Head Coach: Lincoln Perry
2018 Results: 12-2, 8-1 Conference
End: 34-45 Loss to Alabama in CFB Semifinal
O/U 7.5 Wins (O +110; U -140)
National Title: +5000
The Oklahoma Sooners and Lincoln Perry appear to have found a model for winning. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s draft selections and prestige more than support it. Jalen Hurts is the next in this line of successful OU quarterbacks, and he arrives as a graduate transferable to step into the massive shoes left before him.
While the Sooners have some questions to address, that boon in talent will far outweigh it as the Big 12 favorite prepares for another successful season following last year’s 12-2 stint that saw the Sooners fall to Alabama in the Semis. This year it is among the favorites and listed at +5000 to win the National Title in College Future’s betting at Bovada.
Jalen Hurts has experience. There will be no adjusting period with a new quarterback. He is one of the highest-profile graduate transfers in NCAA history, and he is going to the right environment to carry on the excellence he has already displayed in his college career. Hurts is having fun with it, but that will not negate the preparation and success that has followed him throughout his tenure as a prime time NCAA quarterback.
Hurts finished at Alabama by going 26-2 as a starter, though the Crimson Tide do make it as easy as any program to succeed in the pocket. He was benched ultimately in favor of Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the 2017 title game, but this is his chance at redemption and a restart with another major program. He completed 11 of 14 throws for 174 yards in the spring game, and he had a short TD run that put a nice accent on the performance.
Hurts has some playmakers to ease this transition, too. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks combined for 2,003 yards and 25 TDs last year, and that duo will be among the best at the WR positions. Sermon had 13 touchdowns and Brooks made the Freshman All-American selections with 1,056 yards, a team-high. CeeDee Lamb is another top option at receiver, and he made the second-tea Big 12 with 65 catches for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns.
At TE, Grant Calcaterra made Big 12 First-Team and he has a steady pair of hands that make a nice target. OU has plenty of depth behind these premier options, but the biggest question for its offense will be on the line. Four starters are gone from last year’s team which won the Joe Moore Award as the best OL in college football. Creed Humphrey is the lone returning starter and he spent the spring injured which held back this group’s progression somewhat.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch joins OU’s staff and he has quite a task in fixing the unit. The team needs playmaking and tenacity in its defensive unit, and Grinch’s intensity and focus on creating turnovers should help it. Oklahoma ranked No. 130 (last place) in pass defense a year ago, and it was in the same place in 2018, so his work is cut out for him in transforming this unit. The Sooners also ranked in last place in the Big 12 in total defense and scoring defense, which was somewhat hidden by the dominance of the offensive Sooners.
Grinch has nine returning starters in his defense, and LB Kenneth Murray is a tacking monster who has star potential. He had nine double-digit stop games last season, and veteran lineman Neville Gallimore and Kenneth Mann both could step it up this season under Grinch. The secondary returns five starters, but that might not be a good thing given the group’s struggles so far.
Grinch will have to remake a unit that has struggled and been the bane of the program, but if there is anyone in college football with the tenacity to do it, it is Grinch. A wait-and-see approach is the best we can offer with so many lingering questions from last year’s disaster.
OU is transitioning in the kicking game, with five youngsters taking on new roles. Game Brkic is a freshman who will take over the placekicking, and sophomore Reeves Mundschau is the new punter. Returns will be good, handled by Brown on kickoffs and Lamb for the punts. Both were Big 12 leaders in those roles in 2018.
Hurts is the determinant on this talented offensive unit, but the defense remains something of a major concern for the program, even with Grinch heading the unit. If the Sooners are to take positive steps towards a National Title, it will absolutely require a much stronger and better defense. Brown went as far as to say “if we were a little better, we would probably have a National Championship,” but Grinch is hoping to be far more than “a little better,” and the bar has to be set higher for a top-flight program with such a glaring Achilles’ heel.
Prediction: 8 wins (over)