Sooners looking to make it three consecutive trips to college football's final four
The Oklahoma Sooners have made more appearances in the College Football Playoff since 2014 than any team not named Alabama or Clemson. Winning games once they get there has been a different story — they have compiled an 0-3 record. "Happy to be there" won't work forever in Sooner Nation.
Oddsmakers have installed OU as one of the top candidates to appear in this year's edition of the playoff. The teams doesn't lack for question marks, though.
Here are three factors favoring OU making it three years in a row in the playoff, along with three reasons why they won't.
Three Reasons Why Oklahoma Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Jalen Hurts
OU's electric offense was supposed to tank last year after Baker Mayfield left for the NFL. Kyler Murray arguably made the attack even more dangerous instead. After transferring from Alabama, Hurts now gets his shot to see if he can keep that big crimson machine rolling.
Hurts probably won't equal the exploits of Mayfield and Murray this fall, but he's battle-tested. He can throw the ball well enough for the Sooners to keep the chains moving, and he runs like a gazelle. Head coach Lincoln Riley has made it clear that he doesn't expect his team's offensive output to dip this year – Hurts is a big reason why.
2. The offensive skill positions are loaded
In addition to Hurts, who has a trophy for 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year sitting in his closet somewhere, the Sooners roster has talent to burn at the skill positions. The standouts include a returning 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in Kennedy Brooks and CeeDee Lamb, respectively. Running back Trey Sermon has run for nearly 1,700 yards in two seasons. Tight end Grant Calcaterra is one of the best in the nation. OU is adding three of the best receiving recruits in the country to the mix, too.
3. New coordinator Alex Grinch is leading the defense in a new direction
OU's defense wasn't good when the Sooners made the playoff in 2017. It was even worse last season – playoff again. This team has been good enough to final four. It needs a better defense to start winning games when it gets there.
Grinch worked miracles when he worked as Mike Leach's defensive coordinator at Washington State for three years. There's no reason why he can't do the same for the Sooners this fall, especially with the veterans he's inheriting.
Three Reasons Why Oklahoma Won't Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Jalen Hurts
Yes, Hurts is a great athlete and a seasoned veteran. He gives OU a great stopgap option between Murray's departure and one of the younger QBs taking over in 2020.
On the other hand, he has only been working in Riley's offense since the start of the year and he lost his hold on the QB job at Bama because he couldn't throw well enough. That doesn't sound like a perfect fit for what the Sooners usually do when they have the ball.
2. A rebuilt offensive line
Aside from stellar center Creed Humphrey, the Sooners are starting four new offensive linemen this season. They're replacing four NFL draft picks, too. On the bright side, OU isn't looking at the most strenuous start to the season. That gives offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh three or four games to find the best combination of blockers.
3. The kicking game
Even Riley has admitted that the kicking game is an area of concern for his squad in 2019. Austin Seibert handled both the punting and placekicking duties for the last four years, and he was as reliable as you could expect. Last year, he hit 17 of his 18 field goal attempts and 87 of the 88 extra points put in front of him.
Redshirt sophomore Reeves Mundschau has the inside track on the punting position, although he has yet to punt once in a game for the Sooners. Meanwhile, OU is counting on redshirt freshman Gabe Brkic to take over at kicker.
It is asking a lot for the Sooners to keep on winning at their current clip. In the last two seasons, seven of their 24 victories have come by eight points or fewer. They’re walking on a delicate edge, and even though Jalen Hurts is no slouch, they can’t fall back on a No. 1 NFL draft pick at QB now if they find themselves in trouble. If the kicking game tails off, that won’t make life easy in tight contests, either.
Even so, OU still has more offensive weapons than all of the teams on its schedule. Lincoln Riley also has shown an ability in his two seasons as a head coach to find ways to live with his teams’ shortcomings. Although the Sooners will probably slip back at QB, they may field the most complete team that their coach has had so far in Norman.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 6
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big 12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10.5
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 10.5
— 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.