The Stoops reunification.
It didn't take long after Mike Stoops' 2003 departure for OU fans to miss him. As years passed, the Sooner faithful became increasingly nostalgic for the days when the Stoops brothers were together in Norman.
Stoops' return might be exciting for fans, but he has spoken of a desire to repair his coaching reputation, which sustained heavy blows during an up-and-down tenure as Arizona's head coach. If the defense seems improved from last season, he'll be declared a savior. But how quickly will the masses turn on Mike if things get rocky?
A fine line separates boom from bust.
The Oklahoma offensive line was supposed to be the Sooners' strongest, most battle-tested unit. But after Ben Habern's career-ending back and neck issues, Tyler Evans' preseason ACL tear and other setbacks, the line — especially on the interior — is thin. Gabe Ikard will ably anchor it from center, but another lineman injury would be devastating.
The interim Sooner.
Often when an OU player arrives in August and departs by the next January, it can be reasonably assumed his brief stay ended badly.
But such players also don't arrive as seniors and openly declare their intent to be one-season wonders.
Penn State refugee Justin Brown's arrival has been — and will remain — anything but normal. He'll play his senior season with OU, complete required courses, transfer them back to Penn State and graduate there.
Brown could flourish teamed with quarterback Landry Jones. Brown will also be OU's punt returner.
Belldozer back and broadened.
Eleven of OU's last 14 TDs of 2011 were Blake Bell runs from the Belldozer, which became a fan favorite. It's a relatively simple concept; if Bell and his powerful 6-foot-6, 254-pound frame carries the ball, a running back can become an extra blocker. Bob Stoops has said the package will not only return but probably be expanded and used 10-12 times each game.
Sustaining pass-rush prowess.
Oklahoma tied for eighth nationally last year with 40 sacks, but gone are All-Big 12 defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Stepping into those shoes are seniors R.J. Washington and David King, each impressive through spring and fall practices. Washington recorded two sacks in last year's Insight Bowl and said he's finally ready to showcase the skills that made him so highly recruited out of high school.
5 IMPACT PLAYERS NOT NAMED LANDRY JONES
* Aaron Colvin, junior cornerback: Colvin returns to cornerback, his preferred position, for his junior season. Last year at safety, the Owasso native finished tied for the team lead with 84 tackles.
* Trey Metoyer, freshman wide receiver: Metoyer spent a tough semester at military school last fall, made it to Norman in January and demonstrated his big-play potential in April's spring game. Metoyer is expected start and eventually evolve into an all-out superstar.
* Kenny Stills, junior wide receiver: Everyone around the program has praised Stills for his maturation as he's assumed a leadership role. Metoyer and Justin Brown seem like probable first-team outside receivers, leaving Stills as OU's top guy in the slot, a role he tried last year, but struggled in, following Ryan Broyles' demise.
* Dominique Whaley, senior running back: Whaley is medically cleared and participating in OU practices after last year's severe, season-ending ankle injury. The former walk-on, who led OU with 627 yards last season, insists he's better than ever, but his recovery is impossible to fully gauge until he plays in an actual game.
* Tom Wort, junior linebacker: Wort, listed on the Butkus Award's preseason watch list, made 71 tackles last season. Many health issues nagged at him through fall camp, and, although he never missed practice, an able-bodied Wort is essential to a Sooner defense looking for marked improvement in 2012.
5 DATES THAT WILL SHAPE THE SEASON
* Sept. 29: This is the last Saturday OU gets off until after its Dec. 1 regular-season finale. That's nine straight weeks with no break, which could mean more injuries and exhaustion and, potentially, less wins.
* Oct. 6: Texas hosts West Virginia in a battle of two teams most likely to challenge OU for the Big 12 title. The UT-WVU game comes a week before the Red River Rivalry, so even if Texas escapes with a win, its pre-Dallas tilt will likely be much more grueling than OU's in Lubbock.
* Oct. 13: All of the Red River Rivalry's pageantry is great, but the on-the-field matchup this year could result in a low-scoring, defensive battle. Texas' defense is one of the nation's most talented, and with the Longhorns' 2011 offensive woes possibly carrying over, 2012's Red River game could end with a score in the 21-17 range.
* Nov. 17: Right now, OU at West Virginia is the most anticipated conference game of 2012. Should things go as planned, an established Big 12 power faces an upstart, and top quarterbacks and possible Heisman contenders match up in what could become a de-facto Big 12 title game.
* Nov. 24: After 2011's Bedlam dud, OU undoubtedly will play with revenge in mind. This late in the season, expect OSU to operate at a high level. OU must win this game, because another Bedlam defeat, especially at home, puts a massive damper on 2012, regardless of almost any success or victory.
5 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR OU'S SEASON
* Justin Brown will match his three-year total for touchdown receptions at Penn State (3) in Oklahoma's first two games of this season. Brown's big frame and playmaking skills are finally in an offense where they can be put to use.
* Michael Hunnicutt will successfully convert three or more 50-plus-yard field goals. The sophomore was 4-of-4 from beyond 40 yards last season, with a long of 53. Hunnicutt will only improve moving forward; he said he's more accurate and his leg is stronger after his offseason work.
* OU will convert 45 percent or more of its third-down attempts. The Sooners haven't sniffed 50 percent on third down since Sam Bradford's 2008 team that reached the title game. Last year, OU converted about 41 percent of its third-down attempts. Bob Stoops said the Belldozer might see more third-and-short uses; if that happens often, OU's third-down rate could significantly increase.
* The Sooners will give up 60 or more yards per game in penalties. It's what happens when teams have inexperienced and/or thin offensive lines, and that's what OU's got post-Habern and Evans. The starters might be OK, but when the young reserves are in, officials might have trouble keeping yellow flags in their pockets, especially early in the season, and especially with the Sooners' fast-paced offense.
* Trey Millard will average 10 carries per game and run for 10 or more TDs. The Sooners' offensive jack-of-all-trades is too good a ball carrier for the Sooners to not find ways to take advantage. Near the goal-line, Millard is a perfect curve ball to throw at defenses expecting Blake Bell.