Oklahoma Football: 5 Biggest Questions Heading Into 2015
To say the University of Oklahoma had a rough season in 2014, would be an understatement. In fact, OU was looking at rough in the rear-view mirror. The Sooners had a season that left them with lots of questions and a “back to the drawing board” mentality. While OU was heavily ranked and favored at the start of last season, issues began to take hold leaving OU football in the middle of the Big XII and the firing of offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. OU had bad losses against TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, and Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Fans questioned turning Blake Bell from a quarterback to a tight end, Heupel’s play calling, the lackluster secondary, and if head coach Bob Stoops was on his way to Florida or Michigan for another head coaching job.
Not all was bad in Norman Oklahoma last season; the emergence of Samaje Perine was a huge bright spot. Perine rushed for 1700 yards and recording 21 touchdowns, with Joe Mixon excused from football activities, Perine commanded the Oklahoma running game. Sterling Shepard also made noise at the wide receiver position with 975 yards and 5 touchdowns. Perine, Shepard, and now Mixon are going to make the Oklahoma offense a three-headed monster capable of bring that “Sooner Magic” back to the BIG XII. But before that can happen, Bob Stoops had to address the offensive coordinator position by firing Heupel and bringing in Lincoln Riley, a former quarterback at Texas Tech.
Lincoln Riley has brought excitement into the locker-room, radio, and newspaper columns in Norman. The spring football game left fans and writers with a good feeling, notably with tight end Mark Andrews. Andrews is a four-star recruit from Scottsdale, Arizona, and very much looks the part of being the real deal. At 6-6/247 he has the body type for a tight end who can be successful on the major collegiate level. This along with Mixon, Perine, and Shepard could be the start of a team on a championship run.
However, TCU, OSU, K-State, and Baylor might all have pieces in play to make the Big XII crowded with multiple top ten rankings and more than one out right Big XII champion. With that being said, here are five questions looming over Norman Oklahoma for the Sooners.
Can Oklahoma’s offense incorporate Mark Andrews at the tight end position?
Oklahoma’s offense used to thrive with tight ends on field. Now, the tight end position is a bit under used and a glorified blocker position. Moving Blake Bell from the quarterback to the tight end position last year proved useful in small doses. You would have to go back to 2011 when James Hanna was contributing and 2008 when Jermaine Gresham was picking apart Big XII defenses to see results that were attention grabbers. Since then, the tight end void has been noticeable. The tight end position is crucial in football, and with all the hype surrounding Andrews; OU may just revive that position.
How lethal will Perine and Mixon be at the running back position?
Perine and Mixon could be an absolutely lethal combo in the Big XII. There’s plenty of hype about Mixon to go along with Perine. Linebacker Eric Striker told Newsok.com “Joe is hungry. Joe wants it, He’s going to give it his all”. Bob Stoops has been known to use multiple backs in the past; and, under Riley’s system Mixon’s speed is going to cause a lot of teams problems. The Sooners aren't lacking in offensive skill players. The running back group should be the deepest, most talented unit of its kind in the Big XII. By all accounts, the receiving unit should be much improved from a year ago. With that in mind, Oklahoma would theoretically need little more than a game manager to make things work.
Who will be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma?
As of right now, we can assume that Trevor Knight would be the clear-cut starter for the Sooners this season. However, he’ll be competing against Baker Mayfield who transferred from Texas Tech. Mayfield was named the Big XII Offensive freshman of the year in 2013. In the spring game Mayfield completed 10 of 13 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Mayfield has plenty of buzz going into the spring training, including high praise from Riley. The other quarterbacks fighting for a starting job are Cody Thomas who started the final three game of the regular season last year due to Knight being injured, and Justice Hansen who saw no playing time last year. It sounds as if the job is a toss up between Knight and Mayfield.
Will Oklahoma’s secondary improve this season?
Oklahoma’s defense last season was subpar. After ranking among the nation's leaders in rush defense, new coach Diron Reynolds expects OU's defensive line to be the best yet again. The secondary needs the most work, allowing opponents to score an average of 24 points a game. Notably, OU had a stretch of four games where the opposition scored almost 30 points a game. The defensive line has to be better for Oklahoma to have success in the 2015 season. With experienced guys like Eric Striker, Jordan Evans and Dom Alexander all returning, OU's linebackers are looking to get the defense back to dominant form.
Is head coach Bob Stoops on the hot seat?
The rumors of Stoops leaving OU last season came fast and plentiful. He’s going to Florida to coach the Gators. However, Stoops has pretty much handled every rumor the same way: Refusing to publicly confirm or deny interest and/or contact with each possible suitor. Stoops currently has a bowl game record of 8-8, most recently beat Alabama in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. The fact of the matter is Stoops has OU competing at a high level year in and year out, and with all the changes he’s made to the coaching staff and bringing in five-star recruits, its safe to say that Stoops is not on the hot seat.