This is Part 3 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week. We’ve looked at Northwestern State, the Division I-AA opponent in the opener, and the Week Two game against BYU. This week we look at the Week Three opponent, mighty Oklahoma.
Coach: Bob Stoops (12th year)
2009 Record: 8-5 (5-3, third in Big 12 South Division)
2009 vs. AF: Did not play.
2009 in a Sentence: Oklahoma lost six starters (five on offense) to season-ending injuries including Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, and could not live up to high hopes despite a dominating defense.
Off/Def Starters Back: 8/6
Roster Report: Injuries derailed the Sooners’ 2009 season – on the offensive line alone there were 10 different starters and 10 combinations of starting lineups.
But those injuries could pay dividends in 2010.
According to Oklahoma’s spring guide, 23 of the 35 players who started at an offensive or defensive position in 2009 will be back in 2010.
That includes quarterback Landry Jones. Expected to be Bradford’s understudy in 2009 as a redshirt freshman, he instead was thrust into the lineup, and he started 10 games.
The experience clearly benefited him. He got better as the season went on, passing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns, and in the spring solidified his spot as the Sooners’ starter. In Oklahoma’s Red-White game, Jones completed 17-of-34 passes for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Of course we didn’t want to lose our (2008) Heisman Trophy winner,” Stoops told The Tulsa World. “But it definitely made Landry a totally different player coming into this spring. … He’s a much more improved and comfortable player having gone through that entire year.”
Oklahoma will have some talent around Jones in running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles. Last season Murray rushed for 705 yards and caught 41 passes for another 522 yards, and Broyles tied Oklahoma’s season touchdown receptions record with 15 and set a new record with 86 catches on the season. Also look out for true freshman Kenny Stills, who caught a game-high six passes for 84 yards and a score in the Red-White game.
Up front, the line lost standout Trent Williams but returns six players who started games last season.
Defensively, the Sooners lost tackle Gerald McCoy, who is expected to be among the first five players selected in Thursday’s NFL draft, and cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson. But Oklahoma has plenty of pieces back from its 2009 defense that ranked among the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. Among them are weakside linebacker Travis Lewis, who led the Sooners in tackles in each of his first two seasons, and All-America candidates Jeremy Beal, a defensive end, and Quinton Carter, a safety.
Fast Fact: Oklahoma owns the longest home winning streak in the nation, having won its last 30 home games. That’s the 19th-longest home field streak ever. The Sooners have won 66 of 68 home games under Stoops.
What Caught My Eye: Oklahoma appears well-stocked to be a national title contender, but a chink in the armor could be the kicking game. According to The Oklahoman’s Jake Trotter, the Sooners had hoped “their kicking woes would be a thing of the past. But as the spring game proved, place-kicking remains a concern.” Projected starter Patrick O’Hara missed both his attempts from 43 yards in the game.
Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Oklahoma minus-20.5. The Sooners will be loaded, as always, and last year’s season-opening loss to BYU of the Mountain West Conference should remove any chance of Oklahoma looking past the Falcons.
Final Thought: This will be a tremendous challenge for the Falcons. They’re facing a national power on the home field where it has been close to unbeatable in recent seasons. And they meet them a week after what is sure to be a physically and emotionally draining contest against league rival BYU.
Still, the game offers a great national showcase for a program on the rise. Air Force is getting closer to being the senior- and junior-dominated team that coach Troy Calhoun has wanted. Facing the Sooners in Norman will give the Falcons a glimpse of how they stack up with the nation’s elite programs.
And remember: Some of the finest moments in Air Force football history have occurred when the Falcons appeared overmatched on paper.