The autumn season brings a considerable amount of change. The leaves on trees begin to change color and the summer warmth begins to fade. Students file into classrooms on college campuses nationwide, and educators embark on the task of shaping the minds of tomorrow. Most importantly, millions across the country can finally park their lawnmowers and once again spend Saturdays the way they're supposed to be spent--watching college football.
College football season is finally here, and in Oklahoma there's no more important season in every sports fan's year. So grab a hibachi and paint your face, because the season has started. Here's some of what you can expect from your local favorites in this 143rd season of college football.
University of Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship's squad has their work cut out for them this year, mainly in finding a successor to departed quarterback G.J. Kinne. In three seasons, Kinne amassed the third-most total yards and touchdowns in Tulsa history. The favorite to replace Kinne is Cody Green, a recent transfer from Nebraska. Much like Kinne, Green is a dual-threat quarterback who possesses a strong arm and fast legs. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Green is believed to be the biggest quarterback in Tulsa history and his combination of speed and size could make for some interesting moments in this upcoming season.
While Tulsa's quarterback situation remains in question, running backs Je'Terian Douglas, Alex Singleton and Trey Watts will be returning for 2012, and should give Tulsa a reliable trio on the ground. Last year the trio combined for over 2,000 yards rushing.
H-back Willie Carter, the team's leader in total yards and touchdowns in 2011, is returning for this season and should once again prove to be a valuable weapon for Tulsa. Additionally, receivers Bryan Burnham and Keyarris Garrett are coming off great spring practices and will be looking to help take the Golden Hurricane offense to the next level.
"I like that we've surrounded our quarterback with a lot of talented skill guys," Blankenship said. "These guys can help the quarterback grow. We need our quarterback to manage the game and get the ball to the playmakers. If they do a good job at that, we'll have a chance."
Outside of lopsided losses to OU, OSU, Fresno State and Houston, Tulsa's defensive unit was fairly solid in 2011. This year, Tulsa returns seven starters on defense, including senior defensive end Cory Dorris, who accumulated 55 tackles and three blocked kicks last season. All-Conference honorable mention linebacker Shawn Jackson returns as well, looking to build upon a strong 2011 season that saw him amass 101 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Though Tulsa does manage to avoid in-state juggernauts Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season, the Golden Hurricane will face a tough challenge on Nov. 3, when they travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. A strong showing against Arkansas could help catapult Tulsa to a Conference USA West title.
In Norman, University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has a lot going for him. He's in charge of one of the largest college football programs in the country, he earns an annual salary that rivals those of some NFL head coaches, and most importantly, he has job security. One thing Bob Stoops doesn't have, however, is a football program that has lived up to expectations in recent years. In ten of Stoops' twelve seasons as head coach, the Sooners have, at some point in the season, been ranked among the top three schools in the nation. In those ten seasons, the Sooners have played for the national title just once.
The goal for the Sooners in 2012 will be, once again, to win a national championship. Last season, Oklahoma began the season ranked number one in the nation, only to fade near the end of the season. Quarterback Landry Jones is back for his senior year and, barring a major decline, the Sooner offense should be lighting up opposing defenses on a weekly basis.
Along with Jones, former walk-on sensation Dominique Whaley returns from an ankle injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season. The former walk-on from Lawton provided the Sooners with an emotional lift last season and will once again be relied upon to anchor the Sooners' running game. Of course the Sooners hope the injury hasn't slowed Whaley's tenacious approach to the game.
"Once I get in the groove of things, I don't really do much thinking," Whaley said. "It's just running."
All-time Sooners reception leader, Ryan Broyles, has departed. Additionally, the Sooners' receiving corps was dealt a blow with indefinite suspensions given to receivers Trey Franks, Jaz Reynolds and Kameel Jackson for violations of team rules. The Sooners did, however, snag former Penn State standout Justin Brown. In acquiring Brown, the Sooners immediately filled the void left by Broyles and bolstered an otherwise inexperienced and questionable group of receivers.
On the other side of the ball, longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables has departed, while Bob Stoops' brother, Mike Stoops, has rejoined the Sooners as a defensive co-coordinator. Last season, the Sooners ranked 55th in the nation in total defense, and Stoops will be relied upon to help transform the Sooner defense into one of the Big 12's best. The last time Stoops headed the Sooners' defense Oklahoma enjoyed four straight seasons of being ranked in the nation's top-ten in defense.
In addition to the annual Red River Shootout and Bedlam Battle, the Sooners will welcome Notre Dame to Owen Field on Oct. 27 in what is sure to be one of the most talked about games of the season. This year's game marks the tenth time the two schools will meet, with the Fighting Irish having won all but one of the previous nine.
For the Oklahoma State Cowboys, head coach Mike Gundy is faced with the unenviable task of replacing two of the program's all-time best talents, quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Last season, the Cowboys were an offensive force, thanks largely in part to the prolific duo of Weeden and Blackmon. Both have since moved on to the NFL, leaving Gundy with more uncertainty than his program has seen in quite some time.
Early on, true freshman Wes Lunt looks to be the starting quarterback, with junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh waiting in the wings should Lunt struggle. Luckily, the offensive line that helped the Cowboys shine in 2011 remains mostly intact, and with running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith returning, the Cowboys should have a solid running attack.
Defensively, the Cowboys haven't changed much, with eight starters returning for the 2012 campaign. While the Cowboys defense did surrender a considerable number of points last year, they were mostly effective in crucial situations. This season, the defense will have to do a better job of limiting opposing offenses. With Weeden and Blackmon no longer part of the offense, the Cowboys will not have the ability to overcome large deficits like in recent years.
Luckily for the rebuilding Cowboys, this year's schedule brings a little relief. With the exceptions of a trip to Norman and a road game against Kansas State, the Cowboys will face all of their major opponents in Stillwater. The most intriguing matchup comes Nov. 10, when the Cowboys square off against the Big 12's newest member, West Virginia. A strong showing against the Mountaineers could set up another memorable Bedlam game over Thanksgiving weekend.
Since the end of the 2011-12 college football season, it's difficult to find a program outside of Pennsylvania that has managed to land in a worse predicament than Arkansas. After a largely successful 2011 campaign, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino found himself at the center of a controversy that would ultimately lead to his removal from the university's football program. The ramifications stemming from Petrino's affair with a 25-year old employee could prove costly to an Arkansas football program that in 2011 enjoyed its best season in nearly 35 years.
Petrino's successor is his former assistant, John L. Smith. Smith, best known for slapping himself in the face during a 2006 press conference while head coach of Michigan State, was thrust into the role as Arkansas head coach just a few months after accepting a head-coaching job at Weber State. To add to the already abnormal state of the Arkansas football program, Smith was only offered a ten-month contract, indicating his appointment as head coach may be just an interim move.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the Arkansas coaching staff, the Razorbacks are still loaded with talent for the upcoming season. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, running backs Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis, and linebacker Alonzo Highsmith are all returning for 2012. Though the program will be forced with replacing receiving leaders Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, returning wideout Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg should be able to fill the void nicely.
The bad news for the Razorbacks is that they're still part of the SEC West division. While Arkansas possesses a bevy of talent, they're still considered to be the third best team in their conference behind national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU.
For Arkansas, the biggest test of the season will come in week three when they take on Alabama. The matchup should provide some answers as to how this team will fare under coach Smith. If the Hogs can play at a high level against the Crimson Tide, they may find themselves in position to compete for a BCS Title Game bid when they face LSU in their final week.
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