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As long as Baker Mayfield's healthy, Oklahoma's a Playoff contender again

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The Bob Stoops narrative changes annually, but OU's got a good chance to win his 10th Big 12 title. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the Big 12 so far!

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. The indefatigable Bob Stoops

This was some significant change. The moves make sense, but the amount of change could 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.

OU isn't standing still. The new staff could press just enough new buttons to make OU an immediate Big 12 contender. Stoops' house could fall down around him quickly. If forced to make a prediction, I lean former.

Remember last year, when the marriage between Oklahoma and head coach Stoops had finally gone stale? When the writing was on the wall? When it was time for a fresh start? When the Sooners were miles behind Baylor and TCU, the new dominant forces in the Big 12?

No? Me neither. Let's just all pretend the 2014-15 offseason did not occur. It's best for all parties.

When you stay in the same job for long enough, the narrative will change a few times. But for Stoops and his Sooners, it's an almost annual occurrence. They were back! after going 11-2 in 2013 with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. They were toast! after a disappointing 8-5 campaign in 2014. Now they're back! after another 11-win season and Playoff appearance.

The fluctuations have been particularly funny, considering how steady the product on the field has been. On paper, OU has been the most predictably good team this side of Tuscaloosa. The Sooners ranked between first and seventh in S&P+ every year from 2006-12, stumbled to 27th in 2013 (and got lucky to win 11 games), rebounded to 13th in 2014 (and got unlucky to lose five), and reasserted themselves as a top-five team last fall. They were on the right side of the bounces again but didn't play in many games close enough to be affected.

Not everything was perfect in Norman last year. The handling of Joe Mixon's arrest, suspension, and reinstatement was, among other things, too guarded -- by quarantining him from media for so long, they created a terribly awkward situation when he was mandated to show up for media day before the Orange Bowl.

On the field, though there were only two losses, both were demoralizing. In between a 20-point win over WVU and a 55-point win over Kansas State, the Sooners laid an egg in Dallas, falling behind Texas 14-0 in the first quarter and succumbing, 24-17. And while they shouldn't have been four-point favorites in the Orange Bowl, they were, which made Clemson's resounding victory seem like more than simply a loss to a better team.

Still, a year after shuffling his staff, Stoops is once again in charge of the most proven entity in the Big 12, a favorite to reach another Playoff and win a Big 12 title. He's won nine conference rings, engineered 10 top-10 finishes, and won at least 10 games in a season 13 times. He has survived advances from usurpers, and he is still the reigning king of the conference. You may knock the king down here and there, but he always gets back up.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 4 | Final S&P+ Rk: 4
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Akron 84 41-3 W 97% 100% +12.3 +6.5
12-Sep at Tennessee 18 31-24 W 85% 83% +6.9 +6.0
19-Sep Tulsa 95 52-38 W 84% 96% -12.4 -17.0
3-Oct West Virginia 31 44-24 W 97% 100% +18.0 +13.0
10-Oct vs. Texas 68 17-24 L 45% 37% -35.1 -24.5
17-Oct at Kansas State 81 55-0 W 99% 100% +52.9 +50.0
24-Oct Texas Tech 60 63-27 W 94% 100% +19.7 +22.0
31-Oct at Kansas 127 62-7 W 95% 100% +16.6 +15.0
7-Nov Iowa State 79 52-16 W 96% 100% +17.0 +10.5
14-Nov at Baylor 14 44-34 W 82% 67% +12.2 +12.5
21-Nov TCU 19 30-29 W 72% 52% -13.0 +1.0
28-Nov at Oklahoma State 40 58-23 W 95% 99% +29.5 +28.0
31-Dec vs. Clemson 2 17-37 L 41% 4% -18.2 -24.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 42.4 8 19.8 16
Points Per Game 43.5 4 22.0 28

2. Little left to chance

Oklahoma benefited from nearly three points per game in good turnovers luck, but that only matters much when you're playing in close games. Only three of OU's 13 contests were decided by one possession, and only five were decided by under 20 points.

OU was one of the more consistently excellent teams in the country. But the Sooners didn't go halfway. When they suffered a glitch, it was an all-caps-and-italics GLITCH.

  • Oklahoma in wins:
    Avg. percentile performance: 91% (~top 12) | Avg. win expectancy: 91% | Yards per play: OU 7.2, Opp 4.6 (+2.6) | Avg. performance vs. S&P+ projection: +14.5 PPG
  • Oklahoma in losses:
    Avg. percentile performance: 43% (~top 75) | Avg. win expectancy: 21% | Yards per play: Opp 5.6, OU 4.7 (-0.9) | Avg. performance vs. S&P+ projection: -26.7 PPG

S&P+ had a pretty good read on a lot of teams last year, but both S&P+ and Vegas were consistently underestimating the Sooners, either how good they would look or how bad.

Still, it was mostly good. And that should be the case again in 2016 ... as long as a certain star quarterback stays healthy.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.40 11 IsoPPP+ 124.0 11
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.3% 19 Succ. Rt. + 115.5 16
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 32 Def. FP+ 26.9 15
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 26 Redzone S&P+ 111.3 32
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.3 ACTUAL 18 +1.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 7 12 16 11
RUSHING 22 28 58 15
PASSING 17 11 6 19
Standard Downs 4 17 1
Passing Downs 73 27 92
Q1 Rk 43 1st Down Rk 10
Q2 Rk 5 2nd Down Rk 1
Q3 Rk 12 3rd Down Rk 43
Q4 Rk 37

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Baker Mayfield 6'1, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385 269 395 3700 36 7 68.1% 39 9.0% 8.1
Trevor Knight 22 40 305 2 2 55.0% 2 4.8% 7.0
Cody Thomas 1 3 1 0 0 33.3% 0 0.0% 0.3
Connor McGinnis 6'4, 194 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8111
Austin Kendall 6'1, 206 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9212

3. Wrap Baker in bubble wrap

Mayfield was everything OU fans could have possibly hoped for in 2015. He was far more consistent than Trevor Knight (2014's starter, who transferred to Texas A&M after the season), and his strengths were perfectly aligned with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

There were times when Riley's pass-first approach took too much focus from a running game that featured Samaje Perine and Mixon, plus the mobile Mayfield. But Mayfield still made it work. On first downs, he completed 77 percent of his passes (passer rating: 202.3) while Perine averaged 6.5 yards per carry and Mixon averaged 7.3. OU ranked fourth in the country on standard downs, and this mix was the primary reason why. Defenses had to mind the run, and Mayfield's quick decision-making and delivery meshed perfectly with a sideline-to-sideline passing attack.

Mayfield loses his go-to weapon, Sterling Shepard. But the run game should still be strong, and the receiving corps still has potential. I'm curious how much Shepard's absence will hurt on passing downs, but OU should still be adept at avoiding those because of the Perine-Mayfield mix.

And yes, this is all dependent on Mayfield staying healthy. Whereas Perine has Mixon backing him up, Mayfield has either true freshman Austin Kendall or redshirt freshman walk-on Connor McGinnis. Knight is gone, and third-stringer Cody Thomas quit football to focus on baseball.

Kendall held his own in spring ball and is well-regarded, but the potential dropoff from showman Mayfield to mistake-prone first-year guy is significant.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Samaje Perine RB 5'10, 234 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9033 226 1349 16 6.0 6.3 40.3% 2 2
Joe Mixon RB 6'1, 226 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9898 113 753 7 6.7 7.0 45.1% 1 1
Baker Mayfield QB 6'1, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385 102 608 7 6.0 5.8 44.1% 4 0
Alex Ross RB 32 172 1 5.4 5.8 37.5% 2 2
Daniel Brooks RB 5'8, 184 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) NR 28 150 0 5.4 5.0 42.9% 0 0
Trevor Knight QB 14 81 1 5.8 2.7 57.1% 1 0
Dede Westbrook WR 6'0, 170 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9025 5 17 0 3.4 8.2 40.0% 2 1
Rodney Anderson RB 6'0, 211 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9296
Abdul Adams RB 6'0, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8912







4. Whole vs. sum of parts

When Oklahoma's offense struggled, the run game was the likely culprit. Against Tennessee, Texas, and Clemson -- OU's two losses and the closest thing to a third -- Perine and Mixon carried a combined 67 times for 238 yards, just 3.6 per carry.

They averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the other 10 games, but while the full-season numbers were good, this does suggest a smidge of concern. OU ranked only 28th in Rushing S&P+ and 58th in Rushing Success Rate+, not nearly what you would expect to see from a backfield that features such ridiculous talent.

Without Shepard and his otherworldly 63 percent success rate (he was the country's best possession receiver, only he also averaged 15 yards per catch), OU might need the run game to click a little bit better to avoid passing downs. Perhaps in anticipation of this, Stoops made efforts to shore up potential weaknesses up front.

The OU line was solid last year but must replace four players who combined for 33 of the 65 starts up front. Three starters return, but Stoops signed two JUCO transfers (Ashton Julious and Ben Powers); Powers finished the spring as the first-string right guard, and redshirt freshman Cody Ford finished as the top left guard. So in a way, OU's line is young and experienced at the same time. Hard to know what to expect. But it only has to be good for Perine and Mixon to do serious damage.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Sterling Shepard WR 117 86 1288 73.5% 28.1% 11.0 62.4% 63.2% 1.65
Dede Westbrook WR 6'0, 170 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9025 71 46 743 64.8% 17.1% 10.5 53.5% 54.9% 1.79
Durron Neal WR 64 44 559 68.8% 15.4% 8.7 76.6% 59.4% 1.41
Geno Lewis WR 6'1, 201 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9341 37 17 196 45.9% 9.4% 5.3 43.2% 35.1% 1.41
Joe Mixon RB 6'1, 226 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9898 33 28 356 84.8% 7.9% 10.8 69.7% 57.6% 1.72
Jarvis Baxter WR 5'11, 165 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8274 31 20 218 64.5% 7.5% 7.0 71.0% 58.1% 1.00
Mark Andrews TE 6'5, 244 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9387 28 19 318 67.9% 6.7% 11.4 46.4% 64.3% 1.89
Samaje Perine RB 5'10, 234 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9033 18 15 107 83.3% 4.3% 5.9 55.6% 50.0% 0.97
Michiah Quick WR 5'11, 183 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9703 12 9 103 75.0% 2.9% 8.6 91.7% 41.7% 1.91
Jeffery Mead WR 6'5, 187 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8906 12 6 66 50.0% 2.9% 5.5 41.7% 41.7% 1.27
Dimitri Flowers FB 6'2, 252 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8321 8 8 130 100.0% 1.9% 16.3 75.0% 87.5% 1.88
Daniel Brooks RB 5'8, 184 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) NR 5 2 40 40.0% 1.2% 8.0 60.0% 40.0% 1.88
Grant Bothun WR 5'11, 193 Sr. NR NR 4 3 34 75.0% 1.0% 8.5 50.0% 75.0% 0.99
A.D. Miller WR 6'3, 189 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8525 3 2 16 66.7% 0.7% 5.3 33.3% 33.3% 1.40
Dahu Green WR 6'4, 201 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656 3 0 0 0.0% 0.7% 0.0 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
Connor Knight TE 6'4, 248 Sr. NR NR 2 1 17 50.0% 0.5% 8.5 50.0% 50.0% 2.07
Dallis Todd WR 6'3, 190 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9127 2 1 9 50.0% 0.5% 4.5 50.0% 50.0% 0.82
Carson Meier FB 6'5, 245 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8517
Mykel Jones WR 6'0, 180 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9091

5. Life without your security blanket

If I hadn't watched OU play a lot last year, I would point out that, while Shepard was fantastic, per-target averages for players like Dede Westbrook, Michiah Quick, tight end Mark Andrews, and Mixon suggest that they'll be fine in his absence. Mayfield is enough of a play-maker to make things happen with this group, even if the second- and third-leading wideouts (Geno Lewis and Jarvis Baxter) weren't that effective.

But since I did watch the Sooners a lot, I'm a little concerned. He was capable of carrying a heavy load (at least six catches in eight games) and of burning defenses deep (at least 15 yards per catch in eight games). He was the best of all worlds for this type of passing game, and defenses had to mind him at all times.

That said, Westbrook was particularly strong. If he gets at least a little help, and if nothing comes of a recent trespassing charge, he should be a fine No. 1. But players like Lewis, Baxter, Quick, and sophomore A.D. Miller will need to raise their games. There's enough youth to assume some year-to-year improvement, but let's just say that just because you have a wonderful, scrambler-gambler play-maker at quarterback, you don't want him to be scrambling and gambling on every play.

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 111 3.32 2.96 42.7% 68.1% 18.8% 77.5 8.9% 10.5%
Rank 21 10 90 22 49 53 101 121 110
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Nila Kasitati RG 13 25 2015 1st All-Big 12
Ty Darlington C 12 26 Wuerffel Trophy winner,
2015 2nd All-Big 12
Orlando Brown LT 6'8, 357 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8731 13 13
Jonathan Alvarez C 6'3, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7785 10 10
Dru Samia RT 6'4, 274 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8986 9 9
Derek Farniok LT 4 5
Josiah St. John RT 4 4
Erick Wren C 6'2, 317 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Jamal Danley RG 6'3, 323 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8686 0 0
Christian Daimler RT 6'7, 311 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241 0 0
Alex Dalton C 6'3, 290 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8775 0 0
Quinn Mittermeier OL 6'5, 265 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8689 0 0
Bobby Evans LT 6'4, 299 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9229

Cody Ford LG 6'3, 317 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8674

Ashton Julious LG 6'5, 354 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8706

Ben Powers RG 6'4, 320 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8647

Erik Swenson OL 6'7, 285 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8916

Johncarlo Valentin OL 6'4, 330 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8811


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 31 IsoPPP+ 128.0 5
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.5% 24 Succ. Rt. + 118.9 9
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.7 32 Off. FP+ 32.8 15
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.2 51 Redzone S&P+ 108.1 33
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.9 ACTUAL 27.0 +9.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 39 5 9 5
RUSHING 53 23 10 31
PASSING 34 4 13 2
Standard Downs 7 10 7
Passing Downs 12 27 10
Q1 Rk 4 1st Down Rk 5
Q2 Rk 18 2nd Down Rk 4
Q3 Rk 21 3rd Down Rk 15
Q4 Rk 24

6. Opponents knew to run (but most couldn't do it)

When Texas beat Oklahoma, in part by rushing 54 times for 332 yards (not including sacks and kneeldowns), everybody decided they had found the blueprint. And to be sure, in what is basically a 3-3-5 system, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is willfully sacrificing size for speed. But that doesn't mean run defense was an actual weakness.

OU ranked 23rd in Rushing S&P+ -- a weakness compared to the pass defense, but still not something that drags you down too far. Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara rushed 28 times for just 113 yards (4.0); Baylor's Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin rushed 34 times for 152 yards (4.5). It wasn't until the Orange Bowl, when Clemson ran roughshod, that anyone else was really able to take advantage of this supposed weakness, and it took someone as awesome as Clemson's dual-threat Deshaun Watson.

OU was one of the nation's worst in short-yardage situations (which is where the size thing was particularly costly), but otherwise the speed to flow to the ball more than overcame a girth deficit.

This could be the case again, but OU will need some new linebackers. The line still appears stocked with talented guys like tackles Charles Walker and Matt Dimon (combined: 17 tackles for loss), but the Sooners have to replace five of their top six linebackers. Not only that, but those five combined for 37 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 11 passes defensed.

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 111.4 2.72 3.54 37.9% 78.3% 20.0% 111.9 6.4% 7.8%
Rank 28 39 97 64 117 64 43 23 57
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Charles Tapper DE 13 40.5 5.4% 10.0 7.0 0 3 4 1
Charles Walker DT 6'2, 299 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656 12 30.5 4.0% 10.0 6.0 0 1 1 0
Matt Dimon DT 6'2, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8984 13 25.0 3.3% 7.0 2.5 0 0 1 0
Jordan Wade DT 6'3, 311 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9382 13 18.5 2.5% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Matthew Romar DT 6'0, 298 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8585 12 18.5 2.5% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Ward DE 6'2, 250 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9415 13 12.0 1.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 1
Marquise Overton DT 6'1, 292 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9170 8 5.5 0.7% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Austin Roberts DE 6'6, 279 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8681
Neville Gallimore DT 6'3, 320 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9615
Gabriel Campbell DE 6'6, 257 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8700
Amani Bledsoe DE 6'5, 265 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9288

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dominique Alexander ILB 13 78.5 10.4% 7.0 0.5 1 2 0 0
Jordan Evans ILB 6'2, 233 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8286 11 66.0 8.7% 5.0 1.0 0 4 1 1
Eric Striker OLB 13 54.0 7.2% 19.0 7.5 1 3 1 0
Frank Shannon ILB 12 38.5 5.1% 1.0 1.0 1 0 0 0
Devante Bond OLB 9 35.5 4.7% 7.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
P.L. Lindley LB 13 11.0 1.5% 3.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Tay Evans ILB 6'2, 239 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8504 10 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ruben Hunter LB 6'2, 222 Jr. NR NR 12 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo OLB 6'2, 238 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8659 9 6.0 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Curtis Bolton ILB 6'0, 232 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8650
Ricky Deberry OLB 6'2, 250 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9575
Arthur McGinnis ILB 6'1, 248 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8686
Kapri Doucet OLB 6'2, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8474
Emmanuel Beal OLB 6'2, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8083
Caleb Kelly OLB 6'3, 225 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9836
Mark Jackson Jr. OLB 6'3, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9191








7. How much does the pass rush suffer?

In linebacker Eric Striker and end Charles Tapper, the Sooners must replace their two most dangerous pass rushers. Young ends D.J. Ward and Marquise Overton did some damage in limited opportunities; they could be ready to shine. But at linebacker, there are far more questions than answers. Junior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Tay Evans finished the spring on the first string; the two combined for 12.5 tackles and a single sack last year.

I'm more concerned about the pass rush than the run defense here. The line should hold up to run blocking about as well as it did lat year, and goodness knows there are plenty of blitz candidates -- Okoronkwo, blue-chip redshirt freshman Ricky DeBerry, JUCO transfers Kapri Doucet and Emmanuel Beal, etc. And if a blue-chipper like Caleb Kelly is ready to roll from Day 1, there will be a role. But if this defense regresses, it will be because a pass defense that was elite at all levels (pass rush, safety play, corner coverage) regressed a bit too much.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ahmad Thomas FS 6'0, 199 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8668 13 62.0 8.2% 1.5 1.5 3 3 0 0
Steven Parker SS 6'1, 208 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9466 13 50.5 6.7% 4 1.5 0 4 0 0
Zack Sanchez CB 11 40.5 5.4% 3.5 0.5 7 7 0 0
Jordan Thomas CB 6'0, 187 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8706 12 40.0 5.3% 0 0 5 4 0 0
Dakota Austin CB 5'10, 159 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8322 11 24.0 3.2% 1 0 2 3 0 0
Hatari Byrd FS
12 21.5 2.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
William Johnson NB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8687 11 12.5 1.7% 3 0 0 1 0 0
Marcus Green CB
8 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
P.J. Mbanasor CB 6'1, 189 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9390 10 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kahlil Haughton FS 6'1, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8970 12 6.0 0.8% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Will Sunderland SS 6'2, 197 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9290 8 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Stanvon Taylor CB 5'11, 67 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9366 5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Prentice McKinney S 6'1, 181 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8752
Jordan Parker CB 6'1, 170 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9283








Chanse Sylvie NB 5'11, 179 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8813








8. If the front holds, the back will too

It's strange not feeling too concerned about the pass defense when OU must replace an awesome, longtime play-maker in Zack Sanchez. But both junior Jordan Thomas and senior Dakota Austin both proved themselves to some degree, and at the least, players like sophomore P.J. Mbanasor and Stanvon Taylor have gotten their feet wet.

Plus, safety is loaded. That always helps. Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker as proven as you need your safeties to be, William Johnson seems well-suited for nickel back (he had three TFLs in limited action), and sophomores like Kahlil Haughton, Will Sunderland, and Prentice McKinney come with quite a pedigree. OU might be even safer at safety than TCU is, and that's saying something.

There are questions to answer on this defense, but if Stoops can dial up a pass rush, it appears everything should operate similar to last year.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Austin Seibert 5'10, 214 So. 57 42.0 2 30 20 87.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nick Hodgson 102 63.5 52 0 51.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Seibert 5'10, 214 So. 70-72 13-17 76.5% 5-6 83.3%
Nick Hodgson 1-1 1-1 100.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Alex Ross KR 30 21.5 0
Durron Neal KR 2 26.5 0
Sterling Shepard PR 19 7.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 20
Field Goal Efficiency 50
Punt Return Success Rate 95
Kick Return Success Rate 75
Punt Success Rate 1
Kickoff Success Rate 32

9. Seibert will be a huge weapon for years

Austin Seibert was about as well-touted as a kicker/punter can be in high school, and he lived up to as much hype as you can as a freshman. His place-kicking was a little bit scattershot (he missed four field goals under 40 yards), but he bombed in five longer field goals, and his punts were unreturnable. OU had the most efficient punting game in the country, and when you're winning both the efficiency battles and the special teams battle, you're tilting the field drastically in your favor. And the Sooners have three more years of Seibert.

Because of Seibert alone, OU's special teams unit should be a net positive. But losing Alex Ross and Shepard in the return game hurts. New return options are wanted.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Houston 53 14.1 79%
10-Sep UL-Monroe 125 41.9 99%
17-Sep Ohio State 14 9.1 70%
1-Oct at TCU 31 8.8 69%
8-Oct vs. Texas 34 12.8 77%
15-Oct Kansas State 67 23.4 91%
22-Oct at Texas Tech 43 11.9 75%
29-Oct Kansas 112 37.9 99%
3-Nov at Iowa State 71 17.2 84%
12-Nov Baylor 13 9.1 70%
19-Nov at West Virginia 33 9.3 70%
3-Dec Oklahoma State 23 12.9 77%
Projected wins: 9.6
Five-Year F/+ Rk 41.1% (6)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 16 / 16
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 9 / 1.6
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.8
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 69% (72%, 66%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 10.4 (0.6)

10. No seriously, keep Baker healthy

It feels dicey previewing a team that has depth issues at the most important position.

If Mayfield is healthy, OU is going to be awesome. The Sooners have maybe the best quarterback and two of the best running backs in the conference, and in the areas where new play-makers are needed -- pass rushing, pass catching -- there are quite a few options.

With Mayfield, OU is the safest bet to win the Big 12, even with a trip to Fort Worth on the docket (and sandwiched between Ohio State and Texas, no less).

Without Mayfield, though? With an only solid receiving corps and a freshman quarterback, plus a line that might only be decent? A team without Mayfield cedes control of the Big 12 to TCU, I think.

We'll see, huh? OU could be positioned to make another nice run to the postseason. And since we preview teams based on what they have (and not what they might not have), that makes OU a really damn good, top-10-caliber team and potential title contender.

As you see above, the Sooners are given at least a 69 percent chance of winning in each game they play (here's your reminder that S&P+ is not a fan of either TCU or Houston -- I'm personally viewing TCU as a tossup), and very few teams will have odds that consistently good.