By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
After winning their first six games of the season, the Oklahoma Sooners are in unfamiliar territory, as they attempt to bounce back from their first loss with this weekend's home matchup against the Colorado Buffaloes.
Bob Stoops' squad was sitting atop the BCS standings just a week ago, but a 36-27 road loss at nationally-ranked Missouri has the team now 11th in the current top-25 and ninth in the BCS. Despite the loss, Oklahoma still sits in good shape in the Big 12 South Division at 2-1. The team is tied with Oklahoma State and just a game behind Baylor (3-0).
Dan Hawkins' time in Boulder may be coming to a close. Colorado has struggled to remain consistently competitive in the Big 12 and this year is no different. The team is 3-4 overall and has yet to post a league win, sitting in the basement of the Big 12 North with Kansas at 0-3.
Oklahoma holds a 39-17-2 advantage in the all-time series with Colorado. The Sooners had won five straight in the series before the Buffaloes finally broke through with a victory in the last outing in 2007 (27-24).
With starting QB Tyler Hansen going down to injury, coach Hawkins has opened himself up for criticism, as he has anointed his son Cody to the position for the foreseeable future. The younger Hawkins started his career under center in Boulder, but inconsistent play forced a change. He has completed 38-of-68 passes this season in limited duty, for 407 yards and two TDs, but may be in over his head in the frenzied atmosphere in Norman this week.
Cody Hawkins believes he has learned a lot throughout his career in Boulder and has always given great effort.
"I think I've stuck to my guns. I think I've been the same person throughout, but I think, too, that I'm miles and miles from where I was when I first showed up here. I think I've grown since I've been here. If you talk all the time, you have to know when to talk. That's something I've learned. I think I've come into my own as far as being a leader. I do know this: I've given it everything I had and my dad's been the same. I really don't care what's being said about me as long as they don't rip my effort."
The Buffs may be best served to lean heavily on tailback Rodney Stewart, who is averaging just over 4.2 yards per carry and 93 yards per game. When Hawkins does go down the field, Scotty McKnight (31 receptions, 338 yards, three TDs) and Toney Clemons (26 receptions, 317 yards, one TD) will be the likely targets.
The Buffaloes are yielding just over 380 yards of total offense per game, but that number will be taken to task by the hometown Sooners, who want to make someone pay for last week's loss.
To make matters worse, sophomore LB Jon Major, the team's leading tackler (57), is sidelined with a knee injury and will not play in this game. It will be up to players like senior LB Michael Sipili (49 tackles, 5.0 TFLs) and senior CB Jalil Brown (22 tackles, three INTs) to step up.
The Sooners racked up just over 400 yards of offense last weekend in Columbia, but it wasn't enough to remain unbeaten on the season. The OU offense has certainly had its share of success in 2010, averaging 34.7 ppg and 450.3 yards of total offense.
Sophomore QB Landry Jones has played extremely well in leading a passing attack ranked among the nation's best at 303.0 ypg. Jones has completed 66.8 percent of his throws, for 2,094 yards, with 17 TDs and just five INTs.
It certainly helps to have one of the nation's most reliable and big play guys on the outside in Ryan Broyles. The 5-11 junior has hauled in 69 passes already, going for 810 yards and five TDs.
The ground game is effective as well, churning out 147.3 yards per game. Tailback DeMarco Murray is the source of most of that production, averaging 101.7 yards per game. Murray has 712 yards on the ground thus far and is responsible for 11 of the team's 15 rushing scores on the year.
It has not been a typical Oklahoma defense this season and last week's display at Missouri was certainly evidence of that. The Sooners allowed the hometown Tigers to amass 486 yards of offense, including 308 through the air.
The numbers on the season have been mediocre at best, with OU allowing 21.4 ppg, on 389.6 yards of total offense.
There is still star power on that side of the football for Oklahoma, starting with All-American candidate Travis Lewis at the linebacker position. Patrolling the middle of the field, Lewis has notched a team-high 67 tackles this season, with 4.0 TFLs and one INT. Safeties Jonathan Nelson (53 tackles, one INT) and Quinton Carter (44 tackles, two INTs) have performed well in the secondary, while All-American candidate Jeremy Beal (32 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) headlines the play along the defensive line.
Stoops knows that Colorado remains dangerous despite the team's sub par record.
"Even though they're 3-4, it is very obvious when you watch them play that they're a much better football team than that. The last two losses they've had were very tight, close games against Texas Tech and Baylor. Cody Hawkins at quarterback is a guy that, as a freshman four years ago, beat us. We're very aware of what he's capable of and how he plays. They're a team whose offense is good and balanced, good running backs, good schemes. Defensively, very aggressive in how they've played."
The truth however, is that the Buffaloes are out-numbered on both sides of the football. The Sooners will certainly take advantage in Norman in what should be a lopsided win for the home team.