The Case Against The Oklahoma Sooners

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.

Lincoln Riley

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 Field

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.

The Schedule/Margin

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.

Follow on Twitter: @jakeanderson884

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A Look Around the CFB Landscape 9/10

The biggest crotch kick, at least for me, was the OKState/Central Michigan game. CMU did a great job of hanging in there. But at the end OSU was running the clock out. On the final, or so we thought, play, Mason Rudolph hucked the ball downfield as time expired. My dumb ass, figured his money was safe and turned the channel. Later I was watching another game and saw the final was CMU 30 OSU 27. I thought it was a damn misprint!!  Turns out Rudolph’s pass was called intentional grounding. The Chippewas proceed to throw a hail mary lateral that wins the game. But wait, that’s not all. It turns out that play should have never been run. The MAC officiating crew screwed it up and the Big 12 replay crew (shockingly)also screwed it up. So everyone freely admits OSU should have won the game, but didn’t and the results wont change. What a bunch of shit.

 

The TCU/Arkansas game was classic. This old time SW conference matchup was worth every drunken minute of my time. For the bulk of the game the pigs were in command. Then TCU got ole MO on their side and couldn’t be stopped. The game went to double OT with Arkansas ultimately prevailing. This thriller will go down as one of the best games of the year. It was truly fantastic and was a reminder of what makes college football so great. I’ve got no dog in the hunt. Although I live in Fort Worth I would not call myself a Frog backer. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve got nothing against them, it’s just not my team. Additionally I’ve always identified somewhat with the Arkansas style of ball. It was an interesting matchup and a thrilling game. If you missed it, well, its your loss.

 

Florida has now beaten Kentucky 30 straight times. Think about that. I dont care how good one program is or how bad another is. To defeat a team you play annually 30 times is extremely remarkable. The last time Kentucky beat Florida Ronald Reagan was in the white house, Money for nothing by Dire Straits was the top song, Back to the future was the top movie, and gas was 1.17 per gallon which for them was astronomical. This blogger was a year old. That was a long freaking time ago.

 

Tennessee and Virginia Tech met at Bristol Motor Speedway in what I will describe as a farce. The only reason they met here is to set the attendance record. Its obscene. That place may have 150K good seats for a race, but I’m here to tell you there are tens of thousands of terrible seats that were sold for this game. Look at the venue. There is no way someone sitting in the endzone has any kind of view. Lets call this what it is, a money grab. I shouldn’t be surprised by this and yet my feeling of disgust is strong. I just don’t get why folks would pay good money for terrible seats. Someone help me here.

 

To see Lamar Jackson Friday night against the Orange was to awe in him. He was fantastic, and that’s putting it lightly. However, let me put a wet blankey on that performance. I think Syracuse has a miserable defense. I need to see Jackson perform admirably against a defense with a pulse. Not some soft, limp, defense like Syracuse. If he can create similar heroics against a decent team I will sing his praises from the mountain tops.

 

Toward the end of a 28 point home victory Nick Saban was seen going berserk. He was all over Lane Kiffin. Asked after the game about the argument, Saban replied “There was no argument, that’s called an ass chewing.” I know a lot of people don’t care for Saban, but this quote is classic. Ha!!

Can anybody play some damn defense in the Arizona State/Texas Tech game?  Goodness gracious.

A Cut Above

The Pick

If anything was learned in the 2015 college football season, its that you don’t count out Bob Stoops. In 2014, Oklahoma was a preseason top five team with national championship aspirations. That plane crashed into the mountain with an 8-5 season, including a 40-6 curb stomping in the Russel Athletic bowl at the hands of the Clemson Tigers. Considering that catastrophe, it’s little wonder that expectations were so low for last years outfit. Bob Stoops had something up his sleeve. He completely revamped his program. Out was OC Josh Heupel, in came rising star Lincoln Riley. Riley delivered in a serious way. He awakened the stagnant Oklahoma offense. Last fall, Riley’s offense averaged a staggering 530 yards and 43 points per game. That jumped OU from 24th to 7th nationally in total offense. The Oklahoma defense followed suit and the Sooners were in for a special season. OU won the Big 12 outright, secured a spot in the College Football Playoff and restored their place at the top of this league. Coming into this season, the Sooners are a top five outfit and my clear pick to win this league and once again vie for a playoff spot.

This Sooners squad is a fantastically well balanced group, with star power aplenty. First off is the point man, Baker Mayfield. The Texas Tech transfer had an enormous coming out party in 2015. He threw for 3700 yards, completing 68% of his passes for an average of 9.3 yards per attempt. His yards per attempt is tied for 3rd nationally and his completion percentage is tied for 4th. Those figures are insane. This dude is a gamer and the emotional leader of this team. If he can replicate that kind of success this fall, this OU squad is in for very big things. The offensive embarrassment of riches does not stop there. The Sooners have the best 1-2 punch at RB in the country. Samaje Perine ran for 1350 yards and 16 Tds while Hoe Mixon had over 1100 yards from scrimmage. These two are terrific, and together they are Must See TV. OU will need DeDe Westbrook, Geno Lewis and the rest of the receiving core to pick up the slack in the wake of Sterling Shepard’s departure. This is an important, yet manageable task considering the offensive weaponry on hand in Norman. The Sooner defense should be terrific as well. They return six defensive starters including three of their top five tacklers from a year ago.  The potential Achilles’ heel for the 2016 Sooner train is the pass rush. Gone are Eric Stiker and his 7.5 sacks, and Charles Tapper with his 7 sacks. That is a lot of production to replace and its extra-important considering the pass-happy league they play in. Like any team, unproven players, like Caleb Kelly and Tay Evans, will have to pick up the slack. This is a minor concern. Overall there is talent aplenty for the pass rush to be more than adequate and to make this defense amongst the best in the Big 12.

Looking at this squad, and studying the rest of the league, there is no reason why they can’t win the Big 12 going away. There is too much offensive firepower and what appears to be a seasoned group all the way around. They are head and shoulders the best team in this league. No other team can match their star power, experience and balance. They are the obvious choice. There is one potential fly in the soup. The last four times Oklahoma has been in the preseason top five they have not finished higher than 15th. Two of those times they were unranked altogether including the 2015 fiasco. That sets a clear trend for the OU program as a piss-poor front runner. There is no escaping a top 5 preseason ranking with this group. Bob Stoops must manage the situation and keep his team hungry. I think he will be successful in that area. This team, without question, remembers 2014. That memory will serve to focus and motivate them on their way to a Big 12 title and possible playoff berth.

The Field

Gary Patterson is one of my favorite coaches in college football. The man is simply fantastic. He is a great coach who has built an awesome program. As long as he is in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs have a chance. His team this fall will be pretty good as well. The defense brings back eight of their top ten tacklers from the second-ranked scoring defense in the big 12. Defensive End Josh Carraway recorded nine sacks last fall and will lead this unit along with LB Travin Howard. Offensively, the Frogs will have to replace Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, Aaron Green and Kolby Linstenbee. That’s a tall order. If new QB Kenny Hill isn’t absolutely magical, I don’t see TCU having enough offense to contend for a title despite a top-shelf defense.

The Baylor Bears have exceptional talent. Art Briles, for all his failings in Waco, has produced an impressive array of talent. From Seth Russell, to KD Cannon to Shock Linwood, there is plenty of experienced playmakers on this roster. The problem is simple. The noise. There is far too much noise and controversy for this team to focus and contend for a Big 12 title. That says nothing about the architect getting shit-canned for all the nonsense he brought to the program. Jim Grobe is a nice man, a good coach, but there is no way he can just show up and lead Baylor to a conference title regardless of the talent on hand.

Oklahoma State is a forgotten team in this league. Losing your last three games by a combined 73 points has a way of doing that. Let’s not forget that prior to that, the Pokes won ten games last fall. Most of that team returns. Mason Rudolph is a pretty damn good QB, who completed 63% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. That is not where OSU needs to improve. This team was ninth in the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry within conference play. Yowza!! That entire offensive line returns and they add Barry Sanders. Maybe not the 1988 Heisman winner, but he should still give this run game a boost. The OSU defense should be pretty good as well. They return their top four tacklers from a team that had 40 sacks and produced 19 turnovers in Big 12 play. This is a good team, but not good enough to beat OU at their best. However, if the Sooners falter like they did in ’14, this team could sneak up and steal a conference title.