Oklahoma's backfield will look entirely new next season.
The Sooners' top three running backs from 2013—Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch—were all seniors, as was fullback Trey Millard. Only two other running backs touched the ball all season: freshmen Keith Ford and Alex Ross. Even then, it was only a combined 26 times for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Oklahoma's running backs will have to grow up quickly with expectations as high as they are coming off a 45-31 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. With quarterback Trevor Knight returning along with basically the entire defensive front seven, the pieces are in place for a big season.
What the Sooners may lack in experience in the backfield, they'll make up for in talent. Among the players verbally committed to Oklahoma for next month's National Signing Day is 5-star running back Joe Mixon.
Physically speaking, Mixon has the size (his 247Sports profile lists him as 6'2" and 195 pounds) and speed of an elite back. He also has the production. As a senior at Freedom High School in Oakley, CA, he rushed for 1,443 yards on 201 carries for 20 touchdowns. He also had 383 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
He can do it all.
Should the Sooners' '14 class stay as-is, Mixon will be joined by 4-star running back Samaje Perine and 3-star athlete Dimitri Flowers, who may switch positions at the college level.
Heading into preseason camp, it's likely the Sooners will be looking at Ford, Ross, Mixon, Perine and redshirt freshman David Smith in the running back competition.
What are the odds Mixon starts for the Sooners right away? Given his talent level and the ability to compete immediately, he has to be the early favorite of the group.
|Odds on Oklahoma's starting RB in 2014|
|Odds help courtesy of B/R Lead Writer Adam Kramer|
Of course, it's possible Oklahoma goes with a running back rotation too. In that regard, Mixon and Ford should be early favorites to split time, hence the closer odds over the other candidates.
Ford looked like he had a lot of potential in limited carries and Perine is highly touted as well. There's a lot of talent Mixon will have to compete with over the summer. While it's possible Mixon immediately surges ahead in the depth chart, this could just as easily be a situation where playing time is spread around.
If Mixon is good enough, he'll earn the starting job sooner or later. Remember, Knight was chosen by head coach Bob Stoops to be the starting quarterback over Blake Bell before the '13 season started—much to everyone's surprise. That decision was validated in Knight's four-touchdown performance in the Sugar Bowl.
Stoops and his coaching staff know how to evaluate talent. Whether he's a 5-star or a walk-on, if Mixon gives the Sooners the best chance to win, he'll play.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.