Last year season was a weird one for the Oklahoma Sooners. No surprise, but our buddy Bill Connelly did a great job in his annual season preview for SBNation.com summing up just how incredible it was. And, as I predicted, the numbers don’t share the punditry’s enthusiasm for the 2014 Sooners.
Bill takes a pretty nuanced approach to these previews, so he's able to shine a spotlight on some of the more subtle issues facing a team. A few thoughts on his outlook for OU:
*The close to the season might have been a blast for Sooner Nation, but Bill hits it on the head regarding the carryover to '14:
“That they won each of those games was stunning and exciting, but they used a recipe that is in no way sustainable and in no way indicative of a team with true national title ambition.”
It took plenty of hocus pocus late in the year for OU to pull out wins at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State and in the Sugar Bowl. OU scooped up all nine fumbles that occurred in those three games en route to a +6 turnover margin during the win streak. The OSU game stands out, in particular, as an exercise in resourcefulness and blind luck.
Conversely, in OU’s two losses, Texas and Baylor left no doubt about which team deserved to win. The Sooners were outplayed in both cases.
The upshot: The upcoming season in Norman needs to be a story about taking steps forward. On balance, the team that took the field for OU a year ago won’t be good enough to make the playoff at the end of this year.
Betting on the come that way always merits caution.
*Should Sooner partisans fret over Bill’s observations about the run defense? Don’t see how you couldn’t. On the other hand, this is one area where I feel confident OU will be markedly better.
Given that Mike Stoops made the move to a 3-4 scheme on the fly last year, struggling with downhill running games was to be expected. Aside from teaching new concepts, the coaching staff had built the roster around a four-man front. The transition to three down linemen left the defense undersized in some spots, particularly on the edge. The loss of two of the unit’s best players, linebacker Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips, not only wore on the depth of the front seven, it exacerbated the personnel mismatches. Teams like Notre Dame, Texas and Alabama were more than happy to blast away at OU’s undermanned front seven.
With a year under everyone’s belts, the experience in the new system should bolster the run D this fall. Additionally, I anticipate that the staff has done a better job tailoring its personnel the scheme. (I’ll cover this in greater detail at some point soon.)
*Ironically, I feel less certain about the shuffle at the skill positions on offense.
Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell and running backs coach Cale Gundy generally load their units up with studs. This team will be no exception.
Even so, the Sooners are looking to replace two-thirds of their catches from last season. The last time OU had to replace that kind of production was 2009, a year when the offense struggled to find reliable targets out wide.
Likewise, the running back corps is long on potential and short on track record.
Between early conference road games against West Virginia and TCU, the offense can’t afford for guys such as running back Alex Ross and wideout Durron Neal to be working through any stage fright.