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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #5 Oklahoma

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 20, 2014

#5 Oklahoma Sooners

 

2013 Recap:

It seemed like a long road to 11-2 for the Sooners as usually they start out the season on fire and wilt before losing a bowl game. Last season was reversed as they suffered an embarrassing loss to Texas before succumbing to Baylor losing out on the Big 12 title. Oklahoma then rallied with road wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma State before stunning Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Coaching:

Bob Stoops remains one of the biggest names in college football and has an amazing 160-39 record, which equates to an 80% winning percentage and shows you his dominance. Stoops has resisted the urge to make the jump to the NFL and he has had more than one legitimate offer to make the transition.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

What a difference a year makes! Last year at the start of the season Bob Stoops surprised nearly every so called expert in America when he announced Blake Bell would not be the starting quarterback and that the Sooners were going with freshman Trevor Knight. Knight struggled out of the gate with consistency and Bell was inserted into the lineup more and more, and not just in short yardage situations where Oklahoma took advantage of his 265-pound body. Knight became a large part of the offense down the stretch playing a key role in wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State before he turned in the MVP performance against Alabama going 32-44 for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. Knight will not have to look over his shoulder as Bell has been moved to h-back and Knight can feel free to run and pass with more confidence. Knight is quite the runner and he could be a 1,000 yard runner if healthy all season. That may be very important to the offense with Keith Ford as the new starter at running back. Ford had 123 yards in limited action a season ago with the big concern being that he is not very adept in the receiving game which would help out the young quarterback. Freshman Joe Mixon was a huge recruit and the top overall for the Sooners in this last class, but unfortunately now he is suspended for the entire season, so his impact will be delayed.

Best Draft Prospect: Trevor Knight QB 3rd Round 2017.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Sterling Shepherd has proven to be a very productive and willing receiver that can play outside and in the slot. Shepherd had 51 catches for 603 yards with 7 touchdowns, and all of those numbers were good for second on the team behind the departed Jalen Saunders. Shepherd will also step up for Saunders in the punt return game as he becomes the new #1 target for Oklahoma. There are other good receivers on the roster but the big change in philosophy will be at the tight end h-back position with the insertion of Blake Bell. Expect some trickery and for him to still take some snaps under center but there should be a lot of formations with he and tight end Taylor McNamara on the field at the same time. Oklahoma could be a very fun passing team to watch and with the added threat of Knight running the football there are literally dozens of possibilities on every play. Durron Neal and K.J. Young should be the other starting wide receivers with additional contributions from Derrick Woods and freshman Dannon Cavil. Throw in the fact that Dorial Green-Beckham is coming aboard and next year looks terrific. Green-Beckham was the top wide receiver in his high school class and was fantastic as a sophomore for Missouri but was dismissed from the team after numerous disciplinary issues including being investigated and charged with a robbery. He has enrolled at Oklahoma after being dismissed from Missouri, and the Sooners are trying to make him immediately eligible, which does not look like it will happen. Green-Beckham can practice with the squad and if he somehow is eligible for this season it's a huge boost.

Best Draft Prospect: Sterling Shephard WR 4th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

Oklahoma is neck-and-neck with Kansas State for the honor of having the best offensive line on paper in the Big-12. The book-end tackles are both tremendous NFL prospects. Darryl Williams is a little more inconsistent but the upside is tremendous and he is a late 1st/early 2nd round prospect. Left tackle Tyrus Thompson is a solid 3rd rounder who could move up. Gabe Ikard is gone in the middle but with Ty Darlington, Dionte Savage, and Nila Kasitati manning the interior positions, the line is actually in better shape then a year ago when they only allowed 15 sacks as a unit. Adam Shead and Tony Feo off the bench both have previous starting experience so in the event of a serious injury the Sooners are not hurting. This is an amazing unit that sholuld be one of the five best overall in the country.

Best Draft Prospect: Daryl Williams OT 1st Round 2015.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Oklahoma employs a 3-4 set and they use it for most of their snaps. If there is any deviation it is where some players line up or player personnel changes, but the 3-4 is the set you see nearly every time for Oklahoma. If Oklahoma is not lined up in a 3-4 it will be when they use a 5th defensive back. Along the line Charles Tapper is the focal point for the front line and the best prospect the Sooners have to offer, currently carrying a a 3rd round grade for 2016. Tapper is a terrific pass rusher getting numerous mentions for preseason All Big-12 lists after having 9 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks and another 8 quarterback hurries. The linebackers may get a bit more attention and Tapper may be the beneficiary of making some moves inside or taking advantage of the increased awareness along the edge. The other players along the line saw saw some action but don't expect clear-cut starters as the Sooners will rotate the lines since they are deep. Jordan Wade will see a lot of time on the inside and he started eight games a season ago but he will split time with Jordan Phillips. Chuka Ndulue will see a lot of time at end as a run stuffing specialist while Geneo Grissom will probably see the field a bit more due to his pass rushing ability. The line is deep and you never know where the rush will be coming from.

Best Draft Prospect: Charles Tapper DE 3rd Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

The front line has amazing depth and is the deepest group in the Big-12 whereas the linebackers could have been the best all around collection of starters in the Conference. That was until Frank Shannon got suspended for a year. All three primary linebackers starting for Oklahoma are elite talents that should go within the first 4 rounds of their respective drafts, yet losing Frank Shannon and his team-leading 92 tackles on the inside changes everything. Still, Dominique Alexander is the elite talent among the linebackers currently carrying a 2nd round grade for 2017, although leaving early in 2016 is a huge consideration. Alexander was second on the team with 80 tackles as a freshman last season. Throw Eric Stiker in the mix, the pass rushing specialist, and you still have one of the best units in the conference. Striker posted 6.5 sacks and had 10.5 tackles for loss on the season. Look for Jordan Evans or P.L. Lindley to fill the gap for Shannon and get most of the action. The Sooners have a great blend of pass rushing ability, speed and coverage ability to go with just sheer tackling and instincts. The linebackers at Oklahoma came on last season and rushed the quarterback well, so this could again be one of the better units in the country.

Best Draft Prospect: Dominique Alexander LB 2nd Round 2017 (Candidate to leave early in 2016).

 

Secondary:

Zack Sanchez had a truly outstanding freshman season and was one of the best young players in the country. 46 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 15 pass breakups, as Sanchez took the torch from Aaron Colvin and is now the unquestioned leader of the secondary. Sanchez will team with fellow sophomore Dakota Austin to form the new starting tandem that should be together for at least two whole seasons, since Sanchez could definitely leave early if he has campaigns similar to his freshman season. Austin is a highly touted player who saw some action last season and the staff is confident he can step right in and be successful. Julian Wilson will play the role of nickel back or fifth defensive back when Oklahoma goes with an extra body in the secondary and he contributed 3 interceptions a season ago. Quentin Hayes and Hatari Byrd will play the safety positions. Hayes is a returning starter but there are some question marks with the play in the back part of the secondary. There aren't major red flags, just that the level of play is noticeably below the terrific young corners.

Best Draft Prospect: Zack Sanchez CB 1st Round 2017 (Could declare early for 2016).

 

Special Teams:

Michael Hunnicutt is one of the best placekickers at the NCAA level and he has an excellent chance at being drafted as perhaps the first kicker off the board. If not drafted Hunnicutt will certainly have a shot at an NFL roster, one where he has a viable chance at sticking and making the team. Jed Barnett is one of the best punters in the land when it comes to downing balls inside the 20 or directional punting and keeping the ball away from the opponent's return man. Sterling Shephard will be the punt returner while the electric running back Mixon looks like he will have a shot as the kick returner. This is a very solid special teams unit.

Best Draft Prospect: Sterling Shephard WR/PR 4th Round 2016.

 

Schedule:

October will be an interesting month as Oklahoma will want to make amends after being embarrassed by the Longhorns in the Red River rivalry game. The following week the Sooners have a home date with a much improved Kansas State team. Beyond November the Sooners have Baylor and Oklahoma State, but both are home games. This is a very favorable schedule and it could lead to Oklahoma being one of the final four teams playing for the National Championship.

 

Draft Outlook:

The Sooners have some great prospects but it looks like the classes for 2016 and 2017 will be richer than what we see this year. Darryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson will ensure Oklahoma has some linemen going and we are excited to see if Blake Bell makes an impact in his new role and if he will be drafted. There will be many prospects to choose from out of the Sooner stable.

 

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