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1. The case against Oklahoma
Nine fumbles, nine recoveries. I can't get past it.
Heading into the final three games of the 2013 season -- at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and the bowl game -- Oklahoma's season had been ... confusing. The Sooners were 8-2 despite their most iffy quarterback play since 2006, and two losses had exposed some shakiness (to put it kindly) against the run. Still, they had won at Notre Dame and avoided any serious pratfalls (they beat WVU at home by just nine, TCU at home by just three, Kansas on the road by just 15).
After seven straight seasons at ninth or better in the F/+ rankings, they were lugging around a mid-20s mark. They obviously weren't a bad team, but they weren't a particularly good one either.
Then, as they say, everything changed. The offense, platooning two quarterbacks (and not by choice) erupted for 472 yards (6.5 per play) against Kansas State in an impressive 41-31 win. Then the defense held Oklahoma State's peaking offense in check, and a 16-point fourth quarter stole a 33-24 win in Stillwater, one that prevented OSU from winning its second Big 12 title in three years. Then, it was time for the masterpiece.
The Sooners went to New Orleans to face mighty Alabama in the Sugar Bowl; they clearly hadn't been one of the nation's best teams, but the OU cachet earned them a big bowl bid ... and they flattened Alabama, 45-31. Quarterback Trevor Knight, who had gone 11-for-28 for 86 yards against UL-Monroe and 8-for-14 for 61 against Iowa State, went 32-for-44 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Oklahoma put up 428 yards on the vaunted Bama defense, and the defense swarmed after Tide quarterback AJ McCarron all night, sacking him seven times, forcing two fumbles, and picking him off twice.
Over the course of three games, Oklahoma went from a preseason ranking between about 15th and 25th straight into the top five. They benefited from the West Virginia Effect, in which your bowl performance bumps you up about 10-15 spots in the preseason bowls. They enter 2014 a national title contender.
And of the nine fumbles that took place in those last three games, Oklahoma recovered all nine. That's not luck, that's "stock up on lottery tickets" luck. That's Mr. Magoo luck. That's 2011 Kansas State luck.
If Oklahoma had recovered only six of those nine fumbles, it might have cost the Sooners one of the last three games. Recover only three of those nine, and they probably lose two of three without changing any other aspect of their performance. Yes, they won each of those games by more than one possession. But on a per-play basis, they were outgained in each one -- 7.3 to 6.5 against KSU, 5.7 per play to 4.9 against OSU, and a whopping 7.9 to 5.8 against Alabama.
That they won each of those games was stunning and exciting, but they used a recipe that is in no way sustainable and in no way indicative of a team with true national title ambition.
If Oklahoma doesn't benefit from epic fumbles luck in the last three games of the season, then heading into the 2014 season, we're looking at them as a solid team. They're definitely ranked in the preseason, perhaps in the No. 15-20 range. We're definitely talking about their strong offensive line, their great sack rates, their potentially excellent secondary, and maybe their potential-heavy sophomore quarterback.
But we would also be talking about their wholly mediocre run defense and the fact that they must replace virtually every skill position weapon. The limitations they showed in blowout losses to Baylor (understandable) and Texas (not so much) would be the focus of our attention. But in part because of nine fumble recoveries, they're supposed to be a national title contender. It's hard for me to buy that.
2. The case for Oklahoma
Of course, Oklahoma doesn't have to play like a top-five team to end up in the College Football Playoff.
The Sooners' schedule features only two teams projected in the top 30, and both of those teams (No. 14 Baylor, No. 18 Oklahoma State) come to Norman. So does Kansas State. Win those three, slip up no more than once elsewhere (at TCU? at Texas Tech?), and a Sooner squad that is 11-1 and champion of the Big 12 will have a pretty decent case. Playing like a top-15 team or so could get that done, and Oklahoma could certainly be a top-15 team.
There is also, of course, the simple fact that 2011 Kansas State became 2012 Kansas State. While I maintain that the 2011 Wildcats were lucky as hell, with turnovers luck and eight wins by a touchdown or less, the 2012 Wildcats were not. K-State improved from 29th in the F/+ rankings to ninth, and from 10-3 to 11-2, with a squad that was both experienced and confident. This isn't a very stat-friendly thing to say, but sometimes winning simply begets winning. Sometimes you become your record.
Lucky or not, Oklahoma did beat Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Alabama to finish the season. They did see a ferocious recruiting bump following the Sugar Bowl win, landing five-star running back Joe Mixon and four-star prospects Michiah Quick (receiver), Kenyon Frison (offensive lineman), and Steven Parker (defensive back) in the month after the trip to New Orleans. And even with luck, they did beat Alabama. All the fumbles luck in the world doesn't get that done for most teams.
Plus, before the early-2013 uncertainty, Oklahoma was the most consistent program in the country outside of Tuscaloosa. The Sooners are only one year removed from a six-year stretch of top-10 F/+ finishes. It's been a while since the Sooners were true national title contenders, but they've been very good for a very long time. They're not 2012 West Virginia. Even if you don't think they're as good as their late-2013 results would suggest (and I don't), it's not a stretch to think they could get there.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 20|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||UL-Monroe||109||34-0||W||28.2 - 6.0||W|
|7-Sep||West Virginia||76||16-7||W||29.3 - 28.7||W|
|14-Sep||Tulsa||94||51-20||W||43.8 - 29.7||W|
|28-Sep||at Notre Dame||26||35-21||W||37.9 - 26.8||W|
|5-Oct||TCU||44||20-17||W||34.2 - 18.9||W||12.7|
|12-Oct||vs. Texas||35||20-36||L||20.0 - 30.7||L||6.1|
|19-Oct||at Kansas||101||34-19||W||30.0 - 29.1||W||6.2|
|26-Oct||Texas Tech||43||38-30||W||44.1 - 29.9||W||6.2|
|7-Nov||at Baylor||7||12-41||L||15.7 - 20.4||L||3.0|
|16-Nov||Iowa State||78||48-10||W||37.8 - 25.6||W||2.4|
|23-Nov||at Kansas State||24||41-31||W||39.5 - 30.0||W||6.4|
|7-Dec||at Oklahoma State||8||33-24||W||30.6 - 27.0||W||7.0|
|2-Jan||vs. Alabama||2||45-31||W||40.6 - 30.9||W||6.1|
|Points Per Game||32.8||40||22.1||22|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.2||30||25.7||45|
3. Not as bad as you think early, not as good as you think late
Trevor Knight completed 21 of 48 passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions against ULM and West Virginia to start the season. An injury got him demoted behind Blake Bell, who thrived for a while, then cooled off. But even with shaky quarterback play and a worrisome inability to finish drives at times, Oklahoma played at an above-average level on offense early on, especially against Tulsa and Notre Dame.
The defense, meanwhile, had its fair share of moments in Mike Stoops' second year back in Norman; the Sooners held ULM, TCU, and Kansas to 192.3 yards per game. If you didn't have a solid running game, you weren't moving the ball on OU.
The glitches began to show when OU traveled to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry; linebacker Corey Nelson got hurt, Texas and Baylor could run the ball and did so, and the offense laid eggs against both of those teams.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Oklahoma 34.7, Opponent 22.0 (plus-12.7)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Oklahoma 27.5, Opponent 27.5 (plus-0.0)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Oklahoma 37.1, Opponent 28.4 (plus-8.7)
The defense grew shakier down the stretch, but the offense picked up the slack. Knight and Brennan Clay rushed for 491 combined yards and five scores against Iowa State and Kansas State, OU smoke-and-mirrored its way down the field against Oklahoma State (I still have no idea how the Sooners won that game), and then Knight had his coming-out party against Alabama.
The fact that the defense continued to spring more leaks as the season progressed is a concern, but the offense certainly came alive.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.7%||67||Succ. Rt. +||108.0||34|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.3||37||Def. FP+||103.4||21|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||62||Redzone S&P+||95.9||80|
|Q1 Rk||83||1st Down Rk||32|
|Q2 Rk||14||2nd Down Rk||20|
|Q3 Rk||26||3rd Down Rk||24|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Blake Bell||6'6, 259||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||140||233||1648||12||5||60.1%||11||4.5%||6.4|
|Trevor Knight||6'1, 201||So.||4 stars (5.8)||79||134||819||9||5||59.0%||4||2.9%||5.7|
|Cody Thomas||6'4, 211||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Justice Hansen||6'3, 204||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
4. Trevor Knight's encore
Trevor Knight was 21-for-48 against ULM and WVU and 11-for-21 against Iowa State and Oklahoma State, sure. He was also 46-for-64 for 519 yards, five touchdowns, and two picks against Kansas State and Alabama. Granted, KSU was without its star safety in that game, but ... still. Those numbers are spectacular.
Even early in the season, while he was posting mediocre-at-best numbers, you could see what Knight had to offer. If or when the game slowed down for him, it certainly seemed as if he could play at a pretty high level.
I frequently warn against overreacting to great bowl performances, but how do you avoid overreacting to what Knight did against Alabama? It helps that he was also tremendous at Kansas State, but you're not supposed to go straight from watercolors to the Sistine Chapel, from "Chopsticks" to sonatas. It's difficult to figure Trevor Knight out, but it also helps that Ian Boyd likes what he sees.
OU ran levels here, which gives Knight a high-low read on the middle linebacker. But Knight didn't like the way Alabama covered the routes, so he decided to aimlessly wander towards the sideline in hopes of finding something more. He pump faked and was able to bring his arm back in time to zip that pass to returning receiver Sterling Shepard.
The list of players in college football who could make that play is fairly short, and it points to a ceiling for Knight unlike what they've had in Norman before. A player who can master that offense while adding in some running ability or even Johnny Football impersonations on passing downs is one that could easily join forces with OU's talent level to form an elite team.
Trevor Knight almost lost to West Virginia, lost his job on a couple of different occasions, and put on a Johnny Football-esque display against Alabama. It's quite possible that he's indeed a Heisman contender in 2014; it's also quite possible that he continues as one of the most enigmatic, confusing players in college football.
Oklahoma's confident enough in Knight that it moved the Belldozer to tight end, where he could continue life as one of the most unique athletes in the sport. For OU's sake, he better be ready to catch quite a few passes. Somebody's going to have to.
|Blake Bell||TE||6'6, 259||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||64||330||0||5.2||4.0||43.8%|
|Trevor Knight||QB||6'1, 201||So.||4 stars (5.8)||63||477||2||7.6||6.6||54.0%|
|Keith Ford||RB||5'11, 206||So.||4 stars (6.0)||23||134||1||5.8||3.2||52.2%|
|Sterling Shepard||WR||5'10, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||6||44||1||7.3||6.6||66.7%|
|Alex Ross||RB||6'1, 221||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Joe Mixon||RB||6'2, 211||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Samaje Perine||RB||5'11, 243||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Sterling Shepard||WR||5'10, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||75||51||603||68.0%||20.9%||56.0%||8.0||2||8.0||78.0|
|Durron Neal||WR||5'11, 201||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||26||13||176||50.0%||7.2%||52.9%||6.8||-4||7.5||22.8|
|Austin Bennett||WR||6'0, 175||So.||3 stars (5.7)||2||2||23||100.0%||0.6%||N/A||11.5||3||0.0||3.0|
|Derrick Woods||WR||6'1, 186||So.||4 stars (5.8)||2||2||29||100.0%||0.6%||0.0%||14.5||9||8.9||3.8|
|Blake Bell||TE||6'6, 259||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Taylor McNamara||TE||6'5, 245||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jordan Smallwood||WR||6'2, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Dannon Cavil||WR||6'4, 214||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|K.J. Young||WR||6'0, 177||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Isaac Ijalana||TE||6'4, 247||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Michiah Quick||WR||6'0, 170||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Dallas Todd||WR||6'5, 204||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Mark Andrews||WR||6'6, 236||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. One of the youngest skill-position units in the country
Oklahoma has to replace 94 percent of its running back carries and 64 percent of its wide receiver targets. The third-leading returning receiver, Derrick Woods, had two catches for 29 yards. The second-leading returning receiver, Durron Neal, has 18 catches in two years. It is conceivable that first- and second-year players could receive a majority, or at least a plurality, of Oklahoma's touches in 2014.
Again, these aren't typically things you say of a national title contender. There's all sorts of potential in this group, but there's always potential in OU's skill position roster. It hasn't always lived up to the hype in recent years.
Granted, it's not out of the realm of possibility for these youngsters to replicate last year's numbers. Brennan Clay had a nice year, and his mix of efficiency and explosiveness was underrated, but he and Damien Williams still combined to average just 5.2 yards per carry. That's solid, but it's replaceable, especially considering carries will be going to four former blue-chippers: four-star sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross, five-star freshman Joe Mixon, and big four-star freshman Samaje Perine. And these youngsters will have the benefit of both a dual-threat quarterback in Knight and a line that returns eight players with starting experience (107 career starts).
Meanwhile, in Sterling Shepard, Knight has a reliable possession guy who caught more than two-thirds of his targets last year. And while Shepard is the only proven entity in the receiving corps, it's not hard to see two or three more reliable targets emerging from a long list of prospects. Still, it takes quite a few ifs to turn this into one of the conference's best offenses. The Sooner O could be dynamite in 2015, but youth doesn't typically prevail at the level it will have to for OU to be elite in 2014.
(And no, I can't think of a single legitimate reason why five-star transfer Dorial Green-Beckham, who was kicked off of the Mizzou squad in the spring, would be deemed eligible to play this fall. That doesn't mean it won't happen -- you never know where the NCAA's wheel of destiny might stop spinning -- but it shouldn't.)
|Gabe Ikard||C||50||All-American, Wuerffel Trophy, 1st All-Big 12|
|Daryl Williams||RT||6'6, 329||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||24||2nd All-Big 12|
|Tyler Evans||RG||6'5, 339||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||29|
|Adam Shead||LG||6'4, 339||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||28|
|Tyrus Thompson||LT||6'5, 336||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||16|
|Nila Kasitati||RG||6'4, 315||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||7|
|Derek Farniok||RT||6'9, 329||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||1|
|Dionte Savage||LG||6'4, 343||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||1|
|Ty Darlington||C||6'2, 286||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||1|
|Josiah St. John||LT||6'6, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|John-Phillip Hughes||LG||6'3, 276||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Christian Daimler||RT||6'7, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Alex Dalton||C||6'4, 282||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Kenyon Frison||OT||6'6, 285||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jonathan Alvarez||C||6'3, 316||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.5%||34||Succ. Rt. +||106.4||35|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.8||54||Off. FP+||102.5||32|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||35||Redzone S&P+||118.3||16|
|Q1 Rk||36||1st Down Rk||51|
|Q2 Rk||52||2nd Down Rk||53|
|Q3 Rk||27||3rd Down Rk||12|
6. Title contenders defend the run
Notre Dame's George Atkinson III and Tarean Folston rushed 16 times for 191 yards. Texas' Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown rushed 52 times for 243 yards. Baylor's Shock Linwood rushed 23 times for 182 yards. Oklahoma State's Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith rushed 28 times for 186 yards. Alabama's Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon rushed 25 times for 172 yards.
OU's defense had quite a few strengths and high points in 2013, but most of them came against the pass. Operating Mike Stoops' part-time 3-3-5 look, the Sooners were quite capable of reining in Big 12 passing games and ranked 21st in Passing S&P+; but they also ranked 72nd in Rushing S&P+. If they could leverage you into passing downs, they could unleash Eric Striker, Charles Tapper, Geneo Grissom, and a scary pass rush, but if you were able to stay on schedule, you were able to move the ball.
That virtually everybody from the front six/seven returns is certainly not a bad thing. OU got a head start on life without Corey Nelson when he was lost for the year after five games, and those accounting for 48 of the line's and linebackers' tackles for loss return. By all means, a pass rush that ranked sixth in the country last year could threaten to replicate those numbers. But unless some of the younger pieces -- sophomore tackle Jordan Wade, maybe junior tackle Jordan Phillips -- grow stronger against the run with maturity, last year's strengths and weaknesses will be this year's strengths and weaknesses.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Charles Tapper||DE||6'4, 281||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||36.5||5.7%||9.0||5.5||0||1||0||0|
|Chuka Ndulue||DT||6'3, 289||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||31.0||4.8%||5.0||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Wade||DT||6'4, 314||So.||4 stars (5.8)||12||12.5||1.9%||1.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Phillips||DT||6'6, 334||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||4||4.5||0.7%||2.0||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Matt Dimon||DE||6'2, 271||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Torrea Peterson||DT||6'3, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||7||2.5||0.4%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Quincy Russell||DT||6'4, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||2||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. Ward||DE||6'2, 256||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Charles Walker||DE||6'2, 296||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Frank Shannon||MLB||6'1, 238||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||73.5||11.4%||7.0||2.0||1||0||1||0|
|Dominique Alexander||OLB||6'0, 227||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||65.0||10.1%||3.5||1.0||0||1||2||0|
|Eric Striker||OLB||6'0, 221||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||39.0||6.1%||10.5||6.5||0||3||1||1|
|Geneo Grissom||OLB||6'4, 263||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||31.0||4.8%||8.5||4.0||1||4||0||2|
|Jordan Evans||MLB||6'3, 223||So.||3 stars (5.6)||8||9.0||1.4%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|P.L. Lindley||OLB||6'2, 262||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||8.0||1.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Aaron Franklin||OLB||6'1, 226||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||5.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Gastelum||LB||6'2, 217||Sr.||NR||13||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Londell Taylor||LB||6'0, 241||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ogbonnia Okoronkwo||OLB||6'1, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Devonta Bond||OLB||6'1, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tay Evans||MLB||6'2, 221||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
Eric Striker really came into his own in 2013. With Geneo Grissom evidently moving to outside linebacker this fall, Oklahoma returns two scary OLBs and a scary end (Tapper). With aggressive Zack Sanchez still at cornerback and senior ballhawk Quentin Hayes still manning the strong safety position, it's safe to say that OU has all of the compoments of one of the nation's best passing-downs defenses. But you do have to force passing downs first for that to matter.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Quentin Hayes||SS||6'0, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||60.0||9.3%||4||1||2||6||2||0|
|Zack Sanchez||CB||5'11, 179||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||39.5||6.1%||0.5||0||2||13||0||0|
|Julian Wilson||NB||6'2, 201||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||23.0||3.6%||4.5||0||3||3||0||0|
|Cortez Johnson||CB||6'2, 206||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||12.0||1.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ahmad Thomas||FS||6'0, 209||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||8.0||1.2%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Stanvon Taylor||CB||5'10, 179||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Dakota Austin||CB||5'11, 164||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||3.5||0.5%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Hatari Byrd||FS||6'1, 201||So.||4 stars (5.8)||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Steven Parker||S||6'1, 197||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
8. Lots gone, lots back
The OU secondary is very much a glass-half-full/half-empty situation. The optimist sees Sanchez quickly turning into one of the Big 12's best cover men and Hayes and Julian Wilson providing experience and solid speed at safety. They see junior Cortez Johnson and sophomore Stanvon Taylor thriving with more opportunities. And they see blue-chip freshman Steven Parker potentially becoming an early-impact guy.
The pessimist says that the Sooners lost Aaron Colvin (one of the best corners in the country near the line of scrimmage) and safeties Gabe Lynn and Kass Everett (combined: five tackles for loss, seven passes defensed).
It's hard to worry too much about the OU secondary -- it's been a few years since this was a weakness -- but depth here could be a concern. You can talk yourself into the top four or five returnees, but there's almost nothing known after that.
|Jed Barnett||6'2, 215||Sr.||65||41.7||6||22||22||67.7%|
|Nick Hodgson||6'2, 198||Sr.||68||64.4||43||2||63.2%|
|Michael Hunnicutt||6'1, 180||Sr.||16||56.1||2||1||12.5%|
|Michael Hunnicutt||6'1, 180||Sr.||47-48||21-22||95.5%||3-5||60.0%|
|Special Teams F/+||37|
|Field Goal Efficiency||14|
|Punt Return Efficiency||7|
|Kick Return Efficiency||46|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||91|
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|20-Sep||at West Virginia||71|
|1-Nov||at Iowa State||80|
|15-Nov||at Texas Tech||46|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||27.0% (4)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||15|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||9 / 2.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (5, 9)|
9. There's no question that the schedule cooperates
Again, Oklahoma won't have to play like a top-five team to finish in the top five of the Playoff Committee's rankings. If Owen Field brings its A-game, it will be difficult for anybody to stop the Sooners from going undefeated at home, and as long as they only slip up once on the road, they're the conference favorites.
Honestly, the most important game on the schedule might be the trip to Fort Worth on October 4. OU's won its last two games against TCU, but only by 10 combined points, and the Horned Frogs' deep, scary defense could give OU's young skill position guys fits. If OU survives TCU and gets revenge on Texas, go ahead and book the spot in the Playoff semifinals. But that's not the easiest hurdle to clear, and OU still has to prove it has plugged a few of last year's holes.
10. Big 12 balance of power
At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.
3. Kansas State
4. Oklahoma State
I'm big on benefit of the doubt, and OSU has it as far as I'm concerned. The Cowboys could certainly regress, but doubting a Gundy team doesn't tend to work out well. The last four conference champions are the best four teams this year.
7. Texas Tech
I have absolutely no idea what to do with Texas. TCU and Tech could both threaten the top tier, but I don't think they're deep enough to make a conference title run.
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
WVU's schedule and ISU's defense are too perilous to assume much of either team this year.
The Jayhawks' defense should be salty again, but let's not talk about the offense.