Bob Stoops' 16th season at Oklahoma left a sour taste in the mouths of Sooner fans that has lingered for an entire offseason. Heading into his 17th campaign, Stoops is looking for a spark from new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and a return to the “Air Raid.”
Despite speculation he wouldn't return, Bob's brother Mike is back to oversee the defense. The Stoops siblings hunkered down in the last nine months to plug up a defense that leaked all across the secondary in 2014.
Finding those solutions on D and identifying a first-string quarterback highlight the biggest stories in preseason practice for the head coach and his Sooners.
Oklahoma’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who's Playing Quarterback?
Although Bob Stoops has declared the competition all but even, media insiders have already anointed Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield as OU's starting quarterback. The 2013 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year showed promise running the Air Raid in his one season in Lubbock and generated plenty of buzz in the last 18 months of workouts and practices in Norman. Stoops stunned Sooner Nation in 2013 when he named Trevor Knight the starter over heavily favored upperclassman Blake Bell, which should give Knight reason to be optimistic about his chances in this derby. Third-year sophomore Cody Thomas has an intriguing skill set that could keep him in the race all the way until the end. As of now, though, all signs point to Mayfield taking the first snap against Akron.
2. Can OU Still Run the Ball?
The Sooners boasted one of the best ground attacks in the country last season behind freshman phenom Samaje Perine, who went for more than 1,700 yards rushing in his first campaign. The talent at running back is even better in 2015 with the addition of five-star recruit Joe Mixon. Shifting from the Pistol-type scheme that OU ran the last two years to a historically pass-happy offense raises questions about how well it suits the personnel. Those concerns are compounded by the introduction of three new faces on the offensive line.
3. Tinkering With the Defense
A dearth of quality linemen in 2013 forced defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to junk his favored 4-3 alignment for a three-man front. He experimented in the spring with a 4-2-5 look. At this point, it's unclear to anyone outside the program exactly what the plan is on that side of the ball. Replacing mammoth nose tackle Jordan Phillips will be key, no matter how the Sooners line up.
4. Finding Solid Starters at Safety
A lack of quality upperclassmen pressed youngsters Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker into service on the back end of OU's defense in 2014. The Sooners paid for it in the form of busted assignments and youthful mistakes. By the end of the year, Parker was playing like a future star, so his spot is safe. Meanwhile, Thomas and junior Hatari Byrd will compete for snaps with touted newcomers Will Sunderland, Prentice McKinney and Kahlil Haughton.
5. The Kicking Game
Michael Hunnicutt caught a case the yips last year, but he and punter Jed Barnett combined to make a dependable pair in their time at OU. Heralded recruit Austin Seibert will compete with senior kickoff specialist Nick Hogsdon for placekicking duties. Seibert also has a shot to win the punting duties over Jack Steed.
— 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.