June 7th, Bob Stoops shocked the College Football world with his sudden resignation. Stoops had been a stalwart in this game. He took the Oklahoma job in 1999 and returned the program to the top of the College Football mountain. 10 Big 12 Titles and 1 National Title followed. He is one of the most respected coaches of my lifetime. Fortunately for Sooner fans, he did not leave the cupboard bare. The 2017 Oklahoma Sooners have the ability one of the best teams in the country. They have a QB who has been a Heisman finalist, twice. They return 6 of their top 8 tacklers from last year’s defense, not to mention a bevy of athletes at every conceivable spot. The present of Oklahoma Football is extremely bright. Prognosticators and experts alike are projecting this team to do big things. Very big things. National Title aspirations exist in the wake of Stoops departure. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. There are a few reasons to believe this team will underachieve in 2017. Questions with the coaching staff, their competition and the schedule loom over this program. Maybe OU goes out and mows down the competition, shutting this blogger up. That may happen. I’ll eat that crow sandwich when the time comes. Regardless, there is a case to be made against the 2017 Oklahoma Sooners.
The rise of Lincoln Riley is extraordinary. He has rocketed to the summit of college football faster than any other coach in my lifetime. Consider, the man is 33 years old. He’s just a pup. But don’t let his age fool you. He has plenty of experience. Still, the jump from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach, particularly at a place like OU, is a massive one. For all the success that Riley has had both at East Carolina and the last 2 years at OU, none of it necessarily translates to his present position. The road is littered with hot shot coordinators that couldn’t handle the top seat. I think it is also unreasonable to think that the transition from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley will be 100% seamless. Sure, it looks great in June and July. Riley is undefeated. But suppose the Sooners get blasted by Ohio State, or fall to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Will there be dissension both within the coaching staff or in the locker room? Its highly possible, likely even. Bob Stoops had so many skins on the wall that he was above reproach. Lincoln Riley does not have that kind of credibility at this point. For all the inherit advantages Riley will enjoy, those shoes are mighty big. Heavy is the crown in Norman. Expectations are sky high. In Riley OU has a coach with tremendous upside, great potential. You know what they say about potential. At this point he has no experience as a head coach. Additionally, we have no idea how Riley’s role as a head coach will affect his previous role as OC. He has stated that he will continue to call plays. That is fine, but there is no way that he can have the kind of focus on the offense that he has in the past. Those are major questions this team will need to address. How Riley juggles his new role as well as his old one may end up determining whether this team can meet expectations. It’s a tall order.
The Big 12 is better in 2017 than it was in 2016. There are no less than 4 teams with an eye on the top spot presently occupied by OU. The target on their back is nothing new to the Sooners. They have run this league since the turn of the century. But this particular year the league is deep. Oklahoma State returns 7 offensive starters and are loaded at the skill position. Mason Rudolph ranked 10th in QB rating with a 63% completion percentage, 28 TDs and just 4 Ints last fall. Those are outrageous numbers. He is poised for a monster season. A look at the Cowboys receiving core is enough to make your grandmother blush. The fireworks the boys from Stillwater possess are certainly nothing to gloss over. 250 miles north Bill Snyder has something brewing. The Cats won 9 games last year and broke in a number of key contributors for this year’s squad. Snyder started more underclassmen than ever before in 2016. K-State brings back 14 starters. The last time they brought back that many they went on to win the Big 12. I like the look of another purple clad team, this one in Fort Worth. TCU brings back 5 of 6 top tacklers and 10 offensive starters. Thats right, 10!! If Kenny Hill can take care of the ball, the Frogs are to be reckoned with. The wild card in this league lives in Austin. Tom Herman, like Lincoln Riley, is a real x-factor for this league. Can he come in and restore this program? If so, how quickly? Since their last conference title in 2009, this team has been average at best, but more often than not, embarrassing. Shane Buechele looks like a prototypical QB. It’s natural to expect some improvement from year 1 to year 2. The defense is not short on bodies, but was absolutely putrid the last couple seasons. If Herman can work some magic, this team could contend or at least be a thorn in the side. All of this adds up to an improved league. One that will be much more difficult to run through. It represents quite a gauntlet when you put it all together.
First off, I want to say kudos to the Sooners for scheduling a top non-conference opponent. September 9th we will all be treated to OU travelling to the Horseshoe to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a fan of the sport, I begin to salivate. Last year, OSU came into Norman and blew the doors off the Sooners. It’s reasonable to believe that Ohio State wins in their own building. That is not a stretch. Additionally, OU has to go to K-State and Oklahoma State. Those teams went a combined 11-2 at home in 2016, probably more like 12-1 (Central Michigan shitshow) with K-State’s lone loss being to none other than Okie State. The point is that those teams are formidable at home and OU goes to both of them. The Sooners do have a history of winning in both places, but are those trends rendered meaningless with the absence of Stoops? There is also the annual meeting with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. In the last 12 meetings OU and UT have split the series. Take from that stat what you will. I’m not sure if it means anything, other than this game is no gimme. Those 3 games games occur within a 4 week span. Yikes!! Combine that stretch with the early season showdown and OU is sure to have their mettle tested. Sure, Oklahoma has the horses to win each of those games. But I think its completely reasonable that Oklahoma goes 2-2 in those 4 games. There are other opportunities for them to stub their toe at home against TCU and West Virginia. All things considered, I could see a 9-3 record for this team. Perhaps they would still be in play for spot in the contrived Big 12 title game, thus keeping their Big 12 Title hopes alive. Perhaps a 2 loss OU team makes the playoffs. That could happen. A 3 loss team, however, has absolutely no chance whatsoever. That early season showdown with Ohio State may give them a pass, but it also gives them no margin for error in the event of a defeat.
This will be an outstanding team, one certainly worthy of your attention. Personally, I’m incredibly interested in how this season shakes out. With a new head man, an ever improving conference, and a schedule that cuts them zero breaks, it’s going to be extremely difficult for this team to meet the lofty expectations set for them. Even a conference title is very much up in the air. Once again, if this happens I will eat my words on a silver platter. I’ll bring the hot sauce. But any kind of objective person has to look at the road blocks I’ve laid out and doubt that it can be done. Then again College Football is no place for the objective.
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