Thursday, June 15, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Oklahoma Sooners
The bombshell retirement of Bob Stoops last week certainly has not helped public confidence in the upcoming season for the Sooners, but the immediate move to elevate OC Lincoln Riley to the position was a good, and much needed move for this football program. Riley is one of the smartest and best young minds in the college game, and at 33, will be the youngest coach in FBS football this coming season. The good news is that Riley still has a top five caliber team that can contend for a Big 12 title, and could contend for a national playoff birth at the end of the season. Let's see if he has the drive to get them there after this late upheaval.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Despite his off-season shenanigans, the Sooners will have their Heisman candidate back at QB in Baker Mayfield. With Mayfield back, all other losses seem to be mitigated just a bit. He passed for 3965 yards last season, completed over 70% of his passes, and tossed 40 TDs to just eight picks, all while averaging 305 yards passing per game. Mayfield also added six more scores running the football, and will be a major contender for the award given to the best player in the nation this season if all things hold together.
Mayfield will be playing behind one of the best lines in the nation as well, and all five starters return there. Orlando Brown, Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Dru Samia, and Erick Wren all return, and that is the kind of line that you need to win a national title.
Mark Andrews scored seven times as a receiver last fall, and averaged over 15 yards per reception, while Jeffrey Mead will be cast into a larger role this fall after also averaging 15 yards per grab last season. There are several others in the fight for more playing time this season at receiver, including Nick Basquine, AD Miller, Mykel Jones, Dahu Green, and Jordan Smallwood, and there are three freshmen or RS freshmen joining the group as well.
FB Dmitri Flowers averaged over five yards per carry last season, and is the lone returning starter in the RB corp.
Update 6/15/17: I have been informed that Dahu Green has left the program. I have also been informed that Jeff Badet, a grad transfer from Kentucky has made an impact in camp, and may push for a starting role. These notes were not available in Oklahoma's official spring notes that I receive. Thanks to Twitter follower @MMA_Boom for the update!
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine at RB will really take a big bite out of the offense this fall. Mixon rushed for 1274 yards and 10 scores, while Perine added 1060 yards and 12 scores. Both were major components of the passing game as well, with Mixon being the second best receiver on the team. Mixon's departure, however, may have been more of a PR boost than most players with all of the off-field baggage that he brought to the table, whether behind him or not. Still, that kind of production loss will be difficult for the Sooners to overcome, at least early on. Look for Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson to get all of the attention early in camp, but others could give them some push. Freshmen Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and Marcellus Sutton are all highly heralded freshmen recruits in the Sooner class of 2017, and will all eventually see the field and will make an impact.
There is talent at receiver returning, but this receiver corps needs to gel early on. Losing DeDe Westbrook, again, another potential addition by subtraction due to PR issues, and the loss of Mixon and Perine, will leave a huge production gap. The Lincoln Riley offense always seems to find receivers, so this may be less of a stress than the run game, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Austin Seibert was largely hit and miss at PK last season, as he made just 11/16 FG attempts on the season as a sophomore. He could use a good push in fall camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Oklahoma is changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set this season, and that will mean some major changes across the board. There will be one less spot to fill at LB, but luckily, three starters return from last season, and the depth is solid. Emmanuel Beal is back after finishing second in tackles last fall with 81. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is also back at OLB, and led the team with 12 TFLs, and added 71 tackles, good for third on the team. Caleb Kelly will also be at the outside spot, and finished with 36 tackles as a freshman last fall. Kelly also added three TFLs. Beal could be pushed, but more on that shortly.
Three starters return in the secondary, including both CBs in Jordan Parker and Jordan Thomas. Thomas was a beast last season with 17 PBUs, while Evans led the team with four INTs. Steven Parker is the third returnee, and finished with 63 tackles at Safety, and added four PBUs and a pair of INTs.
Austin Seibert handled Punting duties as well as being the PK. He averaged over 41 yards per punt, and it would probably good if he could handle one job or the other this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
With the change over to the 4-3 set, only one returning starter is back on the line, leaving three open jobs this fall. Matt Romar is back, and he played in just nine games last season due to injury, he could give the Sooners a second starting caliber lineman to go along with Neville Gallimore, who finished with four TFLs last fall. Both are playing DT this season, but Gallimore could be pushed by Du'Vonta Lampkin and Marqise Overton. DJ Ward, Kenneth Mann, and Mark Jackson, Jr. will all be vying for time at DE, and the Sooners also added four incoming freshman to the lot in their latest recruiting haul, with Isaiah Thomas looking to make the most impact of the lot this fall.
Beal is solid returning at LB, but is much too small to play as a traditional MLB at 214 lbs. He could get pushed for time and the job by Ricky DeBerry, who more traditionally fills the role at 244 lbs. Curtis Bolton and Jon-Michael Terry could also be smelling blood in the water, and will be pushing for time there as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 UTEP, 9/9 at Ohio State, 9/16 Tulane, 9/23 at Baylor, 10/7 Iowa State, 10/14 Texas at Dallas, 10/21 at Kansas State, 10/28 Texas Tech, 11/4 at Oklahoma State, 11/11 TCU, 11/18 at Kansas, 11/25 West Virginia
Oklahoma is loaded with talent, but the defense has some questions, and that may be the issue that holds the Sooners back if they do not play up to potential this season, which will be the unexpected first under Lincoln Riley. It has been rumored that Stoops was pushed out infavor of Riley, specifically because of Stoops' acceptance of PR nightmare players such as Mixon, Westbrook, Frank Shannon, and Dorrel Beckham-Green (Beckham-Green never played a down at Oklahoma after transferring from Missouri after allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs). Stoops' willingness to turn a blind eye to certain things may have become an albatross to the Sooners administration, specifically after what has happened at Baylor, Minnesota, and even now at Michigan State, among others. Riley was going to be a coach someday, so now is the time, and he should have gotten the job at East Carolina when Ruffin McNeil was fired. Riley now has the keys to a massive sports car that is ready to go at top speed, but will he have the acumen to drive it? Time will tell.