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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 10. Oklahoma Sooners

10. Oklahoma Sooners

They're the best program in the Big 12, but are they a Playoff team?

  • Location: Norman, OK. 
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Lincoln Riley (first year)
  • Last Years Record: 11-2 (9-0 Big 12)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Sugar Bowl


After a rocky 1-2 start to the 2016 campaign, Oklahoma played angry, and ended up winning their last ten games en route to a second straight Big 12 title. As the team shifts its attention to 2017, they'll undergo a noticeable transition. Long-time head coach Bob Stoops abruptly resigned over the off-season, and former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will take his place. The Sooners will also have to replace their top two backs, a Biletnikoff Award-winning wide out and some pieces defensively. However, the return of Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield and the impressive depth throughout the program should ensure no serious slippage in the first year of Riley.

Baker Mayfield
Offense: Entering 2015, few could have predicted what Baker Mayfield would do over the next two seasons. The former Texas Tech transfer has put on an absolute show, leading Oklahoma to two straight Big 12 titles and throwing for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns. The fearless, poised senior is the ideal fit for Riley's aggressive air raid scheme, and his return almost assures that the Sooners' offense will remain potent even with some serious departures. Those departures are especially concerning at running back, where the school's all-time leading rusher Samaje Perine and the controversial, but highly talented, Joe Mixon move on. Sophomore Abdul Adams was third on the team in rushing with 283 yards and will battle for the featured back role with fellow sophomore Rodney Anderson. Adams doesn't have the power and strength that Perine has, but his elusiveness and speed will be an interesting fit in the offense. Anderson has had serious injury issues, but has plenty of potential. At receiver, Oklahoma must find a way to replace the 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns that Dede Westbrook produced en route to winning the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver. Seniors Jeffery Mead and Jordan Smallwood have both shown flashes of potential throughout their time in Norman, and will be asked to do a lot more now. They'll be joined in the receivers corps by a couple of transfers also looking to help replace Westbrook's production. Sophomore Marquise Brown is a speedy, game-changing junior college transfer, while Kentucky grad transfer Jeff Badet should play a big role after managing 670 yards in his final season in Lexington. There isn't a real future superstar waiting in the wings, but the group should still give Mayfield plenty of weapons to work with and possesses plenty of versatility. Junior tight end Mark Andrews could also prove to be one of Mayfield's top options in the passing game. The two-time All-Big 12 tight end has receiver's speed with a huge, wide frame (6'5", 250 pounds), making him a real headache to stop for opponents. After recording 41 receptions for 389 yards and seven touchdowns, Andrews could make an even larger impact in 2017. Up front, the Sooners could have one of the nation's best offensive lines. All five starters return to a group that was very physical and stout in 2016. Left tackle Orlando Brown won Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year honors last year but surprisingly opted not to head off to the NFL. He should clearly be one of the stars of the unit, as will junior guard Dru Samia (who can play tackle as well) and improving sophomore Bobby Evans, who oozes potential. Mix in some of the valuable reserves Oklahoma brings back, such as junior center Jonathan Alvarez and junior tackle Alex Dalton and its hard not to imagine this group being superb. Another name to watch offensively is former Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray, who should backup Mayfield at QB. Murray is a former five-star recruit who showed flashes of something special in College Station, but disagreements with coaches led him to head elsewhere. With game-changing speed and impressive creativity, Murray is sure to be used in some capacity in 2017.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
Defense: After a rough start to the 2016 season, much like the team as a whole, Oklahoma's defense played with some tenacity over the year's second half, and should be a force in '17. The defensive line does lose three starters this season but was decimated by injuries last season and still performed very well. Solid defenders like Jordan Wade, Charles Walker and Matt Dimon depart, but some of the younger guys who stepped up last season should be able to take over their absent roles. Senior Matthew Romar is a long-time veteran who should be the leader of the group and really set the tone in the middle of the unit. The defensive tackle recorded 5.5 tackles for loss last season, along with 17 tackles. He isn't going to wow you with anything he does, but provides quality play at a key spot. Sophomore Neville Gallimore should join him in the interior of the unit after putting together a very strong 2016 campaign. Gallimore is extremely talented and played an important role in run support a season ago, with 40 tackles. Off the edge, OU has plenty of players ready to step up, but none with much real-time experience. Sophomore Kenneth Mann has a very high ceiling but is still very raw, senior D.J. Ward has shown flashes, and sophomore Amani Bledsoe has had injury issues. If one or two of those ends can really have a breakout year, this defense would become a lot more imposing. The Sooners do lose their top linebacker (and top tackler) in Jordan Evans but the linebacker corps should still be a notable strength. Evans managed 98 tackles, eight pass deflections and four interceptions last year, truly doing it all for this defense. That production and importance will obviously be hard to replicate, but Oklahoma returns three legitimate studs in the unit, which is spearheaded by senior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who turned down the NFL. Okoronkwo loves to wreak havoc on opposing offenses and lives in the backfield, with nine sacks and seven quarterback hurries last year. He still has to grow as a linebacker in pass coverage and run support, but he is going to be one of the nation's best at getting after the quarterback. He is joined by sophomore outside linebacker Caleb Kelly and senior middle linebacker Emmanuel Beal, the other two starters. Kelly took over mid-season and played very well down the stretch with 36 tackles and 3 TFLs in his final six starts, while Beal is a former JUCO transfer who had 81 tackles after taking over for an injured Tay Evans. Evans was forced to retire due to concussions, ensuring Beal will be the starter at MLB day one in 2017. The Sooners do lose some quality backups in the unit, but that shouldn't stop it from playing a big role in their success. In the secondary, the Sooners bring back three starters, which puts them at a significant advantage in the pass-happy Big 12. Senior Jordan Thomas is one of the best cornerbacks in all the country. His 17 pass breakups and two interceptions helped him earn All-Big 12 honors last season. He is a very serious candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He'll be joined at cornerback by sophomore Jordan Parker. Parker had some growing pains in his first season of real playing time but seemed much more confident down the stretch. A great spring and more experience should only help the sophomore continue to take steps forward. Senior Steven Parker is the other returning starter; the veteran had 63 tackles a year ago and should continue to impress at the strong safety position.

Special Teams: The return of junior Austin Seibert almost ensures special teams will be a strength for Oklahoma this season. Seibert handles both placekicking and punting duties for the Sooners, and does them very well. Seibert was 11-16 on field goals last year, while averaging 41.1 yards per punt. The return game will miss Mixon and Westbrook, but this roster has enough weapons somebody should be able to handle those duties.

The sudden retiring of long-time head coach Bob Stoops and the losses offensively certainly mean Oklahoma will not have an easy path to a third straight Big 12 title. Yet, the return of Mayfield is huge for this team. The senior signal-caller gives this offense and entire team a swagger and a confidence that has served them very well over the past two seasons. His return also means that the offense won't take much of a step back even with so many moving parts. If the defense can continue to improve on last year's success and the Sooners can go on the road and beat Ohio State in the non-conference they'll have a very legit Playoff shot and plenty more in the debut season for Lincoln Riley.

Player to Watch
Jeff Badet, WR
It wasn't huge news outside of Norman when Badet announced he was spending his final season with the Sooners because the former Kentucky Wildcat didn't get much national attention. But, the grad transfer did have 670 yards receiving with the 'Cats, while averaging 21.6 yards per reception. His big-play ability will be an ideal fit in the Oklahoma offense, and he has a decent shot to begin the year as the No. 1 receiver in this offense.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 10-3 (8-1 Big 12)*
2013: 11-2 (7-2 Big 12)*
2014: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)*
2015: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)*
2016: 11-2 (9-0 Big 12)*

*= Bowl appearance

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