I-A College Football News
Sooners host Mean Green to kick off campaign
Aug 29, 2007, 15:30 GMT
Norman, OK - The eighth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners have their sights set on the national championship, and they figure to get off to a strong start this weekend as North Texas comes to town for a non-conference battle.
Since winning four straight Sun Belt Conference titles, the Mean Green have fallen on tough times, posting back-to-back 2-5 league campaigns and losing nine games in each of the past two seasons. With the poor 3-9 finish in 2006, the Darrell Dickey era was brought to an end by the school and legendary Texas high school coach Todd Dodge was brought in. Dodge has no head coaching experience at this level, but he brings a big reputation and hope for a turnaround with him.
The Oklahoma Sooners had a strong 2006 campaign, racking up 11 wins and finishing with a No. 11 ranking. They earned a bid to the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State and lost in dramatic fashion on a play that will go down as one of the greatest in college football history. With 14 starters back as well as a top notch coach in Bob Stoops, no excuses will be accepted in Norman this season.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series with North Texas by a 6-0 margin.
North Texas hopes that coach Dodge will breathe some new life into a stagnant offense. The ground-oriented scheme that existed during the former regime has been replaced with a pass-happy spread attack. The Mean Green finished the 2006 campaign ranked 117th nationally in total offense. The biggest beneficiary of the new approach should be quarterbacks Daniel Meager, Woody Wilson and Matt Phillips, all of whom could see time. UNT returns just one starting wide receiver in Brandon Jackson, who ranked second on the team with 17 catches as a junior in '06. In the backfield, senior Jamario Thomas is welcomed back and he hopes to regain his form that made him one of the top freshman in the nation in 2004. Since rushing for 1,801 yards and 17 scores as a rookie, Thomas has struggled with injuries and has yet to live up to the hype surrounding him. The 210-pound back rushed for 668 yards last season, but now fully healthy, he could be ready to breakout, again. On the flip side, finding room to roam against Oklahoma will be difficult.
The Mean Green's defense welcomes back a wealth of experience, as 10 starters return from a unit that ranked 64th in the nation in total defense (338.4 ypg) in 2006. North Texas generated just 14 turnovers last season, however, and because of that the defense will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment. That means more tackles and possibly a bigger season for defensive end Blake Burress. The 6-7, 263-pound senior broke through last season, finishing with 53 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He is a versatile player who is starting to live up to the hype. The highlight of a talented linebacking corps is 224-pound senior Maurice Holman, who ranked second on the squad with 74 tackles last season. He is a solid tackler with great speed and he should play a big part in this unit's success all season. In the secondary, the Mean Green welcome back all four starters, including safety Aaron Weathers. The senior has led the club in tackles over the last two seasons with 191 total, but he needs to be more aggressive against the pass with just one interception to his credit last season.
Stoops has finally decided on his starting quarterback, and the choice is redshirt freshman Sam Bradford. Bradford was a highly sought after high school prospect who is ready to suit up after sitting out last year, and at 6-5 he certainly looks the part. He has a calm demeanor and should be able to handle the pressure that goes along with being the signal caller for one of college football's most storied programs. Coach Stoops has solid depth in the backfield, as several backs will be counted on to help fill the void left by standout Adrian Peterson. All of the receivers are back, led by Malcolm Kelly (993 yards, 10 TDs) and Juaquin Iglesias. The offensive line is an extremely strong group with five players who started games last season, though massive transfer Phil Loadhoalt (6-8, 360 pounds) has been inserted atop the depth chart at left tackle after consecutive juco All-American campaigns.
Oklahoma has earned the reputation of being a strong defensive team, and the club ranked 16th in the nation in total defense a year ago. The biggest losses were at defensive end and linebacker, although several upperclassmen are ready to step into those spots. Alonzo Dotson (6-4, 262) and John Williams (6-5, 259) are ready to step into the vacated defensive end positions. At linebacker, juco All-American Mike Reed will have an opportunity to prove his ability in this opener, although Ryan Reynolds also figures to get a look in the middle against North Texas. The secondary is a strong and proven unit, with four returning starters.
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