- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2007

NORMAN, Okla. — You’ve got to love a team that’s all grit and no glitz.

There’s nothing sexy about No. 5 Oklahoma. There’s not a single All-Big 12 lock on the Sooners‘ roster. If 2007 is the season of the running back, the memo never made it to Norman. Oklahoma has a solid stable of tailbacks, but nobody is going to mistake senior starter Allen Patrick for Darren McFadden or Steve Slaton.

Oklahoma’s quarterback isn’t an underrated veteran awaiting a statistical explosion a la former crimson-and-cream Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Redshirt freshman Sam Bradford has made exactly one start for the Sooners. And Bradford’s targets, while competent, don’t compare with the California corps of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan.

“They’ve got a good selection of receivers, but there’s not really one guy in their skill groups that stands out,” first-year Miami coach Randy Shannon said when asked to pinpoint the player who concerns him most in today’s matchup between the Sooners (1-0) and Hurricanes (1-0).

In fact, most college football fans, even ardent ESPN Gameday addicts, probably couldn’t name a single Sooner starter. And yet, at least half the pundits polled by The Washington Times before the season, tabbed Oklahoma as the team other than top-ranked Southern California most likely to make it to New Orleans for the BCS title game Jan. 7.

Why? Because only the Trojans boast a better combination of continuity and talent in the trenches. Oklahoma’s lines, defensive and especially offensive, qualify as absolutely overwhelming. Quite simply, the Sooners might not wow you but they are likely to plow you.

“Of all the teams we saw in person last season, Oklahoma impressed me as the most physical,” ESPN and ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit said recently. “Their offensive line was incredibly aggressive. They’ll really get after you. That’s one of the reasons I’ve picked Oklahoma to reach the national championship game. I think they have that kind of a dominant group up front.”

Oklahoma’s starting front are all juniors and average 6 feet 5 inches, 322.4 pounds, making the Sooners’ front wall the largest in the Big 12 and perhaps the nation. All are returning starters except JUCO transfer Phil Loadholt, a 6-8, 352-pound mountain who has made a seamless transition from Garden City (Kan.) CC to starting left tackle.

“I’ve still got a long way to go, but the experience and communication of the other guys has made the adjustment much easier,” Loadholt said. “Plus, I can always lean on Duke. He’s our road-grader.”

Loadholt is referring to left-side mate Duke Robinson, a 6-5, 350-pound guard who’s equal parts bulldozer and Baryshnikov.

“Robinson is the best run blocker in the conference,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “He has incredible feet. And once he gets his hands on you, it’s over. You’re either going down or downfield.”

The center spot is occupied by veteran Jon Cooper. And the right side is manned by the “Dons,” the comparably lightweight pairing of guard Brandon Walker (6-3, 307) and tackle Branndon Braxton (6-5, 325).

Last week OU’s faceless fab five helped the Sooners start the season with a 79-10 thrashing of North Texas that featured an NCAA-best 668 yards of total offense. Most importantly, Bradford never got touched, much less sacked, in his first college start.

Defensively, Oklahoma’s formidable front is slightly less experienced and slightly more talented. The end spots are anchored by Auston English, a sophomore with the team’s third-best vertical jump (34 inches) and a pair of bracketed seniors in Alonzo Dotson (two tackles for loss vs. North Texas) and John Williams. But the truly frightening element of OU’s defensive line is its potential at defensive tackle. At football’s most coveted defensive position, the Sooners start an astounding two consecutive Rivals.com top-rated defensive tackles in redshirt sophomore DeMarcus Granger and redshirt freshman Gerald McCoy.

Granger has finally dropped the pounds that plagued him during an underachieving freshman campaign last season, and McCoy (an Oklahoma City native) is poised to torment the competition after spending a season salivating on the scout team.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” said McCoy, who will make his first start today after missing the opener with an injured shoulder. “Oklahoma football is dominance along the line. Now it’s my turn to do my part.”

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