College Football's New Look

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 most recent 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 season, and Ross was in Stoops' doghouse after picking up a personal foul on his first career carry.

Stoops, however, complimented Ross' work during the offseason and spring practice.

"I paid my dues and waited my time," Ross said. "I felt like I needed time to get acclimated to everything around here."

The Sooners are hoping Mixon doesn't have the same problem.

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is 8 pounds heavier than last season, which is only natural for a 20-year-old who works his Ducktail off in the weight room. But to be honest, if Mariota came back as the physical specimen of the first eight games of last year, no one would argue.

The sprained left MCL that slowed Mariota down for the last five games took away his escapability and quickness. The injury took away his status as a Heisman front-runner, too. That's how good he had been in leading Oregon to the No. 3 ranking. Now that the redshirt junior has gone through spring practice and been even better, let's just say there's an air of confidence in Eugene.

"Knock on wood, he's right where you want him to be," coach Mark Helfrich said.

That means Mariota is healthy, a year older and a year more mature. At 6-4 and now 218 pounds, Mariota's mere presence commands attention in a way it never had before. He is, by all acclaim, gentle by nature, which is not a quality that translates well onto the football field.

"It's still harder for me," Mariota said. "I've got to go through constant reminders. 'Hey, you gotta pick your voice up a little bit.' I think the biggest thing for me is my body language. Coach Helfrich is always in the back, saying, 'Body language. Body language.' "

Which means what?

"Just asserting more confidence," Mariota said. "Just portraying confidence. Coach Helfrich has been on me since I was a freshman. We've built a relationship where he expects more out of me and I really expect more out of me. I really hold myself up to that standard."

Helfrich said his quarterback is "doing a great job" as a leader. He reminds Helfrich of Andrew Walter, whom Helfrich coached at Arizona State a decade ago.

"Andrew was the same type of guy, introverted almost to a fault," Helfrich said. "Marcus is kind of the same way. With both guys, I made them say something to somebody after every play. It could be anything -- 'Nice shoes.' -- literally anything, just to make [him] comfortable."

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