Thanks to Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine for the preview.
Quarterback: Oklahoma has one of the best and most exciting quarterbacks in the country this season in Baker Mayfield, but there is plenty to be concerned about. Mayfield is a bit of a risk-taker when it comes to his body, and he doesn’t always have a good sense of when to get rid of the ball. Austin Kendall – a true freshman – is the only eligible scholarship quarterback behind Mayfield, and there’s a very good chance that he will be thrust into action this season.
Running Back: No cause for concern here. Samaje Perine is 1,056 yards away from breaking the all-time OU rushing record, and he has an NFL-ready back in Joe Mixon to take the load off. Behind those two are Daniel Brooks (the Texas 3A state champion in the 100-meter dash in 2011), Rodney Anderson (a highly-touted 220-pound redshirt freshman out of Katy (TX) High School) and Abdul Adams (a true freshman who has drawn comparisons to a young DeMarco Murray). OU is set at running back for the foreseeable future.
Receiver: Sterling Shepard leaves a huge gap in the receiving core, but there is some promising young talent in this group. Dede Westbrook returns after catching 46 balls for 743 yards last season, and the 6-5, 250-lb. Mark Andrews will continue to be an imposing threat over the middle and in the red zone. After that, it’s largely new blood. True freshman Louisiana native Mykel Jones spurned offers from Nick Saban and Hugh Freeze to come up north, and he’ll be someone that the Sooners look to as a playmaker in the open field. Don’t sleep on walk-on Nick Basquine, who has made headlines lately for being a possible starter in the slot come the opener against Houston.
Offensive Line: OU’s biggest weakness in last season’s game against Texas looks to be a strength this season, as OU returns three young starters and introduces some promising young talent to the fold. Orlando Brown will stay at tackle, but returning tackle Dru Samia will likely move inside to guard with the emergence of redshirt freshman Bobby Evans at the tackle position. Jonathan Alvarez, who started at guard last season, will take over duties at center.
Defensive Line: Oklahoma’s defensive front will depend largely on the formation, but the unit will be a strength this season despite the huge loss of Charles Tapper. Charles Walker is an extremely athletic defensive lineman who can play both inside and outside, while Matthew Romar will effectively plug up the middle as a nose guard. Neville Gallimore is one to watch at DT as the season progresses. He redshirted last season after playing high school ball in Canada, but he’s been physically dominant early on in fall practice.
Linebacker – This is the biggest position of weakness for Oklahoma, with out a doubt. While there is some promising young talent at OLB (namely true freshmen Caleb Kelly and Mark Jackson), the middle will be anchored by Jordan Evans and the unproven Tay Evans (brother of offensive lineman Bobby Evans). Jordan Evans has been a regular contributor and figures to be a leader this season, but I’ve never been particularly impressed with him as a football player.
Defensive Back – OU should be fine in the secondary this season – provided that the group stays healthy. Jordan Thomas, who has had some offseason discipline issues but should be good to go for the Houston game, leads the group. Steven Parker is a Thorpe Award contender at safety, and Ahmad Thomas is no slouch himself. The corner position opposite Jordan Thomas will likely be manned by Senior Dakota Austin, but that could change if sophomore PJ Mbanasor comes into his own this season. Will Johnson will likely play the nickel position, where he was serviceable last season.
Special Teams – Austin Seibert is both our kicker and our punter, but he fatigued down the stretch with those duties last season. He has a pretty good leg, but OU is hoping not to settle for field goals and punts too often this season. Most of the running backs are working out as kick returners, while senior wide-outs Dede Westbrook and Jarvis Baxter are likely candidates to return punts. It will be interesting to see if there is much of a dropoff after losing Sterling Shepard to graduation and kick returner Alex Ross to Missouri.
· If OU’s offensive line lives up to its potential this season, they’ll be incredibly tough to beat and could run the table. Last year’s early-season woes showed that not even talents such as Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon can overcome sub-par offensive line play, so that could make or break the season for the Sooners.
· The receiving core needs to find a playmaker or two to make up for what Sterling Shepard brought to the table late in games last season.
· OU’s interior linebackers could be a serious problem and could potentially derail Oklahoma’s title hopes.
· Losses could potentially come early with matchups against physical teams such as Ohio State, TCU and Texas. I predict that Oklahoma goes 11-1 in the regular season and loses in the national semifinal once again.