* 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.