NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Very little was said about championships at Oklahoma’s media day.
That’s unusual for a Bob Stoops-coached team.
A year ago, the Sooners were riding high off a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and they felt they had finally found the answer at quarterback after Trevor Knight’s MVP performance against the Crimson Tide. Oklahoma entered last season ranked No. 4 and was a favorite to land in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, the Sooners stumbled to an 8-5 season that culminated in an overtime loss to rival Oklahoma State and a 40-6 drubbing by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
That leaves Oklahoma a bit under the radar for a program with seven national titles. Though outside expectations are lower, the talent level in Norman is exceptional, and the Sooners are capable of making noise.
Oklahoma wasn’t horrible — the Sooners lost by four points to TCU, a single point to Kansas State and there was that OT loss to the Cowboys.. With much of the defense back and improved skill players on offense, the Sooners could turn those close losses into wins.
“Don’t have a turnover for a touchdown, don’t have a turnover going in for a score, don’t give up a big play defensively, don’t punt the ball when you don’t have to, make a field goal, an extra point,” Stoops said. “All of those scenarios can be a little bit different. One play in one of those games could’ve changed it. We’re not very far off.”
Stoops shook things up in the offseason and hired offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to bring back the Air Raid offense that helped Oklahoma back to prominence in the previous decade. How quickly the Sooners catch on could determine how far they go this season.
Here are some things to watch for the Sooners this season:
QUARTERBACK RACE: Knight injured his neck last season, and he was inconsistent at times when healthy. Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield is now eligible. He ran the Air Raid as a freshman at Texas Tech and was the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year before he transferred. Mayfield has outplayed Knight in the past two spring games, and he seems to fit in well with his teammates. Stoops said sophomore Cody Thomas also is in the running, and added that he isn’t opposed to playing more than one quarterback.
MIXON RETURNS: The highly touted running back was considered a contender for the starting job last season, but he punched a woman before fall practice even began and was suspended for the year. Samaje Perine, a bulldozer with surprising breakaway speed, stepped in and was named Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year and a first-team all-conference pick. Mixon is back now, and coaches and players expect him to make an impact.
PERINE FOR HEISMAN? Perine was a workhorse last season, carrying 34 times against West Virginia, 34 times against Kansas and 26 in less than three quarters against Oklahoma State. For the season, he rumbled for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns, including a major college record of 427 yards against Kansas. Those kind of numbers usually lead to Heisman mentions the following year, but the new offense is a pass first system, and now, Perine has to deal with Mixon. Perine expects to carry the ball less and catch it more.
RECEIVERS: Last year, Oklahoma’s offense became one-dimensional when Sterling Shepard was out with a hamstring injury. Newcomer Dede Westbrook is expected to pose a viable threat and take pressure off Shepard. This will be a key position because of the Air Raid’s emphasis on the passing game.
FRANK SHANNON: Frank Shannon was Oklahoma’s leading tackler two years ago, but the inside linebacker missed last season because of a violation of the school’s Title IX policy, which covers sexual misconduct. Jordan Evans was solid as a fill-in last season. It will be interesting to see how quickly Shannon gets back into the flow, and if he regains his starting job.