The Oklahoma Sooners check in at No. 5 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Landry Jones, QB
The veteran quarterback holds the key to the Sooners aspirations of a Big 12 and national title. It was an interesting 2011 season for Jones, who passed for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns but also threw 15 interceptions and saw backup QB Blake Bell’s running often take over in the red zone. Leading receiver Ryan Broyles has departed, but OU has a solid offensive line and plenty of weapons for its1 all-time passing leader to succeed in his final season.
Upset Alert: at TCU (Dec. 1)
For the first time since 2004, the Sooners’ final regular season will not be the Bedlam matchup with Oklahoma State. Instead OU will visit league-newcomer TCU, a program that Gary Patterson has built into being a national contender. Quarterback Casey Pachall and the Horned Frogs will be tough to beat, and this contest concludes a brutal three-game stretch where the Sooners will travel to West Virginia, host the aforementioned Cowboys and then end the season in Fort Worth.
Trap Game: at Iowa State (Nov. 3)
The Sooners should beat the Cyclones for the 14th time in a row, but hated-rival Oklahoma State found out last season that underestimating the trip to Jack Trice Stadium can have consequences. Paul Rhoads has done a solid job in Ames, and this road trip is wedged between a national spotlight game against Notre Dame and a revenge mission versus Baylor. OU cannot afford to take ISU for granted.
Defensive MVP: Tony Jefferson, DB
The uber-talented Californian will be moving back to safety this season, after playing a hybrid linebacker position much of the time during his first two years in Norman. Jefferson compiled 74 tackles with 4.5 sacks last year, while also adding a team-high four interceptions and a forced fumble. His versatility and sure tackling will make Jefferson an All-America and All-Big 12 candidate, and he will be a leader for new coordinator Mike Stoops.
Breakout Player: Trey Metoyer, WR
It’s unusual to have a breakout candidate who has yet to play a game at Memorial Stadium, but Metoyer’s talent has him projected to be OU’s next big-time receiver. He originally signed as part of the 2011 recruiting class but spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy improving his academics. Now in Norman, Metoyer had six receptions for a team-high 72 yards in the Sooners’ spring game and looks like a future star.
Unsung Hero: Trey Millard, RB
The Big 12’s best fullback is known more for lead blocking and special-teams play than getting touches (169 yards rushing, 127 receiving yards and three total touchdowns), but the league’s coaches thought highly enough of his play to select him first-team All-Big 12 last season. Look for Millard to continue paving the way for a stellar Sooners offense, as well as being a special-teams star (team-high 14 tackles).
Biggest Game: Texas (Oct. 13)
You may have noticed this one on the schedule. The Red River Rivalry is always one of college football’s best spectacles, especially with the Cotton Bowl being split between crimson and burnt orange. Additionally, the Sooners and Longhorns battle will likely determine the Big 12 champion. OU has won two in a row since dropping four of five from 2005-09, and Bob Stoops’ bunch would like to build on a new winning streak over the hated Horns.
Revenge Game: at Texas Tech (Oct. 6)
There are three main candidates here, but the Texas Tech loss last season was especially painful. The Sooners were 6-0 and thinking Big 12/national title when Tommy Tuberville’s Red Raiders pulled off the shocker in Norman, 41-38. OU has lost in its last three trips to Lubbock, so there will plenty of revenge motivation for the Sooners in early October.
Freshman to Watch: Durron Neal, WR
Much of the attention on Signing Day went to fellow receiver Trey Metoyer, but Neal was rated as the No. 74 prospect in the nation in this year’s AC100. The Missouri native played all over the field at De Smet Jesuit High School, and he caught 35 passes for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 716 yards and 11 scores during his senior season. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound athlete should compete for early playing time.
Newcomer to Watch: Chaz Nelson, DE
Ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis accounted for 32 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season, so there is plenty of production to replace. Nelson was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Garden City Community College, compiling 96 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. The starters are set, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior should earn early playing time in the Sooners defensive end rotation.
Position Battle: Wide Receiver
With the departure of leading pass catcher Ryan Broyles and some off-the-field issues, there are question marks at this position past Kenny Stills. Obviously Stills’ numbers (61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns) project him as the group’s leader, and the hope is that newcomer Trey Metoyer lives up to the hype. Returners Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson were all suspended in the offseason. There will be competition here, including freshmen wideouts Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods.
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