College football odds: 2013 Oklahoma Sooners preview

The biggest question facing Oklahoma this season was who would replace four-year starter Landry Jones, the school’s all-time leading passer, at quarterback. That question has been answered: Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight somewhat surprisingly beat out Blake Bell, a junior, and will face Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 31 in his first collegiate start.

Sophomore Kendal Thompson was also in the competition, but a foot injury during the Sooners’ first practice knocked him out of the mix. Bell, known as “The Belldozer” for his size and previous role in goal line and short-yardage situations, was thought to have an advantage thanks to two years of game experience and 24 total rushing touchdowns. Knight will be the first freshman to start a season opener for the Sooners since Sam Bradford in 2007.

A line that returns four starters and is anchored by first-team All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard should be a strength in aiding OU’s transition. And there are proven skill players in place, with running back Damien Williams, receiver Jalen Saunders and hybrid fullback/tight end Trey Millard all capable of all-conference seasons.

A lot of the Sooners’ defensive struggles in 2012 were rooted in their lack of a pass rush. OU doesn’t have proven playmakers at defensive tackle or defensive end but several youngsters like Jordan Phillips and Charles Tapper have plenty of upside. The Sooners did a solid job defending the pass (206.1 ypg, second in the Big 12, 29th nationally), but struggled against the run (192.2 ypg, ninth in the conference, 89th nationally).

The Sooners will need several young players to grow up quickly with just four starters returning on defense. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin provides a foundation for the secondary and will be counted on to slow the Big 12’s top pass catchers. Linebacker Corey Nelson hopes to have a breakout senior season and junior Geneo Grissom could finally fulfill his potential at defensive end.

For a change, the Sooners aren’t considered Big 12 favorites. All the question marks and a rugged schedule that includes trips to Notre Dame and Kansas State as well as rival Oklahoma State create a big challenge for a team in transition.

Key losses: QB Landry Jones, LT Lane Johnson, WR Kenny Stills, S Tony Jefferson, CB Demontre Hurst, S Javon Harris

Key returnees: WR Jalen Saunders, CB Aaron Colvin, RB Damien Williams, C Gabe Ikard, RT Daryl Williams, DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson.

WagerWeb NCAA football odds to win Big 12: +375

WagerWeb wins total: 8.5

Oklahoma 2013 schedule

Aug. 31: Louisiana-Monroe

Sept. 7: West Virginia

Sept. 14: Tulsa

Sept. 28: at Notre Dame

Oct. 5: TCU

Oct. 12: Texas (Dallas)

Oct. 19: at Kansas

Oct. 26: Texas Tech

Nov. 7: at Baylor

Nov. 16: Iowa State

Nov. 23: at Kansas State

Dec. 7: at Oklahoma State

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