Realistic Expectations for Oklahoma and Trevor Knight in 2014

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Realistic Expectations for Oklahoma and Trevor Knight in 2014
Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

Soon enough, the media circus will slow down, and actual football will begin for Oklahoma. Perhaps no Top 10 program has had more uncertainty since July. 

Here's the list of what's going on: Running back Joe Mixon, generally regarded as an impact freshman, has been suspended for the season after being charged with misdemeanor assault. Linebacker Frank Shannon may not play either because of a Title IX investigation into a sexual assault allegation (Oklahoma is trying to suspend him for a year). Ex-Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is awaiting the results for a waiver that would allow him to play right away, as is backup quarterback Baker Mayfield

Even quarterback-turned-tight end Blake Bell is getting snaps at his old position. Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World relayed the scene from Thursday's practice on Twitter: 

Despite all that's happening in Norman, Oklahoma remains the favorite to win the Big 12, and quarterback Trevor Knight is easily the most intriguing player in the conference—besides Green-Beckham, that is. 

So, what can we realistically expect from Knight and the Sooners?

To put numbers to it, it's beyond reasonable that Knight could throw for 2,000 yards and rush for another 750. In eight games last season—not to be confused with eight full games—Knight ran for 445 yards. As a developing passer, he threw for 819 yards. 

Knight would have to account for 230 yards by himself to make that happen. He's more than capable of doing that. But he would also have to stay healthy, which remains his biggest concern and why his realistic number projections are on the conservative side. 

Even though running Knight will remain part of the offense, expect co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to try to keep his quarterback upright. Oklahoma's skill players beyond receiver Sterling Shepard are largely inexperienced, so the fewer direct hits Knight can take, the better.

Yes, there will be times Knight has to make a play on his own to keep a drive, a game and maybe a season alive. But the more the rock can be distributed early, the better off this team will be later. 

Beyond the stat sheet, Knight has to show he's improved in his accuracy and decision-making in the passing game. The Sugar Bowl (348 passing yards and four touchdowns) provided a glimpse that he's capable of doing that, but can he keep it up? His performance in the spring game (5-of-14 with an interception) wasn't his best. 

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More than anything, though, Knight has to become the leader of the offense. That, per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman, "has helped him keep an even keel through the struggles of last regular season and in the aftermath of his Sugar Bowl coming-out party."

It's probably unfair to say Oklahoma will go as Knight goes, but the redshirt sophomore is an important piece of the team's playoff hopes. Stopping a legitimate dual-threat quarterback puts an added stress on defenses. If Knight takes that next step as a passer, he would become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12. 

"We've known Trevor was going to be a great quarterback," Sooners offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson told Jake Trotter of ESPN.com. "It was just a matter of him showing everybody else that."

The good news is that Oklahoma isn't all Knight. The Sooners have as good a front seven as anyone in its conference, even without Shannon. Considering that three of the Sooners' five toughest games on paper—Texas in the Cotton Bowl, Kansas State, Baylor, at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State—are at home, the schedule is favorable as well. 

Barring injuries, anything less than 10 wins would be a disappointment. In Oklahoma's eyes, though, it's playoff or bust. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

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