NORMAN — Returning 16 starters from a defending Big 12 champion football team, Oklahoma will be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in most preseason magazine polls.
But the key to playing in the national title game isn't how a handful of new starters fare.
"At the end of the day all the other stats (don't matter)," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "If you win the battle up front on both sides of the ball, you're going to have a good chance to win virtually every game. I really believe that will be the backbone of what we do.
"We have some talented parts around them, but they really have to be the backbone of what we do. Our best teams here are (have been good on the line) on both sides of the ball. They can definitely get there. It's just improving across the board."
There are question marks in other areas on defense. The Sooners will have two new safeties, possibly a new cornerback. Middle linebacker Tom Wort must be more consistent after on-the-job training as a redshirt freshman.
But to feature a national title caliber defense, the line must play well.
Last season, opponents didn't have to double team defensive tackles like previous years when the defense was built around future NFL draft picks such as Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy.
OU once again won't feature a preseason All-American in the trenches on either side of the ball. But Venables is encouraged that experience gained last season, plus another offseason or work, should produce more consistency up front.
There is some experience.
Defensive end Frank Alexander has made 18 career starts. Defensive tackle Stacy McGee is a returning starter. Defensive tackles Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland have started a handful of games.
"Stacey had a really strong spring," Venables said. "He played confidently. Jamarkus really made marked improvement, probably overall the most improvement. Casey Walker was consistent. Torrea Peterson really had a good spring, too."