As of Wednesday, only 100 days remain before the start of the Oklahoma college football season.
The word “only” is applicable because the summer always seems so brief. Your kids have ballgames and tournaments. You’ll do some vacation travel.
Soon, football again will command everyday headlines. As you’re unpacking from a summer trip, you’ll notice coverage of the start of preseason practice.
The 2019 season starts in an unprecedented manner. None of the openers involving state teams is played on a Saturday. In 100 days, Oklahoma State and the University of Tulsa will open with road games on Friday, Aug. 30: the Cowboys at Oregon State and the Golden Hurricane at Michigan State.
On Sunday, Sept. 1, in a prime-time game televised by ABC, Oklahoma will host Houston on Owen Field.
At the front end of preseason camps, media coverage will center on the quarterbacks. It always does, even when there is an experienced guy at the position. This year, for sure, there will be quarterback storylines.
The Sooners and Cowboys will be driven by new QBs. For the Golden Hurricane, there might be a new starter — if Baylor transfer Zach Smith can unseat TU’s 2018 starter, Seth Boomer.
As OU, OSU and TU grind through August, this is what I’ll monitor more intently: the status of each program’s defense. There are new coordinators at OU (Alex Grinch) and TU (Joseph Gillespie). At OSU, Jim Knowles is preparing for his second season.
The best support for a new QB — and even for a talented, accomplished veteran like OU’s Jalen Hurts — is a run game that ranges from dependable to dynamic, and a defense that can be a factor in recording victories.
A defense that is more of a help than a hindrance.
A defense that gives you a chance instead of a headache.
Within each of the state programs, the run-game component is solid. The Sooners, Cowboys and Hurricane all are outfitted with quality personnel.
Defensively, TU was unexpectedly good last season. Nine starters are returning.
A third-year sophomore at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins is among the better defenders in the American Athletic Conference. The truth is, he would be an effective player on any team in any conference.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the 2019 Sooners and Cowboys thrive offensively with new quarterbacks — and do so while performing at better levels on the defensive side of the ball?
For the most part during this decade, the defense in this state has been dismal. It’s got to get better.
By the end of the 2018 season, OU was the national leader in total offense. OSU was 10th. The total-defense statistic is a measurement of yards allowed, and while it isn’t the ultimate storytelling statistic, it certainly is an indicator.
In 2018, it indicated that neither OU nor OSU was any good defensively.
The Sooners were 114th nationally, having allowed 454 yards per game and 6.1 yards per play. With almost identical averages of 453 yards allowed per game and 6.0 per play, Oklahoma State was 112th.
The most striking of all 2018 statistics was this one: The superpower OU program was 130th nationally — dead last — in passing defense. OSU was 118th.
Combining the OU and OSU performances, 2018 was the worst season of Bedlam defense since the ’90s. When the NFL draft was conducted last month, no Sooners defender was selected for the first time since 1995.
When the 1985 Sooners won the national title, they were on the field for only 60 plays per game. Fast-tempo spread offense has changed college football. Today, it’s common for a defense to be on the field for at least 80 plays.
That’s an additional 20 plays for fatigue or mistakes to become a factor. It’s the new reality, but it doesn’t justify terrible pass coverage or getting gashed for 6 yards per play — and especially when national champion Clemson is giving up only 4.2 per play.
In 2012, Tulsa was 25th nationally in total defense. That tremendous unit was the biggest reason for an 11-3 finish. However, there were subsequent Hurricane rankings of 117th (in 2014), 126th (2015) and 128th (2018).
During Mike Gundy’s 14-season run as the OSU coach, the Cowboys only once have been in the top 50 nationally in total defense. In 2009, they were 31st.
In 2000-06, none of the Bob Stoops-coached Sooners teams was worse than 16th nationally in total defense. In 2010-18, OU was better than 39th only once. Over the past three seasons, the Sooners were 82nd, 67th and 114th — and two of those teams were involved in the College Football Playoff.
So, as the Tulsa World’s OU, OSU and TU beat writers provide daily coverage of August college football camps, I’ll read every syllable about the quarterbacks, but I’ll be looking first for positive reports about the defenses.
TU can’t achieve bowl eligibility unless it plays consistently respectable defense.
At OU and OSU, defensive improvement is long overdue.