SQ Top-25 Preview: #19 Oklahoma

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #19 Oklahoma.

Team: Oklahoma Sooners

SQ Ranking: 19

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Bob Stoops (17th Year)

Key Arrivals: DT Neville Gallimore, ILB Ricky DeBerry, CB PJ Mbanasor, RB Rodney Anderson, S Will Sunderland

Key Departures: TE Blake Bell, S Quentin Hayes, K Michael Hunnicutt, OT Tyrus Thompson, OG Daryl Williams

Previewing the Sooner Offense: With a returning starter in RB Samaje Perine — who set the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game last year with 427 against Kansas — and a QB conundrum between the incumbent starter Trevor Knight and Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will be a competitive team in the Big 12. 

Perine will need to be the workhorse as the QB details become more ironed out as the season progresses. Last season, Perine packed about 6.5 yards behind each carry en route to a 1,713 yard season. A dark horse in the running department is Alex Ross. The junior only touched the ball 88 times last year, but raked in 595 yards — a little better yard per carry average than Perine.

Perine's record breaking day against Kansas last year.

Knight, who's highlight as the Sooner's starting QB was the carving of the Alabama Crimson Tide two years ago in the Sugar Bowl, is 11-4 when he's been given the nod to start. However, in his last two outings as starting QB, the Sooners stumbled — first it was a heartbreaking OT loss to Oklahoma State, then it was a shellacking  by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

This doesn't bode well for Knight. Head coach Bob Stoops was 33-2 following a loss up until the Clemson catastrophe. Stoops isn't the type of coach who follows up a rough year with an equally rough year. Prior to last season, the last time Oklahoma didn't reach a BCS/New Year's Six Bowl game was in 2011 — a win against Stoop's alma mater, Iowa,  in the Insight Bowl. The Sooners followed that campaign with a trip to the Cotton Bowl in 2012. Look for the same kind of outcome this year for the young men from Norman, Okla. 

Two observations after first half of OU spring game: No discernible difference between 4 QBs; WR position gonna be better, maybe way better

— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) April 11, 2015

Observation made by Jake Trotter during the Oklahoma Spring Game indicated that the starting QB job could be a toss-up. 

Whoever is named the starting QB will have weapons to work with. Sterling Shepard is the main go-to receiver for the Sooners. Expect the senior to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark this season. However, the passing game will have to be quick as the offensive line will be inexperienced, having to fill the shoes left by Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson.

Previewing the Sooner Defense: As the saying goes: defense wins championships. A Bob Stoops defense stifles you on the passing and rushing game; this year is no different. Even with the loss of Jordan Phillips on the line, someone will fill the void. Senior defensive tackle Charles Tapper will have to step up and be a leader, but the support of Charles Walker (So.) and DJ Ward (So.) will help grow the defensive into a beast within the next couple seasons. 

If Tapper can cause some disruptions at the line, the Sooners can stifle runs (and force turnovers).

A gradual uptick in defensive production may be the goal for Oklahoma; however, Stoop's history indicates great things. In 16 years, Stoops has managed to get the Sooners to 11 BCS or Cotton Bowl games, including four National Championship appearances. If there is any spot on the defense that puts the Sooner Schooner on the path to the CFP, it's gonna have to come from dynamic playmaking at the corner and safety positions. 

Interceptions and broken up passes will need to be on the top of OU's list of things to do, especially against TCU and Baylor. Zack Sanchez might be the most experienced (he's a junior) at the corner position. Entering the Russell Athletic Bowl last season, Sanchez was within the top-10 of the FBS for interceptions.

Three Key Games

1. Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 14) — November is going to be the make-or-break phase of the season. IF the Sooners can get out of Waco, Texas with a win, they have all the momentum in the world for the showdown against TCU the following week. An Oklahoma loss against Baylor could put them in a position to lose three straight games, something unheard of in the Stoops Era.

2. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 28) — Rivalries are always tricky. Spreads don't matter; pride does. OU wants to avenge the loss from a season ago, but they will have to do it in Stillwater, Okla. The Bedlam Battle caps off a monstrous month for the Sooners. The Red River Showdown with Texas will always be a tough game, but that's a given. If OU comes in hot — possibly undefeated — against Oklahoma State, this becomes the game that derails its chances at a playoff birth. Since the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game anymore, this will be the last impression before pollsters and the selection committee make their cases. A blowout win over Oklahoma State will be needed if Oklahoma finds itself in playoff contention, which is why this game becomes very important.

3. Oklahoma vs. TCU (Nov. 21) - Last season, TCU defeated a then-No.4 Sooner squad. That loss broke the Sooners, as they would end up losing two of the next four. This year, OU is looking for revenge, but this time at home. Having Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in a sea of crimson will help in a victory. Stoops is 90-8 at home, compared to 52-20 away from Norman, Okla. If Perine can get the motors running, a breakout game will be in the works, and a potential Sooner victory becomes even more obtainable. 

The sour taste of defeat handed down by TCU can be quenched with a win in Norman, Okla. this November.

Final Analysis: Oklahoma is back. Don't expect another trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl; think more New Year's Six. Perine on the running attack will get him into award consideration come December. 

The QB situation will be a question mark entering the season, but it should be cleared by the bye week on Sept. 26. There are some minor road bumps in the beginning half of the season, but the Sooners can get to November unbeaten. However, November will define the Sooners as Big 12 contenders or Big 12 pretenders. This isn't Stoops' first rodeo, and  I don't expect a huge collapse in November. Worse case, the Sooners will lose one regular season game (Baylor). They are my Big 12 favorite. 

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