Three predictions for Oklahoma

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma is a three-time defending champion and returns many of its weapons from a team that came within a game of winning the national championship last season.

Despite the return of potential NFL draftees Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams and Jermaine Gresham from last season, the Sooners have been picked to finish second in the Big 12 South in most preseason polls.

How much motivation this provides for the Sooners will be interesting.

The Big 12's South Division should again revolve on the Texas-Oklahoma game Oct. 17 at the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners have lost three of their last four games against Texas, but still won Big 12 championships in two of those seasons where they lost to the Longhorns.

Those losses and residue from the South Division championship controversy will provide the Sooners with some extra motivation when they meet the Longhorns.

Here are some predictions I have for the upcoming season for the Sooners.

1. Bradford's passing statistics will decline some this season. The retooled offensive line will be the most scrutinized part of Oklahoma's offensive transformation. But Bradford will also miss experienced players like Juaquin Iglesias and Manny Johnson from last season. Ryan Broyles and Adron Tennell are nice players, but not as good as Bradford's veteran threats from last season that have departed. Because of that, I'd be surprised if Bradford matches his 2008 totals of 50 touchdown passes and 4,720 passing yards.

2. The breakout player on Oklahoma's defensive line will be Frank Alexander. With all of the other playmakers vying for time, it might be hard for one player to stand out above the rest in a talented, deep unit. But if there is such a player, look for it to be Alexander. His strong freshman season was even more impressive considering he was injured in an altercation at a nightclub after his first game. He's healthy now and could be poised to become Oklahoma's newest defensive star.

3. The Sooners' streak of losing BCS bowl games finally will end this season. They might be advancing to the BCS as the conference's second team, but I look for coach Bob Stoops to have Oklahoma ready to shake this albatross and win its bowl game. The recent string of bowl losses has been frustrating for Stoops and stripped him of some of the national luster for his remarkable three-peat of Big 12 championships. I'm looking for that to change this season -- at least as far as bowl games.