By Brian Bass
- The Sooners are returning 9 offensive starters.
This offense for OU was impossible to stop in Big 12 play this past year. Baker Mayfield is returning for his senior season, along with all of the offensive line that protected him this past fall. OU’s offensive line is considered the best in the country, led by 2nd team All-American and Big 12 OL of the year Orlando Brown. Brown is also considered a top 10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft. TE Mark Andrews is projected 1st team all-Big 12 by Phil Steele, who has the ability to score and catch over defenders. He was 3rd in receiving, only trailing DeDe Westbrook and Joe Mixon. Andrews will be a key target for Baker, to say the least. It will also will be likely for Lincoln to use a dual running back system like last year with Rodney Anderson starting and Abdul Adams closely backing him up. Stoops regarded Anderson as an “athletic specimen”, and had an outstanding spring. The downside is that Anderson has been injured with both ankle and neck injuries over the past two seasons, in which he has barely seen the field during the regular season. Adams, on the other hand, has seen the field last year as a true freshman, but never scored in the 7 games he played in. Both running backs are going to see much more playing time than last year, as they have to fill in the massive shoes left by Perine and Mixon.
2. Lincoln Riley is a seasoned coach.
Riley may be young, but he is no idiot. This guy was the OC when OU went to the CFP the season before last when he was only 31. Riley has been working in an OC role since he was 27 at East Carolina, and also assumed an Associate Head Coaching role while he was there. Riley is now 33. When he was at OU as a coordinator, Riley was predicted to take a head coaching role somewhere in the Power 5. He will work his offense like he has been the past few seasons, the Texas Tech offensive scheme around Baker Mayfield. Riley has quite a bit to work with both offensively and defensively, and won’t have to work with his own recruiting class for a couple of years.
3. The defense has improved since last year.
Last year there was a drop in defensive numbers compared to the past 5 years, mainly because of the inexperience along the defensive line and the linebackers. Now, the linebackers are going to be a stacked unit, led by Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo. Obo had 9 sacks this past year and proved to be a force and a leader. The defensive backs have somehow always been able to produce for OU, but will probably have to find a replacement for S WIll Sunderland for the first few games of the season after his arrest. On the line, there is not a lot of experience, but it does have the potential to be a strong unit if they are consistent. This year will be better than last season just coming from the standpoint of experience.
- This is a much more lethal Big 12 than last year.
Oklahoma may be returning 9 offensive starters, but is staggered skill-wise. Baker will have to test out who will be reliable this season through the first 3 games (including a trip to Ohio State). Other than that, the Big 12 is going to be hard to beat. Oklahoma State indefinitely leads the pack with an offense that could outrun and out-pass any team. TCU is also high-powered offensively, with 10 returning starters on offense. Returning QB Kenny Hill and TB Kyle Hicks combined for 4,859 all-purpose yards. There is no substitute for experience, and TCU is loaded with it. Texas is also coming in as a team that could upset OU with their stacked defense and potent offense. QB Shane Buechele is an up-and-coming player in this league, but will have to experiment a little to get comfortable. Buechele also has 1st-team All-American T Connor Williams protecting his blind-side, so that couldn’t hurt. Kansas State would be the other team that could be a cause for pause this year for OU. QB Jesse Ertz is Bill Snyder’s pride and joy, being the only QB in the Big 12 to pass and rush for more than 1,000 yards each. OU also has to make a trip to the Little Apple this year.
2. Lost both key running backs and best wideout in the nation to the draft.
With three of the four main playmakers no longer in the collegiate ranks, Baker Mayfield has to find 3 other skill players to make up for the 45 combined touchdowns that they made in 2016. This is where the biggest problem lies for OU. This huge gap has been left for Baker and Riley to fill, and the only seasoned weapon is TE Mark Andrews. The Kentucky grad transfer Jeff Badet may be something to look at, who has been an active player there. Other than that, only time could truly tell what’s in store for OU’s offense.
3. Bob Stoops is retired.
It’s going to be that elephant in the room this year when it comes to OU football. Bob Stoops is gone, and he was replaced by now the youngest coach in Division I-FBS. Even though it has been said that Stoops is going to be there in some capacity, this is now Lincoln Riley’s program. In this will come all of the inexperience that a new coach will bring, and may not make all of the right calls in this upcoming season. He also has to know what he is doing with his defense this year, which is obviously not his strong suit.
Read our other Sooner Stories from this week: Why Baker Mayfield Will, Or Will Not Win The 2018 Heisman, Changing of the Guard