Streaking Sooners lookin' for No. 18

Where to begin. I guess this is as good a spot as any: Oklahoma, the defending national champion, has won 17 consecutive games, including a 63-14 win over Texas in early October of '00.

Since that time, the Sooners have beaten highly-ranked Kansas State three times, Nebraska and Florida State. Fourteen offensive and defensive starters, plus both kickers, return from last season's title squad. Oklahoma has beaten all comers this year (41-27 over North Carolina, 44-3 over Air Force, 37-10 over North Texas and 38-37 last Saturday over KSU). Despite all that, the odds makers have installed UT as an early three-point favorite. Don't you just know Bob Stoops is lovin' that.

The OU head man did a masterful job last season in instilling confidence in a very young but talented team, and he'll surely use the perceived betting line slight in his motivational repertoire before the game in Dallas. But motivation should be abundant on both of the Cotton Bowl sidelines Saturday. So how do the Sooners stack up talent-wise?

Very well. Oklahoma has stars in RB Quentin Griffin, WR Antwone Savage, WLB Rocky Calmus and SS Roy Williams. Griffin, you may remember, torched Texas last fall for six TDs, and he is lighting up opposing Ds this fall as well. The junior running back is leading the Sooners in both rushing and receiving yards with 368 and 220, respectively. Savage almost single-handedly beat Kansas State last Saturday, accounting for 226 all-purpose yards, including a 75-yard TD catch from QB Nate Hybl and a 33-yard TD pass to Texan Hunter Wall on a beautifully executed fake punt. Savage averages 26 yards per reception and a salty 32.9 yards on seven kick returns, one of those being an 88-yarder in Oklahoma's opener vs. North Carolina. Calmus is the leading tackler on the OU squad and is seemingly everywhere on the field, totaling 47 stops, including five TFLs and a sack, two fumble recoveries, an INT and a blocked kick. Williams isn't far behind on the offensive disruption meter, totaling 38 tackles, including five TFLs and a sack, two INTs and one fumble recovery.

On offense, Oklahoma is averaging 40 points and 388 yards per game and has been surprisingly balanced between the run and the pass. The Sooners have thrown 143 passes and run the ball 123 times (a 54-46 pass-run split). OU's biggest question mark coming into the season was the QB position, but Hybl has played well, although well short of spectacular through four games, completing 79 passes in 138 attempts (57-percent) for 946 yards (236.5 per game), six TDs and a QB rating of 120.5, seventh-best in the Big 12. The junior QB has been a bit interception prone, throwing six to the guys in the wrong jerseys so far this season. Hybl, though, showed serious resilience in last week's OU win, throwing for 283 yards (but also three INTs) while taking a pounding from the K-State pass rush, leading Wildcat defensive coordinator Phil Bennett to call Hybl as tough as Oklahoma's '00 Heisman runner-up QB Josh Huepel.

Thirteen different Sooners have caught passes, including Andre Woolfolk, who has played at both wideout and at corner for Stoops and Co. this season. The Oklahoma head man said earlier this week, though, that Woolfolk will play exclusively on the defensive side of the ball this week to counter the Horns' depth at wideout. WR Curtis Fagan (12 catches for 131 yards), TE Trent Smith (11 for 85 yards) and H-back Josh Norman (nine for 157) are also big-time pass-catching threats. The center spot on the OU OL is manned by true freshman Vince Carter, a former teammate at Waco of UT's true freshman standout Derrick Johnson. If the Sooners have a weakness on offense, it may be on the center left of the offensive line, at Carter's center spot and at LG where redshirt freshman Wes Sims has struggled. In what may be some of the most important match-ups of the game for the Texas D, DTs Marcus Tubbs and/or Maurice Gordon will try to get to Hybl through Carter and Sims.

On defense, OU is surrendering 19.2 points and 320.5 yards per game. The Sooner D is allowing 126.8 yards per game on the ground and 193.8 yards through the air. The Oklahoma secondary has picked off five passes this season and the Sooner defense has intercepted a pass in 17 of its last 18 games. Last year, Calmus stepped in front a Chris Simms pass and took it back 41 yards for an essentially game-ending touchdown (the score extended OU's second quarter lead to 35-0). OU's speed and athleticism on D isn't limited to Calmus and Williams. Sophomores FS Brandon Everage and CB Derrick Strait from Austin join Williams and Woolfolk in what some consider college football's best secondary (although K-State's Ell Roberson, not one to be confused with the league's better passing QBs, threw for 257 yards against the vaunted unit). Jimmy Wilkerson, OU's 6-4, 245-pound right DE, has also caused some trouble for opposing offenses. Wilkerson is third on the team in tackles with 30, eight of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Wilkerson will square off with Texas LT Robbie Doane, who with a lot of help from the Horns' scheme, shut down UNC's all-American right DE Julius Peppers earlier this season. True freshman Tommie Harris has started all four games for Oklahoma at one DT spot and his early season play (15 tackles, including five TFLs with one sack and four QB hurries) has already led one Sooner observer to call Harris the best DT in Norman since Leroy Selmon. Oklahoma, still searching for a third corner, looks a bit vulnerable while in nickel coverage (one of its standard defensive sets). Sophomore Matt McCoy occupied that role against K-State, and the 'Cats took advantage, something Texas will also try to do with its multitude of pass-catching threats.

An interesting note relevant to both the Oklahoma O and D: both UNC and Kansas State outgained the Sooners.

One of OU's most important weapons last year and through the first four games of this season is punter Jeff Ferguson. The senior is averaging an amazing 46.2 yards per punt and has put eight inside the opponent's 20. Ferguson's net is almost 37 yards per punt. North Carolina took one back 89 yards for a TD against the Sooner punt coverage team, so UT's Nathan Vasher faces a daunting but not impossible task against OU's punt coverage team.

Eight Sooner starters left their home state of Texas and crossed the Red River to Norman: WR Fagan, C Carter, RB Griffin, H-back Norman, DT Harris, DE Wilkerson, FS Everage and CB Strait. You'll notice that that list encompasses almost all of the standout players I mentioned above. Ten OU starters are from the state of Oklahoma.

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