OU shouldn’t abandon all of the program’s aspirations just because Baker Mayfield is off to the NFL
While the wounds are still fresh for the Oklahoma Sooners following their loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal, they should look back on the 2017 season as an unqualified success.
OU captured its third consecutive Big 12 crown, which included a convincing win over TCU in the revived conference championship game. The Sooners went to Ohio State’s house and won. Their quarterback secured another Heisman Trophy for the OU trophy case.
As attention turns to 2018, it’s easy to wonder what is next for OU. After three years of Baker Mayfield, what are the chances that Kyler Murray comes close to matching his predecessor’s standard? Equally important, what can the Sooners do to patch up their leaky defense?
Despite the uncertainty surrounding those questions and more, Sooner Nation can point to a host of factors that will still be working in OU’s favor when the new season starts in nine months. Here are five of them.
1. Offensive line
Even with likely first-round draft pick Orlando Brown off to the NFL, the Sooners will remain stacked on the offensive line.
Cody Ford, Ben Powers and Dru Samia rotated at guard all season and will be back for more in 2018. Right tackle Bobby Evans often looked like OU’s best blocker throughout the year, and he could end up rotating to the left side to replace Brown.
Touted redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey will likely step in for the departing Erick Wren at center. Meanwhile, a slew of blue-chip prospects such as Adrian Ealy, Marquis Hayes and Erik Swenson will vie in the offseason for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh’s attention and a spot in the rotation.
The line will almost certainly take a step back from the superb 2017 unit in the fall, but not a big one.
2. A wealth of running backs
Rodney Anderson (above, right) looked like one of the top backs in the country in the second half of the season, and he continued to roll in the Rose Bowl, rushing for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts against Georgia’s vicious defense. He’ll find himself atop a crowded depth chart when spring football opens.
Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams each played starring roles in OU’s backfield at times in 2017 and will continue to push for playing time. Additionally, T.J. Pledger is enrolling early in a bid to earn some carries in his rookie season.
3. CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown
Much like the offensive line, receiver will remain a strength with tight end Mark Andrews gone to the NFL.
Lamb started from game one this year, and with all due respect to Jaelen Reagor, he was the top freshman pass catcher in the Big 12. Lamb’s size, hands and ball-tracking ability overshadow his formidable skills in the open field. On his current trajectory, Lamb could grow into the best receiver in the land next year.
Of course, Lamb might not even be the most productive wideout on his own team next year. Diminutive speedster Marquise Brown (right) led the team in 2017 with 1,095 receiving yards on 57 catches. He proved to be a threat to go all the way any time he had the ball in his hands, averaging more than 19 yards per reception.
4. Youngsters on defense
Whatever positive publicity there was to be had for OU’s defense in 2017 usually went to veterans such as safety Steven Parker and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. However, the Sooners received valuable contributions on that side of the ball from a number of talented underclassmen who should form the backbone of next season’s defense.
Cornerbacks Parnell Motley and Tre Norwood will return as starters, for instance. Kenneth Murray will still have a spot at inside linebacker. Du’Vonta Lampkin, Amani Bledsoe and Neville Gallimore will hold down the fort on the line. Caleb Kelly will patrol the strong side of the field at outside linebacker.
At the same time, up-and-comers such as DE/OLB Addison Gumbs and safety Robert Barnes will get their shot at making a mark.
A whole lot of attitude is leaving Norman following the graduation of Mayfield. OU’s field general might have had more bravado behind his game than the rest of college football combined.
The Sooners may find themselves short on vocal leaders in the coming season, but they shouldn’t lack for confidence. The squad has captured three consecutive Big 12 titles to go along with two bids to the College Football Playoff. For all of Mayfield’s greatness, he wasn’t winning those games on his own.
That should give OU hope heading into a new season with a fresh face at quarterback.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.