NORMAN — Around these parts, we talk about teams having a Texas problem or an Oklahoma problem.
Barriers to a championship are what we're talking about.
But if we want to get down to brass tacks, we'll start discussing the biggest barrier to the biggest championship.
On the day that the top-ranked team in all the land met with fans and media, everyone wanted to know if these Sooners can win the national title. They have a squad that looks more than capable, headlined by a fantastic pass-catch duo and a Doberman defense.
But can they unseat the SEC?
The southern-fried league has won the last five national championships, a run that's come courtesy of four different teams. In a league that's never been shy about self-promotion, the SEC is playing up its dominance.
The cover of the conference's football media guide — a huge numeral five.
“The SEC has taken it the last few years,” Sooner defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland acknowledged, “but everything's up for grabs. They're gonna have to step up and work hard every day just like we do.”
True enough. An SEC team in the BCS national championship game isn't a given. Not even close.
Truth be told, the league itself is the biggest barrier to the SEC winning another title. Eight of its teams are ranked in the top 23 in the preseason coaches' poll. Ask people who've been around the league for years, and they'll tell you that the SEC has never been stronger.
Still, the SEC just keeps winning national titles, and it shows no sign of ending. This isn't an aberration. This isn't an abnormality. This is how it is.
The SEC is the conference to beat.
Are the Sooners the ones to do it?
Regardless of what SEC team rises to the top — Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas are the most formidable of the bunch — there are hallmarks of every great team from that league.
Primary among them are speed, speed and more speed.
Last the Sooners faced an SEC team was the national championship game three seasons ago, a 24-14 loss to Florida. The Sooners saw that speed first hand. The defense struggled to contain Gator quarterback Tim Tebow when he scrambled. Ditto for the Florida scatbacks when they got into the open field.
But really, the OU defense played fairly well. It intercepted Tebow twice, the first time in his college career he'd been picked off twice in a game.
The Sooners struggled, though, with the Gators' speed on defense. A Sam Bradford-led offense that had been so prolific, it failed to covert on two of its three trips inside the red zone in the second quarter alone. That offense had failed to score points in the red zone only four times during the regular season.
Gator defenders were simply beating Sooner blockers to the ball.
On one of those failed red-zone trips, the Sooners had third-and-goal from the 1. Twice, they handed the ball to Chris Brown. Twice, defensive tackle Torrey Davis stuffed him.
A backup defensive tackle.
“In the SEC, I feel like they recruit speed rather than strength,” OU defensive tackle Stacy McGee said. “They have guys that are my size that are as fast as the running backs.”
That kind of speed is most evident on the offensive and defensive lines. Big guys who can move are rare, and the SEC has them in abundance.
So, do the Sooners have front lines capable of hanging with an SEC champion?
The offensive line returns six players who have started, but the defensive line is rebuilding a bit after losing Jeremy Beal and Adrian Taylor. Ronnell Lewis is a star in the making, Frank Alexander and Casey Walker are solid, but depth, especially at defensive tackle is thin.
McGee offered a brutally honest assessment Saturday.
“The depth, it just might be another issue this year,” he said, referring to last season when there just weren't that many options at defensive tackle. “We made it through last year ... I feel like we can make it through this year, too.
“We're OK. We're not great. We have room to improve.”
Barring major injury, the big nasties will determine the Sooners' fate against the SEC. Will they have a legitimate shot at breaking up the dynasty? Will they win the national championship for the first time in a decade?
Bob Stoops, for one, feels the time has come, and the Sooner coach hasn't been shy about saying as much.
“Because that's how people feel, and I do, too,” he said. “Around here, you usually win one every 10 years or sooner.”
This is an OU team built to win a national championship. Still, these Sooners are like every other team in college football.
They've got an SEC problem.