The Oklahoman's staff members discuss four topics surrounding this year's Oklahoma football team:
1. Who will get more offensive touches this season: Roy Finch or Trey Millard?
Jason Kersey (beat writer) - Trey Millard. While I think Roy Finch definitely has a chance to re-establish himself as a regular contributor on offense, Millard enters the season in better standing with the coaches and looked great during his few opportunities to carry the ball last year. Finch played so little on offense a year ago, and there are so many strong players in front of him on the depth chart, that it’s tough to predict he’ll get more carries than Millard in 2013 at this point.
Ryan Aber (beat writer) - There was no contest last year as Millard blew out Finch by more than 50 touches. If the reports of Damien William’s lackluster work ethic over the summer are true, that would seem to open a gap for Finch to get back in the coaches’ good graces and get back to regularly seeing the field again. After 145 touches as a sophomore, Finch had just nine last season. Millard will get his touches either way, though, giving the Sooners offense a versatile weapon in both the ground and passing games. So although Finch could wind up winning this one in a blowout, I’ll stick with the safe bet and go with Millard.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - Millard. It's gotta be. Right? I mean, I love a change-of-pace back just as much as the next person, but Millard is a beast. Regardless of how you get the ball in his hands, he does something positive with it. Surely, with a new quarterback, the Sooners will want the ball going to guys who can take some pressure off the newbie. Millard can do just that.
2. Which position group enters the season as the biggest question mark?
Kersey - It has to be the defensive line. The unit wasn’t great in 2012, but Oklahoma still loses five seniors and has few experienced players to replace them with. Junior Chuka Ndulue’s move inside from end to tackle could help, but can his body really handle the beating it’s sure to take throughout an entire season? Coaches will surely feel better about the defensive line if junior-college transfer Quincy Russell manages to make it to campus.
Aber - It’s got to be the defensive line right now though you could argue any of the units on defense could be candidates. The Sooners lost virtually the entire defensive front from last season and the main returning piece--Chuka Ndulue--was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence over the offseason. There’s some potential there but they’re going to rely on a lot of guys with not a lot of experience to get the job done. That’s a dangerous place to be in in the Big 12.
Carlson - Defensive front seven. I was going to say linebackers because of the offensive changes that will ask so much more of them, but how can you ignore the defensive line? The defensive line has often been an position of dominance during the Stoops Era, but it has become anything but. And now, the Sooners have a largely inexperienced group on the defensive line. Those linemen along with the linebackers are in the crosshairs.
3. True or false: Blake Bell will have more than seven rushing touchdowns.
Kersey - True. Whether they come on third-and-goal situations from the opponents’ 1-yard line or scrambles on well-covered pass plays, Bell will find the endzone with his feet more than any OU starting quarterback since Josh Heupel, who rushed for seven touchdowns during the Sooners’ 2000 national-title season.
Aber - True. Being the starting quarterback, as most expect him to be, will change the dynamic near the goal line for the Sooners. Bob Stoops brought up the possibility of using either Kendal Thompson or Trevor Knight in the Belldozer offense that was so successful the last two years with Bell. But if Bell shows he can be effective through the air, defenses won’t be able to key on Bell running the ball as much.
Carlson - True. The Sooners are moving to a system with a more mobile quarterback, so I find it hard to believe that they won't use Bell's legs when they're around the goal line. We might not see the Belldozer formation employed as much as last year, but there will still be run plays called for Bell. And clearly, we have seen that he knows how to find his way into the end zone.
4. Finish this sentence: OU wins the Big 12 if _____________.
Kersey - Blake Bell throws at least 25 touchdown passes during the regular season. That would allow the Sooners’ run game to flourish as well behind an experienced, solid offensive line, and take some pressure off a defense that will feature tons of new starters. Even if the defense struggles at times — which it surely will against Big 12 offenses — strong passing production from Bell should be enough to lift the Sooners to another conference title.
Aber - The defense comes together. That’s a tall order for a group where virtually every position manned by someone other than Aaron Colvin is a question mark. But it’s not out of the question. The Sooners under Bob Stoops have traditionally overachieved when entering the season with as many question marks as this team has. It’s hard to expect that every time but Oklahoma has the capability to make it happen again this time around.
Carlson - The defense improves. A lot. Landry Jones and Co. saved the defense's bacon several times last season, and since the Sooners will be breaking in a new quarterback, you can't assume that the offense will be as capable of late-game heroics. The defense must be better. Tackle better. Cover better. Contain better. In every way, the defense has to improve.