NORMAN — Like its conference as a whole, Oklahoma is tough to make definitive projections about entering the 2013 season.
The Big 12 Conference lost most of its elite quarterbacks from last season, leaving lots of question marks surrounding the league's traditionally prolific offenses. The league's wide-open nature was evident in the preseason Big 12 media poll, in which six different teams received first-place votes.
The Sooners, meanwhile, will trot out their first new starting quarterback since 2009 and return few defensive starters from 2012.
I've said many times in the last few months that I can see OU clinching a ninth Big 12 title and BCS berth in 2013, and can just as easily envision the Sooners finishing with a 7-5 regular-season record and in the bottom half of the final conference standings.
Here are three reasons OU could return to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2010, and three reasons it could be in for a disappointing 2013 campaign.
A potentially dominant rushing attack
Oklahoma returns four senior running backs, each of whom is capable of carrying the load should that become necessary. Damien Williams and Brennan Clay were the top rushers a year ago, but fullback Trey Millard has shown he's capable of big things with the ball in his hands, and Roy Finch — seemingly out of the coaches' doghouse — can be electrifying.
Plus, the Sooners return five offensive linemen with significant experience and lots of career starts. OU also added junior-college transfers Tony Feo, Dionte Savage and Josiah St. John, all of whom are talented enough to push for playing time or even starts.
New energy with new coaches
OU coach Bob Stoops fired three assistant coaches in February, sending shock waves through a Sooner Nation not used to that kind of staff turnover.
But Stoops replaced them with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jay Boulware. The three bring new, fresh ideas into the program, and could even energize the returning coaches.
Mike Stoops' (second) sophomore campaign
Mike Stoops led dominant OU defenses during his first run as the Sooners' defensive coordinator from 1999-2003, when he did such a great job that Arizona hired him as its head coach.
After his seven-season run with the Wildcats ended in 2011, he returned to his brother's staff in Norman, exciting fans who wanted a return to those early-2000s Sooner defenses.