O-line, schedule are obstacles for Sooners
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, August 23, 2009
8/23/09 at 4:59 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's Blog
WHAT IF Andre Ware is right?
Now there's a scary thought for thousands of Oklahoma football fans who expect their beloved Sooners to roll undefeated through the 2009 season and claim the school's eighth national championship.
Forget national title.
If Ware is correct in his assessment of coach Bob Stoops' 11th OU team, the Sooners won't even get a shot to win a record fourth straight Big 12 Conference crown.
An ESPN commentator, Ware went on the cable television giant earlier this month and brazenly predicted OU's record would stand at 8-4 after its final regular-season game Nov. 28 against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.
Ware's opinion doesn't jibe with his peers. Most so-called experts have OU penciled in as one of the nation's top four clubs, and foresee the Sooners either playing in their second straight BCS title game or barely missing out because their only loss will come against a Texas team that goes undefeated.
The knee-jerk reaction by OU fanatics is to write off Ware as just another boob, bozo or Beno. That could be a big mistake.
Ware has some serious credentials. You don't become the first African-American quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, which Ware did in 1989, without knowing something about the game.
Given the position he played at the University of Houston, Ware obviously has some keen insight into what makes a good college offense. And it is OU's lack of experience on the offensive line that concerns Ware enough to decree the Sooners will fall short four times this fall.
Ware apparently did his homework. The last time OU lost four regular-season games under Stoops was 2005, which included a shocking home loss to TCU in the opener.
That was before the NCAA added a 12th regular-season game, and OU finished 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners improved to 8-4 with a Holiday Bowl win over Oregon.
A patchwork, inexperienced offensive line was the glaring weakness on that team. The Sooners had to replace an Outland Trophy winner and first-round NFL pick in All-American tackle Jammal Brown, along with solid veterans in center Vince Carter and tackle Wes Sims.
Senior All-American guard Davin Joseph was the key veteran. The other spots were filled by career backups.
Sound familiar? It should, because OU's 2009 offensive line is in a rebuilding mode that is strikingly similar to that 2005 unit. The Sooners opened fall camp with a tight end and a guard also practicing at center.
Like Joseph, OU has a senior All-American anchor in tackle Trent Williams. And that's it, after losing four starters, including two All-Americans in guard Duke Robinson and tackle Phil Loadholt, a second-round NFL pick.
"We don't have the number of guys that we've had," Stoops said. "But I believe the seven or eight guys in there that will play the most will still be awfully good."
That Stoops quote is actually from August 2005. But it also works this August, because he's basically said the same thing about a depth-deprived line that's expected to include two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman.
OU historians will quickly counter the comparison to 2005 by noting that team also was horribly inexperienced at quarterback. Redshirt junior Paul Thompson started the TCU game, but lost the job by halftime to redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar.
This Sooner team has a serious upgrade at the game's most important position. Redshirt junior quarterback Sam Bradford returns after winning the 2008 Heisman Trophy. But this offense has some of the same question marks at wide receiver as in Stoops' sixth season.
On paper, the OU defense certainly appears more talented than the one five seasons ago. But that 2005 unit, like this one, looked loaded at defensive end until early-season injuries nearly wiped it out.
This season's schedule is another major reason why OU supporters should hope 2009 isn't 2005 all over again.
UCLA was a difficult nonconference road game back then. A trip to Miami (Fla.) and a neutral-site opener against BYU should provide similar early-season tests for these Sooners.
OU lost at UCLA, and also dropped its annual neutral-site showdown with eventual 2005 national champion Texas. The Longhorns are ranked ahead of OU in the majority of the preseason polls and are favored to play defending national champion Florida for the 2009 BCS title.
And then there is the potentially "Killer L-Trio" on OU's schedule. With road games at Nebraska, Kansas and Texas Tech, the Sooners could come home from Lincoln, Lawrence and Lubbock with an "L" or two on their record.
The Cornhuskers and Jayhawks are the Big 12's North Division favorites, and OU has lost its last two games at Texas Tech.
So, could Andre Ware be right? No, he'll be half right.
Look for OU to finish 10-2, with that dreaded letter "L" playing a role in both losses — one to the Longhorns and one in either Lincoln, Lawrence or Lubbock.