"It wasn't just one year. We've been in the top 10 in the country the last three years," Narduzzi said. "Yeah, it's hard to beat what you did last year, without a doubt. We lost some good players. But the system is there, and we need to make sure we fit kids into the system and get them playing like we need to."
They return what should be the best tandem of defensive ends in the Big Ten in Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, and even without Darqueze Dennard, the secondary is in good hands with All-Big Ten safety Kurtis Drummond and junior cornerback Trae Waynes, who's ready to step up as the Spartans' next lockdown corner.
"[Narduzzi] is as hard on us as he ever was," Calhoun said. "He's always going to be that same guy, yelling and screaming, telling you what you're not doing right. The biggest thing is that we take the coaching. You could progressively see the guys understanding what he wanted done. We matured. With us staying on each other as hard and as tough as he has, we've just continued clicking. This year isn't going to be any different."
"We've established what we're going to be here on defense, and you don't want to be that team that doesn't live up to those expectations," Drummond said. "We have depth at every position, every level, and we're a team that's going to play all four quarters. Some teams can't handle all four quarters. That's something we pride ourselves on."
NORMAN, Okla. -- The most popular player at Oklahoma's spring game in April has yet to enroll in classes.
Joe Mixon, ESPN's No. 6 running back and No. 53 overall recruit in the 2014 class, spent much of OU's spring game signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. Mixon traveled from California to watch the action from the sideline.
OU coach Bob Stoops has made it clear that Mixon and fellow incoming freshman and ESPN 300 prospect Samaje Perine will have a chance to compete for serious playing time this coming season.
"We don't hesitate to play freshmen," Stoops said.
In 2004, OU freshman tailback Adrian Peterson set NCAA freshman records by running for 1,925 yards on 339 carries. Seemingly every OU freshman running back has been compared to Peterson ever since.
The Sooners lose their top three runners from last season, and while Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams were productive players, they've lacked a superstar in the backfield since DeMarco Murray left for the NFL. Murray was OU's last 1,000-yard runner, gaining 1,214 yards in 2010.
Don't be surprised if Mixon is the next one.
Mixon, who ran for more than 4,200 yards during a four-year career at Oakley (Calif.) Freedom, will compete with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross when he arrives on campus in June. Ford had problems hanging onto the football last year, and Ross was in Stoops' doghouse after picking up a personal foul on his first career carry.