Over the last few months, all Sooners fans have heard is how underwhelming the Big 12 preseason favorites were last season en route to a very subpar 8-5 year which included 3 home losses. Yes, it’s undeniable that the Sooners were lackluster last season. But, with a revamped staff, and defense we should be looking at a much better overall team in 2015-2016. One that if they reach their potential, could very well be claiming National Title #8.
The return of the freshman sensation Samaje Perine has a lot of people hopeful! The NCAA record holder started the season as the 3rd string back but emerged as the clear frontrunner after finishing with more than 1700 rushing yards, and 21 touchdowns. OU should be packing some serious muscle on their offensive line and with RB Joe Mixon coming into the fray their running game could be close to unstoppable. That one-two combination will give any defense fits. Mixon’s and Perine’s games are very complimentary of one another. Mixon is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield with speed to burn, while Perine is a physical bruiser.
The passing game should improve drastically. Trevor Knight was by no means the savior he looked like against the Crimson Tide in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. While he did show flashes of brilliance, Knight was too inconsistent to hold down the job. Also, the Sooners passing game suffered immensely in 2014 when All Big XII reciever Sterling Shephard missed a large amount of time with a groin injury. OU did not have consistent play at the reciever spot, which really hurt their passing game and put Trevor Knight in position to make a slew of bad decisions. This spring there was another name popping up that should help rejuvenate the wide receiving corps: Dede Westbrook, the junior college transfer from Blinn (Texas). Mark Andrews and Jeffrey Meads have also had high praise from the coaching staff this offseason, and it is too early to count out Duran Neal and the speedster appropriately named Michiah Quick. With QB Baker Mayfield, the Texas Tech transfer, officially eligible to compete it will be interesting to who wins the quarterback competition between the 2013 Big XII Offensive Freshman of the year Baker Mayfield or the 2013 Sugar Bowl MVP Trevor Knight. Either way, the Sooners look set to perform well on the ground, and should be much improved in the air with the addition of new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Injuries really hurt the Sooners 2014 campaign. While injuries didn’t add up quite like they did in 2013, they were still very real for the Sooners last season. Losing Keith Ford early, along with Trevor Knight and Sterling Shephard would have been a blow to any team. Before his injury there is little doubt that Keith Ford was the most complete back the Sooners possessed as he was able to catch it out the backfield and run in between the tackles. After his injury he never appeared to be the same guy, and chose to transfer after realizing he would inevitably become the 3rd stinger at best behind Perine and Mixon. Sterling Shephard was the only consistent receiver for the Sooners in 2014. When he wasn’t in the lineup Trevor Knight had no security blanket, and struggled to find success through the air. While Knight was nowhere near the level of his predecessors through the air, losing him really did hurt the Sooners finish to the season. Cody Thomas came in and was unable to provide any spark in the passing game. Sure, there were more injuries. But losing your number one running back and quarterback for an extended part of the season would obviously have a major impact on any program.
The Sooners look to be much improved defensively this offseason. They have a very strong linebacking corps returning in Eric Striker, Frank Shannon (coming off his one year suspension), Jordan Evans and others. While this isn’t the position that really hurt OU last season, the addition of Will Johnson, and PJ Mbanasor in the secondary as well as All Big XII performer Zach Sanchez, and highly touted Sophmore Steven Parker will help. If OU does have one of the best linebacking corp in the nation in 2015, and secondary improves as I expect it to, this could be just the spark the Sooners need to get back into contention.
On special teams the Sooners lost Micheal Hunnicut, the All-American level kicker, and replacing him will not be an easy task. But, they look to do just that with Austin Seibert, who was one of the best kickers and punters in the 2015 class (averaging 44.9 yards per punt in high school). But what really makes the difference on a lot of great teams is their special teams play and the Sooners have a slew of talent to throw onto their special teams. Alex Ross has a chance to be the best return man in the country. Also, I’d expect Joe Mixon to get his opportunities. This duo could be one of the better ones we’ve seen in Norman since Antonio Perkins departed the program in 2005.
For my money, I expect that when the Sooners to meet the TCU Hornfrogs on November 21st in Norman, it will be the de facto Big XII Championship Game.
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