Losing a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback usually presages an offensive downturn for a team, but the Oklahoma Sooners kept on humming in 2018 after Baker Mayfield handed the reins over to Kyler Murray.
Now head coach Lincoln Riley is putting his offense in the hands of Jalen Hurts, who piloted the Alabama Crimson Tide to two consecutive appearances in national championship games before losing his job to Tua Tagovailoa. No one in Norman is counting on using the upcoming season as a rebuilding year now.
A veteran at QB is one of three key reasons why there’s hope that the Sooners will field another team capable of qualifying for the College Football Playoff in 2019.
1. Alex Grinch’s arrival
Oklahoma’s beleaguered defense showed no signs of improvement in 2018 from the previous season. In fact, their opponents put up nearly a touchdown more in points per game, climbing from 27.1 to 33.3. By firing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in the middle of the season, Lincoln Riley made it clear that the Sooners were heading in a different direction on D.
Grinch came close to working miracles as the defensive coordinator at Washington State. The Cougars allowed 38.6 points per game in 2014. Grinch took over in 2015, and Wazzu never gave up more than 27.7 points per game in any of his three seasons there.
Grinch’s experience scheming against spread offenses in the Pac-12 and working with Air Raid guru Mike Leach at WSU qualify him as an ideal candidate to rebuild OU’s defense.
2. Jalen Hurts
Riley managed to land the most coveted graduate transfer to date in Hurts, the one-time SEC offensive player of the year. The ex-Alabama signal caller is battle-tested, which is a huge plus for a program that hopes to compete for national titles.
Hurts now has eight months or so to sharpen his game under Riley, who has trained the last two Heisman Trophy winners. He’ll probably find the defenses in the Big 12 this year a bit more forgiving than what he was accustomed to in the SEC.
Sooner fans should look forward to seeing what Riley can cook up to take advantage of his new QB as both a runner and a thrower.
3. Overwhelming talent on offense
Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray owe those Heismans in large part to the studs surrounding them on offense. OU has continued to stockpile game-breakers who will offer plenty of help to Hurts.
The Sooners boast two running backs who combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground last year. One of the top receivers in the country, CeeDee Lamb, is back, and he’s joined by tight end Grant Calcaterra, who had six TD catches in 2018. Three five-star freshmen wideouts are coming aboard this spring, too: Trejan Bridges, Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood.
— 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.