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1. Those damned anti-social stats
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.
If you forget everything you remember about Oklahoma's 2013 and 2014 seasons, the stats tell a pretty boring, straight-forward tale. In 2013, Bob Stoops' Sooners broke a long, steady streak of very good (but rarely elite) play, falling out of the F/+ top 10 for the first time since 2005. They ranked second in 2008 and either sixth or ninth six other times. That's a remarkable string of performance, and it was destined to end.
Tasked with replacing their quarterback, two leading receivers and most of their defensive line and secondary, the Sooners finally blinked.
And in 2014, on paper, they rebounded a bit. Quarterback Trevor Knight's production improved (from 5.7 yards per pass attempt to 6.9), and both the run game and run defense improved dramatically. The pass defense struggled at times, and the offense performed quite a bit worse in the second half than in the first. But overall, after falling to 23rd in F/+ in 2013, OU rebounded to 19th. Not bad.
Of course, it's impossible to forget what you remember about those two seasons.
Lucky or not, it's impossible to forget OU's thrilling run at the end of 2013, in which the Sooners won at Kansas State, beat a peaking Oklahoma State team in Stillwater, then became the first team since 2010 to beat Alabama by double digits. Unlucky or not, it's also hard to forget the way the Sooners managed to stumble at home to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. And it's definitely hard to forget them getting pummeled by Baylor and Clemson.
In 2013, Oklahoma recovered 68 percent of all fumbles. In 2014, the Sooners recovered 39 percent. In 2013, they went 8–0 in games decided by 15 or fewer points. In 2014, they lost three games by eight combined points. The dispiriting losses to Baylor (48–14 in Norman) and Clemson (40–6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl) proved that the Sooners were not an elite team, but 2013’s late-season luck set an unfair bar. And when Oklahoma failed to meet that bar, the demands for change set in.
In terms of turnovers luck, the Sooners went from plus-2.7 points per game to minus-4.6, a full touchdown's swing. You think that might make a difference in a competitive conference?
Stoops made changes to his coaching staff this offseason, and that was at least partially because of OU's "disappointing" 2014 campaign. But you could justify them regardless. After years of turning top-15 recruiting into top-10 performances, the balance swung the last two seasons. Stoops' Sooners underachieved compared to their talent level, and when that happens, change might not be a bad thing for some coaches.
But this was some significant change. Stoops dumped offensive co-coordinators Jay Norvell and Josh Heupel in favor of ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and Washington State receivers coach Dennis Simmons. Longtime defensive backs coach Bobby Jack Wright retired, and Stoops replaced him with Notre Dame DBs coach Kerry Cooks. Stoops moved defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to defensive co-coordinator, but then Montgomery jumped to an NFL job, and Stoops brought in Stanford's Diron Reynolds.
The moves make sense on paper, but the amount of change could certainly backfire; the staff could struggle to gel, the defense could regress and the offense could find it doesn't quite have the right air raid personnel. But OU isn't standing still. The Sooners now return three quarterbacks with Big 12 experience, one of the best running backs in the country, one of the best wideouts in the country and most of a speedy defense. The new coaching staff could press just enough new buttons to make OU an immediate Big 12 contender, or, instead of slowly crumbling, Bob Stoops' house could fall down around him quickly. If forced to make a prediction, I lean former.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 19|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|20-Sep||at West Virginia||40||45-33||W||75%||15.5||75%|
|1-Nov||at Iowa State||92||59-14||W||95%||37.5||100%|
|15-Nov||at Texas Tech||82||42-30||W||80%||19.3||93%|
|Points Per Game||36.4||21||25.9||57|
2. Peaking early
In some ways, ratings like S&P+ or F/+ simply ask, how frequently were you good? If you're struggling to wrap your head around how Oklahoma could end up grading out better in 2014 than in 2013, the early part of last season gives you a lot of the answers. We didn't realize how good Louisiana Tech and Tennessee would end up being, but OU handled these two teams by a combined 82-26 margin. And because we didn't yet realize how good TCU was, the Sooners' tossup loss in Fort Worth felt like an upset.
OU was nearly perfect for the first three games of the year, then was still quite good for the next five. But after playing four of their five best games in the first eight weeks, they played three of their five worst in the last five.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 8 games): 86 percent (~top 20 | record: 6-2)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 58 percent (~top 55 | record: 2-3)
Overrated or underrated, lucky or unlucky, there's no question that the season finished with a thud. After the crazy, disappointing finish against Oklahoma State, OU got drubbed by Clemson. And while the defense was mostly fine against Clemson -- after a 65-yard screen pass on the first play of the game, the Tigers averaged just 4.1 yards per play -- the offense had nothing to offer against the best defense it had faced all year. Hence the staff changes.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.1%||15||Succ. Rt. +||126.9||6|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.1||33||Def. FP+||107.1||7|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.9||22||Redzone S&P+||125.7||10|
|Q1 Rk||9||1st Down Rk||26|
|Q2 Rk||5||2nd Down Rk||27|
|Q3 Rk||31||3rd Down Rk||6|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Trevor Knight||6'1, 206||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9008||179||316||2300||14||12||56.6%||6||1.9%||6.9|
|Cody Thomas||6'4, 211||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9499||30||66||342||2||4||45.5%||2||2.9%||5.0|
|6'2, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8385||218||340||2315||12||9||64.1%||24||6.6%||5.9|
3. QB A vs. QB B
Baker Mayfield made waves in 2013. First, he chose to walk on at Texas Tech, also forgoing offers from Washington State, Rice and others. Then, he won the starting job in Lubbock from day one. Then, after losing his job, he announced he was transferring. Then, he ended up at Oklahoma despite the fact that he would lose a year of eligibility by transferring within the Big 12.
Mayfield keeps you on your toes. He might also win the OU starting job from his first day of eligibility. It's obviously pretty easy to assume that when you consider that the new offensive hires might move the Sooners toward the type of air raid system Mayfield initially thrived in at Tech.
Most versions of the air raid are geared first around efficiency and safe throws. Mayfield brings some issues to the table, but he's at least better at that than either of OU's experienced returnees, Trevor Knight or Cody Thomas.
- Completion Rate: Mayfield 64 percent (in 2013), Knight 57 percent, Thomas 46 percent
- Yards Per Completion: Knight 12.8, Thomas 11.4, Mayfield 10.6
- Sack Rate: Knight 1.9 percent, Thomas 2.9 percent, Mayfield 6.6 percent
- Interception Rate: Mayfield 2.6 percent, Knight 3.8 percent, Thomas 6.1 percent
Neither of these three players seized the starting job this spring, so the battle will continue into fall camp. Considering Thomas averaged just 5.0 yards per pass attempt, while taking most of his attempts against Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma State (only one of which were particularly impressive in pass defense), this feels like a two-man race.
Knight is perhaps unfairly maligned -- he was fine through the first eight games (60 percent completion rate, 13.7 yards per completion, 3.2 percent INT rate) but stunk against Baylor and Clemson (45 percent, 8.6 per completion, 6.3 percent INT) and missed three games to injury in between. He is not the Heisman candidate he was made out to be after the 2014 Sugar Bowl, but he could be just fine. If he's the starter.
|Samaje Perine||RB||5'11, 237||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9033||263||1713||21||6.5||7.2||41.1%||2||2|
|Alex Ross||RB||6'1, 220||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9636||88||595||4||6.8||10.3||35.2%||0||0|
|Trevor Knight||QB||6'1, 206||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9008||62||407||5||6.6||4.4||61.3%||2||1|
|Cody Thomas||QB||6'4, 211||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9499||21||145||1||6.9||5.0||66.7%||1||0|
|Sterling Shepard||WR||5'10, 191||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9541||8||41||0||5.1||9.2||37.5%||0||0|
|Daniel Brooks||RB||5'8, 182||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8385||6||26||0||4.3||7.5||16.7%||0||0|
|Michiah Quick||WR||6'0, 186||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9703||4||6||0||1.5||2.3||50.0%||0||0|
|Joe Mixon||RB||6'2, 217||RSFr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9898|
|Rodney Anderson||RB||6'1, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9296|
4. A lot of carries to go around
Heading into 2014, Samaje Perine wasn't even considered the best freshman running back on his team. Blue-chipper Joe Mixon got all the hype, while Perine, 'merely' a four-star recruit, hovered in the background. But when Mixon was suspended for the season after a violent altercation with a woman at a Norman Pickleman's, incident-free Perine stepped into the spotlight and thrived.
Perine's early-season output was up and down. After rushing 34 times for 242 yards against West Virginia, he rushed 67 times for just 238 yards in the next three games. But in the last four games of the year, he was in a different orbit. He averaged 27 carries for 231 yards in those games, posting an NCAA-record 427 yards against a not-awful Kansas defense and even managing 134 yards in 23 carries against Clemson's excellent defense.
Of the 26 power-conference backs with at least 200 carries in 2014, Perine was one of only five to combine at least a 40 percent opportunity rate (carries that gained at least five yards) with an average of at least seven highlight yards (open-field yards) per opportunity. The rest of that list is a who's-who of great college running backs: Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Miami's Duke Johnson.
Perine was more explosive than Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and more efficient than Minnesota's David Cobb. He was incredible. And now Lincoln Riley has to figure out how to feed Perine while also getting explosive junior Alex Ross and, yes, Mixon touches as well.
Of course, the primary trait of the air raid is high-volume passing. Riley will almost certainly tweak that to give Perine his touches, but the receiving corps is still important, and outside of Sterling Shepard, it's hard to know what OU's got.
Shepard is awesome. He had the best catch rate among OU wideouts and still averaged nearly seven more yards per catch than anybody else. But you need more than one guy. Durron Neal and Michiah Quick were underwhelming (though Quick was just a freshman), and no other returning wideout had more than three catches. There are plenty of former star recruits in the mix here, but opportunity is available for one of two exciting newcomers: four-star JUCO DeDe Westbrook and speedy freshman John Humphrey. [Update: The Sooners also added three-star JUCO transfer and former USF commit Jarvis Baxter as a late walk-on.]
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Sterling Shepard||WR||5'10, 191||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9541||80||51||970||63.8%||22.7%||62.5%||12.1||353||11.8||149.6|
|Durron Neal||WR||5'11, 195||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9618||80||42||513||52.5%||22.7%||53.8%||6.4||-16||6.5||79.1|
|Michiah Quick||WR||6'0, 186||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9703||43||25||237||58.1%||12.2%||48.8%||5.5||-71||5.1||36.5|
|Samaje Perine||RB||5'11, 237||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9033||16||15||108||93.8%||4.5%||25.0%||6.8||-62||6.6||16.7|
|Alex Ross||RB||6'1, 220||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9636||13||10||65||76.9%||3.7%||53.8%||5.0||-52||5.1||10.0|
|Dimitri Flowers||FB||6'1, 242||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8321||11||9||92||81.8%||3.1%||72.7%||8.4||-12||7.8||14.2|
|Jordan Smallwood||WR||6'2, 208||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631||8||3||21||37.5%||2.3%||50.0%||2.6||-20||2.7||3.2|
|Jeffery Mead||WR||6'6, 189||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8906||4||0||0||0.0%||1.1%||25.0%||0.0||-6||0.0||0.0|
|Austin Bennett||WR||6'0, 172||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8618||3||1||19||33.3%||0.9%||33.3%||6.3||5||4.0||2.9|
|Grant Bothun||WR||5'11, 189||Sr.||NR||NR||2||0||0||0.0%||0.6%||50.0%||0.0||-3||0.0||0.0|
|Mark Andrews||WR||6'6, 247||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9387|
|Dallis Todd||WR||6'5, 201||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9127|
|DeDe Westbrook||WR||6'1, 167||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9025|
|John Humphrey||WR||6'0, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8812|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Daryl Williams||RT||37||2014 1st All-Big 12|
|Tyrus Thompson||LT||29||2014 1st All-Big 12|
|Adam Shead||LG||39||2014 2nd All-Big 12|
|Ty Darlington||C||6'2, 299||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9190||14|
|Nila Kasitati||RG||6'4, 315||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8504||12|
|Derek Farniok||RT||6'9, 345||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||NR||1|
|Josiah St. John||LT||6'6, 309||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8793||0|
|Christian Daimler||RT||6'7, 306||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8241||0|
|Jonathan Alvarez||RG||6'3, 310||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7785||0|
|Kenyon Frison||OT||6'6, 289||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8834|
|Alex Dalton||C||6'4, 297||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8775|
|Orlando Brown||OT||6'8, 355||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8731|
|Jamal Danley||OG||6'5, 301||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8686|
|Quinn Mittermeier||OT||6'5, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8689|
5. A fantastic line rebuilds
The stars have almost aligned for the offense. You've got two intriguing quarterbacks, a phenomenal running back and No. 1 receiver and plenty of athletic other skill position candidates. This could be a perfect time for a new coordinator to step in and mold this unit into something destructive.
That could obviously happen, of course. But Riley also inherits a line that must replace five players who had combined for more than 11 seasons worth of starts (145), including three 2014 all-Big 12 guys.
In Ty Darlington, Nila Kasitati and Derek Farniok, OU does have three seniors with starting experience in the rotation, and the Sooners added two JUCOs to the mix, as well. So there won't exactly be five freshmen in the starting lineup. But the line was outstanding last year and must replace most of the reasons why. One has to assume a drop-off, even in Riley's sack-rate-friendly system. [Update: Tackle Kenyon Frison has been suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules.]
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.6%||22||Succ. Rt. +||114.7||22|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.5||61||Off. FP+||104.0||25|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||89||Redzone S&P+||98.5||70|
|Q1 Rk||12||1st Down Rk||24|
|Q2 Rk||39||2nd Down Rk||48|
|Q3 Rk||50||3rd Down Rk||13|
6. Those damned anti-social stats, part 2
There is no football stat more worthless than passing yards allowed per game. There is far too much context to make it worthwhile. If you're leading games most of the time, opponents are going to pass far more than they run. And if you're in a spread-happy conference like the Big 12, you're simply going to allow passing yards, even if you're good at defending the pass.
OU's pass defense wasn't amazing in 2014. The Sooners fell from 21st to 32nd in Passing S&P+, and most of their raw stats regressed a bit -- opponents' completion rates rose from 55 percent to 56.3, their yards per completion improved from 12.3 to 12.5 and their interception rate fell from 3.9 percent to 2.4 percent.
It was a little bit easier to pass on OU, yes. But the major story line -- 120th in passing yards per game!!!!!! -- oversold it by a factor of about 10. OU struggled with good passing attacks (WVU, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech), but a lot of teams did. The other nine opponents on the schedule completed just 53 percent of their passes.
The biggest difference between 2013 and 2014: opponents threw 409 passes in 2013 and 510 in 2014. You think eight more passes per game might make a bit of a yardage difference?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Charles Tapper||DE||6'4, 283||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8895||13||25.0||3.5%||7.5||3.0||0||2||1||0|
|Matt Dimon||DE||6'2, 274||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8984||8||8.0||1.1%||1.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Charles Walker||DT||6'2, 299||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656||8||7.0||1.0%||1.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Matthew Romar||DT||6'0, 294||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8585||12||7.0||1.0%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Wade||DE||6'4, 305||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9382||6||7.0||1.0%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. Ward||DE||6'2, 251||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9415||6||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Isaac Ijalana||DE||6'4, 247||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8363|
|Dwayne Orso||DE||6'6, 294||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8093|
|Neville Gallimore||DT||6'3, 303||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9615|
|Austin Roberts||DE||6'5, 265||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8681|
|Ricky DeBerry||DE||6'2, 240||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9575|
|Marquise Overton||DT||6'1, 300||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9170|
|Gabriel Campbell||DE||6'6, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8700|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dominique Alexander||ILB||6'0, 229||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8361||13||77.5||10.8%||6.0||1.5||0||0||1||0|
|Jordan Evans||ILB||6'3, 242||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8286||13||74.5||10.4%||6.5||0.0||1||3||2||0|
|Frank Shannon (2013)||ILB||6'1, 238||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8919||13||73.5||11.4%||7.0||2.0||1||0||1||0|
|Eric Striker||OLB||6'0, 223||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8879||13||56.5||7.9%||17.0||9.0||0||5||0||1|
|Devante Bond||OLB||6'1, 236||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8403||12||24.0||3.3%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ogbonnia Okoronkwo||OLB||6'1, 237||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8659||11||6.0||0.8%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|P.L. Lindley||OLB||6'2, 267||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8625||10||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Curtis Bolton||LB||6'2, 229||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8650|
|Tay Evans||LB||6'2, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8504|
|Arthur McGinnis||LB||6'2, 225||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8686|
7. A strong run defense, considering
OU basically played three linemen in 2014. Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Phillips and Charles Tapper combined for a good amount of playmaking for a three-man line: 19.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, five breakups. They freed up three exciting linebackers to make plays ... and they played most of 60 minutes every game. No backup played in all 13 games (only one played in more than eight), and none made more than eight tackles.
When you play with minimal depth, you risk fading in the second half of games and eventually giving up big rushing numbers. But while OU's defensive averages were best in the first quarter, the Sooners did still manage to rank 19th in Rushing S&P+. Part of that might have had to do with playing pass-happy opponents, but opponents were particularly pass-happy, in part, because the run D was so good.
Looking at the returnees above, you could spin it as "Oklahoma returns five of its top seven linemen!" if you want, but really, the Sooners lose 2-of-3. Charles Tapper's return is exciting, but OU is drastically unproven at tackle, where some combination of sophomores Charles Walker and Matthew Romar, JUCO transfer Neville Gallimore and perhaps freshmen Dwayne Orso and Marquise Overton will take over.
If the line holds up, the linebackers could dominate. Last year's top three return, including Eric Striker, one of the nation's best attackers. Plus, Frank Shannon is back in the fold after missing 2014 with suspension. All the line has to be is decent, and the linebackers will swarm to the ball.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ahmad Thomas||FS||6'0, 218||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8668||13||61.0||8.5%||0.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Zack Sanchez||CB||5'11, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8733||13||37.0||5.2%||1||0||6||8||0||0|
|Jordan Thomas||CB||6'1, 194||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8706||13||29.5||4.1%||0||0||0||5||0||0|
|Steven Parker||NB||6'1, 201||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9466||13||25.5||3.6%||2||1||0||6||0||0|
|Hatari Byrd||SS||6'1, 206||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9281||13||13.5||1.9%||0||0||0||3||1||0|
|Stanvon Taylor||CB||5'10, 174||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9366||13||6.5||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dakota Austin||CB||5'11, 160||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8322||5||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Green||CB||6'1, 181||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8585|
|William Johnson||CB||6'0, 179||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8687|
|Will Sunderland||S||6'2, 186||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9290|
|Kahlil Haughton||S||6'1, 178||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8970|
|Prentice McKinney||S||6'2, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8752|
|P.J. Mbanasor||CB||6'1, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9390|
8. Depth could be an issue in the back
Again, the pass defense wasn't amazing last year, but it was still pretty good, especially before corner Julian Wilson began to struggle with injury. Wilson's gone, but in Ahmad Thomas and Zack Sanchez, the Sooners have two solid veterans (Sanchez is more than solid), and in Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker, they have two playmakers who held their own as freshmen in 2014. Sanchez and Thomas should be two of the more active corners in the league.
As with the line, however, injuries could quickly expose depth problems in the back. The top five are good, but after that you're looking at career reserves (Stanvon Taylor, Dakota Austin) and a host of newcomers. They're well-touted newcomers, yes, but they're completely unproven.
Regardless, the starting five will likely be strong, and saying "injuries could cause problems" is applicable to almost every team in the country.
|Nick Hodgson||6'2, 198||Sr.||86||64.0||58||2||67.4%|
|Alex Ross||KR||6'1, 220||Jr.||23||31.2||2|
|Durron Neal||KR||5'11, 195||Sr.||7||9.9||0|
|Sterling Shepard||PR||5'10, 191||Sr.||11||6.6||0|
|Zack Sanchez||PR||5'11, 175||Jr.||2||10.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||23|
|Field Goal Efficiency||58|
|Punt Return Efficiency||18|
|Kick Return Efficiency||4|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||94|
9. Wanted: steadier legs (and coverage)
Poor Michael Hunnicutt. He made 24-of-27 field goals in 2013 and 12-of-14 in 2014, sans the KSU and OSU games. But he missed 3-of-4 against KSU and OSU and had a PAT blocked, and OU lost those games by a combined four points. That's how you become a very good kicker who is loathed by the fan base.
Hunnicutt's untimely misses aside, legs were a bit of an issue. Or at least, coverage was. Opponents averaged 10.7 yards per punt return (104th in FBS) and 21.3 yards per kick return (71st), which did quite a bit of damage to OU's field position efforts. Despite a strong run game, a good run defense and excellent returns, OU ranked only 38th in field position margin. With Hunnicutt and punter Jed Barnett gone, there will be some fresh blood here, for better or worse. We'll see if coverage improves.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|17-Oct||at Kansas State||33|
|28-Nov||at Oklahoma State||43|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||41.0% (6)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||16 / 12|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-5 / 6.9|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-4.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||8.6 (-0.6)|
10. There are three Big 12 contenders
I've seen OU listed as a Big 12 dark horse quite a bit in recent months, but I can't buy it. A team that has ranked in the F/+ top 25 for nine consecutive years isn't a dark horse for anything. Both Baylor and TCU return quite a few of the stars that made them standout teams last year, but Oklahoma has as much star power as anybody in the league: Samaje Perine, Sterling Shepard, Zack Sanchez, Eric Striker, Frank Shannon, Charles Tapper, Ty Darlington.
The Sooners have clear issues to rectify. They have to find a quarterback, and they need drastic changes in the assistant coaching staff to take hold sooner than later. If one of the three Big 12 contenders bombs, it will almost certainly be OU. But make no mistake: the Sooners are contenders. They weren't nearly as bad in 2014 as people seem to want to believe, and while they do get Baylor on the road, TCU (which barely beat OU last year in Fort Worth) must visit Norman.
The trip to Knoxville on Sept. 12 will tell us a lot. Tennessee could be a legitimate top-20 team -- and if you don't believe the recurring "This year's the year! No? Well ... THIS year's the year!" Vols hype, believe the numbers, which think they will be stout -- and should probably be expected to beat a fellow top-20 team at home. If the Sooners win that game, they're perhaps Big 12 co-favorites. If they lose a tight contest, they're likely still contenders.
And if they get blown out, forget I said any of this.