Opponent: Oklahoma Sooners
Last Year's Record: 11-2, 7-2
Coach: Bob Stoops
Game 10: November 15th
1. The Favorite. It's clear (to me) that coming off of whipping Alabama, that the Sooners are the prohibited favorite for the 2014 season. And this is a group that really is loaded across the board for the most part. Honestly, I really feel that this is a "no name" sort of team. There isn't really the star that maybe you are used to seeing, but they really do have a ton of very good players. I think that the depth of the Sooners is what separates them from any other team in the Big 12 and why they are favored over Baylor at this team, despite not having a guy that's truly dominant. So, despite the lack of star power, the Sooners are the pick to click. I think this really is a bit interesting in that the Sooners really gained so much off of their game against Alabama. Momentum is a funny thing and I think this sort of thing is really pretty tough to carry through the entire offseason, but Oklahoma was buoyed by that win, much in the same way that Texas Tech felt much better about things beating Arizona St.
2. 134. That's the total number of pass attempts that Trevor Knight had in 2013. Just 134, completing 79 of them for 59% for 819 yards, 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. A quarterback rating of 125. In comparison, Davis Webb had 361 attempts, completing 63% of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions with a QB rating of 139.13. Knight played very early in 2013, with middling results, but by the end of the year, against Alabama, he was simply fantastic. Still though, Knight was much more human than maybe you might expect. Knight didn't need to be great against Iowa St., where he had a rating of 93, but was terrific against Kansas St., 148, and then pretty terrible against Oklahoma St., 76, and then great against Alabama, 164. Still, all of those were wins, but Knight was still pretty uneven for the better part of the year, and as a passer, he really just had two terrific games, Kansas St. and Alabama. Everything else was under a 100 passer rating. Personally, I think Knight still has room to grow and I think the fact that he really hasn't faced a full season may stunt his growth just a bit in that I think it may take a bit more time for him to make that leap, if he does.
3. Return to the Running Game. More than anything, Oklahoma has helped itself by returning to the running game. Returning to the ground game that helped the Sooners become national powers. The bad thing for the Sooners is that a lot of productive running backs graduated last year, but I do think that Keith Ford, David Smith, incoming freshman Joe Mixon and I'm probably missing a few more runners, can look to carry the load in 2014. Mixon is probably the most highly decorated recruit from the 2014 class, but Ford is fantastic, or he was in limited time last year, averaging 5.8 yards a carry. The key will be Knight, who is probably going to help carry the load and he was good last year, averaging over 6 yards a carry. Despite Knight's lacking in the passing department, or perhaps inexperience, there really won't be much that he needs to do to figure out how to be better running the ball. He's already there.
4. It's Good. Really Good. There's a lot of tallent on defense. A lot. Thankfully, Texas Tech plays Oklahoma late in the year, but I'm not sure how to prepare Dominique Robertson for Eric Striker, who had 10.5 tackles for loss in just his sophomore year at Oklahoma. You might call that impressive. Add in Charles Tapper, also just a sophomore last year, and he had 9 TFL, with Geneo Grissom coming up with 8.5 TFL. That's a lot of pressure and teams tend to break under pressure. And we haven't even talked about Zack Sanchez, who was terrific as a freshman. The defense is stacked and not in the way that you want it to be stacked if you are an opposing team.
5. Everything Else. There's so many other things that go along with Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Baker Mayfield situation tires me and I'm really ready to move past it. I'm pretty much at the point to just let him play (if he can surpass scholarship quarterbacks, which I think would be a tough sell to incoming guys) and fumble all over the field for Oklahoma. There's no doubt that he's talented in a lot of respects, but I'm just tired of it. I also haven't even touched the Dorial Green-Beckham situation (assault, but not charged) and the Frank Shannon situation (sexual assault, but not charged) and the Joe Mixon situation (assault, but not charged). As bad as the situation was for Nigel Bethel, II, it seemed like an outlier of an incident and I do feel better than Amber Battle, Candace Whitaker and Kliff Kingsbury essentially let the courts do their thing and then came to a fair resolution for all parties. I really believe that this deal doesn't happen without Battle consenting to Bethel being back on campus and on the team. I am sure that she had to make an affirmative decision to allow him to come back. I'm guessing here, but I think they wanted to know that she would feel safe and if she said yes, then Bethel was back. I'm not sure what to think with three assaults against women. It's tough for me to wrap my head around it and feel good about any part of it. Of course, I really don't have to feel good about it, it's not my team. Still though, as a college football fan, I don't like having to make moral justifications in my head for something.
Q&A with Crimson and Cream Machine:
Much thanks to Matt Hofeld for answering some questions for us.
1. What are your expectations for 2014?
After the way Oklahoma finished the 2013 season I don't see how we can expect anything less than a conference championship and a playoff berth.
Oklahoma's defense was young in 2013 and by the end of the season they were playing lights out. It was the defense that got them to the Sugar Bowl and it'll be the defense that OU rides into 2014 while the offense gets adjusted with new receivers.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses for the Sooners?
Both the offensive and defensive lines are stacked with experience and talent. OU returns Jordan Phillips to the middle of the D-line this fall and Charles Tapper coming off the end is more than a handful.
The offensive line has 107 career starts between them and will be one of the top units in the conference.
Their talent at the receiver position is unproven, outside of Sterling Shepard, and would be what I would dub as the weakest link for the offense heading into the season. Of course that changes if DGB is declared eligible.
On defense the question mark/weakness is in the secondary. OU is replacing All Conference corner Aaron Colvin and that leaves many fans on edge after the Sooners were torched by Texas last season when Colvin was out with an injury.
3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for Oklahoma?
Receiver Sterling Shepard and running back Keith Ford would be the two guys that I would point out on the offensive side of the ball. Both will be stepping into the spotlight as go-to guys this fall and both are high-caliber play makers.
On the defensive side of the ball you have to look at Tapper and linebacker Eric Striker. Both guys should have their names called plenty of times during the season.
BONUS: A lot has been written about Trevor Knight and whether or not the relatively small sample size of playing time last year will translate to this year? What type of year do you expect Knight to have?
I think that Knight displayed his true potential in the Sugar Bowl and I'm excited to see how much he's progressed during the off-season. However, he also needs to prove that he can stay healthy for a complete season. I want to buy into the hype but I'm approaching it with cautious optimism.
From the Spring:
Head coach Bob Stoops.
Opening statement: "I thought overall the game was the solid. It was really exciting to see 43,000 of our fans here, so my thanks for the fans coming out on a great afternoon and making it an excellent day. Hopefully, everybody had fun. I thought our athletic department did a great job of getting it all together and hopefully it was exciting and fun for everybody to spend a couple of hours. Having it on TV is exciting and positive, as well.
"I thought overall the play was really pretty good. We had a lot of guys in there with 16 or so guys out. We have got quite a few guys that really haven't played much at all in there but they did a good job overall. I thought the quarterbacks, for the most part, on a windy day threw it pretty solid. Our receivers, I thought they made some nice, competitive, catches. I was pleased in particular with the first group on defense and the way we covered. Just the way we played in general. We only played a couple of base structures, and not a lot of schemes to throw at them but also the defense still played fundamental and played solid for the most part. Without a bunch of guys it's hard to figure out what it's really going to look like. But it's still looking good."
On if there is a heightened energy around and within the program: "Sure there is probably more excitement. You can naturally hear about that and feel it. I thought our athletic department, give them all the credit for putting this all together and making it a fun day. I obviously agreed to go along with it and it worked out really well. It doesn't change anything we are doing. We are pretty meticulous with the way that we do things throughout the year. I can say that through the winter, probably the positive energy that carried over according to Coach (Jerry) Schmidt, we had our best winter that we can remember as far as fewest misses and the energy and the way the players pushed each other. Whether it's because of that or whether we have one of those teams that is really high character and likes to work. Then, you continue to build on it."
On if there are any concerns with the defense: "Not really, but depth is always an issue, we need more players. We are really thin in the secondary. These players coming in next year, we are going to have them ready to play just like we did this year and just like these young safeties played some last year, these guys coming in will have to help us this year. We feel that they have the talent to do that. There are some depth issues but the group that will be out there first, I believe will be excellent."