Oklahoma came up just short of playing for a national championship last season and now must move on without its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. But the Sooners should remain the favorite in the Big 12 and a threat to return to the College Football Playoff thanks to Lincoln Riley's offense. The quarterback situation is unsettled but the rest of the offense is in good shape. The defense is young and lacks impact players but there's enough experience and depth to hold down the fort.
Previewing Oklahoma Football's Offense for 2018
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A devastating, double-overtime loss to Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal only began the painful blows for Oklahoma. In the aftermath, the Sooners came to grips with losing Baker Mayfield, their Heisman Trophy winner and unabashed face of the program, leaving a gaping void at quarterback. Left tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, both unanimous All-Americans, were gone, too.
So the offense has some retooling to do, beginning at quarterback, where a spring battle solved little, with neither Kyler Murray nor Austin Kendall creating any separation, sending the competition into the fall.
Murray, a former starter at Texas A&M, was considered the frontrunner for the job after serving as Mayfield's backup last season. And he played well in the spring. But Kendall, a former four-star recruit from North Carolina, did too.
The other skill positions feature plenty of playmakers. Rodney Anderson didn't start until the eighth game of 2017 yet rushed for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors.
Deep threat Marquise Brown and big CeeDee Lamb highlight a deep and talented receiving corps.
The offensive line, even minus Brown, projects as a strength, with Bobby Evans moving from right tackle to the left side and headlining a group that includes two other returning starters and is a full two deep.
Previewing Oklahoma Football's Defense for 2018
Mayfield and the dynamic offense covered up some defensive deficiencies the past two seasons, including last fall, when Oklahoma ranked 87th in passing yards allowed.
The Sooners have a lot of bodies and solid experience across the defensive front, yet they need difference-makers to emerge. Veteran tackles Amani Bledsoe and Marquise Overton remain, although freshmen may be called on to bolster the ends.
Youth is in play in the secondary, too, with only four upperclassmen among 13 scholarship players. Safety Khalil Haughton is the only senior projected to start. Parnell Motley and Tre Norwood return as starting corners, although freshman spring sensation Brendan Radley-Hiles is on the verge.
There's more stability at linebacker, where the tough and instinctive Kenneth Murray earned Freshman All-America honors a year ago. Caleb Kelly also returns as a starter.
Previewing Oklahoma Football's Specialists for 2018
Oklahoma's special teams remain a strength, largely because of the work of Austin Seibert, who earned second-team All-Big 12 notice as a kicker and honorable mention honors as punter last season. He ranks third in career scoring and fifth in career field goals made. He stands fifth all-time at Oklahoma with a 41.8-yard career punting average. The Sooners would like to become more dynamic in the return game, and they have that potential with holdovers Lamb and reserve running back Marcelias Sutton.
In Norman, they're used to replacing All-Americans and continuing to win big. So downgrade the Sooners with caution. Sure, the coaches would like to be more settled at quarterback. And the schedule doesn't offer the opportunity to ease into things, with UCLA visiting in Week 2, followed by the Big 12 opener at Iowa State the following Saturday. Still, if Murray or Kendall takes hold of the quarterback position, the Sooners will again have the look of a Big 12 favorite and CFB Playoff contender.