There's no question the toughest game on the schedule for Nebraska heading into 2009 will be their home date with Oklahoma on Nov. 7.
The Sooners obviously played for the national title in 2008 and they return a bulk of their key players on offense and nearly their entire defense.
For OU, the only major question they have heading into this season will be their offensive line, where they lost all but one starter from a year ago.
SoonerScoop.com's Carey Murdock gave his thoughts and perspective on Oklahoma as they head into summer condoning.
What was the mindset like this spring after what was in Oklahoma's eyes a disappointing finish against Florida in the national championship game?
"It wasn't anything like it was in years past when they've lost BCS Bowl games. They've played in the national championship game and really you want that game back. In the first quarter and really in the first half, they should've been ahead at halftime and been in control of that game. I think most of the players you talk to, it was a much more upbeat positive attitude this spring, because they know they are close. It wasn't a big disappointing loss at the end of the season like it has been to Boise State and West Virginia—it was a game that showed them they are one of the top teams in the country.
"I think they went into the spring with the mindset of getting back to that game and that they were competitive in that game. If things worked out a little bit differently, they could've won that game. I don't think they had that feeling over the last three seasons. Having Sam Bradford coming back, Trent Williams, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy certainly gave them a lift that they wouldn't have had otherwise. If all of those guys leave for the pros, it's a rebuilding process. They look at it not even as a reloading process, but a team that played for a national title a year ago and they were close, and they feel like the message was if we just continue to work hard, we can be back there again and have a really good chance of winning the national title in 2009."
The offensive line obviously lost a lot of guys. How big of a question is that still heading into 2009?
"It wasn't as much of a question during spring because they had a lot of guys that played a year ago. Brian Simmons played a lot in that national championship game and he played a lot with the starters. Trent Williams, who is one of the top offensive linemen in the country, will switch over to left tackle. With him and Simmons and then after that Cory Brandon was almost a starter a year ago, but played behind Phil Loadholt, but he was really, really good and he could get drafted I the NFL next year too.
"Now that spring is over, Alex Williams is a back-up that is apparently no longer with the team. I talked to Kevin Wilson earlier about that and confirmed to me that he's not with the team right now because he's in hot water. Jason Hannan, who was the back-up center last year decided he wanted to give up football and he left the team. They've gotten a little thin and I think a lot people around here are starting to question the line, especially if you have a major injury, how this offensive line is going to protect Sam Bradford and open up running lanes next year. I think going into the fall it's probably a bigger question mark than we anticipated. I don't think anything is settled there in terms of being a line that was as productive as it was a year ago. I think they still have a lot of work to go."
Defensively, basically everybody is back. How good could this unit end up being?
"They really just have one safety spot to fill. On the entire defense though, they just have one spot they are not confident in right now. They are confident in Quinton Carter. He is a guy in my opinion that could be the most physical safety they've had since Roy Williams. He's a head hunter and he did a lot of special teams stuff last year. He had some big hits in the Big 12 Championship game against Chase Daniel. He's a very physical presence they haven't had in a long time at the safety position.
The defensive line is going to be outstanding and potentially dominating this year. We've all seen it in the last couple of years in the Big 12 Conference that if you have a dominating defensive line, that gives you a chance to get to some of these spread offenses around the league. Those teams that don't have it really struggle. They've got a chance to be a pretty elite defense this year, and that makes them even a better national championship contender than a year ago if they can make that type of leap on defense."
Everybody seems to be giving Texas the early edge over Oklahoma heading into 2009. Is OU taking that personal?
"I don't know how the OU vs. Texas rivalry could get any bigger than it's going to be this year. You look at all the stuff that happened a year ago with the BCS controversy, then OU had to look at a plane flying over the stadium in Stillwater during the OSU game with the Texas score on a banner. All the appearances made on ESPN last year, regardless of what you think of Mack Brown, I think Oklahoma fans saw him as a whiner and they saw him turn it into a political process. If you don't think Bob Stoops and Oklahoma don't take personally, you're kidding yourselves, because they do.
"It's always a war and it's always battle. Next year might be the most contiguous it's ever been going into an Oklahoma vs. Texas battle. It should be the craziest, rowdiest, most volatile OU vs. Texas game we've seen in a very, very long time. Anything that national people say right now that gives Texas the edge over Oklahoma is definitely going to be fuel for the fire."
What is your realistic win-loss record expectation for this team after you look at them coming out of spring practice?
"I think the biggest bonus on the schedule is you've got Oklahoma State coming to Norman, and they haven't fared well coming into Owen Field for quite some time now. If they were playing in Stillwater again this year, I might put that as a loss, just because Oklahoma State is going to be really good offensively and I think they are catching up defensively, and they could be in a position to upset Oklahoma. That game being Norman this year really helps, and if you get by Texas in Dallas, I don't see a loss during the regular season going into next season.
"I think there are going to be growing pains on the offensive line, but I think they'll have a healthy DeMarco Murray and a healthy Chris Brown and I think Jermaine Gresham, Ryan Broyles and Sam Bradford will be able to overcome any deficiencies they have with the offensive line.
"Then you have to throw in Kevin Wilson in there and what he means to OU as an offensive coordinator. He'll find a way to make this offense go with the deficiencies on the offensive line, and because of that I think they will go undefeated during the regular season and win the Big 12 championship."
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