We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 10-3 Oklahoma Sooners graded out in 2011.
More report cards:
OFFENSE: Oklahoma had as many weapons as anyone to begin the season, complete with a Heisman contender (frontrunner?) in Landry Jones and the man who would eventually hold the FBS record for career receptions, Ryan Broyles, as the team's top receiver. The Sooners were loaded at running back, though Dominique Whaley surprised everyone by leapfrogging top-flight recruits Brennan Clay and Roy Finch to steal the starting job. The offensive line was better this year, and the coaching staff showcased some great creativity with the near-unstoppable Belldozer formation that helped backup QB Blake Bell score 13 touchdowns over the second half of the season, after Whaley went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Ultimately, though, Jones wasn't quite as sharp without Broyles and the receiving corps had some big drops late in the season, and the Sooners were embarrassed in the season finale vs. Oklahoma State with the Big 12 title hanging in the balance. Jones' performance, too, has to be better in 2012. His 15 interceptions are far too many, and it was even more than he threw as a freshman in 2009, when he had the most in the Big 12. Once Broyles went down, receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds simply weren't good enough.
DEFENSE: Baylor debacle aside, the Sooners defense wasn't as bad as it looked late in the season. Oklahoma State and the Bears made the Sooners' issues in the secondary look really, really serious, but it's easy to forget the Cowboys and Bears are also the nation's No. 2 and No. 4 passing offenses. Oklahoma gave up over 40 points in each of its three losses, though it was dealing with some injuries defensively in the first loss to Texas Tech, namely the loss of top corner Jamell Fleming. Looking big picture, Oklahoma played its best football early in the season, and ranked second in the Big 12 in total defense, behind only Texas. Additionally, DE Frank Alexander won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and teammate Ronnell Lewis might have been right behind him in the voting if not for a late-season knee injury and academic suspension.
OVERALL: It's easy to feel like 2011 was a complete failure, considering the national title hype in the preseason and the year's finish in the Insight Bowl. You can't classify it as a success, and we'll get to the final grade in a bit. But 10 wins is 10 wins, especially in a very, very deep league this year. The Texas Tech loss got more inexplicable as the season dragged on, but Baylor and Oklahoma State were good teams. Better than Oklahoma? Talent-wise, no. But both knocked off the Sooners, who are back to the drawing board in 2012, chasing another national title from the role of dark horse, rather than favorite.