"They're one of the best in college football," said Cyclone head coach Dan McCarney. "Fortunately for us we've already seen some darn good ones. We've seen some excellent defenses already in Florida State, Iowa and Nebraska. Those are the three best we've seen so far this year, but Oklahoma is the best defense so far we'll play against."
Even more impressive is that the Sooner defense-- ranked third in the Big 12 at 284.3 yards allowed per game—has been just as successful as last season's group that included the likes of Roy Williams and Rocky Calmus.
The front seven OU employs is anchored by sophomore Tommie Harris, a first-team All-Big 12 selection in his first season of college football. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Harris will demand plenty of attention up front, allowing the linebacking tandem of Teddy Lehman and Lance Mitchell to roam.
"I have not seen a better defensive lineman in college football than Tommie Harris," McCarney said. "When you're All-Big 12 as a true freshman, that says something. You're a phenom and in an absolute league by yourself. You can't sit there and one-on-one block him all day, because he'll embarrass us. He's that great a player."
Lehman (76 tackles) and Mitchell (61 tackles) are on pace to become one of the best tackling duos in school history, having already combined to make 138 tackles through six games. Assuming they keep up their current pace, the linebacking duo would rank third all-time.
Acting as Butkus Award winner Calmus' sidekick one season ago, Lehman finished with 83 tackles. To showcase his speed even more, Lehman moved from MIKE to WILL linebacker this season to make room for Mitchell, a highly coveted JUCO transfer. Mitchell is nearing Oklahoma's all-time record of tackles by a JUCO transfer of 97 set by Torrance Marshall in 1999.
Thanks to exceptional play from the two linebackers and Harris up front, the Sooner defense is living up to the preseason hype.
"If you look preseason at all of the publications, the best front sevens in the nation were Florida State, Oklahoma and Miami," said ISU center Zach Butler. "Those three were at the top in every publication. Oklahoma is definitely a great unit. It will be a big challenge for our offense. We're going to have to practice very hard this week.
"But we're ready for it. We faced a Florida State team that is pretty similar in the way they play with very good athletes. We're going to try and do our best, but I think we're capable of doing some good things."
Oklahoma might have its standouts in Harris, Lehman and Mitchell, but when ISU receiver Lane Danielsen watches film he sees a solid defense at every position.
"They're intense, athletic and fly to the ball," he said. "You never a see a play where at the end of the play they're not all around the ball. They fly to the ball and pursue great. They work good together and have great athletes. We're going to have to go out and try to make some plays on them."