By Brenden Dougherty
2016 Season: 11-2 overall; 9-0 Big 12
Head Coach: Lincoln Riley, first season
Former head coach, Bob Stoops, announced on Wednesday, June 8, that he is stepping down and will “hand this baton off” to his offensive coordinator, Lincoln Riley. This will make Riley, 33 years old, the youngest head coach at the FBS level. However, Stoops said he will remain as a special assistant to the athletic director. So not only did OU lose most of their offensive playmakers, but now they have also lost their head coach of 18 years.
In Riley’s first year with the Sooners he led their offense to be ranked No. 7 in the country and to the College Football Playoffs. However, now with Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine’s departure to the NFL, he will have to work that magic again to keep this offense on the same winning track that Stoops had them on and help fix up a defense that was not consistent in play last year.
The Sooners have always had great playmakers and they will have another one in returning senior Baker Mayfield. Although, the running game may see a decline as both 1,000-yard rushers from 2016 have graduated. Abdul Adams, running back, returns as the new leading rusher for OU with 283 yards on 53 carries last season. Mark Andrews, their do-it-all tight end, becomes their leading receiver followed by Nick Basquine, at receiver, with 265 yards on 20 receptions. A sign of strength though comes at the O-line positions, as most are returning, and in their top-10 recruit class that focused on filling the skill player positions.
Oklahoma has struggled in consistent play in the passing game which hurts as the Big 12 Conference is full of air raid offenses. Whether it be from injury or just bad play, the defensive back positions have become a priority to get corrected. Steven Parker, safety, returns as a leader in the secondary finishing last season as the fifth highest tackler and second in interceptions. However, the run game has been stout as they have built up quality depth on the D-line and linebacker positions. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Emmanuel Beal hold down the fort coming into 2017 as the leaders in tackles and forced fumbles from the returning players.
The Sooners kicking game is also coming off of a shaky year with Austin Seibert connecting on only 68.8 percent of his field goal last year. However, there are another two kickers on the roster to hopefully improve this aspect of the game for Oklahoma.
The Sooners open the season at home versus UTEP, which should be a cupcake game, on Sept. 2. However, the following game is a rematch against the Ohio State Buckeyes who beat OU, 45-24, last season. And who can forget the Bedlam game. This year the game will be played on Nov. 4 as to keep OU and heated rival Oklahoma State from playing in back to back games protecting the chance that they end up being the top two teams in the Big 12. If Riley can keep the Sooners on track this year, a 10-win season should come easily to the Sooners and maybe a berth to the College Football Playoffs as they can just never be counted out.