The Sooners must replace their top passer, top rusher and top receiver, but as long as Bob Stoops is in charge, it all starts with defense anyway. Tackle Tommie Harris and linebackers Teddy Lehman and Lance Mitchell are All-Americans. End Jimmy Wilkerson jumped to the pros, but Jonathan Jackson, the "other" end, is coming off a two-sack, three-tackles-for-loss performance in the 34ñ14 Rose Bowl win over Washington State. The secondary is overstocked with stars.
Jason White, a career 63-percent passer, has started four games at quarterback but can't keep both his knees functioning at the same time, and there are three other hopefuls with a legitimate shot at the job. Sophomore Brent Rawls is particularly promising. You don't replace a 1,884-yard rusher like Quentin Griffin overnight, but Renaldo Works, Kejuan Jones and Donta Hickson should gain ground in chunks behind what coach Bob Stoops feels is the best offensive line he's had.
Longhorns corralled: In the last two Red River showdowns, Oklahoma has allowed Texas a combined total of 80 yards on 60 carries.
Bad reception: OU just lost its top four career receivers to graduation.
Skyway robbery: Oklahoma defenders intercepted 24 passes last season, tied with Virginia Tech for tops in the nation.
2002 results: 12-2 (6-2 Big 12)
2002 Bowl Game: Beat Washington State 34-14 in Rose Bowl
Returning starters: 4 offense, 10 defense, both kickers
A. 30 North Texas
S. 6 at Alabama
S. 13 Fresno State
S. 20 UCLA
O. 4 at Iowa State
O. 11 #Texas
O. 18 Missouri
O. 25 at Colorado
N. 1 Oklahoma State
N. 8 Texas A&M
N. 15 Baylor
N. 22 at Texas Tech
Schedule Analysis: In order for the Sooners' Oct. 11 showdown with Texas be winner-take-all, Oklahoma must win difficult road games at Alabama and Colorado. The key home games for the Sooners will be Missouri and Oklahoma State, a team that has knocked off OU two straight years. Oklahoma avoids Nebraska and Kansas State from the Big 12 North. Assuming all goes well for Oklahoma, it will be the battle in Dallas that decides the Big 12 North championship and a ticket to the Big 12 title game.
Final Word: Ohio State won the national championship last year on the strength of its defense, and Oklahoma is hoping to use the same formula this year. This team will not give up many points, leaving the new quarterback and running backs time to learn the system and get game experience. The Texas game looms as the season make-or-break, and OU has developed a confidence in this rivalry that should help them after three straight wins. A second national championship for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma? We think so.
To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Big 12 Regional edition, which features a Q&A with Tommie Harris and Teddy Lehman, click on the magazine icon below. The Big 12 Regional edition is set to hit newsstands June 6.