Oklahoma's 2011 regular season ended Saturday night with a 44-10 Bedlam loss, the second most lopsided loss in the Bob Stoops era, trailing only the USC blowout seven seasons ago.
The Sooners will play in the Insight.com Bowl. But any non-BCS bowl season is viewed as a disappointment, especially for a team that was ranked No. 1 in preseason. A win over Iowa would build some momentum but be small consolation after finishing 6-3 in conference play.
Looking ahead to 2012, the Sooners will return players that made at least one start at every position except tight end and quarterback if Landry Jones declares for the NFL Draft.
Jones hasn't announced future plans. He's projected to be a top 15 pick, possibly top 10. One variable is his fiancé, Whitney Hand, will return for her senior season next year with the women's basketball team. But most projects Jones will play in the NFL next season.
Preseason publications will list OU with 14 returning starters — seven on offense and seven on defense.
The Sooners, though, could lose players who combined for 351 career starts if Jones and junior defense end Ronnell Lewis leave for the NFL.
Here are some other key losses for Oklahoma:
* Wide receiver Ryan Broyles: The all-time leading receiver in NCAA Division I history.
* Defensive Frank Alexander: Favorite for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
* Defensive end Ronnell Lewis: Developed into a player who might be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
* Linebacker Travis Lewis: Might become the first OU player to lead the Sooners in tackles all four seasons.
* Cornerback Jamell Fleming: Two-year starter should be successful at the NFL level.
* Left offensive tackle Donald Stephenson: Two-year starter on the blind side.
* Tight end James Hanna: Rare speed produced some big plays.
Other losses won't be as difficult to replace. An example is freshman Michael Hunnicutt developed into a quality kicker early in the season replacing injury-hampered Jimmy Stevens.
OU coaches hit the road recruiting this week. At some point, the staff will analyze why a season with so much promise fizzled.
In some games the Sooners lacked emotion. But the biggest variable was a noticeable drop off after Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley suffered season-ending injuries and they played the second half against Baylor and Bedlam without Ronnell Lewis.
“Some of it was on our part, whether it be coaches and players making improvement,” Stoops said. “Some of it was we were missing some key guys ... I'm not making excuses. The bottom line is the guys you're missing they make a difference.”
The Sooners notched quality wins over Kansas State, Florida State, Texas A&M and Texas but the 2011 season will be remembered for an inexplicable loss to Texas Tech, a Bedlam blowout loss and a defensive meltdown at Baylor.
“We would take two or three steps forward but take too many steps backward at the wrong time,” said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
There will be several storylines next spring with the quarterback competition receiving most of the attention if Jones turns pro.
There will be plenty of talent to build around which could help remove some pressure for a new quarterback if Jones leaves. If Jones returns, the Sooners most likely would be a preseason top five team.
“We'll lose some great players but that's how college football works,” said guard Gabe Ikard. “You have to keep building for the future. We need to have a solid performance and play well in the bowl game.”
Career starts of players not expected to be on the roster next season:
WR Ryan Broyles; 44
QB *Landry Jones; 36
TE James Hanna; 25
OT Donald Stephenson;22
WR Dejuan Miller;13
OG Stephen Good; 11
OT Jarvis Jones; 10
TE Trent Ratterree; 9
LB Travis Lewis; 52
DE Frank Alexander; 30
CB Jamell Fleming; 23
DE *Ronnell Lewis; 14
DS James Winchester; 29
K Jimmy Stevens; 33
* projected to declare for NFL Draft