Selection Sunday Looming
While the Sooners are firmly focused on preparations for Saturday’s Bedlam contest and the prospects of registering a fourth straight 10-win season, OU fans are anticipating the announcement of Oklahoma’s bowl destination on Sunday. The 2013 season marks the 15th straight season under head coach Bob Stoops that OU will make a bowl appearance.
In fact, should all four of these squads accept bowl bids as anticipated on Sunday, only Virginia Tech (21 straight), Georgia (17 straight) and Georgia Tech (17 straight) will be recognized by the NCAA as owning longer consecutive bowl streaks than Oklahoma. Entering this season, Florida owned the nation’s longest NCAA-recognized string of bowl appearances, a 22-year stretch that will come to an end this year.
For full details on OU’s bowl bid and ticket options, keep an eye on SoonerSports.com Sunday evening. While a host of possibilities are in play, many pundits currently point to the Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30 in San Antonio) and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz.) as the most likely destinations for the Sooners.
Yes, the Sooners and other squads will be planning treks to warmer climes on Sunday. But on Saturday, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will play on what may be literally frozen tundra.
Temperatures for this weekend’s game are expected to be downright chilly in Stillwater. According to various weather reports, temperature at kickoff will be in the high teens to low 20s with a wind chill possibly making it feel like single digits. Of course, as all Oklahomans know, those forecasts could change between now and Saturday.
“In the end, our view is that both teams have to deal with it, so it isn’t like it’s bad for one and not the other,” head coach Bob Stoops said of the possible conditions. “So I do think things you emphasize are ball security, kicking game, being smart with your throws. You do as a play caller on both sides of the ball how aggressive you are based on the wind situation and those kinds of things. More than cold I think is the wind. I think the wind effects the game much more than the cold does.
“Mid 20s to 30 with little wind I don’t think is as big of a deal,” he continued. “The wind to me is always the biggest factor, but again, when you have a few more sleeves on or something the ball security and making sure you’re good with the football is an issue.”
“It’s a little bit tough,” added native Southern Californian, RB Brennan Clay. “It’s football, though. Once you get your adrenaline going, you’re body warmth going, you’re fine out there on the field. It was cold two weeks ago against K-State and I think we handled that pretty well. I don’t think it necessarily hinders us at all on the field. To keep our hands warm, we have hand warmers with a whole bunch of things that you crack up to keep the warmth going. But other than that, as a running back, I don’t wear sleeves in the cold or when it’s wet so I can be able to hold on to the ball a little bit better but catching the rock, like I said, with the hand warmer, keep your hands warm and you’re good to go.”
The Big 12 will announce its all-conference teams on Wednesday, Dec. 10. As usual, OU again has a slew of candidates. While this isn’t a definitive list of all of the worthy candidates, here is a look at some standout Sooners who should definitely be considered. We’ve placed them in several “non-official” categories:
A team captain at center, Ikard makes the protection calls for an Oklahoma rushing offense that ranks second in the Big 12 and 15th in the nation averaging 242.3 ypg. The senior has not permitted a sack this season, grading out at 83% on the year, and leads the Sooners with 82 knockdown blocks on the year, an average of 7.5 per game. Ikard has garnered numerous honors this season, including one of 16 winners of the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award. He’s also a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, a Senior CLASS Award finalist, and a midseason first-team All-American by CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and USA Today. In other words, if Ikard isn’t a First-Team All-Big 12 pick for a third straight year, someone should check the ballot box.
The senior cornerback has fought gallantly through injury for the Sooners and is ranked fourth on the team with 47 total tackles in nine games this year. A team captain, Colvin was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and leads a defense that is first in the Big 12 in total defense (330.5 ypg) and pass defense (197.8 ypg). Against Kansas, Colvin had a team-high eight tackles with 1.5 TFL while also returning a blocked PAT 98 yards for a two-point conversion. Colvin should be poised for his second straight First-Team All-Big 12 selection.
The senior safety has been a turnover-causing force this season, recording three interceptions and recording a fumble recovery. Fifth on the team with 46 tackles, Lynn has five pass deflections, 2.5 TFL and 2.0 sacks to add to his turnover total. Lynn was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after posting three tackles, a 27-yard fumble return and an interception in OU’s victory over West Virginia.
The senior wide receiver and punt returner leads Oklahoma and is seventh in the league with 51 receptions, adding 615 yards and five touchdowns. In the Sooners’ win against Texas Tech, Saunders torched the Raiders for 153 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, including 136 yards in the second quarter of the game alone, setting an OU record for most receiving yards in a quarter. In addition, Saunders is second in the league averaging 14.6 yard per punt return, returning 16 punts for 233 yards and a touchdown this season. Saunders score came on a 91-yard return against Iowa State, the third-longest return in OU history.
Ready For an Encore
A semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and a midseason All-America pick by Sports Illustrated and CBSSports.com, the junior placekicker is the all-time leader at OU in career field goals with 59 made. With 327 points, Hunnicutt needs just two points to become the all-time leading kick scorer in OU history and the third-leading scorer in program history overall. This season, Hunnicutt has 21 field goals, fifth among FBS kickers and tied for the most in a season in OU history. Hunnicutt will likely enter the 2014 campaign as a strong contender for the Groza Award and other postseason honors
Daryl Williams & Adam Shead
While not as decorated as senior center Gabe Ikard, Williams and Shead have more than earned to be mentioned as candidates for all-conference recognition based on the Sooners’ solid protection and rushing numbers this year. Williams has started in all 11 games at right tackle this season after being named 2012 All-Big 12 honorable mention. Meanwhile, Shead has left guard has started in 10 games this season and has 32 games with 28 starts in his career.
The sophomore wideout is second on the team with 37 catches for 428 yards and a team-high six touchdowns this season. Shepard has caught two touchdowns twice this season, accomplishing the feat in the season opener against Tulsa and again at Kansas. Shepard set a career high against the Golden Hurricane, recording eight receptions for 123 yards overall. The sophomore is already one of 31 players in OU history with over 1,000 receiving yards, currently sitting at 82 receptions for 1,049 yards in his career.
The sophomore defensive end has played in every game this season, including the first 10 starts of his career. A converted basketball phenom who started playing organized football in just his junior year of high school, Tapper has harassed opposing backfields all season, totaling 8.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks and eight quarterback hurries on his way to 43 total tackles. At Kansas, Tapper had a career-high six tackles, 3.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks in the Sooner win.
The freshman linebacker is tied for second on the team in tackles with 65 despite filling in as a starter only midway through the season. In his first career start, Alexander led OU with 19 tackles (13 solo) and 1.0 TFL vs. Texas, the highest tackle total by a Sooner since Travis Lewis and 19 against Texas in 2008. All told, Alexander has three double-digit tackle games and is ranked 22nd in the league averaging 5.9 tackles per game – no other freshman in the league is in ranked in the top 50.
With so many talented players in the Big 12, invariably there are deserving players who might be recognized on the honorable mention squad. Names like Brennan Clay, Quentin Hayes and Eric Striker could be candidates to fall into this category.
Opulent OU Rushing Stats, Even at QB
After watching two of the most prolific passers in college football history in Sam Bradford and Landry Jones lead Oklahoma to multiple 10-win seasons capped by bowl appearances the past few seasons, the Sooners have found success in a different way in 2013.
Behind a stable of running backs and multiple dual-threat quarterbacks, OU has averaged 242.3 rushing yards per game, second-best in the Big 12, 15th in the nation and by far the best average in 15 seasons under head coach Bob Stoops.
Under Stoops, the Sooners have averaged more than 200 yards per game rushing just one other season, averaging 208.4 in 2004 behind none other than Adrian Peterson.
Overall, OU has rushed for 2,665 yards with two games left in the season and are on pace to finish with 3,150 yards. That mark would obliterate the previous high under Stoops of 2,779 yards set in 2008. The Sooners’ average of 5.4 yards per carry is also well above OU’s usual average the past 15 years, besting a 4.8 average in both 2004 and 2012.
Brennan Clay is coming off of a 200-yard performance two weeks ago at Kansas State and is the OU rushing leader with 843 yards and a 6.3 yard-per-carry average. OU has also capitalized off the benefit of having a running quarterback – redshirt freshman Trevor Knight has rushed for over 100 yards in two of his six games played this season and is averaging 7.7 yards per carry. His 391 yards this season are already the most by an OU quarterback since Steve Collins had 394 in 1989.
Head coach Bob Stoops commented recently that Knight’s increased ability to run the zone read has been a key to OU’s success.
“The more you do it the more comfortable you become at it,” Stoops said. “There’s a time or two where, like I said, the read may be to give it, but he feels the guy is tight enough where he has confidence to run away from him even if he is giving a give read. Those are some things where the more he does it the better he’s getting at it.”
For his part, Clay has taken the leap his senior season in 2013 with three 100-yard games this season including his 200-yard effort against the Wildcats that was the highest total by an OU player since DeMarco Murray had 208 yards versus Utah State in 2010.
“For myself, my lower half is pretty strong so I think that helps me run through tackles and make people miss,” Clay said. “I don’t necessarily believe you have to be a big guy to run between tackles. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that pretty well this year and like I said, the O-line, they do a great job just making their keys and if they get a hat on hat there’s normally one guy in the hole and if you’re able to make them miss, you’re to the house. So they’ve done a great job in allowing me to do so.”
The Sooner rushing attack will face one of its stiffest tests yet in Stillwater where Oklahoma State is tops in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 130.0 yards per game. Senior center Gabe Ikard believes OU can replicate the Sooners’ rushing performance at Kansas State again in this weekend’s road contest.
“We had some big plays in the run game which is always good,” Ikard said. “It came down to us blocking better up front and our backs were making guys miss. Most of your run schemes you have one guy that’s unblocked that your back has to take care of and Brennan made that guy miss and took one for a touchdown.
"We executed really well in the run game. That sets it up a lot better for Trevor (Knight) off his boot game so he can get out of the pocket and move, use his legs. The threat of him running and throwing is very important for us to make big plays. I thought it all started with how we ran the ball in the first and second quarter.”