Head Coach: Lincoln Riley
2016 record: 11-2 overall, 9-0 Big 12
2016 Bowl Result: Beat Auburn 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl
Odds to Win 2018 College Football Championship Game: 18/1
Odds to Win 2017 Big 12 Championship: +102
Odds to Reach 2017 Big 12 Championship Game: -295
Regular Season Wins: over 9 1/2 -135 / under 9 1/2 +115
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The Oklahoma Sooners began last season 1-2 with double digit losses to Houston and Ohio State. The Sooners would then run the table winning 10 straight games including another Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn 35-19.
It looked like the biggest story in the offseason would be how the Sooners would replace talented running backs Joe Mixon & Samaje Perine, as well as receiver Dede Westbrook who all left for the NFL. However, one June day, long time coach Bob Stoops retired suddenly. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is only 33 years old switched from coach of the future to coach of the present.
Still, the Sooners have plenty of talent to compete for another conference title and potentially a playoff berth. Here is a look at Oklahoma on offense, defense, and special teams, as well as the schedule and outlook.
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Oklahoma averaged 555 yards per game on offense and 44 point per game. They were in the top three nationally in both categories. After Riley was promoted to head coach, he named Cale Gundy and Bill Bedenbaugh as co-offensive coordinators. Riley will continue to call plays. The offense will continue to be explosive despite the loss of key skill position players.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield returns for his senior season. He could have left early for the NFL, but will again contend for the Heisman trophy after being named a finalist last year. Mayfield completed 71% of his passes for 3,965 yards with 40 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and also rushed for 177 yards on 78 carries with 6 touchdowns. Mayfield avoided a possible suspension after a much publicized arrest in Arkansas for being drunk and resisting arrest in the spring. Former Texas A&M quarterback Kyler Murray will be the back-up after transferring last year.
The running backs lose Joe Mixon to the Cincinnati Bengals and Samaje Perine to the Washington Redskins. The duo combined for over 2,300 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. Mixon also had 37 catches for 538 yards and 5 touchdowns. Look for sophomores Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson to take over as the primary running backs. Adams rushed for 283 yards as a freshman last year. Anderson missed all of last year with a neck injury. As many as six running backs could get significant carries this year. Fullback Dimitri Flowers is back after making 22 carries for 115 yards last year. He also made 11 catches for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Receiver Dede Westbrook is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars after he joined Mayfield as a Heisman finalist last year. Some said tongue in cheek, that he rivaled reigning NBA MVP Russell of the Oklahoma City Thunder as the best athlete named Westbrook in the state. Dede’s 80 catches for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns will be difficult to replace. H-back/tight end Mark Andrews is back after making 31 catches for 489 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. Nick Basquine was a candidate to be the go-to receiver after making 20 catches for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. However, he will miss the entire 2017 season after tearing his ACL in pre-season practice. Look for Jeffrey Mead and Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet to be the starters. Mead had 10 catches for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Sooners also lose Geno Lewis to the Seattle Seahawks after he made 32 catches for 388 yards and 2 touchdowns last year.
The offensive line returns all five starters and might be the best in the country. Orlando Brown and Bobby Evans will start at the tackles. Ben Powers and Drew Samia will start at the guards, while Erick Wren will be the center. The line allowed only 21 sacks year and opened up holes for the running backs. That shouldn’t change no matter who is in the backfield.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops stayed on despite his brother Bob retiring. Mike could be on the hot seat if the defense does not improve. The defense improved as the year went on but they were never very good. Oklahoma allowed 432 yards per game including an embarrassing 269 passing yards. Oklahoma allowed 29 points per game.
There isn’t a lot of experience in the front seven. Oklahoma moves to a 4-3 in order to get more pressure on the quarterback. D.J. Ward and Malik Jackson, Jr. will start at the ends. Neville Gallimore had 40 tackles last year at end but moves to tackle in the new formation and Matthew Romar will start at the other tackle.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. He had 71 tackles, including 12 for loss and 9 sacks. Caleb Kelly also returns on the other outside linebacker. Jon Michael-Terry, a redshirt freshman will start in the middle.
The secondary will be anchored by cornerbacks Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker. Thomas is the prototypical shutdown corner, and had 49 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. Parker had 36 tackles last year. Steven Parker returns at safety and has 30 career starts. He had 63 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. Will Sunderland will start at the other safety.
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Austin Seibert handles both the kicking and punting duties. As a kicker he needs to be more consistent as he missed five field goals last year and did not make a kick over 39 yards. He averaged 41 yards per punt and landed 22 inside the 20. Mykel Jones looks to return both kicks and punts for the departed Mixon and Westbrook. Rodney Anderson could also return some kicks and punts for the Sooners.
Schedule and Outlook
The Sooners open at home against UTEP, before a rematch with Ohio State in Columbus. The Buckeyes crushed the Sooners in Norman last year 45-24. Oklahoma hosts Tulane before opening Big 12 play at Baylor. The Sooners host Iowa State before the Red River Rivalry game against Texas in Dallas. Oklahoma travels to Kansas State and then hosts Texas Tech. The Bedlam game against Oklahoma State will likely decide the conference regular season title, but they very well could meet again a month later in Arlington, TX for the Big 12 championship game. The Sooners close the season with home games against TCU and West Virginia sandwiched around a road game at Kansas.
Trips to Columbus, Manhattan, Dallas, and Stillwater will not be easy. The Sooners have big question marks at receiver and on defense, but they still have enough talent to contend for the Big 12 title and potentially a playoff spot.
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