Head Coach: Bob Stoops
2014 record: 8-5 overall, 5-4 Big 12
2014 Bowl Result: Lost to Clemson 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Odds to Win 2016 College Football Championship Game: 40/1
Odds to Win 2015 Big 12 Championship: 11/2
Regular Season Wins: over 8 -145 / under 8 +115
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Before last season, Oklahoma was a heavy favorite to win the Big 12 title and contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural College Football playoff. It didn’t work out that way as the Sooners had a disappointing 8-5 season that ended with a two game losing streak against bedlam rival Oklahoma State 38-35 in overtime and a humiliating no-show performance against Clemson in a 40-6 loss in the Russell Athletic Bowl. While the season was no doubt disappointing, three of the four regular season losses were by a total of 7 points.
Eleven starters return for the Sooners in 2015 including 5 on offense. After the offense underachieved, head coach Bob Stoops dismissed co-offensive coordinators Jay Norvell and Josh Heupel. He brought in Lincoln Riley to run the offense. Riley held the same position at East Carolina for the past five seasons.
Let’s take a look at the Sooners on offense, defense, special teams, as well as the schedule and outlook.
The biggest question on offense is at quarterback. Three players are competing for the starting spot but none did enough to win the job in spring practice. The favorite is likely Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who sat out last year. He ran the Air Raid offense that Riley employs as a freshman for the Red Raiders in 2013. Mayfield played in 8 games that season and threw for 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and also added 3 rushing touchdowns. He has been battling some shoulder fatigue but should be ready for Fall Camp. Incumbent starter Trevor Knight has been too inconsistent throughout his career. Last year, he completed 56.6% of his passes for 2,300 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and also ran for 339 yards and 5 touchdowns. He missed the last 3 games of the regular season with an injury but returned for the bowl game debacle. Cody Thomas completed 45.5% of his passes for 342 yards with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in relief of Knight. He also rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Justice Hansen was also in the mix for the starter but he announced he was transferring in May.
While the quarterback situation is up in the air, the backfield is loaded with talent. Sophomore running back Samaje Perine opened a lot of eyes when he rushed for 1,713 yards on 263 carries with 21 touchdowns, and 15 catches as a true freshman. He set the NCAA single game rushing record with 427 yards and 5 touchdowns against Kansas last season. Alex Ross also returns after rushing for 595 yards on 88 carries with 4 touchdowns. Ross is also a dangerous return man with 2 kick returns for touchdowns last season. Former 5 star recruit Joe Mixon sat out last season after an ugly off field incident and will get a lot of carries as well. Keith Ford decided to transfer to Texas A&M after he was suspended for violating team rules in the offseason.
Receiver Sterling Shepard returns for his senior season. Last year, he made 51 catches for 970 yards and 5 touchdowns, despite a groin injury that limited him to just 2 catches over the last six games in the season. When healthy he is one of the best wideouts in the country and has NFL caliber talent. After his injury, the passing game sputtered and Oklahoma became a one dimensional rushing team. Durron Neal also returns after making 42 catches for 513 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Sophomores Michiah Quick and K.J. Young combined for 44 catches last year at freshmen and could get more targets this year. Junior college transfer Dede Westbrook could start right away. The Sooners must replace tight end Blake Bell, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers. Bell was a reliable red zone target with 4 touchdowns.
The offensive line allowed only 9 sacks last year. However, only two starters return including center Ty Darlington and guard Nila Kasitati. Josiah St. John and Derek Farniok move into the tackle spots. Jamal Danley is the other starting guard.
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Some said coach Bob Stoops should have dismissed his brother Mike as the defensive coordinator as well. Mike does return though. The rush defense was top ten in the country but the pass defense was atrocious allowing almost 280 yards per game ranking near the bottom of the country. Six starters return but the defense needs to improve or it could be another disappointing season.
Charles Tapper is the only returning starter on the defensive line at end. Tackle Jordan Phillips left early for the NFL and is now with the Miami Dolphins. Sophomore Charles Walker likely claimed his starting spot with an impressive spring. Matt Romar will start at the other tackle. Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward will also see time at end along with Tapper.
All three starters return at linebacker, and this will be the strongest unit on defense for the Sooners. First team All-Big 12 Eric Striker had 17 tackles for loss including 9 sacks. Dominque Alexander and Jordan Evans were the team’s leading tacklers last season.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez returns after making six interceptions and eight pass break-ups in an all-conference season. Junior Ahmad Thompson returns at safety. Sophomore Steven Parker is a rising star at safety. The secondary has a lot of talent but must improve drastically.
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Incoming freshman Austin Seibert replaces four year starting kicker Michael Hunnicutt. Seibert will also compete with Jack Steed to replace punter Jed Barnett. Seibert was the #1 ranked recruit nationally at both positions by different recruiting services. The return game will be explosive with Ross returning kicks and Shepard and Westbrook returning punts.
After a home tune-up against Akron to open the season, Oklahoma faces an early road test at Tennessee. The Sooners then host Tulsa to close the non-conference schedule. October brings a home game against West Vrginia before the annual Red River Rivalry game against Texas in Dallas. Road trips to Kansas State and Kansas are sandwiched around a home game against Texas Tech. The Sooners open November with a home game against Iowa State before a brutal stretch to close out the season against the league’s best teams. Oklahoma travels to Baylor, hosts TCU and then travels to bedlam rival Oklahoma State Thanksgiving weekend in the regular season finale.
There are a lot of questions on this team beginning at quarterback. Both Mayfield and Knight have been prone to interceptions and whomever is named the starter needs to cut down on those. The defense must play a lot better. Still even if everything goes well, I can’t see more than 9 wins for this team. Ten would be a stretch. I think the Sooners go to the Alamo Bowl.
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