Might Lincoln Riley have found a winning formula at Oklahoma? Transfer quarterback collects Heisman Trophy on the way to the College Football Playoff. Rinse, repeat. And repeat again?
It worked with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the past two seasons. Now Jalen Hurts, no stranger to the CFP during his time at Alabama, arrives as a grad transfer, just in time to fill the Sooners' biggest need and restore Oklahoma as a serious contender for the national championship. Not that the Sooners don't have other questions — they do — but they typically produce satisfying answers to the transitions they face beyond quarterback. Now they've got their quarterback, too. And a spot among college football’s favorites for 2019.
Previewing Oklahoma's Offense for 2019
Hurts hasn't been around long, arriving on campus in January. Still, as arguably college football's most high-profile grad transfer ever, he already fits right in, wasting no time basking in his new environment.
During the spring game, after scampering for a short touchdown run, Hurts paused to gather teammates for an impromptu photo in the end zone.
"It was a fun atmosphere," Hurts says. "I figured, why not? I know my old coach, Coach [Nick] Saban, I probably would have got a chewing for that one."
At Oklahoma, fun is fine, as long as you deliver.
Hurts went 26–2 as the starter at Bama in a far more balanced and traditional offense. And he was famously benched for Tua Tagovailoa after halftime of the 2017 title game and played sparingly a year ago.
But this is a chance at a restart. "Any opportunity I get just to step on the field, I say it's a good deal," says Hurts, who completed 11-of-14 throws for 174 yards and a score in the spring game. The Sooners hope it's a big deal, too.
Hurts will have playmakers aplenty to help. Running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, who combined for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, give Oklahoma a potent duo. Sermon led the team with 13 touchdowns, while Brooks, a Freshman All-American, ran for a team-high 1,056 yards.
CeeDee Lamb provides a go-to receiver, coming off a second-team All-Big 12 season that saw him haul in 65 passes for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tight end Grant Calcaterra, a first-team All-Big 12 selection, is a big target with reliable hands.
There's a need for more wideouts to make an impact, but there's no shortage of candidates.
Oklahoma's major question mark resides along the offensive line, where four starters are gone from a dominant unit that claimed the Joe Moore Award, recognizing college football's most outstanding line. The lone returning starter up front, center Creed Humphrey, missed the spring with an injury, stunting progress for the unit.
Previewing Oklahoma's Defense for 2019
Headline writers are already having fun playing off the name of new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who left as co-coordinator at Ohio State for the massive challenge of fixing Oklahoma's maligned outfit. And seriously, the Sooners need to play mean, something that's been noticeably lacking in recent years. Grinch brings intensity and emphasizes running to the ball and creating turnovers. Oklahoma should have good enough players to avoid ranking No. 130 (dead last) in pass defense, as it did in 2018.
"Believe me, if I could get [No. 130] tattooed on every single one of them, I would," Grinch says.
The Sooners also ranked last in the Big 12 in total defense and scoring defense, so there's plenty amiss.
"We believe we’re going to be a totally new defense," says cornerback Tre Brown.
OK, but seeing is believing. And in the fast-paced, fling-the-football Big 12, seeing good defense is a rare occurrence.
Grinch has nine returning starters to work with, for whatever that's worth. Linebacker Kenneth Murray has star potential as a tackling machine, posting nine games of double-digit stops a year ago. Veteran linemen Neville Gallimore and Kenneth Mann have played a lot and could benefit from the new voice of Grinch. Five starters return in the secondary, although it's a group that has often looked lost.
So all eyes are on the Grinch. And he's up for the spotlight, putting players on alert with a call for credibility. His credibility is now at stake as well, beginning this fall.
Previewing Oklahoma's Specialists for 2019
U's kicking game is in transition, with youngsters set to take over the major roles. Freshman Gabe Brkic exited spring as the frontrunner to handle placekicking, while sophomore Reeves Mundschau seems entrenched as the next punter. The return game should be solid, with Brown (kickoffs) and Lamb (punts) both ranking among the Big 12 leaders in 2018.
How Hurts performs will likely determine the success of the Sooners' season, to a point. But an improved defense seems necessary if the Sooners are going to go from just being in the hunt to truly fitting the mold of a national champ. "If we were a little better, we would probably have a national championship right now," Brown says. "So we're just trying to focus on that and be better."