Top 25 — No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners

Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.

No. 1 Oklahoma

2010 record: 12-2 (7-2 in the Big 12, beat Nebraska in league title game). Beat Connecticut 48-20 in Fiesta Bowl.

Returning starters offense/defense: 9 on offense; 9 on defense.

Strength: Passing game. With veteran Landry Jones returning for his junior season and Ryan Broyles bypassing the NFL draft for a shot to return to college, the Sooners possess the nation's top pitch-and-catch combination. Jones attempted an astounding 617 passes last season, completing 405 for a .656 completion percentage and finished with 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions. Broyles wound up with 131 of those receptions for 1,622 yards and 14 TDs. Depth flanking Broyles consists of sophomores Trey Franks and Kenny Stills as well as 6-foot-4, 216-pound senior Dejuan Miller, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury last October.

Weakness: Defensive line. The Sooners are deep at linebacker and solid in two-deep fashion in the secondary, but must get more pressure on opposing passers if Oklahoma is truly to contend for championships. The line features bookends Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander and inside front-runners Stacy McGee and Casey Walker, but there is precious little size to avoid some of the mammoth offensive lines that are sure to show up on Saturdays. The Sooners held only four of 14 opponents under 20 points last season, and were totally let down by their defense in road losses to Missouri (36-27 and Texas A&M (31-19).

Biggest star: Ryan Broyles was forced to share the Big 12 -- and state -- stage with Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon last season, but possesses all the skills and crisp route-running of the biggest stars you can name in the game of college football. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound senior averaged 115.9 yards per game.

Rising star: RB Brandon Williams. The 6-foot, 192-pound true freshman from Texas has posted times of 4.4 seconds in the 40 and a Texas-best 21.44 in the 200 meters and comes to Oklahoma at a position where the Sooners lost leading rusher DeMarco Murray, a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in April. Brennan Clay (5-11, 185) and Roy Finch (5-8, 180) have more experience, but Williams could become an immediate factor and near-future starter with a great training camp. His receiving has been spotty, but his 2,438 yards and 33 TDs last season speak for themselves. An early enrollee, Williams helped his cause by participating in spring training with the Sooners.

Toughest game: At Florida State on Sept. 17. With Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12 for other BCS conferences in the offseason, the new-look, 10-team Big 12 was left without a championship game in early December. That's the bad news. The good news is Oklahoma and its conference brethren have an additional bye week to play with during the season, and Coach Bob Stoops was given one the week before the Sooners travel to Tallahassee to play the ACC-favorite Seminoles. Oklahoma and FSU have a long and elaborate history of Orange Bowls, where the Sooners are 3-0 in those matchups, but give the nation an early-season showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Sooners crushed FSU, 47-17, in Norman, Okla., last season.

Overview: Tough road games at Florida State and Oklahoma State are the bookends to a schedule that appears otherwise toothless. The Sooners return loads of talent on both sides of the football, though Oklahoma is looking for an injection of defensive adrenaline from a highly rated recruiting class. The Sooners can outscore most, but need to find a rugged defensive identity to lean on during crunch time or when they've had their nose bloodied. With bye weeks strategically placed before both the FSU and OSU trips, Oklahoma could enjoy the season of a lifetime and another BCS berth if Stoops is able to navigate the few obstacles along the way.

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