NORMAN — Oklahoma enters the 2013 football season without four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones, its two leading receivers from 2012 and the vast majority of last year's contributors on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Despite all that lost experience, the Sooners seemingly have as good a shot as any team in the wide-open Big 12 Conference.
As college football fast approaches — Big 12 football media days are less than a month away — here is a look at next year's Oklahoma squad, position-by-position.
Who's gone: Drew Allen (transferred to Syracuse), Landry Jones (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Blake Bell (6-6, 263, Jr.), Trevor Knight (6-1, 202, RFr.), Kendal Thompson (6-1, 191, So.)
Who's new: Cody Thomas (6-5, 220, Fr.)
Analysis: Bell outshined Knight and Thompson in the spring game, but all three quarterbacks led scoring drives and showed their ability to move around in and out of the pocket — something that was missing from the OU offense during the Landry Jones era. By the end of spring practices, Bell and Thompson appeared to have separated themselves a bit from Knight. It remains to be seen how much Thompson's offseason arrest for public intoxication will hurt his chances.
Unit MVP: Bell
Grade: B. Bell remains the odds-on favorite to win the job, but OU coaches have got to feel good about any position battle — especially this one — when there really isn't a bad choice.
Who's gone: Dominique Whaley (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Brennan Clay (5-11, 197, Sr.), Roy Finch (5-7, 167, Sr.), Trey Millard (6-2, 259, Sr.), Aaron Ripkowski (6-1, 260, Jr.), Alex Ross (6-1, 218, RFr.), David Smith (5-10, 206, RFr.), Damien Williams (5-11, 214, Sr.)
Who's new: Keith Ford (5-11, 208, Fr.)
Analysis: One of the most stacked units on the team, Oklahoma's running backs could be primed for big, big things in 2013. Clay finally began to showcase his full potential late last season. Williams emerged as a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. Finch seems back in the coaches' good graces, so he could end up a big part of the offense. Millard's value as a blocker can't be overstated, but he has shown electric ability with the ball in his hands.
Unit MVP: Millard
Grade: A. OU's backfield is loaded with talented, diverse playmakers. Williams and Clay will likely get the bulk of the carries next season.
Who's gone: Justin Brown (eligibility expired), Kenny Stills (entered NFL Draft),
Who's back: Lacoltan Bester (6-3, 208, Sr.), Trey Metoyer (6-1, 184, So.), Durron Neal (5-11, 201, So.), Jaz Reynolds (6-2, 198, Sr.), Jalen Saunders (5-9, 160, Sr.), Sterling Shepard (5-10, 188, So.), Derrick Woods (6-1, 186, RFr.)
Who's new: Austin Bennett (6-0, 170, Fr.), Dannon Cavil (6-5, 205, Fr.), Jordan Smallwood (6-2, 190, Fr.), K.J. Young (6-1, 182, Fr.)
Analysis: Many teams might be a bit concerned after losing their two leading receivers. Not Oklahoma, though, and it's a credit to Jay Norvell's strong recruiting and talent development. Saunders and Shepard became major threats in the slot positions last year, and both appear primed to make big leaps next season. Metoyer was branded a superstar-to-be before his freshman season began. That didn't work out last year, but he's certainly got the talent to contribute moving forward.
Unit MVP: Saunders
Grade: A. Bester, Neal, Saunders and Shepard left spring as the starters, but any of the unit's talented players could command playing time.
Who's gone: No one
Who's back: Sam Grant (6-7, 250, RFr.), Brannon Green (6-2, 264, Sr.), Taylor McNamara (6-5, 253, RFr.)
Who's new: No one
Analysis: Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has typically gotten major production out of its tight ends. Until last season, when Green made the unit's only three receptions all year and the position became somewhat obsolete in the Sooners' prolific attack. McNamara was injured early in the season and then granted a medical redshirt.
Unit MVP: Green
Grade: C. Oklahoma expects more from this group in 2013.
Who's gone: Tyler Evans (tore ACL in spring, likely ending career), Lane Johnson (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Ty Darlington (6-3, 282, So.), Derek Farniok (6-9, 324, So.), Gabe Ikard (6-3, 298, Sr.), Bronson Irwin (6-5, 310, Sr.), Nila Kasitati (6-4, 309, So.), Kyle Marrs (6-5, 300, RFr.), Adam Shead (6-4, 311, Jr.), Tyrus Thompson (6-5, 316, Jr.), Daryl Williams (6-6, 315, Jr.)
Who's new: Christian Daimler (6-6, 270, Fr.), Josiah St. John (6-6, 305, Jr.), Dionte Savage (6-5, 345, Jr.), Tony Feo (6-4, 275, Jr.)
Analysis: Oklahoma's offensive line played admirably last season considering its ongoing injury problems. With new position coach Bill Bedenbaugh, toughness and constant improvement will be paramount. The unit returns experienced leaders like Ikard, Irwin, Shead, Thompson and Williams, plus promising young guys like Darlington and Kasitati, who returns from a torn ACL. One player who needs major improvement to provide important depth is Farniok, a big, strong guy whose talent has yet to materialize.
Unit MVP: Ikard
Grade: B. If the experienced guys can stay healthy and the young guys grow up fast, Oklahoma's offensive line could become one of the strongest units on the team.
Who's gone: David King (eligibility expired), Jamarkus McFarland (eligibility expired), Stacy McGee (eligibility expired), Casey Walker (eligibility expired), R.J. Washington (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Rashod Favors (6-1, 262, Jr.), Geneo Grissom (6-4, 254, Jr.), P.L. Lindley (6-2, 249, So.), Chuka Ndulue (6-3, 262, Jr.), Chaz Nelson (6-2, 244, Sr.), Michael Onuoha (6-5, 235, So.), Charles Tapper (6-4, 253, So.), Torrea Peterson (6-3, 280, Jr.), Jordan Phillips (6-6, 324, So.), Jordan Wade (6-4, 306, RFr.)
Who's new: Matt Dimon (6-2, 252, Fr.), Kerrick Huggins (6-3, 289, Fr.), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (6-3, 220, Fr.), Quincy Russell (6-4, 315, Jr.), Matthew Romar (6-3, 268, Fr.), Charles Walker (6-3, 280, Fr.), D.J. Ward (6-2, 245, Fr.)
Analysis: Oklahoma's defensive line was its weakest unit last season. Most of those players are gone, but lots of questions remain about the guys who will replace them. The Sooners were dangerously thin at defensive tackle in the spring, causing coaches to move Chuka Ndulue and Rashod Favors to tackle. Phillips will probably be one of the most important players on the whole team. He's got a high ceiling, and will need to begin reaching his full potential soon.
Unit MVP: Ndulue
Grade: C-. This unit has lots to prove.
Who's gone: Jaydan Bird (eligibility expired), Daniel Franklin (eligibility expired), Joseph Ibiloye (eligibility expired), Tom Wort (entered NFL Draft)
Who's back: Corey Nelson (6-1, 215. Sr.), Frank Shannon (6-1, 230, So.), Eric Striker (6-0, 198, So.)
Who's new: Dominique Alexander (6-2, 195, Fr.), Jordan Evans (6-3, 210, Fr.)
Analysis: Like tight ends, OU linebackers became pretty obsolete by season's end. Nelson and Shannon each showed flashes of their potential last year, but weren't allowed on the field much in Mike Stoops' experimental defensive schemes. Stoops admitted doing the group “an injustice” last year, and vowed it would return to its rightful, prominent place in the defense.
Unit MVP: Nelson
Grade: C+. With their confidence back, OU's linebackers — especially Nelson — might be in for a strong rebound season.
Who's gone: Javon Harris (eligibility expired), Lamar Harris (eligibility expired), Demontre Hurst (eligibility expired), Tony Jefferson (entered NFL Draft), Jesse Paulsen (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Daniel Brooks (5-8, 172, RFr.), Aaron Colvin (6-0, 181, Sr.), Kass Everett (5-10, 180, Sr.), Trey Franks (5-10, 184, Jr.), Quentin Hayes (6-0, 181, Jr.), Cortez Johnson (6-2, 198, So.), Gabe Lynn (6-0, 199, Sr.), Zack Sanchez (5-11, 170, RFr.), Julian Wilson (6-2, 191, Jr.)
Who's new: Dakota Austin (5-11, 167, Fr.), Hatari Byrd (6-1, 195, Fr.), L.J. Moore (6-1, 175, Fr.), Stanvon Taylor (5-11, 175, Fr.), Ahmad Thomas (6-1, 205, Fr.)
Analysis: Colvin has All-America potential. Lynn has struggled some at cornerback and nickelback in the past; he move to free safety in the spring. Johnson sat out last year after transferring from Arizona, but left spring ball as a starting corner opposite Colvin.
Unit MVP: Colvin
Grade: C+. Newcomers in this unit appear to have the best chance at early playing time in 2013.
Who's gone: Tress Way (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Michael Hunnicutt (6-1, 169, Jr.)
Who's new: Jed Barnett (6-2, 215, Jr.)
Analysis: Barnett wasn't great in the spring game, but Bob Stoops swears by his powerful leg. Hunnicutt has made 36 of 43 career field goals. New special teams coordinator Jay Boulware raved about his return men — especially Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch — during the spring.
Unit MVP: Hunnicutt
Grade: B. Hunnicutt has been solid, and the Sooners' return men could end up being among the nation's best next season.