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March 3, 2009

Return to title game a real possibility for Sooners

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford will have plenty of weapons around him.
Coach: Bob Stoops
Last season: 12-2, 7-1 Big 12. Lost to Florida in the BCS national championship game.
Spring dates: March 3-April 11
Offense (5): QB Sam Bradford, WR Ryan Broyles, TE Jermaine Gresham, RB DeMarco Murray, T Trent Williams.
Defense (8): E Jeremy Beal, LB Keenan Clayton, E Auston English, CB Dominique Franks, CB Brian Jackson, LB Travis Lewis, T Gerald McCoy, NT Adrian Taylor.
Special teams (2): P Mike Knall, K Jimmy Stevens.

Positions of strength

Where do you start? The Sooners are loaded, as always, with talent. They return the Heisman winner at quarterback, two 1,000-yard rushers and a potential first-round pick at tight end from an offense that led the nation in scoring. Yet offense isn't necessarily the strongest part of the team. The defensive line will be one of the nation's best. Travis Lewis heads a group of solid linebackers, and cornerbacks Brian Jackson and Dominique Franks may be coach Bob Stoops' best pair since 2003.

Help is needed

The offensive line lost four starters, including Jon Cooper - a four-year starter at center. OU allowed only 13 sacks last season. Talented players are ready to step in, but a high standard of performance has been set. The Sooners also need to replace two starting wide receivers and develop some depth there.

Keep an eye on

SS Quinton Carter: Both starting safeties from '08 must be replaced and Carter, a junior, figures to take over for Nic Harris. He's a punishing hitter, in the mode of former Sooners standout Roy Williams.

OT Jarvis Jones: He played seven games as a backup tackle and guard on LSU's 2007 national championship team. Jones, a sophomore, was dismissed from the Tigers last July for violating undisclosed team rules and transferred to OU. At 6 feet 7 and 294 pounds, he has a great chance to move in at right tackle because coaches would like to move the incumbent there - Trent Williams - to the left side.

WR Dejuan Miller: Miller, a sophomore, had only two catches in '08, but he was impressive in practice and will make a strong bid to break into the starting lineup.

His time is now

There have been high hopes for wide receiver Adron Tennell since he arrived in Norman. But after three seasons, he has just 16 catches and one touchdown. If he doesn't distinguish himself this spring, those once-high hopes will look more and more like false hopes.

The buzz

OU always has national championship aspirations. Some seasons, they are more realistic than others. The 2009 hopes are realistic. Any team featuring four likely first-round picks has to be taken seriously, and OU has at least that many. Though Oklahoma lost to Florida in last year's national championship game, some may forget the Sooners failed to score twice inside the 5. They were that close to winning, and the majority of starters from that team return. If significant progress is made this spring in filling holes at receiver, safety and along the offensive line, the buzz about the national championship possibilities will grow louder.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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