Can everyone smell it? No, not that. I'm talking about College football being right around the corner! Fall camps are about to get under way, depth charts are starting to take shape, creepy old alumni are calling their respective frat houses to claim couches to sleep on after hitting on sorority girls on game days. Ahhh, yes. My favorite time of year. And what's the best way to kill time while anxiously waiting for the season to begin?
Season previews! Reading as many as you can possibly find.
For the most part, they all say the same thing, right?
"Great on offense, questionable on defense."
But we still have to read them. Every detail. We look for errors more than we look for praise.
"It's spelled Shaun Lewis! Not Shawn! This writer is obviously full of crap!"
Well fear not, kids. Here at CRFF, we actually do our homework (sometimes). You won't find us mispronouncing any of OSU's players' names (I'm looking at you, Brent Musburger). Rather than some blanket statement about the defense being "questionable," we are going to dig deep and give you the ins and outs of each position and where we think the strengths and weaknesses will be. Rather than saying "this offense will be explosive" and mentioning only Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, we're going to break down why this year's offense will be better than last year's even if the stats aren't as gaudy.
So buckle up, kids. It's going to be long and very fulfilling adventure (unlike last night). Click the jump for the full preview.
Let's start with the obvious. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are studs. Both are Heisman candidates. Both are returning All Big 12 first teamers. And yes, both will be better this year than they were last year.
Let's start with the MDM. Last year, he put up record numbers. Keep in mind it was his first year as a starter and he was throwing for the majority of the season with a torn tendon in his thumb. Fast forward to this summer and head coach Mike Gundy says Weeden looked much better in every aspect this spring than he did a year before. That's downright scary. For me, there are two improvements I need to see from Weeden this year.
1. Better decision making. Weeden seemed to always be good for at least one bonehead throw per game last year. Whether it was throwing to Blackmon in double coverage or throwing it right at a defender (*cough* UT game *cough*), the MDM had his share of mental errors. With a year under his belt, I'll be looking for a vast improvement this season.
2. Staying cool under pressure. OSU has a tremendous offensive line (we'll get to that later) but even they cannot be perfect all the time. Weeden looked his worst last year when he felt the blitz coming or the pocket collapsing. Rewatch the Bedlam game. I may take some heat for this but I truly believe that game was lost in the first half because Weeden freaked out when OU brought pressure. He was throwing over receivers, behind receivers, and at their feet. If he can keep his cool this season, it will make all the difference--especially against teams with tougher defenses.
Now let's get to the
Bilerfnitizkof Biletnikoff winner, Justin Blackmon. You know what? First, let's talk about what a moron OU receiver, Kenny Stills, is. In case you missed it, Kenneth got butt hurt because former LSU star and now NFL player, Patrick Peterson tweeted that Justin Blackmon is the best receiver in college football. Kenneth retorted that Ryan Broyles is the best and that Blackmon "is all about big bodying people and sloppy routes." Apparently someone needs to send a memo to Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Terrell Owens, etc. that reads "Ryan Broyles is better than you, you big bullies!"
Back to the point, Kenneth is half right. A big part of what makes Blackmon great is how he uses his body against his defenders. Which wide receiver in the history of football hasn't? He also has great hands. Watch some of his highlights from last year. He doesn't merely catch the ball; he snatches it from the air. He also has tremendous balance and deceptive speed. Here are the two things I am looking forward to seeing him improve this year.
1. Maturity. No, it's not a good idea to drive home from Dallas at 4am going 30-40 MPH over the speed limit. No, it's not a good idea to run 20 yards horizontally across the football field before finally crossing into the endzone. Remember that your teammates and fans look up to you. Lead by example.
2. Ok, yes. His route running needs a little improvement. I only pick on this because every other part of his game is so good. I have no doubt that he and the coaches have been working on this since last year and we will no doubt see it become a strength along with his other attributes. So in other words, thanks for the heads up, Kenneth!
Ok, now that we've gotten those two out of the way, let's break down the rest of the offense.
Two words: Absolutely stacked. The second string could start for half of the Big 12 teams. Seriously. Right now, the starting line up looks like this: Nick Martinez, Jonathan Rush, Grant Garner, Lane Taylor, and Levy Adcock. Don't be surprised if Michael Bowie ends up taking someone's spot, though. The guy is a dominant force and may be too good to keep out of a starting position. Regardless of who wins that battle, this group will be the key to OSU continuing its offensive superiority. Objectively, they are one of the top three lines in the country. Homeristically, they are looking down at every other line in the country.
Kendall Hunter was special. But I have no doubt that Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith, and Herschel Sims will be able to continue OSU's running tradition. What ever flavor of running style is your favorite, OSU's got it with this three-headed monster. Smith is a bruiser who will run at you, over you, and into the endzone. Sims is another scat back prototype that will make defenders hug the grass as he sidesteps their tackles. Finally, Randle is a little of both. He's got some shake and bake to him but what I like most about him is his vision. He finds running lanes very well and always seems to fall forward on tackles. Both Brandon Weeden and former OC, Dana Holgorsen, have raved about his potential and call him a future NFL back. Kye Staley will also have a chance to contribute after his amazing comeback from a horrible leg injury. I expect Desmond Roland to redshirt.
In my opinion, best in the Big 12...maybe even the country. Everybody has a role. I've already talked about Justin Blackmon. But the reason why he will be so successful is because the other receivers will keep the defense honest. Josh Cooper is every bit as vital to the offense as Blackmon. Best hands on the team, best route runner on the team. When defenses drag a safety over to help against Blackmon, Cooper will make them pay from the slot. After a year plagued by injuries, Hubert Anyiam will look forward to reclaiming his starting position opposite side of Blackmon. Hopefully he has also cured his case of the dropsies. I'm looking forward to seeing Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore step up as well. Both are big receivers that are capable of exposing mismatches with the defense. Even behind these receivers, I still have to mention guys like Colton Chelf, Isaiah Anderson, and Justin Horton. All three have proven they can make plays when the ball comes their way as well. But the guy I will be keeping an eye on is incoming freshman, Torrance Carr. At 6'3" and 210 lbs, he already has the size to play Big 12 football. But that isn't all. Watch any of his highlight videos and you can tell this kid is going to be a star. He is powerful enough to brush off tacklers and yet, even with his size and frame, can stop on a dime and change directions in the blink of an eye. In short, get the ball in his hands and watch him work. In my opinion, he will be the next big thing at OSU.
With everyone OSU has at their disposal on offense, I think the machine will continue to hum on all cylinders. The biggest difference I think we'll see this year is how the offense is operated at certain times during a game. In my opinion, one of the downfalls of last year's offense is that it went too quickly at times. While that may put up gaudy stats, it also does the OSU defense no favors in terms of rest time. I think the new OC, Todd Monken, will have the offense moving at different tempos depending on what is best in each situation. This may cause the offense to move down a few spots statistically but in the end, I think it will be the most beneficial for the team as a whole.
Everyone write this down. OSU will be much better this year on defense. How much better? That depends on two positions on the field. But we'll get to that in a minute. What I don't like about a lot of preseason previews is that they don't look deep enough when they do their research. They take into account starters coming back, what the defense did the year before, and blanket the rest of the analysis with cliches and stereotypes. Remember last preseason when most of the media said OSU was going to go 6-6 and finish 5th in the south at best? We knew they were wrong. Many of you did too. Expect more of the same this year. Let's break it down by position.
OSU lost starters Shane Jarka and Chris Donaldson. Now this is where your average magazine automatically comes to the conclusion that the position will take a step back. What they don't realize is that both Jarka and Donaldson played the entire season with injuries that never allowed them to reach their potential. They also had very little depth behind them and therefore were on the field for far too many snaps per game. This only worsened their performance late in games and late in the season. Now take a look at this coming season. Nigel Nicholas and Christian Littlehead will command the DT starting positions. Both healthy, both athletic for their size, and both have more depth behind them. Maurice Hayes, Anthony Rogers, and Joe Okafor don't have much experience but what they provide is athleticism and fresh legs. Then, of course, we should be anxious to see where incoming freshman, James Castleman fits into everything. At 6'3" and 295 lbs, it is possible that he comes in and contributes immediately. The point is that where OSU loses experience, they gain health, depth, and athleticism. As a result, I expect to see an improvement at the DT position.
With Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick at each end, I expect this position to be a strength of the defense. There were many times last year where I felt like Jones outplayed Ugo Chinasa and should have overtaken the starting role. Moving forward, Richetti looks healthier than ever and should be ready to end his OSU career with his best season yet. Did I mention that both starters can now bench over 500 pounds? Yeah, that's salty. Behind them, look for Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett to make contributions as well. Both guys have the speed and footwork to be very serviceable backups. The bottom line is that this defense will be as good as its pass rush allows it to be. The defensive line has to work together and be able to put pressure on the QB without a blitz.
Let's make this simple. The Star position is solid with Freshman All-American Shaun Lewis and James Thomas behind him. I expect huge things from Lewis this year. The kid is simply a freak. At Middle Linebacker, OSU lost Orie Lemon. While you cannot replace him with a single player, I believe you can with two very good players. That is what OSU has with Tyler Johnson and Caleb Lavey. Johnson should get the starting position. He's big, physical, and plays with a ton of speed. All he needs are game reps. By the time the conference part of the schedule comes around, I expect him to be firing on all cylinders. Behind him, Caleb Lavey is your prototypical gap filler. I expect to see him more on running downs than passing downs because that is where he excels. He has great vision and makes sure tackles. Now then, the Weakside Linebacker is the big question (likely the biggest question on defense). Through spring practices, a player has yet to step up and claim the starting position. LeRon Furr, Chris Dinkins, Kris Catlin, and even Joe Mitchell (originally slotted to play the Star) have all taken snaps from the position. The battle continues on and may have actually found a leader in Juco transfer, Alex Elkins. Despite having only played football for three years, Elkins displays the speed, vision, power, and athleticism required to be a force on the field. The question is how fast can he pick it up? If he can get to where he is reacting instead of thinking by the time OSU heads into conference play, the defense may be in very good hands. If not, expect opposing offenses to target that part of the field all day long.
Let's start by saying that I think this year's secondary may be the best I've ever seen at OSU. There is so much depth and talent that it isn't funny. Starting with the corners, Brodrick Brown, Justin Gilbert, Devin Hedgepeth, Andrae May and Larry Stephens all return with valuable experience. While Hedgepeth may get the nod as a starter to begin the season, I expect Gilbert to take Hedgepeth's spot by mid-season. At 6'1" and 205 lbs, the guy is an athletic specimen. The coaches had him covering Blackmon all spring long for a reason. They know his potential is ridiculous. With a year experience under their belts, I think OSU fans will see a lot more physicality at the line of scrimmage and a lot less lining up ten yards away from the receiver. Both Brown and Gilbert have the potential to be All Big 12 corners when all is said and done.
The second half of the well-seasoned secondary. Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas will start. They are backed up by a bevy of hard hitting, talented guys. Daytawion Lowe, Lavocheya Cooper, Deion Imade, and Zach Craig. This may be the deepest position on the entire team. Markelle Martin is obviously a big hitter. Look for him to improve his coverage skills. Johnny Thomas started last season as a weakness on the defense and by the end, he was one of the big strengths. I have no doubt that both guys will go pro. What I love is that even in their absence, the position is well stocked with young, tough talent to take their places. Again, this is probably the best secondary I have ever seen at OSU.
While there are experience questions at DT and linebacker, I still expect this defense to be better than last year's. There is more speed, depth, and athleticism here than there has been in a long time. Another factor is the new offense. I'm predicting Todd Monken will do more favors for Bill Young than Dana Holgorsen did last year. In the end, I think the OSU defense will finish in the top 4 in the league and top 50 in the nation. Think that's crazy? Well take these two factors into consideration.
1. Bill Young's third year at prior schools has always been his defense's breakout year. In his third year at Kansas, his defense finished 12th in the country. Yeah, Kansas. We're talking football here, people. While I don't expect OSU to have a top 15 defense, I do think a huge jump is possible.
2. In 2008, OSU was relatively young on defense and the unit finished 94th in the nation. The very next season (Bill Young's first season), the more experienced defense finished 31st in the nation. This last season, OSU was relatively young on defense again. They finished 88th in the nation in total defense. Now, after a year of experience, where do you think the defense will land?
The Big 12 certainly didn't do OSU any favors when they created the 2011 schedule. The Cowboys have by far the toughest road in front of them. Still, with a nearly unstoppable offense and a defense that is sure to be better, OSU has a good chance of running the gauntlet and going into the Bedlam game undefeated. It won't be easy. Road games at A&M, Texas, Missouri, etc. will prove to be difficult tests. From there, past demons must be exorcised. Gundy must show that he can overcome the mental edge the Sooners have had over the Cowboys for the last eight years (ugh, that's hard to type). If OSU can do all of that, the program will see its first BCS bowl and perhaps the biggest one of them all.