Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops seems to perform the best when the national media and sports pundits alike underestimate his team’s talent. Let’s not forget that Stoops is not only the most successful head coach in school history (measured by wins), but also is the only head coach to have won the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls.
With the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who was the coordinator at East Carolina over the last five years where the Air Raid offense excelled, I am bullish on Oklahoma’s chances to reach the Big 12 Conference title game. The Sooners’ success will depend on the continued growth of Baker Mayfield, who was a former walk-on on Texas Tech and is familiar with the new Air Raid offensive schemes.
In fact, Mayfield started seven games at Texas Tech, throwing for 2,315 yards (64.1%; 12-9) and earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman Player of the Year honors in 2013. His familiarity with Riley’s offense will pay immediate dividends and I expect the Sooners to have one of the best attacks in the Big 12 Conference this season.
The strength of Oklahoma’s offense is in the backfield where both Samaje Perine and Alex Ross pose legitimate threats to opposing defenses. Perine led the Sooners’ ground attack last season with 1,713 rushing yards at 6.5 yards per carry, while Ross finished second with 595 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per carry.
Some believe that Oklahoma has the best backfield in the conference, but the loss of fullback Aaron Ripkowski, together with the attrition from the offensive line temper my enthusiasm. Oklahoma’s running game will be very good, but losing 144 career starts along the offensive line, including NFL Draft picks Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, will affect its overall production.
If Sterling Shepard can stay healthy, I also expect improved production from Oklahoma’s wide receiving corp. The unit is further enhanced by the arrival of First Team AA JUCO DeDe Westbrook, who should make an immediate impact for the Sooners under Riley’s Air Raid attack.
Oklahoma will also field a very good defense, including an elite linebacking corp. and secondary. The Sooners’ return three of their top four tacklers from last season, including Erik Striker, who led the team with nine sacks in 2014. I also believe Devante Bond will become one of the most feared linebackers in the game.
The Sooners’ secondary could be one of the best in college football behind 1st Team Big 12 Zack Sanchez. The arrival of JUCO William Johnson will also pay immediate dividends for coordinator Mike Stoops’ pass defense. Finally, Oklahoma will once again boast excellent special teams despite losing both kickers from last year’s squad.
Bob Stoops is flying under-the-radar, which is exactly how he likes it. The addition of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was one of the best acquisitions of the offseason. I would not be surprised to see Oklahoma in the Big 12 Title game come December.