CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Oklahoma

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2011 record: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Big 12 (3rd-tie)

2011 postseason: Insight Bowl (31-14 win over Iowa)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 16/No. 15

Head coach: Bob Stoops (139-34 in 14 seasons at Oklahoma)

Offensive coordinator: Josh Heupel (eighth season at OU, second as co-OC) and Jay Norvell (fifth season at OU, third as co-OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 50th rushing offense (162.9 ypg); 5th passing offense (349.4 ypg); 5th total offense (512.3 ypg); 10th scoring offense (39.5 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: eight

Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (first season)

2011 defensive rankings: 43rd rushing defense (134.7 ypg); 79th passing defense (241.5 ypg); 55th total defense (376.1 ypg); 31st scoring defense (22.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Norman, Okla.

Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82, 112; grass)

Last league title: 2010

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
While the Sooners’ defense was solid in 2011, some lamented the lack of aggressiveness and physicality from that unit.  The return of former Arizona coach Mike Stoops to Norman should help rectify that perception, as will the return of seven starters on defense among the 15 total starters from a team that won 10 games last year, the 10th time in the past 13 seasons the Sooners have reached double digits in wins.

The Bad
When it comes to the state of OU’s wide receiver position, Herbert Morrison said it best: oh, the humanity.  Already facing the challenge of replacing the greatest receiver in the school’s history, the Sooners lost three players at the position who would’ve been capable of, at least in part, replacing Ryan Broyles’ production.  With two of those receiver’s futures at the school very much in doubt — the third’s already over — and with a JUCO transfer academically ineligible as well, the Sooners are left with nothing but a lot of talent but precious little experience at the position.  Throw in the fact that three of OU’s toughest games this season — Texas, West Virginia and TCU — are all away from Norman, and it makes for a challenging 2012 row for Stoops to hoe.  The late addition of Justin Brown, who transferred in from Penn State, will add some much-needed experience and somewhat dampen the impact of the offseason tumult at the position.

The Unknown
In his first 22 games as the successor to Sam Bradford, Landry Jones was, well Bradford-esque, throwing 64 touchdowns versus just 21 interceptions.  However, over the last five games of the 2011 season — and coinciding with the “Belldozer” (ugh) package taking center stage — the quarterback threw just three touchdown passes and six picks during that stretch.  Coincidence or not, two of the Sooners’ three losses came in those last five games.  With Blake Bell returning for his true sophomore season and his package very much in play for an entire season, the question becomes: which Jones will the Sooners get in 2012?  Obviously it would be optimal if OU could have the “good” Jones and the production Bell brings to the field, but, based on that small five-game sample, it remains to be seen whether the two sides can successfully coexist.

Make-or-break game: vs. Texas at Dallas, Oct. 13
After a brief respite thanks to the Longhorns’ dip in on-field performance the past two seasons, the (warning, political incorrectness ahead!!!) Red River Shootout should be back to its rightful place of prominence in 2012.  Thanks to what’s projected to be a resurgence on the part of Texas, this should prove to be a solid litmus test for OU as to where it stands as it relates to the Big 12 and could give a hint as to how deep into the season the Sooners can hang onto BcS title hopes.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Landry Jones
Yes, I’m fully aware of Jones being mentioned prominently in the “Unknown” portion of the program. Jones, however, is too talented to be mired in the rut that was the last five games of last season.  The uncertainty at the wide receiver position certainly won’t help his Heisman chances, but Jones should be productive enough — and the Sooners should win often enough — that the senior should find himself on the stiff-armed radar for a sizable chunk of the upcoming season.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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No. 13 Notre Dame rolling early to take big halftime lead over turnover-prone USC

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There are bad starts, and there are starts like what No. 11 USC had in the first half of their rivalry game against No. 13 Notre Dame.

Fumble on the first drive? Check. Shank a short field goal? Yep. Muff a punt? Indeed. Throw an interception. Thumbs up.

As a result, the Irish fed off an electric atmosphere in South Bend to jump out to a hot start against their intersectional rival and went to the locker room up 28-0 at halftime in a game that seems over given the way the two sides are playing at the moment.

Proving that a few weeks off were indeed plenty to get back to 100 percent, quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked sharp in taking advantage of all those USC miscues. He finished the half with two touchdown passes (one to Kevin Stepherson, the other to Equanimeous St. Brown) and ran for 76 yards and another score despite that balky foot injury that kept him out for several weeks.

Running back Josh Adams didn’t get a ton of work given all the quick end zone trips (just 14 carries), but also gave a boost to his low-key Heisman campaign by running for 68 yards and a touchdown.

As many positives as you could come up with for Notre Dame in the half, you could just about double it and come up with the number of negatives for USC. Sam Darnold had one of his worst halves in cardinal and gold, fumbling on the opening drive and throwing an interception late in the second quarter. He wound up with 107 yards as the only source of offense for the Trojans after Ronald Jones was bottled up to the tune of just five yards on seven carries.

USC has authored several second half comebacks already this year but, based on the way they played so far in Notre Dame Stadium, they’re going to need a comeback just to avoid getting blown out. The flip side is another strong showing like that and all the College Football Playoff talk surrounding the Irish will start to become very, very real come Sunday.

Penn State starts fast, but Michigan hanging around

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On a white out night in State College, Penn State threatened to blowout Michigan early, but the Wolverines battled back to a 21-13 deficit at the break.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled out a wrinkle on the Nittany Lions’ second play from scrimmage, and it worked to perfection. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley shifted pre-snap, and Barkley took the direct snap and raced 69 yards untouched for a touchdown.

After forcing a three-and-out, Penn State moved 78 yards in four plays, keyed by a 35-yard rainbow heave from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki. Barkley scored his second touchdown of the first quarter one play later, a 15-yard burst around the right side. 

But Penn State’s offense stalled from there. The Lions’ next possession ended in a McSorley interception, and the possession after that was a three-and-out that lost nine yards. Penn State penetrated Michigan territory midway through the second quarter, but Barkley dropped a wheel route that would’ve put the Lions inside the red zone. Penn State turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

Meanwhile, Michigan turned McSorley’s interception into an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard Karan Higdon run on fourth-and-goal. Quinn Nordin missed the ensuing PAT.

After the turnover on downs, Michigan marched 67 yards on a series of John O’Korn plays — a 14-yard rush, an 18-yard strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and 23 yards to Kekoa CrawfordTy Isaac powered in from six yards out to pull the Wolverines within one with 1:45 to play before the half. 

Threatened for the first time of the evening, Penn State ended its streak of three straight unsuccessful drives with a 7-play, 75-yard march that consumed only 52 seconds. McSorley accounted for 68 yards on the drive, including a 3-yard rush to put the home team back up eight.

O’Korn closed the half hitting 7-of-9 passes for 63 yards, while a host of Wolverines runners combined to rush 22 times for 78 yards.

McSorley hit 10-of-18 passes for 159 yards with an interception with five carries for 26 yards and a score. Barkley rushed 11 times for 109 yards and two scores, while DaeSean Hamilton caught three passes for 69 yards.

Michigan will receive to open the second half.

Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden apologizes for flipping off Alabama fans

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It would take someone in need of Mr. Magoo-level corrective lenses to not see this one coming.

As you no doubt know by now, Alabama took Tennessee to the woodshed Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.  The Vols did save a slight sliver of their collective manhood as they scored a touchdown for the first time since the second quarter of the Sept. 23 win over previously winless UMass, a span that stretched nearly 13 full quarters of playing time.

In the aftermath of that defensive touchdown, however, defensive back Rashaan Gaulden decided to offer up a double-digit, middle-finger salute to the Crimson Tide student section that resulted in a 15-yard penalty.  In the aftermath of that gesture, Gaulden offered up an apology.

“I would like to issue an apology to the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama for my gesture after the pick-six by (Daniel) Bituli,” Gaulden said. “That remark that I showed was very out of character. That’s not how my parents raised me. That’s not how a leader of the team should show their emotions on the field.

“I really, sincerely apologize to the student section at Alabama for disrespecting them.”

Beleaguered head coach Butch Jones, who is likely out at some point after the end of the regular season if not sooner, certainly didn’t need something like this shedding even more negative light on his flailing football program.  Jones stated that any punishment meted out to Gaulden will be handled internally.

“That’s something that will be dealt with internally in our football program, but that’s not who we are, that’s not what we’re about,” Jones said. “But, he knew that. We spoke about it, and he feels awful about it. It’s one of those things of overall just being a mature football team. But, again, that’s something that we don’t accept in this program and he understands that.”

Since we here, we’ll go ahead and offer this up as the current state of the once-proud UT football program.

Late heroics save No. 9 Oklahoma on the road at Kansas State after wild second half

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Just before the end of the first half, everybody was wondering if Baker Mayfield was 100 percent healthy. Just before the end of the second half, it became pretty clear he was doing just fine. The Sooners’ star quarterback was dazzling once again to power a last minute comeback on the road, leading No. 9 Oklahoma to a 42-35 win against a pesky Kansas State squad that was looking to pull an upset before some late heroics on the final drive.

The signal-caller appeared to get injured during a scramble late in the second quarter and was taken out in the red zone on the ensuing possession, used only as a decoy on a few wildcat snaps. As it turned out, that seemed to be a coaching strategy as OU rotated in backup Kyler Murray several times on ensuing possessions. Mayfield eventually wound up with an efficient 32-of-41 for 410 yards and two touchdowns passing while rushing for two scores and 69 yards as well.

Most importantly, he also got the win after perfectly executing a two minute drive that led to tailback Rodney Anderson (147 yards, two scores) hitting the corner for the game-winning touchdown.

That was all despite the best efforts of his counterpart Alex Delton, who was making just his second start behind center for the Wildcats. While he was solid as a passer (144 yards, one TD, one interception), the dual-threat was incredible on the ground and ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns. That led to quite the combination in the backfield as Alex Barnes managed 108 yards — 75 of which came on a touchdown run on the second snap of the game.

The close victory on the road keeps Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff race, even if the effort was less than impressive given the early struggles. The meeting between the youngest and oldest coaches in FBS proved to be quite the thriller in the end too, as Lincoln Riley claimed the ‘W’ over the Wizard himself Bill Snyder in what will surely be a memorable game for both sides.