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January 15, 2013

Fearless 20: VERDICT

Coming into the 2012 season Sooners fans hopes were cautiously optimistic with new teams joining the Big 12 a veteran offense returning and the highly revered Mike Stoops set to return. Sure the Sooners had some question marks in the front seven but with new names like Courtney Gardner ready set the world on fire, how could that be an issue? Oh and Justin Brown, who's he?

20. Sterling Shepard will lead Oklahoma in receptions.
Analysis: Some may remember that he was the guy I voted 'most likely to succeed' back on National Signing Day. However his early notoriety has surprised even me. From everything coming in Shepard's projected early impact isn't just about lack of depth, he really is just a special talent. Add in his similarities to Ryan Broyles and just how much his current quarterback loved Broyles - a recipe for a winner here.
VERDICT: Well, after the first few games, people said I was crazy, he ended up fourth on the team in receptions, and two of the three ahead of him weren't on the roster at the time this pick was made. Still though, it's a miss.
19. Oklahoma won't have a 1,000 yard rusher or receiver.
Analysis: It seems funny to say that after singing Shepard's praises but I just think that there isn't a bonafide No. 1 receiver and a lot of quality guys who will be vying for that spot. I think Oklahoma will mix up what it does a lot and you'll see a lot of receptions being spread around. In the backfield, there are three backs fully capable of those kind of numbers, but think each might not hit the mark for a variety of reasons.
VERDICT: I got close to being wrong here as both Damien Williams and Kenny Stills were within 50-yards of proving me wrong, but a win's a win's a win.
18. R.J. Washington and David King will not eclipse 14 sacks.
Analysis: Last year I picked Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis to not hit 15 and in spite of both having very strong years, ended up being right. I don't feel as though the combo of Washington and King is as special in the pass rush game as their two predecessors. I do think both can, and will, be very solid this season but I think Oklahoma is going to have to be more creative in the way that it creates pressure this year rather than just having a lot of pressure from it's two starters. But perhaps one of the young defensive ends like Chuka Ndulue, and/or Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha can surprise everyone?
VERDICT: Some thought I was crazy, but the two fell 10 short of the baseline I set for them. Even if you wanted to add in Ndulue, still five short of the 14, basically a brutal year chasing quarterbacks.
17. Tony Jefferson will be Oklahoma's first All-American defender since 2009.
Analysis: It's impossible to ignore what Mike Stoops has done with truly special talents at the safety position and Jefferson could be the best he has worked with since the great Roy Williams. Obviously there is a long way to go, but that's the kind of talent Jefferson possesses. Let's see what plays out but I really think this is a year where Jefferson goes from promise and some production to loads of production. Look for Jefferson to be dynamic in the run game and through the year last season his pass defense also grew tremendously.
VERDICT: He was close, making several second team lists, but the year never quite came together for him with the numerous injuries that marred his play at certain points in the year.
16. Aaron Colvin will lead Big 12 cornerbacks in interceptions.
Analysis: OK, so maybe this has a little to do with my never-ending appreciation for Colvin's skillset but I also think he is a natural fit for what Oklahoma likes to do defensively and he is more than willing to be aggressive. I also think the presence of Demontre Hurst will play a huge role in more and more passes heading in Colvin's direction than at perhaps the Big 12's top cornerback. I just see this secondary making a lot more plays this year and Colvin could be a big part of that.
VERDICT: His four were good, and close to the lead but it seemed as the year went on teams started to recognize more and more what Colvin was like and went more and more at Hurst. However the league leader? Teammate Javon Harris tied with TCU's Jason Verrett.
15. Landry Jones will finish slightly better than 3:1 in touchdown:interception ratio
Analysis: The last few years I've had pretty good luck on this TD:INT prediction for Jones. I think it's something that may start a little slow and then his numbers will look better as the year wears on. That seems to be counter intuitive with his schedule growing considerably more serious but as Jones gets more and more comfortable with receivers like Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, and possibly (pending NCAA ruling) even Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders.
VERDICT: In the end he was slightly worse but the prediction was so close to being right for much of the season, again…it's a miss.
14. Daryl Williams and Adam Shead will begin to set up as OU's next great offensive line duo.
Analysis: You look at Oklahoma's best offensive lines through the years there was almost unanimously a duo of top quality players. In the early 2000s the duo of Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph set up lengthy NFL careers in Norman and a few years later Phil Loadholt and Trent Williams did the same. Shead and Williams are guys of similar talent, but a lot is left to be proven if they can be those guys - but I'm betting they can, and will.
VERDICT: Shead and Williams rarely got to play together at full strength with a collection of minor injuries bothering the two talented sophomores. However, much as they did in 2011, when the two flashed, they showed long-time NFL potential. I'd call it a wash, but in the Fearless, 'tie goes to Josh loses.'
13. By the Texas game, Jordan Phillips will be a key part of OU's DT rotation
Analysis: I've picked similar things in years past of Gerald McCoy and while he proved me right I admit I'm more unsure about Phillips who is a similarly gifted player but probably had farther to go from high school to college-ready. That being said, guys with his frame and talent level are hard to find and we all remember Bob Stoops telling our guy Carey that Phillips is the type of defensive tackle that they are always looking for.
VERDICT: Phillips was always a part of the rotation, perhaps due to the absence of Stacy McGee but 'key'? No.
12. By year's end, Oklahoma's secondary will be considered one of the best in the country.
Analysis: Last year I really thought that the secondary would come along under the eye of Willie Martinez, boy how wrong I was. Martinez's players showed promise at corner but, for whatever reason, safety play was seemingly one mistake after another. There is a track record to say that the same won't continue under Mike Stoops and with three guys that I'm confident will have healthy NFL careers in Demontre Hurst, Tony Jefferson, and Aaron Colvin you're talking about a group that has the talent, and I'm guessing they gel by the end of the year.
VERDICT: Ok, there have been some closes misses, and then there is this one. They were better than the group's of recent years but I doubt they'd make most people's top 15.
11. OU will win the games it should
Analysis: To many who don't spend year in and year out analyzing Oklahoma's every move this will seem about as brave as staring down a puppy. However, for those of you who do take it all in this isn't a small thing. Look through the years, largely since Mike Stoops departed, and almost every year you'll see a loss that is hard to rationalize. I don't know that Oklahoma will go undefeated but if they do fall, it'll be to a worthy opponent.
VERDICT: It may make you all mad, but this one, I got right. They lost to three better teams in 2012.
10. Gary Simon will cement himself as a future star by season's end.
Analysis: This one may be even a bit self-serving as no one has been on Simon's bandwagon before myself but it doesn't change that early word on him is extremely positive. The corner has a blend of size and speed that is rarely found, and hasn't been seen in Norman in quite some time. Simon, in all likelihood won't start this year due to experience in front of him but one of those starters, Aaron Colvin, played enough as a freshman to gain a lot of attention. Look for Simon to make an even bigger impression, perhaps in even less field time.
VERDICT: You still hear whispers that Simon is going to be a big-time player for Oklahoma going forward but so far that's all it has been. I'm still a big buyer in his talent but not enough evidence to say I got this one right.
9. Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland will end career thinking what might have been.
Analysis: This isn't an 'I told you so' moment with McFarland because no one was more bullish on McGee than myself. For whatever reason the light just hasn't - and according to this prediction, won't - come on for either of these players. They've both flashed at various points of their career the talent that made them highly recruited defensive linemen. It should be noted this prediction was made even before McGee's lengthy suspension was announced but of course such a pick was only furthered by it.
VERDICT: McFarland put together his best year as a Sooner, by some distance, but neither player ever scratched the surface of the type of player we all thought they could be.
8. Dominique Whaley will not lead Oklahoma in carries and yardage.
Analysis: This one is one that I admit, I'm going a bit out on the limb but I think the mixture of Whaley's continued recovery, the emergence of Alex Ross and Damien Williams, and Oklahoma continuing to spread the ball around more and you've got a recipe for a surprise. It's still unclear how much Ross will do to take carries away from Whaley but there can be little doubt that Williams and Brennan Clay will do so. I suppose I'm betting on Clay surprising and Williams being the guy I think he is capable of being.
VERDICT: This one was split down the middle at the time I made it but as it turns out Whaley just nosed out the competition for fourth place in carries and third place in yardage.
7. Oklahoma will fall in Morgantown.
Analysis: This one already has a ton of early buzz and the environment I'm expecting on West Virginia's campus is unlike just about anything that this current bunch of Sooners has seen. The question is, can they handle it? I don't expect a dud of a performance but I do expect something like what Texas ran into in Lubbock in 2008, a quality team with a few truly elite players who will overcome an overall superior team. It'll be close late, I just envision a big play in the waning minutes - again, see Texas Tech 2008 - to seal it for the Mountaineers.
VERDICT: While it was never the game I thought it would be, I still almost got it right but credit to Landry Jones for an incredible last second drive to overcome a Tavon Austin performance for the ages.
6. Sooners will win by 10-points or more in the Cotton Bowl.
Analysis: On the flip side I think one of the Mountaineers biggest advantages is that they can score with Oklahoma. On the other hand, I just don't see Texas putting up more than 17 points against Oklahoma's defense, which I think will be showing some improvement by that point in the season. And while I'm a huge believer in Manny Diaz, I don't think this Sooner offense will be held under 24 all season long and don't think this will be any different. I see something like 31-17 at this point, but obviously there is a lot of time for things to change.
VERDICT: Again, some of the ones I got right, I was met with some trepidation but in the end, I was overly modest. Oh and consider me off the Diaz bandwagon - so I wasn't 100-percent right, but right enough!
5. Landry Jones will not make the trip to New York in December.
Analysis: I said that Sam Bradfords' hopes of winning the Heisman in 2009 were very small due to how things played out with the BCS in 2008. In Jones' case I think this lack of inclusion will have as much to do with his past as what he will, or won't do this year - it's worth noting that the often maligned E.J. Manuel's 2011 quarterback rating was beyond any year of Jones' career. Jones seems poised for a career year but I think it may be an issue where voters have been burned too many times and will be waiting for the other shoe to drop.
VERDICT: I admit, I thought this was more of a prediction against some Oklahoma fans than it was a 'fearless' choice. I found it rather obvious, and in the end, it was right.
4. Mike Stoops will help Oklahoma's rank in the top 35 nationally in defense.
Analysis: The stark reality is that this would be the last time in the last five years that Oklahoma would rank at such a level. Now obviously you have to grant some of that has to do with the conference's offensive efficiency but I see a lot of quality offenses in the conference and on Oklahoma's out of conference schedule and still think this is doable. Oklahoma's defensive ends will be the answer to me, if they can get some pressure, a secondary with a very high ceiling should be able to handle the rest.
VERDICT: I've said on the board that Stoops didn't make the impact I'd thought and didn't make the changes I thought we all might see, and this one…was just wrong.
3. Oklahoma will win the Big 12.
Analysis: I've already predicted that Oklahoma will slip in Morgantown but I've also said I think Oklahoma will take care of the business that perhaps it hasn't in recent years. I've always felt a quality defense, more than offense, can keep you in games when your team isn't hitting on all cylinders and though I don't expect this to be a dominant group, I think there is reason to think they can be a solid unit that if nothing else will cut down on the plague of big plays in recent years. And I think that can bring the Big 12 crown back to Norman.
VERDICT: As I ranted and raved about the silliness of claiming a 'co-title' when your 'co' champion defeated you on your home field I can't rightly accept this one. Whatever technicalities aside, Oklahoma wasn't the Big 12 champion and I'm not sure how it could be said with a straight face otherwise.
2. Oklahoma will not play for a national title.
Analysis: Again, I think Oklahoma may pay for sins of years past in this situation as I'd have them at 11-1 on the year. And I expect there to be at least 2-3 other teams in that same range but I'd bet the likes of USC, Alabama, LSU, Oregon, or any of several others will get the nod. That's just the reality of how things could play out but if Oklahoma can figure out how to navigate the schedule, they'll absolve voters from having to make that choice.
VERDICT: This is part of why I didn't understand all the anger and hostility over the season - this wasn't a team destined for greatness. Too many issues in the front seven and not enough ability to run the ball when they absolutely had to. In the end though, right.
1. Oklahoma will face Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl.
Analysis: And here, Mike Stoops would get to face what many feel is his defense's biggest weakness - a mobile quarterback. And in this case you're talking about one of the best dual-threat guys in recent years. Many have the Wolverines winning the Big 12 but I'm sticking with Wisconsin who has a more manageable Big 10 schedule. The Sooners have won three straight bowls and Jones could make his career perfect with a win here and it would also be the biggest of his would-be four bowl wins.
VERDICT: I was buying Michigan earlier this year, shows what I know!

FINAL VERDICT: 8-for-20, and for those naysayers, that'd make me the first guy to hit .400 in decades. I thought this year was incredibly close to be a benchmark season for the 'Fearless' but it ended up being slightly above average, as aggressive and exacting predictions are simply born to fail.



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