2009 CFB Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

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Preseason Ranking: No. 3 in AP Top 25; No. 3 in USA Today Poll.

Key Returning Players: Sam Bradford (QB); Chris Brown (RB); DeMarco Murray (RB); Jermaine Gresham (TE); Ryan Broyes (WR); Trent Williams (OT); Travis Lewis (LB); Keenan Clayton (LB); Ryan Reynolds (LB); Jeremy Beal (DE); Auston English (DE); Gerald McCoy (DT); Adrian Taylor (DT); Dominique Franks (LB); Brian Jackson (CB).

Key Losses: Phil Loadholt (OT); Duke Robinson (G); Brandon Walker (G); Jon Cooper (C); Nic Harris (S); Lendy Holmes (S); Juaquin Iglesias (WR); Manuel Johnson (WR).

Player to Watch: Sam Bradford, QB.
While defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and tight end Jermaine Gresham certainly deserve mention, listing any other Sooner besides Bradford in this section would be a crime to the college football world. He’s the key to whether or not Oklahoma will make a repeat appearance in the title game and whether or not the Sooners will inevitably be crowned champions. Many, including his head coach Bob Stoops, believe that the 2008 Heisman winner will be even better this year than he was last season. Considering Bradford threw for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, that’s a scary thought for the Big 12.

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Edgerrin James to be released soon – are Texans an option?

After drafting Chris “Beanie” Wells in the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday, the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to release running back Edgerrin James soon, possibly even as earlier as this weekend.

James started clamoring that he wanted out of Arizona last season when he started losing carries to Tim Hightower. James carried the ball only 133 times (his lowest total since an injury-plagued 2001 season) for 514 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last season. He did rush for 236 yards on 61 carries in the playoffs last year (including the Super Bowl), but even then the writing seemed to be on the wall that he was done in the desert.

If he is released, James will get what he wants, although his market value will be extremely low now that the draft is over. At 30 years old, he’s at the age where teams stop looking at you as a starter and more as a backup in a platoon.

This is just speculation on my part, but one team that could be interested in James is the Texans. Steve Slaton emerged as a quality starter last year, but like most backs in the NFL, he wouldn’t be able to sustain the pounding of a full 16-game season. The team also still has Chris Brown and Ryan Moats on the roster, but Brown spent the entire 2008 season on IR due to a back injury and Moats rushed for just 94 yards on 26 carries last season.

Some speculated that the Texans would pick a running back in the first round of last week’s draft, but they decided to once again address their defense with the selection of linebacker Brian Cushing. Houston then went then entire weekend without taking a running back in any of the seven rounds.

James wouldn’t get more than a one or two year deal at this point, but he could make a nice complement to Slaton as long as he’s motivated. I know James still wants to be a starter, but at this point he better be willing to take a role in a platoon.

Oklahoma’s gaffs just more blown decisions by “Big Game Bob”

Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star took aim at Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops after several of his decisions in the national championship game cost the Sooners a chance to beat Florida:

Bob StoopsBig Game Bob Stoops lost his fifth straight BCS game and third straight national-title game. He eschewed a chip-shot field goal and directed his Sooners to convert a fourth-and-goal situation. The Gators blew up the fourth-down run. In the final seconds of the first half, the Sooners stayed superaggressive with their passing game and tossed a critical interception with Oklahoma at the Florida 6.

Big Game Bob left a lot of points on the football field Thursday night. He’ll be second-guessed in Oklahoma at least until he wins a second national title.

I don’t think any coach should be criticized for being aggressive. If you’re Oklahoma and you’re scoring 60-plus points a game, you stay aggressive. But what’s the harm in calling a time out and talking about what you’re going to do? The momentum from play to play had just shifted to Florida after the stop on the third down, so when Stoops and his coaching staff decided to essentially run the same play on fourth, he sent Chris Brown right into the meat grinder.

Oklahoma wasn’t going to fool anybody by lining up quick and running the same play. Stoops should have called a time out and first decided whether or not he wanted three or six points. If he wanted the six, he should have come up with a better call than the exact same play he ran the down before. It was a major gaff in a major situation. Did it cost the Sooners the win? Yeah, maybe.

I must be an idiot on general principle

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald writes that there’s no question about it: the BCS got it right with Florida.

Tim TebowLet there be no doubt, or sour-grapes discussion today, about a national championship left unresolved.

Let there be no rote resumption of complaints against the Bowl Championship Series or a renewed cry for a playoff.

The BCS got it right this time, and the right team won. The better one. The best one.

Anybody who doubts that today must be from Texas or Southern Cal or Utah. Or perhaps an idiot on general principle.

The Gators flat-out won this game and this title, and all the more impressively because it was less by Tebow’s magic (though he was voted game MVP) than by his defense defusing the other team’s epic offense.

Bradford had thrown 48 touchdown passes this season. His offense ran on jet power.

Florida made that offense look more like Oklahoma’s symbol: the Sooner Schooner, a covered wagon pulled by two small ponies of the type rented out for kids’ backyard birthday parties.

Let me pause for a second to laugh…

Anybody who doubts that today must be from Texas or Southern Cal or Utah. Or perhaps an idiot on general principle.

Then punch me in the face and call me an idiot, Greg, because I certainly doubt that the BCS has ever got it right. And that’s not a knock against Florida because they were amazing after losing to Ole’ Miss earlier in the year, but how could anyone in their right mind say that the BCS got this right? Utah didn’t get a chance to play Florida and neither did Texas. And saying that the “Gators flat-out won this game and title” is a bit of a stretch considering that if Oklahoma converts in the red zone, I don’t know if Florida comes back with the way their offense played for most of the night. (Again, not to take anything away from the Gators’ defensive play.)

No, no, no, no – NO! This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. There should be a clear cut winner and no debate that follows. Their should be a playoff, where all the deserving teams get a shot and then (and only then) can we say that a team “flat-out won this game and this title.”

Six Pack of Observations: BCS National Championship Game

Here are six quick-hit observations on Florida’s 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.

1. These were the best two teams in college football?
One game shouldn’t make or break how teams are perceived for an entire season (Florida and Oklahoma had tremendous years). But if college football refuses to implement a playoff to determine what teams are the best in the country, than the BCS needed a better showing than that. That was one hell of a sloppy football game, complete with stupid penalties, ugly turnovers and bad decisions by both players and coaches. To say that that wasn’t a cleanly played game would be a gross understatement and anyone from the BCS that can unequivocally state that Florida and Oklahoma were the two best teams in college football after that mess should be embarrassed. This game did nothing to support the notion that college football doesn’t need a playoff system.

2. Utah could play with both of these teams.
There’s no question that Utah’s performance over Alabama was more impressive than Florida’s win over Oklahoma. Again, without a playoff system, how can anyone from the BCS say without question that Utah isn’t the best team in the nation? They were the only team to go undefeated, beat two teams that did/will rank in the top 10 (Alabama and TCU), and they won their BCS game in convincing fashion. The Gators, who absolutely bulldozed everyone in their path after losing by one to Ole’ Miss earlier in the season, lost a game and didn’t look particularly sharp in their BCS victory. Who knows, maybe Florida would shit-stomp Utah on a neutral field next week. Maybe the Utes would run the Gators over like they did ‘Bama. We’ll never know and that’s the problem with the current college football system – it leaves too much to debate.

3. What happened to the shootout?
One word: pressure. Both of these teams did a great job of pressuring the quarterback and disrupting the rhythm of the opposing offense. Oklahoma didn’t see a defense as good as Florida’s all season. But you know what? Florida didn’t see a defense as good as the one Oklahoma trotted onto the field tonight, either. While the offenses played awfully sloppy, you have to give it to the defensive minds on both sides for coming up with great game plans. Tebow and Bradford could hardly set their feet and that’s the main reason why the final was 24-14 instead of 44-38 like most people expected. (Of course, Oklahoma’s struggles inside the red zone played into the low score, too.)

4. Percy Harvin was more valuable to Florida tonight than Tim Tebow.
Harvin (9 carries, 122 yards, 1 TD) was the best athlete on the field tonight – period. And the funny thing was, he played on a bum ankle. With all due respect to Tebow, without Harvin the Gators don’t win tonight. He provided a spark to an offense that seemed to be off all night, he provided Florida with its biggest plays and he opened the door for Tebow in the running game in the second half. Oklahoma’s defense was pretty damn good tonight, but Harvin was even better. I shutter to think how well he would have played if he was completely healthy.

4A. Chris Brown is lighting in a bottle.
Percy Harvin’s play out shadowed him, but Brown was absolutely phenomenal tonight. He was the backbone of Oklahoma’s offense and he picked up some much-needed first downs in the second half. Too bad Bob Stoops and the OU coaching staff decided to run what looked like the same damn play on the goal line when he was stuffed on consecutive 3rd and 4th down plays, because I would have loved to see if he could have scored on a screen pass. He’s so quick.

5. Sam Bradford is the real deal.
Bradford’s final numbers (26 of 41 for 256 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) certainly weren’t as dazzling as they have been all season. But it doesn’t take a pro scout to see that this kid is loaded with talent and doesn’t get rattled. Florida drummed up some decent pressure at times and Bradford often starred down the heat and delivered the ball in a timely manner. And the two interceptions he threw were hardly his fault considering they both hit his receivers in the hands. I think he should stay at least one more year at school to hone his skills and try for a national title again next year. But it’s pretty clear that he has the intangibles to play at the next level. (I’ll let the people in the know determine whether or not he’s got everything else.)

6. Every team would be fortunate to have a Tim Tebow.
He might have annoyed a lot of Sooner fans tonight with his sideline antics, but Tebow is the kind of emotional leader I’m sure every football coach wish he had. He’s got so much fight and determination that he’s easy to root for and I’m sure he has no problem rallying his team, too. I also love how he’ll lower his shoulder and head to fight for just one more inch – there’s no way he’s running out of bounds. I don’t know if he can be a pro quarterback or not, but there’s no question that he’s quite the football player and has a future playing on Sundays (at whatever position).

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