When programs make national news before the season starts, it typically isn’t for something the team or its fans would see as a positive. Oklahoma has been no exception to that rule, and the Sooners were in the headlines for the wrong reasons again on Friday.
OU’s roster has undergone seemingly endless changes since the 2011 season came to a close, and at least temporarily, another shift was made on Friday, when DT Stacy McGee was suspended indefinitely for a violation of university policy. There is no indication as to what the violation involved or how long McGee might be out of action.
This was certainly a tough blow for coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners. McGee has been an anchor of Oklahoma’s defensive line over the last two seasons, starting 14 games. At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, he is the sort of run-stopper that is a huge asset for any team.
But McGee is only the latest in a long line of OU players who has been suspended, injured or otherwise a roster casualty. As CBSSports.com blogger Matt Hinton notes:
“Since the start of preseason practice, injuries have already cost Oklahoma a pair of senior starters on the offensive line, Ben Habern and Tyler Evans, who had combined for 59 starts over the last three years. (Both will miss the entire 2012 season, Evans to a knee injury, Habern to a lingering neck injury that will likely keep him from playing football again.) Another offensive lineman, redshirt freshman Dylan Dismuke, was placed on medical hardship, effectively ending his career; yet another, incoming freshman John Michael McGee, quit the team just a few days into drills. Two incoming junior college transfers who were expected to contribute right away, offensive lineman Will Latu and wide receiver Courtney Gardner, both failed to make the cut academically. Sophomore receiver Kameel Jackson, a solid contributor down the stretch last year as a true freshman, was permanently dismissed from the teamafter spending the summer on indefinite suspension. And opening day at UTEP is still two weeks away.”
Of course, the Sooners are the preseason Big 12 favorites. But with all of the players no longer on the roster and the relative lack of experience behind them, should that status be in jeopardy?
Perhaps if not for the reinstatement of three players -- receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks and S Quentin Hayes -- there would be more concern. All three violated team rules this spring and had their scholarships revoked on a temporary basis since May.
If McGee’s suspension is a long-term one, there could be issues for the Oklahoma defensive line. According to Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World, Stoops indicated DE David King will move to tackle to replace McGee, while Chuka Ndulue will move into the starting lineup to take King’s spot at end. “Chuka has been really good. I said that even in the spring,” Stoops said. “He’s ready to play.”
That may be true, but Ndulue does not have much in the way of experience yet. And with a tough game against Kansas State looming as the season's third contest, there will be precious little time to garner that experience in low-pressure situations.
Of course, all of this presumes McGee won’t be back by then. The suspension could merely last a game or two, and the Sooners may quickly go back to the business at hand.
But even if McGee makes a swift return, all the attrition along the offensive line won’t help. It may not be enough to knock OU out of Big 12 favorite status, but it could hamper the team just enough to cost it a shot at a potential national championship. After all, it just takes one stumble to greatly diminish those title chances, and Oklahoma -- especially given the roster subtractions -- is not prohibitively better than many of the conference’s other contenders.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter.