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Oklahoma football is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

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The countdown travels to Norman, home of one of the most mysterious, confusing teams in the country.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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.

-- The big 2014 Oklahoma football guide

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.

But wow, did luck play a role, as I wrote for Athlon's Big 12 preview this year.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Louisiana Tech 35 48-16 W 100% 61.9 100%
6-Sep at Tulsa 117 52-7 W 97% 42.7 100%
13-Sep Tennessee 24 34-10 W 97% 42.4 100%
20-Sep at West Virginia 40 45-33 W 75% 15.5 75%
4-Oct at TCU 6 33-37 L 82% 21.8 42%
11-Oct vs. Texas 53 31-26 W 59% 5.4 44%
18-Oct Kansas State 26 30-31 L 86% 25.3 83%
1-Nov at Iowa State 92 59-14 W 95% 37.5 100%
8-Nov Baylor 10 14-48 L 49% -0.4 3%
15-Nov at Texas Tech 82 42-30 W 80% 19.3 93%
22-Nov Kansas 99 44-7 W 99% 51.7 100%
6-Dec Oklahoma State 75 35-38 L 39% -6.2 22%
29-Dec vs. Clemson 14 6-40 L 23% -17.0 0%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 39.1 14 21.3 21
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.93 28 IsoPPP+ 134.8 11
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.8 ACTUAL 24 +7.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 24 6 4 11
RUSHING 11 4 6 5
PASSING 85 17 5 26
Standard Downs 4 4 8
Passing Downs 17 11 21
Q1 Rk 9 1st Down Rk 26
Q2 Rk 5 2nd Down Rk 27
Q3 Rk 31 3rd Down Rk 6
Q4 Rk 37

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
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
Baker Mayfield
(Texas Tech)
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

[Update: Baker Mayfield won the starting job over Knight and Thomas.]

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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Keith Ford RB
71 392 5 5.5 4.9 43.7% 3 3
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
David Smith RB
10 76 1 7.6 3.4 70.0% 0 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
Aaron Ripkowski FB
6 13 3 2.2 0.5 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.]

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
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
K.J. Young WR
36 20 248 55.6% 10.2% 44.4% 6.9 -1 7.0 38.3
Blake Bell TE
30 16 214 53.3% 8.5% 63.3% 7.1 13 7.3 33.0
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
Keith Ford RB
13 11 140 84.6% 3.7% 46.2% 10.8 13 10.7 21.6
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
Aaron Ripkowski FB
9 7 38 77.8% 2.6% 66.7% 4.2 -44 4.3 5.9
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

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 120.6 3.32 3.29 44.2% 67.9% 16.2% 236.6 3.6% 1.6%
Rank 10 17 62 19 61 26 3 37 1
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Tyler Evans RG
32
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
Dionte Savage RG
8
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.]

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.88 83 IsoPPP+ 112.6 35
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.6 ACTUAL 19.0 -4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 52 27 23 35
RUSHING 8 19 14 35
PASSING 120 32 38 39
Standard Downs 33 21 45
Passing Downs 19 30 24
Q1 Rk 12 1st Down Rk 24
Q2 Rk 39 2nd Down Rk 48
Q3 Rk 50 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 40

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?

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 116.4 2.60 2.11 31.7% 69.4% 22.2% 112.2 5.1% 8.3%
Rank 16 25 3 9 78 28 35 50 48
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chuka Ndulue DE
13 36.0 5.0% 5.0 3.5 0 2 0 0
Jordan Phillips DT
13 29.0 4.0% 7.0 2.0 0 1 0 1
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
Torrea Peterson DE NR 8 6.5 0.9% 2.0 0.0 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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Geneo Grissom OLB
10 33.0 4.6% 6.5 3.5 1 4 2 0
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
Caleb Gastelum ILB
13 16.0 2.2% 2.0 1.0 1 1 0 0
Aaron Franklin ILB
11 11.0 1.5% 0.5 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
Londell Taylor LB
13 1.5 0.2% 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Quentin Hayes SS
12 46.0 6.4% 5 3 1 4 2 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
Julian Wilson CB
11 35.5 5.0% 0 0 1 7 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jed Barnett 66 41.9 6 19 13 48.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nick Hodgson 6'2, 198 Sr. 86 64.0 58 2 67.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Michael Hunnicutt 60-62 10-13 76.9% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 23
Field Goal Efficiency 58
Punt Return Efficiency 18
Kick Return Efficiency 4
Punt Efficiency 102
Kickoff Efficiency 61
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Akron 112
12-Sep at Tennessee 20
19-Sep Tulsa 106
3-Oct West Virginia 40
10-Oct vs. Texas 36
17-Oct at Kansas State 33
24-Oct Texas Tech 53
31-Oct at Kansas 95
7-Nov Iowa State 86
14-Nov at Baylor 14
21-Nov TCU 18
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.