leaves freshman slot receiver Sterling Shepard as the most likely to step into a prominent role. Shepard has wowed his teammates with his work ethic this summer.

5. Will the secondary regain some of its swagger?

The confidence of the defensive backfield was shaken the second half of the season following porous performances against Texas Tech and Baylor. The group even dropped its “Sharks” nickname. But the return of Mike Stoops has the secondary primed for a bounce-back season. A change of scenery could do wonders for Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn, who both figure to open the season in the starting lineup. If they hold up, the secondary could be awesome, with stars Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst manning the rest of the unit.
Colleague Travis Haney was on hand at Big 12 Media Days, but has a column this week looking at the league's top contenders' Achilles' heels.

If something's going to stop them from winning it all, what'll it be? I'd basically agree with all of them. Check out the full post to see his thoughts. Insider

Texas? It's those quarterbacks, who threw too many interceptions last year.

Case McCoy actually didn't throw a pick until the season finale, but once he did, they came in bunches. He tossed four against Baylor on the final weekend, and added a fumble on a mishandled snap. Ash, though, was plagued by decision-making problems that put a stout defense in poor situations all too often. He also fumbled four times.

They say if you can play defense and run the ball, you're going to have success. West Virginia's had success, but hasn't been stellar at either. It's continual regression in the running game could post problems for the Mountaineers, writes Haney.

Oklahoma's problem last year was obvious, and anyone who watched the loss to Baylor and Texas Tech saw it. Big plays through the air. Mike Stoops will have to fix it, but even though safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring to take back the starting spot he surrendered last season, he's got to prove he can plug the holes in the back end of the defense.

Handling a physical Big 12 could be a problem for TCU, who could far too often roll over outmanned opponents in the Mountain West. Can K-State make its offense truly two-dimensional?

Read Haney's full story to find out. Insider

Assessing the contenders: Oklahoma

July, 6, 2012
7/06/12
10:30
AM CT
To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today begins a series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. We'll start with the prohibitive favorite, Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones gives Oklahoma experience at quarterback, but he'll be throwing to several untested targets this season.
1. They've been there before: Never, ever underestimate the importance of experience. Oklahoma lost a lot from last season's team, but it still boasts essentially a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills, and defenders like Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, and Demontre Hurst. They were all key cogs in a 2010 title run that included a gutsy comeback on a neutral site against a very good Nebraska team. Oklahoma has a lot on its to-do list, but outside of a trip to West Virginia, the Sooners won't encounter anything too foreign this season.

2. Its secondary is fierce, and revitalized: Texas probably has the league's best overall secondary, but Oklahoma's not far behind. Cornerbacks Hurst and Aaron Colvin are solid, and safety Tony Jefferson might, by the end of the season, have a case for being the league's best overall defender after moving back to safety from nickel back. Fellow safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring after a midseason benching, but still must prove he can prevent the big play in the fall. The best news of all for the unit? Coordinator Mike Stoops is back in Norman coaching them after nearly a decade as the Arizona head coach.

3. Oklahoma has more talent than anyone else: This one's pretty simple. If you line up every team in the league, truly examining everybody's two-deep, Oklahoma stands tall as the league's best team, especially at important positions like quarterback and the secondary. There are some questions along the defensive line, but the Sooners have solid athletes with potential. The same is true of the receivers, and running back will be a strength, even if Dominique Whaley isn't 100 percent next season. The linebackers are loaded again, and so is the offensive line, which might be the most important aspect of this year's team. If these games were played on paper, Oklahoma would be the champs.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. Does Landry Jones have enough help? Ryan Broyles is gone, and Oklahoma's passing game seemed to self-destruct when he was gone. There's a lot of talent back, but offseason suspensions mean Stills will be flanked by a horde of freshmen targets. Can Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Courtney Gardner be enough? And can Jones string together enough solid games to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title? The solid offensive line gives some reason to believe he will.

2. There won't be enough pass rush: Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander were an absolute terror last season, even though both were plagued by injuries, and Lewis' season shut down early. Now, they must be replaced. R.J. Washington and David King have plenty of potential, but Lewis and Alexander were mostly experienced, known entities. Washington and King have never been relied on as heavily as they will be this season. Can they handle the load? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes -- and defensive passing statistics -- probably depend on it.

3. The pool of Big 12 title suitors is too deep: Oklahoma's the best team on paper, sure, but the Big 12 is going to be brutal, and wide open. Nine (maybe 10) teams could legitimately beat the Sooners. That's just one game. Five others (we'll get to them later in the series) have the chance to prove they're better than the Sooners over the course of a 12-game schedule. Will they do it? Ultimately, that might be up to the Sooners.

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 10, 2012
5/10/12
10:30
AM CT
2011 overall record: 10-3
2011 conference record: 6-3 (T-3rd)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Landry Jones, RB Dominique Whaley, FB Trey Millard, WR Kenny Stills, OG Gabe Ikard, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, CB/S Aaron Colvin, FS Tony Jefferson

Key losses

WR Ryan Broyles, LT Donald Stephenson, TE James Hanna, DE Ronnell Lewis, DE Frank Alexander, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dominique Whaley* (627 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones* (4,463 yards)
Receiving: Ryan Broyles (1,157 yards)
Tackles: Travis Lewis and Aaron Colvin* (84)
Sacks: Frank Alexander (8.5)
Interceptions: Tony Jefferson* (4)

Spring answers

1. Trey Metoyer is the real deal: The true freshman had the best spring of any wide receiver on the OU roster, then capped it by leading the Sooners in receiving in the spring game. Metoyer has all but solidified a starting spot at wide receiver, and should help fill the massive production gap left by the graduation of Ryan Broyles.

2. Secondary on right path: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops wasted no time revamping the secondary, sliding Tony Jefferson to free safety while inserting Javon Harris back into the starting lineup at strong safety. Stoops liked what he saw there in the spring, and if Harris can continue to bounce back from a shaky 2011 season, Stoops will have the flexibility of bumping Aaron Colvin to cornerback opposite three-year starter Demontre Hurst, solidifying the Sooners there, too.

3. O-line could be OU’s best in years: Not since 2008 have the Sooners been this deep and talented on the offensive line. Even with center Ben Habern rehabbing from offseason neck surgery, the line didn’t miss a beat grinding out OU’s defensive front most of the spring. Gabe Ikard has proved he can excel at either guard or center, guard Tyler Evans is entering his fourth year as a starter, and Adam Shead could be OU’s top interior run-blocker since All-America Duke Robinson. The tackles remain a little bit of a question mark. But Daryl Williams all but locked down the starting job on the right side with a great spring. On the left side, Tyrus Thompson is pushing to beat out 2011 starting right tackle Lane Johnson.

Fall questions

1. The No. 2 QB battle: Head coach Bob Stoops is no hurry to name a backup quarterback, a competition that figures to extend through August. Blake Bell, who shined running the ball out of the Belldozer formation last season, outplayed Drew Allen in the spring game, but Allen had his moments, too, and has another year of experience in the offense. Whoever wins the No. 2 job could have a leg up on the 2013 derby to replace Landry Jones.

2. The defensive line: Bob Stoops has had a first-team all-Big 12 defensive lineman every year since 1999. That streak, however, could be in jeopardy. Gone are sack machines Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, leaving the Sooners without a proven difference-maker up front. The top five players in the rotation across the front will all be seniors, making it the most experienced in the conference. But for the Sooners to win the Big 12 and contend for a national title, someone must emerge as that difference-maker.

3. The backfield rotation: The Sooners have options in the backfield, but it’s unclear how running backs coach Cale Gundy will use them. It’s also unclear how effective 2011 leading rusher Dominique Whaley will be after missing half of last season with a fractured ankle. Roy Finch can be electric with the ball, but has not earned the trust of the coaching staff in his pass protection. Brennan Clay, banged up the past two seasons, finally looks healthy and had a solid spring. Then there’s touted junior-college transfer Damien Williams, who was also recruited by USC, and fullback Trey Millard, who warrants at least a handful of carries a game. Will someone emerge as the feature back? Or will Gundy go with a backfield by committee?

Stoops simplifies Sooners' besieged D

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
11:36
AM CT
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma linebacker Joseph Ibiloye kept hearing his coach scream his name.

"Joe! Joe!"

He turned around, heard his coach's demands and applied them to the next play. The problem? At least a few times, it would put him out of position or ruin a defensive rep.

That's what happens when he takes direction meant for cornerback Joe Powell.

Mike Stoops is back coordinating Oklahoma's defense, a job he held in 2000 during Oklahoma's last national title run, and there are bound to be a few mixups as he gets used to his new surroundings.

"He’s calling me Ibi now, so we’ve got everything squared away," Ibiloye said.

Stoops' arrival, after eight seasons as Arizona's head coach, was cause for Sooner-fan celebrations. Last year's defense had high-profile struggles in the secondary in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops, Tim Kish
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI The return of Mike Stoops, bending, as coordinator has brought Oklahoma's defense a simplified scheme.
Stoops' specialty? Defensive backs.

Safety Javon Harris didn't know much about Stoops when he met his new position coach and coordinator, but he knew that much.

"The one thing I knew is when he was here, he put out a lot of All-American DBs and guys who went on to the next level," said Harris, who endured the toughest struggle of anyone in the loss to Baylor, but re-earned a starting position this spring. "I was really excited to know he was coming in here."

The word of the spring for Stoops' new troops was simplification. Brent Venables fielded a whole lot of good defenses before leaving for Clemson this offseason, but the change was welcomed, especially by the Sooners' most scrutinized unit of 2011.

"In talking to some of my other teammates, I think everybody is liking the new defense and knowing exactly what they need to do. One of the things we were lacking last year was just not knowing exactly what’s going on," Harris said. "Now we’re learning those things and we feel one step ahead."

Step one in fixing what ailed the Sooners in 2011? Prevent the big play.

"We’re just trying to get our players in the right positions to be more efficient and more effective players. That’s the consensus of what we saw a year ago. How much we can simplify things, that’s hard to say," Stoops said. "We’re going to do what we need to do to be successful."

Stoops installed most of his defense this spring; the fall will be dedicated to perfecting it. The spring was about finding what the defense did well, establishing an identity, and putting everyone where he needs to be.

"The way he approaches things is easier to learn," Ibiloye said.

The biggest position move? Tony Jefferson is headed to traditional safety after holding down Oklahoma's nickel-back spot the past two seasons, including 2010, when he shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.

"We’re going to have flexibility. Our linebackers give us a lot of flexibility to do some things, and I think we have some secondary guys that give us some flexibility to get our best players on the field," Stoops said. "That’s ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, is find the best 11, 12, 13 players and then take it from there."

Said Harris: "He wants to get players to know the defense and know their position and be able to play loose and not think as much."

That'll come with time, but Stoops made one thing clear when he met each of his new defenders.

"I’m not going to put you in those positions where, if I’m not sure you can do something, I’m not going to make you do them," Harris said Stoops told him. "That’s one thing I appreciated from him, that I’ll have that chance to come out here and do what I do best."

Players, particularly experienced seniors, had their doubts about the new coordinator, but the comfort level is high as doubts have receded. One place there's no lack of confidence? The top, where Stoops' brother, Bob Stoops, holds down the head job.

"I’ve got great confidence in him of course and what he sees. It’s been great to have him back," Stoops said. "It gives me a strong sense of security that we’re doing things the best way we can."
Miss Oklahoma's spring game? We've got you covered.

What happened:
  • The offense beat the defense, 22-21, in a game with modified scoring swiped from Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
  • Reserve QB Blake Bell completed 14-of-19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Landry Jones completed 4-of-8 passes for 23 yards in his only series. Drew Allen completed 10-of-18 passes for 72 yards.
  • Freshman receiver Trey Metoyer caught six passes for a game-high 72 yards. Receiver Jaz Reynolds hauled in a 60-yard touchdown from Bell.
  • Corey Nelson and Julian Wilson tied for a game-high eight tackles. Wilson had two for a loss totaling 13 yards.
What we learned:
  • All that hype about Trey Metoyer? For now, consider it validated. He's physically imposing, a presence Oklahoma has needed for some time to muscle up on secondaries. Dejuan Miller had the size but didn't have the production. Metoyer looks every bit the total package. Covering him one-on-one could become impossible very fast with his size and once he learns the small stuff that separates really good receivers from great ones. You kind of have to wonder if he would have been really well served spending a season with Broyles, an undersized guy who got open better than anybody else in the Big 12 last season. Either way, expectations will be sky high for Metoyer, a much-needed addition to the Sooners receiving corps that gets even more help with three of the nation's top 10 receivers arriving on campus before fall camp.
  • Blake Bell can throw the ball, y'all. His recruiting tape made that clear, but as the namesake to the Belldozer through the second half of last season, people wanted to pigeonhole him as a runner. He finally got a chance to show what he could do, and the backup QB race should be really intriguing during preseason camp. Remember, in 2009, Jones narrowly beat out Allen for the right to backup Heisman winner Sam Bradford. Next thing you knew, the first chapter of Jones' legacy at OU was being written at Cowboys Stadium. That'll be something to keep an eye on, and fans will remember Saturday when Jones is gone.
  • How is Mike Stoops' defense progressing? Well, Javon Harris had earned his starting spot at safety back during the spring, but gave up the 60-yard score to Reynolds that surely renewed the same frustrations for all involved from his struggles late last season that cost him the starting job.
  • A couple more drops for Kenny Stills in the game, while Metoyer reportedly didn't drop a single pass in team drills for the entire spring. That's got to be a concern by now for Stills, who struggled with drops late last season. Whatever the issue is, OU needs it to be fixed by fall. He's got to lead the group, and setting the example is a good place to start.
They said it:
Coach Bob Stoops on Metoyer: "He just has got incredible hands and the ability to make plays. He has a knack for adjusting to the football; just all the things you saw today. He can run. He really relishes the moment. He is a competitor for a young guy. He is a player. He just has a natural feel for it, on spacing and how to make plays and get to the ball."

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel on Metoyer: "It's what you hoped he would do because he's practiced in that fashion for 14 days. He's continuing to get a better understanding of our offense routes, timing, adjustments that he has to make, mechanics of getting a signal and getting lined up and playing with speed at times. Is it something that was out of the ordinary for him today? No, it wasn't. Was it a nice step to see him do it in front of a lot of people and in a game situation? Yes, it was."

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
12:00
PM CT
Here are ten things I'm keeping an eye on in Week 1 of Big 12 football.

1. Garrett Gilbert. Everything else aside, Gilbert is ultimately the one guy who will decide how far Texas gets this season. Or, at least whoever Texas' quarterback is by midseason. Gilbert needs to play well to a) make sure he's that guy and b) help Texas rebound from last year's debacle.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireThe success of Texas' season likely rides on the shoulders of Garrett Gilbert ... or his replacement.
2. Does Baylor have a second go-to receiver? Josh Gordon is a huge loss. Everything pointed to a breakout year for the big receiver, but who's going to emerge as Robert Griffin III's other top target. Baylor has talent at the position, but it's going to help if one receiver makes his presence clear. Terrance Williams? Tevin Reese? Lanear Sampson? Bueller?

3. Oklahoma's safeties. Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin have a ton of potential, but they've got a tough test in Week 1. Last year, Oklahoma broke in two brand new corners against Utah State and nearly was upset on its home field. G.J. Kinne is a stud, and with both of last year's safeties in the NFL, are Harris and Colvin up for the task?

4. Weeden2Blackmon. Here's the deal: This game won't be close. But I love watching these two play. And they're going to be putting up some big highlights for the first time in eight months. Football! Finally!

5. James Franklin's arm. We've seen Franklin run plenty as a freshman playing behind Blaine Gabbert. But Missouri will go about as far as Franklin's arm will take them. His teammates have been impressed with what he's down through the air in the offseason. Will he validate them in the opener?

6. Steele Jantz's legs. Nobody outside Ames has really seen Jantz, a transfer from a California junior college, do much. But he won the starting job over the more experienced Jerome Tiller (before he was ruled academically ineligible for the season) and has Cyclones fans excited. Is he the dynamic playmaker Iowa State's offense has been missing?

7. Kansas State's running backs. Bill Snyder called it the closest competition on the team. The WIldcats have three co-starters, and third on the list is the Big 12 transfer with the most hype: Bryce Brown. Will he establish himself as the clear replacement for Daniel Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rushing the past two seasons?

8. Kansas' point total. Kansas simply needs to show it can execute. It did it against New Mexico State last year and briefly against Colorado, but this is largely the same team from last year, with a handful of new faces added. How much better is the offense? Good enough to compete in the Big 12? Because the Jayhawks weren't close in 2010.

9. Texas A&M's linebackers. Most of the attention is paid to quarterback Kyle Padron, but the Mustangs' 230-pound, rumbling running back Zach Line is no joke, either. He had at least 94 yards rushing in six of the past seven games in 2010, and the Aggies have a big hole at middle linebacker that Jonathan Stewart will try to fill.

10. Texas Tech's playcalling. Tommy Tuberville wants a new commitment to the running game, but where will that show up? The Red Raiders have what I think will be a good QB, but lots of unanswered questions at receiver next to a deep stable of running backs and a good offensive line. I'm also excited to see what freshman tight end Jace Amaro can do.

SPONSORED HEADLINES