Expectations around Norman, Oklahoma, are as high as they’ve ever been as the Sooners prepare for the 2014 college football season.
The boys in crimson and cream capped off a stellar 11-2 campaign last season by topping the sport's perennial giant, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the Sugar Bowl, 45-31. Now, the talk around town is that this could be the year when the Sooners bring home national title No. 8.
Before we jump to any far-reaching conclusions, let’s put this 2014 Oklahoma squad under the microscope.
Backed by nine returning starters—including the entire front seven—the Sooners boast a defense you don’t want to mess with.
Following an up-and-down showing in 2012, the unit really turned things around last season:
|Scoring (PPG)||Tot. Defense (YPG)||3rd Down (%)||Sacks||TO Gained|
|Big 12 Rank||2||1||2||2||6|
As scary a thought as it may be to future opponents, this defense only appears poised to get better.
Among the key returners, Oklahoma welcomes back Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, Frank Shannon and Geneo Grissom. The quartet helped the defense record 16 of the team’s season total of 33 sacks over the final four games—including a whopping seven against Alabama.
Sure, the team will miss the veteran experience and leadership of Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin in the secondary. However, Quentin Hayes and Zack Sanchez have shown potential to fill those shoes.
Throw in a variety of new recruits from a 2014 class that ranked No. 10 in 247Sports.com’s football recruiting team rankings, and opposing offenses will be shaking in their cleats.
Weakness: Tight End
Jermaine Gresham dominated the nation from the tight end spot in 2008, hauling in 66 catches for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Sooners.
Consider this: Over the last two seasons, Oklahoma has only had three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown from the tight end position—that includes nothing at all from a year ago.
This season, the Sooners will hope quarterback-turned-tight end Blake Bell can offer up some production at the position. At 6’6” and 252 pounds, the senior certainly has the size to contribute.
With the ball in his hand, Bell is a dangerous threat—he has pounded his way for 24 rushing touchdowns over his career. However, it will come down to how well the Wichita, Kansas, native can block.
Secret Weapon: Rushing Attack
Oklahoma is known for producing top-notch running backs year in and year out. Just look at Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray, who are both making names for themselves on the gridiron in the NFL.
For 2014, the Sooners will have to turn to a fresh face to lead the pack. The team loses each of its top three running backs from a year ago. Keith Ford, who played sparingly, is the top returning rusher (23 CAR, 134 YDS, 1 TD in 2013).
Still, Ford—a 5-star recruit of Oklahoma’s class of 2013—has tremendous potential.
With that said, one of the most exciting prospects to watch next season has to be 2014 5-star running back Joe Mixon:
The Oakley, California, native has wowed scouts with his versatility. He has the quick feet and speed to explode past defenders while having soft hands and great vision to contribute heavily in the passing attack.
Ford may start out as the No. 1 back, but there’s a good chance Mixon might have something to say about that by season’s end.
Alex Ross is another name to keep an eye out for. According to CBSSports.com’s Chip Patterson, this could be the soon-to-be sophomore’s chance to shine.
With little game film available on each of these guys, look for opposing defenses to have trouble slowing them down.
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