The Oklahoma Sooners quest for back-to-back national championships begins tonight in Norman against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
To a man, the Sooners have stated that they are not defending the title, but in the hunt to win another one. Even so, the Sooners are the only team that have a chance this year to win back-to-back national titles and that in itself sets the Sooners apart from all other teams.
Oklahoma enters the 2001 season confident, poised and in total belief that they can win a national title again. However, just like a year ago Head Coach Bob Stoops won't let the Sooners look passed the first game and will force his team to play one game at a team.
"That is the way we do things here at Oklahoma and common sense tells you that there is no reason to play any other way," said Coach Stoops. "If you don't win that first one you probably don't have a chance to win a national title anyway. If you don't win the Big 12 South then you can't play in the Big 12 title game and whoever is in that game figures to have a shot at the national title. So, our goal is to win the first game of the year, then go one game at a time and win the Big 12 South. If we can do that then we figure that we can be in a position to win a national title."
Oklahoma returns 16 players who have started at one time or another. However, they have lost key players from a year ago. Quarterback Josh Heupel was perfect for the Sooners' system and his leadership will be tough to replace. Linebacker Torrance Marshall was a big play machine the second half of the season and OU must replace three veterans members at defensive tackle.
However, at every graduated position the Sooners have a talented athlete ready to step in. To a player the Sooner coaching staff feels they are bigger, stronger and faster and they have another year in the Sooner system under their belt.
North Carolina is rebuilding under new Head Coach Jon Bunting after eight years as an NFL assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Tar Heels will play one of the nations toughest schedules this year opening with Oklahoma (3), then Texas (5) and Florida State (6).
The Tar Heels are a young team with only 16 seniors on its roster, with 11 of those seniors starting. North Carolina returns six starters on both sides of the ball.
The Sooners and Tar Heels will meet for the 7th time in their history, the last a 28 to 0 Sooner win in 1988. In six previous meetings with OU, North Carolina has never scored more than a touchdown in any game. The Tar Heels have been shut out in three of the six contest.
OU enters the game as a 21-point favorite and here is a position-by-position break down of how the two teams match-up.
For Oklahoma, junior Nate Hybl gets the call to try to replace the legendary Heupel. Hybl won the job in a heated battle during two a-days against sophomore Jason White and will get his first collegiate start against the Tar Heels. Hybl has all the tools to be a great signal caller for the Sooners. He has great size, a strong arm, is very intelligent and he can run. What he doesn't have is experience and nobody has an idea how he will react under the bright lights. However, one unknown factor always overlooked about Hybl is that he is a coaches son, and is regarded by the Sooners coaches as a very intelligent quarterback.
The Tar Heels' Ronald Curry has the ability to be one of the top quarterbacks in college football. Tremendous athlete, Curry is also big, strong, blessed with a strong arm and is very fast. In fact, Curry's ability to run allows the Tar Heels to incorporate option football into their offensive gameplan. Curry has a chance to finish atop every individual quarterback mark at North Carolina.
EDGE: North Carolina.
Quentin Griffin doesn't seem to get any national attention, but if you ask the Sooner coaching staff they will tell you he is the glue to their offensive football team. 'Q' improved his athletic ability in the offseason, putting on 20 pounds (202) and dropping his forty time to 4.38.
Griffin rushed for 783 yards a year ago and he is just five catches and 47 receiving yards short of becoming the top receiving running back in Oklahoma history. Backup Renaldo Works will also see action and don't be surprised to see both 'Q' and Works in the backfield at the same time. Jerad Estus is a speedster that will provide a great spark off the bench.
North Carolina has nothing but question marks at running back. Tailback Willie Parker and Andre' Williams share the tailback load and neither really scares you. Fullback Richard Moore is a former quarterback/linebacker still learning the position.
The Sooners' receiving corp is one of the teams strong points and one of the better units in the country. OU returns five receivers who accounted for 184 catches, 2, 482 yards and 17 TDs a year ago. Because the Sooners spread the ball around so much it's debatable whether they have a super star among Andre Woolfolk, Curtis Fagan, Antwone Savage, Josh Norman or Damien Mackey. However, you could also argue that in Woolfolk, Fagan, Savage and Norman you have four of the top receivers in the country, they are that balanced. In fact, Woolfolk is primed to emerge this year as one of the best players in the country as he will start both ways for the Sooners.
At tight end, the Sooners are very good with returning starter Trent Smith and back-up Lance Donley. Both are outstanding receivers and both are solid blockers at the point-of-attack and downfield.
Sooner Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops says North Carolina has the best wide receiver corp the Sooners will see this year, outside of Texas. Bosley Allen is a star with 40 catches for 634 yards last season. Kory Bailey was highly recruited and needs just five catches to have 100 for his career. Tight ends Doug Brown and Zach Hilton aren't used much as receivers, but they are outstanding blockers.
EDGE: Depth gives the edge to OU.
OU has star potential at tackle in seniors Frank Romero and Howard Duncan. Junior Mike Skinner is a starter at right guard, walk-on Josh Smith at center and redshirt freshman Wes Sims at left guard. Offensive
Coordinator/Line coach Mark Mangino is a magician and seems to always come out with a solid offensive line group. Sims has the potential to be the next Sooner star and has been much better at guard. He often seemed overwhelmed at tackle, but playing inside has renewed his confidence.
North Carolina starts four players making their first start in the offensive line. Center Adam Metts will make his first start against the Sooners. The offensive line is a big question mark at North Carolina.
The rage of the Sooner training camp was true freshman Tommie Harris who will start at defensive tackle. Harris reminds long time followers of the Sooner program of the great LeRoy Selmon, and that is as good as it gets. Sophomore Kory Klein will start along side Harris and form an outstanding pass rush from the inside. Senior Bary Holleyman will work into the rotation, but the Sooners coaches are still mulling over whether to play true freshman Dusty Dvoracek. He certainly is good enough, but do you waste a redshirt for 12 plays a game? Junior Juan Prishker will not play in Saturday's game. At defensive end, the Sooners return senior Cory Heinecke, who the coaches love for his consistency. Sophomore Dan Cody gets the start at the other defensive end and he is now playing at 270 with 4.67 speed in the forty. Superstar in the making Jimmy Wilkerson will play defensive end passing situations.
North Carolina sports the best defensive lineman in the country in defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers led the nation a year ago with 15 sacks and he gave up basketball this summer to concentrate on football. Peppers added 20 pounds to his frame and will play at 290 pounds, and yet he was still timed at 4.57 in the forty this summer. Peppers is only a junior, but is expected to leave early for the NFL draft and be the first player taken. Joey Evans is the other defensive end and he was second on the team a year ago with eight sacks. Defensive tackles Ryan Sims and Will Chapman are excellent run-stoppers. North Carolina has a great tradition in the defensive line and this group won't disappoint the Carolina faithful.
EDGE: NORTH CAROLINA
Oklahoma's Rocky Calmus is the best linebacker in the country. Calmus has been a great player for the past three years and he is bigger, stronger and faster going into this season than ever before. Sophomore Teddy Lehman replaces big play specialist Torrance Marshall and he has a world of talent. Athletically, Lehman is better than Marshall, but he isn't close in experience. If Lehman can just make half the plays that Marshall did that will be a plus.
Fifth-year senior Brandon Moore gets the start at strongside linebacker and he will be solid and while spectacular theJimmy Wilkerson will also play here.
Another huge question mark for Carolina is at linebacker. Merceda Perry, Quincy Monk and David Thornton have no experience and have played very little.
Despite the loss of starter Michael Thompson, the Sooners feel they will be better in the secondary in 2001. That is saying something, because during the second half of last year the Sooners had one of the best secondary's in the country. Woolfolk and Antonio Perkins step in at Thompson's corner spot and sophomore Derrick Strait returns at other corner. Strait was one of the top freshman performers last year and will make some national noise this year. Sophomore Brandon Everage starts at free safety and the Sooner coaches felt he was better than J.T. Thatcher at the end of last season. And there is no better safety in the country than junior Roy Williams. The Sooners also have depth in Terrance Simms who will play in nickel situations.
North Carolina is solid in the secondary as well. Cornerbacks Errol Hood and Michael Waddell had 12 pass-breakups apiece last season. Strong safety Billy Dee-Gatewood is Williams' rival for the top strong safety in the country. Gatewood made 118 tackles last season.
Both secondary's are very good, but OU is deeper and has more star potential at all four positions.
OU sports one of the top special team units in college football. The Sooners' special teams play was a key to their national championship a year ago. OU's coverage teams are anchored by stars Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, Trent Smith and Teddy Lehman. OU losses a great return man in J.T. Thatcher, but they have a super athletic Mark Clayton waiting in the wings in the punt game, and Clayton and Antwone Savage in the kick returns.
North Carolina has a great punt returner in Bosley who had 400 yards in return yards and took two for touchdowns.
Head Coach Bob Stoops won a national championship in his second year of coaching. The Sooner coaching staff is regarded by most as one of the very best in the country.
John Bunting is in his first year at North Carolina and the Oklahoma game will be the first for his staff.
While North Carolina can bring stars in Peppers, Curry and Bosley they don't have enough. OU is much stronger from top to bottom and the Sooners are hungry for another national title. Hybl will be fine in his first start and even make a couple of big plays himself.
OU rolls 41 to 14.
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