Sooners Surge Into 2011 As Serious Contender

NORMAN, Okla. — The morning after his team's 48-20 Fiesta Bowl win over Connecticut, head coach Bob Stoops sat at a roundtable discussion with reporters, coffee cup just in front of him, phone right next to it lighting up on the table with text messages from time to time, and he had his own message for the nation.

"It has a chance to be really good," Stoops said of his team's outlook for next season. "Well, sure everyone's aware of all the young players we have, the few seniors we've had starting. There's no question they have a lot of confidence, and the expectations will be great."

So great, a lot of people are pegging them as the No. 1 team already, even with the 2011 BCS National Championship game between top ranked Auburn and No. 2 Oregon still to be played.

"Hopefully, hopefully it'll be that way," Stoops said. "I think the experience we gained in so many of the young players this year and the few seniors that we have, we should have high expectations."

See, the Sooners return their entire defense minus defensive end Jeremy Beal, strong safety Jonathan Nelson and free safety Quinton Carter.

That was solidified when linebacker Travis Lewis announced his plans to return for another year.

"I'm coming back to win a national championship, point blank," Lewis said. "Anything else would be a disappointment. That is the main goal. This is a program built on a tradition of championships, and I intend on being here for another one."

Talented, athletic guys such as Frank Alexander, Javon Harris and Sam Proctor will move in the spots of those three, respectively.

Alexander was second on the team, to Beal, with 13 tackles for loss, and Harris and Proctor have both been in the system for a couple years and know what to expect.

The story's much the same on the other side of the ball.

All the offensive starters return with the exception of running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Cameron Kenney and right tackle Eric Mensik.

That was solidified with the announcement from slot receiver Ryan Broyles that he's not done yet at OU, either.

"Personally, I know I can mature as a person and a player and get myself better prepared for the NFL," Broyles said. "I want to win more championships and break every record possible as a receiver. I'm fortunate to have the players around me who can help me achieve those goals."

Roy Finch, Trey Franks and Jarvis Jones figure to replace the three above guys, respectively.

Each of those saw valuable minutes this season.

Finch, although he sat the first five games with a stress fracture and missed the bowl game with a reoccurrence of that injury, showed flashes of an electric back, rushing for nearly 400 yards in eight games.

Franks was fifth on the team with 263 receiving yards, and Jones isn't just getting thrown into the fire on the offensive line.

Then, of course, there's the experience factor of quarterback Landry Jones.

He has developed into a very dangerous quarterback with poise in the pocket and precision in the passing attack heading into his junior year.

"I don't know how they didn't [respect him] anyway," Stoops said. "So, if anybody's watched him the last four weeks and through the season, I mean, I don't know what numbers you're looking for. The guy's special. You keep seeing it."

Landry's coming off a 429-yard, three-touchdown passing performance in the Fiesta Bowl, the second straight year he's set the OU bowl passing yardage record.

All of that's part of a season that saw him throw for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions, while completing 65.6 percent of his passes.

That 4,718 is just three yards shy of Sam Bradford's record mark, for anyone still trying to compare the two.

The Sooners are experienced heading into 2011-12, but they're also riding a wave of momentum, winners of five straight, including an unprecedented seventh Big 12 Championship and a BCS bowl win.

They finally snapped their five game BCS losing streak that dated back to January 2004.

And it appears they have regained a swagger with these last several victories, playing with a vengeance after being doubted following a pair of devastating road losses at Missouri and Texas A&M earlier in the year.

The Sooners couldn't win on the road.

Check, they did that.

The Sooners couldn't win the fourth quarter.

Check, they did that, too.

The Sooners couldn't win a BCS game.

Check, they finally did that as well.

The Sooners couldn't possibly win in the BCS National Championship game next year, could they?

That one also could have a check next to it this time next year.

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