If you don't follow SB Nation's series of college football team previews published every year by our friend and stats guru Bill Connelly, you should rectify this immediately. Connelly worked his up way to Oklahoma earlier this week, and we seem to share a similar outlook for the Sooners: He has 9.6 projected wins for OU this fall; I came up with 9.7 based on my preliminary power ratings. (I will put together a post on those soon.)
A few thoughts:
*Bill’s focus on Baker Mayfield’s health is fair. I even made a similar note about the importance of keeping OU’s QB upright in a recent post for Athlon.
Still, it strikes me as odd that this is seen as a big knock on OU. I get that we can presume the dropoff from Mayfield to freshman understudy Austin Kendall is significant, but how many teams around the country wouldn’t find their expectations drastically altered by an injury to QB1?
If they haven’t already, Sooner fans should probably make peace with the idea that the Crimson and Cream will hitch a ride on the struggle bus if Mayfield misses extended time this season. I can’t think of many programs for which that wouldn’t hold true.
*Ian Boyd published a solid piece yesterday on Football Study Hall about the difficulties in trying to replace standout receiver Sterling Shepard. It fits nicely with Bill’s commentary on the difference between what the numbers suggest when it comes to Shepard versus what his eyes tell him.
It’s true that OU has a number of proven contributors and talented newbies vying for spots in the rotation at receiver. However, No. 3 was as reliable as your mom’s pot roast. Not to mention, in addition to acting as Mayfield’s security blanket, Shepard frequently moved around in formations. In doing so, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley could put him in advantageous spots to exploit matchups or use Shepard to command the defense’s attention.
Frankly, I just can’t see any of OU’s current receivings stepping up into that kind of role in the fall. The good news is that they might not need to.
*I like how Bill’s approach paints a holistic picture of how different aspects of the game fit together for teams. For instance, he points out that the Sooners’ ability to mix the run and the pass on early downs last season kept defenses off-balance. In turn, that helped the O stay on schedule.
This year, however, I expect the running game to improve. OU still has possibly the best combo of running backs in the country, and they will be running behind an older, beefier offensive line. As such, Riley could opt to build the offense more from the ground up. That’s not exactly classic Air Raid, but he showed more affinity in 2015 for running the ball than you generally see from the Mike Leach tree.
If it takes a little while for the receiving corps to gel, a proficient ground attack could buy the pass catchers some time.
*As for the defense, I think Bill sums up the concerns about the pass rush well. This could offer a good example of both sides of the ball working together, though. If the Sooners can do more to control the ball on offense, Mike Stoops could potentially tailor the defensive scheme towards limiting possessions.
On the other hand, the combination of a talented, deep defensive line and proven secondary might offer opportunities for Stoops to dial up more pressure from his linebackers via blitzes.
Nice to have options. Hasn't necessarily been the case for the D in the last few years. Stoops can thank better recruiting and player retention for that.