Coming off an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in the final game of the 2013 season, many expected the OKlahoma Sooners to compete for a Big 12 title and a spot in the inagural college football playoffs. Alas, Trevor Knight and the Sooners were unable to live up to the preseason hype (shocking I know), and finished with a middling 8-5 record. This led to unprecedented changes as Bob Stoops fired both offensive coordinators, Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Then he promoted Jerry Montgomery to co-defensive coordinator to share duties with his brother Mike Stoops, only there was one problem. Jerry Montgomery left for a job with the Green Bay Packers just over a month after receiving his promotion. Not a good look for Stoops, who staff turnover this off-season is eerily similar to another long time coach at a traditional football powerhouse. Here's looking at you Mack Brown.
The other similarity between the end of Mack Brown's era at Texas, and Bob Stoops current Sooner team is the inabilty to find a productive quarterback to guide the program. The quarterback situtation is a stark contarst from the one we saw last week when I examined OKlahoma State.
The Land of Lincoln
After watching his team get destroyed by up-tempo high powered offensive attacks (Kansas State being the exception that proves the rule), Bob Stoops decided it was time to join the ranks of the Run-and-Gun offense. Which led him to Lincoln Riley. Riley is a disciple of the MIke Leech style of offense, which when you examine the QB situation at OU leads you to believe the odds on favorite to be the starting QB come fall of 2015 will be Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is a transfer from Texas Tech, where he started under Kliff Kingsbury as a walk-on true freshman. Now at OU, the coaching staff hopes Mayfield has the vision/arm strength necessary to run Riley's run and gun offense.
Besides quarterback play, the biggest question mark for OU's new offense is how they will utilize their impressive stable of running backs. Freshman sensation (now a sophomore) Samaje Perine is back, as is junior Alex Ross. They are joined by freshly re-instated Joe Mixon (who, if you listen to the local sports media down here believes will solve world hunger and deliver world peace). There's no doubting, however, that this trio of running backs will spell problems for many teams, IF Lincoln Riley can find a way to utilize them to their potential.
The Brothers Stoops
As much complaining as fans and media did last year about Josh Heupel's inability to put Trevor Knight in a position to succeed, even more troubling was the horrendous defensive play calling from Mike Stoops. We, as Kansas State fans, are used to a bend but don't break defense. Oklahoma? Not so much. Especially when their defense did all kinds of breaking. Which is exactly what happened in a 40-6, behind the woodshed beat down by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.
Here's the dirty little secret about Oklahoma's defense. They don't suck. In fact they are pretty good. Better than average according to S/P+ which had them ranked 26th to end the season last year, 13 spots better than our own Kansas State. So, why does it look like they were average to terrible last year, and can they improve this year? Well as Bill C, points out in his preview of Oklahoma, a lot of luck went against the Sooners, and two really horrific defense game tends to set the talking points about this unit. If you take out the Clemson, and Baylor games from a year ago this team lost it's other three games by a combined total of eight points.
So what's the high water mark for brother Stoop's defense? Well, they return starters Charles Tapper, Dominique Alexander, Eric Striker, and Zach Sanchez just to name a few, and I fully expect the Sooners to be rejuvinated following the defense coaching shuffle in the off-season. Look for Mike Stoops' renewed focus on the linebacking corp to pay dividends, as I expect this Oklahoma team to surprise on defense.
Okay enough babeling about the Sooners. We all know this is what you are here for anyway, so here goes. The conference start for the Wildcat couldn't be much more difficult than the way the 2015 season starts. At Oklahoma State, home against Oklahoma, followed by at Baylor, and then finally at home against Texas. That's a guantlet if I've ever seen one. Unfortunatly, I have to be debbie downer again and pick the Sooners. I know that Cats have won two of four against them, but those two wins have come on the road, and for whatever reason we just don't play well against Oklahoma at home. I expect a tight game heading into the third quarter before Oklahoma pulls away late. Final score: Oklahoma 42-Kansas State 28.