The defending Big 12 champions the Oklahoma Sooners.
NOTE: all tackling statistics are solo tackles unless noted.
Despite personnel losses, the Sooners return a plethora of talent. It starts with running back Rodney Anderson. Not starting until game eight, Anderson led in rushing with 1,161 yards and 12 touchdowns including 201 against Georgia in the College Football Playoff en route to earning second-team All-Big 12. With another healthy season don’t be surprised if he raked in first team honors this year. Sophmore Trey Sermon made an immediate impact as a true freshman last season finishing with 744 yards and five touchdowns. He and Anderson form a nice one-two punch.
The Sooners have two solid options to replace Heisman Trophy winner and No.1 overall pick Baker Mayfield at quarterback. The presumed frontrunner is two-sport Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray who was selected ninth overall by the Oakland A’s. He impressed in spot duty last season throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns adding 142 yards on the ground. If he wins the job look for Head Coach Lincoln Riley to use more read-option and designed quarterback runs. After redshirting last season sophomore Austin Kendall had a solid spring pushing Murray. Serving as Mayfield’s back up as a true freshman the North Carolina native threw for 143 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. He is bigger and less mobile the Murray and while he’s no Mayfield the offense would stay relatively the similar.
Out wide junior college transfer Marquise “Hollywood” Brown made an immediate impact with 57 receptions for 1,095 yards and seven touchdowns. He will team with sophomore CeeDee Lamb who like Brown made his presence felt from day one. He finished with a program freshman record 807 yards on 46 receptions and seven touchdowns. Dependable junior Mykel Jones has had a quiet by solid career and is a reliable option. Look for talented freshman Charleston Rambo (redshirt) and Jaqualyn Crawford (true) to make an impact along with senior Nick Basquine who missed last season with an injury. Tight end Grant Calcaterra will help ease the loss of third-round draft pick Mark Andrews. As a freshman, he posted 10 receptions for 162 yards and three touchdowns.
Up front, the offensive line will once again be a strength even without All-American left tackle Orlando Brown. Budding junior Bobby Evans, an NFL prospect in his own right, slides over from right tackle to replace Brown while junior Cody Ford, a one-time starter, is likely to start at right tackle. Guards Ben Powers and Dru Samia are two of the best in the conference. Highly touted redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey is the likely successor to Erick Wren at center. However, he must beat out senior Jonathan Alverez who provides depth and experience.
Defensively the Sooners weren’t as bad as it looked finishing 67th in total defense and 68th in scoring. That being said there is still room for improvement especially in the secondary. The Sooners finished 87th in pass defense and with only four upperclassmen out of 13 defensive backs, there is cause for concern. Junior Parnell Motley is likely to start at one cornerback spot. Look for highly touted freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles, who received high praise from Defensive Backs Coach Kerry Cooks, or sophomore Jordan Parker who missed most of last season with a knee injury to start at the other spot. Sophomore Robert Barnes is likely to start at one safety spot while senior Khalil Haughton battles redshirt freshman Patrick Fields and junior Chanse Sylvie for the other spot.
Along the line, the Sooners must find a consistent pass rush to help the secondary. The loss of sack leader Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and the early departure of tackle DeVante Lumpkin hurt. Okoronkwo led in tackles for loss with 17.5 and eight sacks playing a hybrid end/linebacker position made famous by former Sooner Eric Striker. However, there is still talent at hand. At end look for early enrollee Jalen Redmond to start or at least see a lot of snaps. Juniors Kenneth Mann, the returning leader in sacks with five, and Mark Jackson Jr., 4.5 tackles and one sack, battle freshman Ronnie Perkins for the other end spot. If Mann doesn’t start, expect him to see plenty of snaps as a pass rush specialist.
Inside a lot depends on the health of often injured senior Marquise “Q” Overton. Overton is a big presence in both the run and pass game posting 31.5 tackles with three for loss. He is likely to be part of a four-man rotation with converted end Amani Bledsoe, Neville Gallimore and Dillion Faamatau.
Despite the loss of Okoronkwo and leading tackler Emmanuel Beal (95), the linebacking core is still in good shape with Freshman All-American Kenneth Murray and Caleb Kelly returning. Murray was the first true freshman to start at inside linebacker since 1975 and finished with 78 total tackles. Kelly chipped in 46 tackles including 3.5 for loss and one sack. Sophomore Jon-Michael Terry, five tackles, or redshirt freshman Levi Draper are the two frontrunners to start at the other spot.
Senior kicker Austin Seibert, who ranks third in career scoring and fifth in made field goals, is looking to build off a junior season that saw him earn second-team All-Big 12 hitting 17-21 field goals. He earned honorable mention as a punter and looks to improve his 41.8-yard average, fifth all-time in program history, and downed 12 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The schedule is moderately challenging early on which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask. For the second straight year, the Sooners open up against a C-USA foe, this time conference champion Florida Atlantic led by Head Coach Lane Kiffin and running back Devin “Motor” Singletary who ran for 1,920 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins make a trip to Norman before the Sooner travel to Ames to face a promising Iowa State team. Look out for the November 3 road trip to Texas Tech a week before Bedlam as a possible trap game. A road trip to West Virginia to close out the season won’t be easy but if the Sooners can find success at quarterback and the defense comes together with another Big 12 championship and CFP playoff appearance is in sight.