Sterling Shepard. Shepard appears to be the lone returning receiving threat (3 of the 4 WRs from 2013 are on NFL teams). And while he's a good one, if the Sooners are looking to get more balance from the offense, he can't be the only weapon. Shepard is a shade under 6 feet and is shifty. Shepard was second on the team in receptions (51), yards (603) and touchdowns (7). Expect those numbers to inflate a bit without much around him. Blake Bell. If Bell remains at tight end for the entirety of the season, we would know that Knight was at least serviceable under center. While we may question Knight's abilities as a passer, if he can get the ball to Bell in motion, Bell is going to be more than a handful to take down. Now, how do Bell's hands look? Can he make the difficult catches? How are his route-running skills? Regardless of Bell's talent as a tight end this season, I'm sure we're still likely to see him in the backfield to run some out of the Bell-dozer package.
Defensive line. The entire defensive line, at least those that played last season, return. Plus, they are expecting to add back in a healthy Jordan Phillips (the DL that went down previous to the Tech game which supposedly gave us hope that we could run the ball...nope). And as good as the line was last year, they're probably going to be even better this season. Geneo Grissom did more for the Sooner offense than some of the 5* receivers and running backs.
Eric Striker. I don't know what else I need to say to prepare you for Striker's return. He was dominant coming off the edge from his linebacker/nickel back role. He consistently got the best of his opposing left tackles and made them look silly. Yes, Le'Raven Clark included. Striker is a small guy for how big and ferocious he plays.
What do we know about the Sooner offense?
The Sooner offense was punishing on the ground last season. The ground attack accounted for nearly 3000 yards and 19 TDs. Having said that, their top 3 RBs from last season have all moved onto the NFL. The top returning back is sophomore Keith Ford. The only other returning RB that logged any carries is Alex Ross, also a sophomore. He carried three times. Expect to see some new/unfamiliar faces carrying the ball this season. I'm sure Joe Mixon will make his impact felt on the field pending this off-season mess.
And as mentioned above, they are going to need some receivers to step up as well. Expect the offense to look different (in terms of playmakers) because everyone that we knew is gone. We know the Sooners' roster is chocked-full of talented athletes, but with not much experience. How is Knight going to pull all of these new faces together?
What do we know about the Sooner defense?
We know the Sooner defense was good, not great last season. They finished the season ranked 64th in total defense, giving up nearly 400 yards per game. However, they were 22nd in scoring defense only giving up 22 points per game. With a returning defensive line and a talented defensive backfield, I would expect the Oklahoma defense to improve on their last season numbers. The defense showed up in the Spring Game a couple of months ago, which isn't out of the ordinary, but they're going to be a better unit. Their lone key loss is CB Aaron Colvin, but his replacement, Dakota Austin, seemed to do well for himself throughout the spring.
How will Oklahoma affect Texas Tech?
Oklahoma will be rolling into town after Tech has enjoyed beating their second bye week of the year. By this point in the season, we should all know pretty much what to expect out of this game. If the Sooners can field a talented ground attack again, will the Tech defensive line be ready to stop it?
Texas Tech will be traveling to Ames the following week, so no looking ahead here. The Sooners will have just played Baylor and will be hosting Kansas following Tech. Also, squarely focused on this game.
This is an interesting position to be in following a bye week after a likely dog fight with the Longhorns with a definite drop in opponent following the Sooners. The Red Raiders will be rested and fully focused on the Sooners. Hopefully there won't be any distraction about some unbeaten streak (not that I'm not wishing for the Red Raiders to be unbeaten here, I just want to avoid the circus we saw last year). This will also be Senior Day as this is the last home game of the season.
Where will the Sooners finish?
I expect the Sooners to go undefeated through their noncon schedule. Then they have an interesting three game stretch sandwiched between two bye weeks where they travel to Fort Worth, travel to Dallas (to play Texas) and then host Kansas State. By that second bye week, I would expect the Sooners to be sitting at 6-1 and I can't decide who gives them that one loss. Much like previous Sooner teams, I think this one falls early to a team that they should probably beat. My money would be on either Texas or K-State. Then, the Sooners get four games, also sandwiched between two bye weeks, where they travel to Ames, host Baylor, travel to Lubbock and then host Kansas. At the very least, they go 2-2 in this stretch, 3-1 being the most likely, and 4-0, 1-3, and 0-4 being the most unlikely scenarios (in that order). And then as always, they play Oklahoma State in the final game of the season in Norman. I expect them to win Bedlam.
So I think the Sooners could very easily go 9-3 with their schedule. I don't think this team is candidate to go undefeated though. They have some holes offensively (in terms of little experience) and while their defense is pretty good, you need offense in the Big 12 to win games. Going 10-2 is doable, as well as 8-4.
|Aug. 30||Louisiana Tech|
|Sept. 6||@ Tulsa|
|Sept. 20||@ West Virginia|
|Oct. 4||@ TCU|
|Oct. 18||Kansas State|
|Nov. 1||@ Iowa State|
|Nov. 15||@ Texas Tech|
|Dec. 6||Oklahoma State|