Now that I’ve previewed every position group on Oklahoma’s roster for the upcoming season, I’m trying my hardest not to like this team a lot.
The Sooners just graduated one of the best quarterbacks in college football history – not to mention said QB’s protector on the blind side and favorite target in the passing game. They have a defense that spent a good portion of the last two seasons getting carved up.
And we should probably admit that for all the talk recently about Lincoln Riley’s genius, Bob Stoops left him a team that was primed for a big season in Riley’s first go-round. Keeping a program on top takes a different set of chops.
Riding for a team in those circumstances reeks of homerism. (Note that Homerism himself does not reek.)
Less homerish: The Sooners are the betting favorites to win a fourth straight Big 12 championship. At around +2500, oddsmakers are also giving OU approximately the seventh-best odds of any team to win the national championship this season.
In reality, when a player takes up as much oxygen as Baker Mayfield, it becomes easy to fixate on what a team has lost. As indicated by Vegas, what the Sooners still have on hand is quite good.
I’ll miss seeing Mayfield run the show, but an offense tailored to Kyler Murray’s athleticism will give Big 12 defenses a new puzzle to solve. Riley has versatile running backs at his disposal in Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon and a bruising offensive line to clear the way against a slate of defenses oriented to combating the Air Raid.
Furthermore, the Sooners have an electric group of receivers that should rank among the best in school history. Although it got lost in the season’s offensive pyrotechnics, OU started 2017 with a motley collection of wideouts in its rotation – walk-ons Myles Tease and Lee Morris were contributors early in the year. Sure, the Sooners will miss tight end Mark Andrews. On the flip side, you can expect CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown and Grant Calcaterra to hit the ground running against Florida Atlantic, unlike a year ago.
If Murray can’t make all of that work, Austin Kendall will have the best collection of surrounding offensive players in the country.
Naturally, I have less enthusiasm about OU’s defense after the last two years. Mike Stoops has received an undue share of the blame for the Sooners’ ups-and-downs on D in the last six seasons. Even so, his constant tinkering to make due in that time has morphed into a scheme that feels like an incoherent mishmash of principles.
It’s hard to argue that Stoops will have to “make due” with this roster, though. Although some are still young, nearly three times as many blue-chip defensive talents have signed with OU in the last four recruiting cycles relative to the previous four-year period. That should result in more competition for playing time throughout the season and a deeper bench for establishing true rotations at all three levels.
At best, the failings of the last two seasons will motivate Stoops to implement new wrinkles, especially for generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in the NFL. At worst, better personnel produce an increase in better outcomes. (It’s tough to imagine the secondary playing worse this year, in particular.)
Ultimately, unless this team’s chemistry post-Mayfield is a mess, I wouldn’t count on any drop-off from OU in ‘18. I hate feeling optimistic as a fan, but don’t be shocked if the Sooners actually take a step forward from last year.
Prediction: 11-1 regular season, Big 12 championship, College Football Playoff.