DALLAS — College football is right around the corner.
Players and coaches arrive Monday morning at the Omni Dallas Hotel to kick off the 2013 preseason with Big 12 Media Days. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, cornerback Aaron Colvin, center Gabe Ikard and fullback Trey Millard will represent the Sooners on Tuesday.
OU was picked to finish second behind Oklahoma State in the Big 12 preseason media poll, and Colvin and Ikard were the only two Sooners selected to the media's preseason All-Big 12 team.
Here are five pressing questions facing OU as we inch closer to the 2013 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
5. What improvement can be reasonably expected from Oklahoma's defense in Mike Stoops' second season?
Mike Stoops readily admits that he made mistakes — most notably, leaving linebackers off the field — late last season, when the Sooners faced high-powered spread attacks from Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, surrendering averages of 43 points and 581.25 yards in those games.
OU loses most of its defensive starters, leaving lots of uncertainty surrounding the 2013 Sooner D. Still, many of the Big 12's best quarterbacks have moved on, and that fact alone may help make this season better.
4. Which veterans are under the most pressure to produce?
The Sooner defense is filled with upperclassmen who have something to prove. Senior defensive back Gabe Lynn moves to safety this season after inconsistent play at cornerback and nickelback over the past two seasons. The once-promising Jenks product will have talented true freshmen Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas to fight off if he wants to keep his starting spot.
Senior linebacker Corey Nelson, once among the defense's best players, didn't play much late last season in Mike Stoops' linebacker-less scheme, and admitted that he considered leaving the team because of it. He's capable of an All-Big 12 caliber season if he gets on the field and stays motivated.
Sophomore wide receiver Trey Metoyer is another player under pressure. He was supposed to be an immediate superstar last season as a true freshman, but lost his starting spot after five games and then rarely played. With Kenny Stills and Justin Brown gone, Metoyer will have an opportunity to take a leading role in the receiver corps.
3. How different will Oklahoma's offense look with a new quarterback?
Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle between Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson or Trevor Knight, expect to see much more running from the position. Whether those plays come by design or not, any of the three will show far more mobility than departed four-year starter Landry Jones.
The Sooners still have a strong, talented receiver corps and a deep group of impressive running backs, so if the quarterback produces at a high level, OU could be in for a special season offensively.
2. Is the starting quarterback job Blake Bell's to lose?
Based on his experience and his performance in the spring game, it's tough to imagine Thompson or Knight beating out Bell to be the Sooners' starter against Louisiana-Monroe.
Yes, the vast majority of Bell's game experience came in the “Belldozer” short-yardage package, but many of those moments were in big games under the brightest lights. His arm strength has been questioned, but in the past two spring games, Bell showed he's capable of passing effectively. It would seemingly take a disastrous showing from Bell in fall camp — or an unbelievable one from Thompson or Knight — for anyone other than the Belldozer to command the offense in 2013.
1. Can the Sooners retake their place among the nation's elite in 2013?
Throughout Bob Stoops' tenure as head coach, Oklahoma has often performed its best when expectations were the lowest.
Even so, the Sooners enter 2013 with several important position groups that remain mysteries. What kind of play will OU get from its new quarterback? Can the thin offensive line stay healthy?
Will the Sooners re-establish their dominant play on the defensive line — a staple throughout much of the Stoops era that fell off drastically last season — even with a vastly inexperienced group of players expected to take on leading roles? Will linebackers become a big part of the scheme again? Besides senior Aaron Colvin, who can be relied upon to perform consistently in the defensive backfield?
Until those issues are resolved, it's tough to imagine Oklahoma as a true national-title contender in 2013.