The Sooners rank No. 8 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2017.
Oklahoma returns just about everyone on offense, including Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield, as the Sooners look to make it three Big 12 titles in a row. Mayfield will need a new No. 1 target and the backfield is unproven, but a veteran offensive line should help this attack remain productive. There’s more pressure on a defense that features some standouts, but needs others to emerge if the Sooners are to not only defend their conference crown, but also get back to the College Football Playoff for new coach Lincoln Riley.
Previewing Oklahoma Football’s Offense for 2017
Baker Mayfield leads this Oklahoma team on the latest quest to meet the only acceptable preseason goal for any respectable Sooner player, coach or fan: an eighth national championship. Never mind that the Sooners suffered significant personnel and production hits. It’s always about the reload and never a rebuild in Norman.
So, yes, stars Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Dede Westbrook are gone, along with their combined 2,435 rushing yards and 2,168 receiving yards. Still, Mayfield is back, determined to maintain Sooner standards. “It’s up to me to make the most of my senior year,” Mayfield says. “This is my team and that’s the mindset I’m going to carry. One final run at the school that I love.”
Mayfield isn’t the only key player back, as the Sooners return all five offensive line starters and pass-catching tight end Mark Andrews to go with the next wave of playmakers.
The running back competition could involve as many as six players, although former four-star recruits Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson head into fall as the frontrunners.
There’s a search among veterans and newcomers for reliable receiving options alongside the big-play Andrews, who also lines up in the slot. Kentucky graduate transfer Jeff Badet could be a major wild card after totaling 82 catches, 1,385 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons with the Wildcats.
Previewing Oklahoma Football’s Defense for 2017
The Sooners are moving toward more four-man fronts, an old-school approach to creating more quarterback pressure. It’s a shift that may also be necessary with the lack of a dominant figure in the trenches.
Veteran tackle Matt Romar fills one of the interior spots, while Neville Gallimore looks to make the move inside after working at end in Oklahoma’s old 3-4. D.J. Ward could thrive as an edge rusher in the new look.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Caleb Kelly return as outside linebackers and flank redshirt freshman Jon-Michael Terry in the middle. Okoronkwo brings an attacking style, reflected in a team-leading nine sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
Previewing Oklahoma Football’s Specialists for 2017
Austin Seibert operates as the busiest man on special teams, handling punting, placekicking and kickoff duties. He’s solid in all areas, although inconsistency has plagued his work on field goals. The Sooners must replace two dynamic return men in Mixon and Westbrook. Anderson and Mykel Jones will get first crack at the runbacks.
The Sooners enter 2017 as the favorites to win a third straight Big 12 championship. Still, the push is for much more. Mayfield and the standout offensive line give them a shot, although reliable weapons must develop, and the defense must prove capable. However, the outlook on Oklahoma took an interesting turn in June after coach Bob Stoops decided to retire. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was promoted into the new full-time role, ensuring continuity and little drop off for 2017. Riley is one of college football's top coaches on the rise and should thrive in his new role.
And there’s another potential problem area: a challenging road schedule that features a Sept. 9 visit to Columbus to meet an Ohio State team that thumped Oklahoma in Norman in 2016. And there are trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State, two of the other top contenders in the Big 12. And, if all goes well, there’s a rematch with someone in the resurrected Big 12 Championship Game.
And then something bigger? “The ultimate goal is to play for a national championship,” Mayfield says.
NATIONAL RANKING: 8
BIG 12 PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.