It may seem strange to say this about a program that has appeared in the College Football Playoff in four of the last five years, but the future looks even brighter for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Head coach Lincoln Riley has taken OU's recruiting to another level in his three seasons in charge of the team. Also, he has assembled a stellar coaching staff that includes arguably the best offensive line coach in the country, Bill Bedenbaugh, and a rising star in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. There's highly touted quarterback Spencer Rattler waiting to take over behind center now, too.
Will all that momentum carry the Sooners back into the final four this year, or has the time come for a hiatus? Here are three reasons to believe that OU will make another appearance in 2020 — along with three reasons to believe the Sooners will miss out for the first time since 2016.
Three Reasons Why Oklahoma Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. Another year with Grinch
The OU defense took major steps forward across key metrics from 2018 to 2019, with points allowed per game falling from 33.3 to 27.3 and yards allowed per play dropping from 6.13 to 5.63. That still leaves plenty of room for improvement in the second year under Grinch. Last season offered reason to believe he can keep the Sooners moving in the right direction.
2. Proven offensive line
Led by All-American candidate Creed Humphrey at center, four starters return up front for the Sooners this season. Blockers like guard Marquis Hayes and tackle Adrian Ealy could probably play with some of OU's best units of recent years. Meanwhile, up-and-coming studs like redshirt freshmen Stacey Wilkins and Marcus Alexander will keep the heat on the incumbents.
3. Special teams
Don't sleep on what kind of weapon OU has in kicker Gabe Brkic. The Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2019 drilled all 52 of his tries on extra points and went 17-for-17 on field-goal attempts. Redshirt junior Reeves Mundschau is back after a solid year as the full-time punter. The Sooners could use a spark in the return game, including finding a replacement for CeeDee Lamb as punt returner. Even so, OU can count on some of the best special teams play in the country this year.
Three Reasons Why Oklahoma Won't Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. Gallimore, Motley, Murray — all gone
The best players at all three levels from the 2019 defense are off to the pros: defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and cornerback Parnell Motley. The Sooners have some promising candidates to replace their stars, but this looks like more of a no-name unit than a year ago. Gallimore's presence, in particular, will require more of a rotational approach.
2. Uncertainty at receiver
Lamb was one of the most dominant receivers in college football last season and possibly the best pass catcher in OU history. Jadon Haselwood showed signs as a freshman last year of being up to the challenge of taking over as the Sooners' top target, but an offseason knee injury likely takes him out of the mix in ‘20. Riley will look to Charleston Rambo to raise his game this season. Don't sleep on sophomore Theo Wease, though, a five-star recruit who flashed plenty of promise during his rookie year.
3. Key suspensions
All signs point to defensive end Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and receiver Trejan Bridges missing the first five games of the season as the result of an NCAA suspension. The absence of Perkins looms especially large as the Sooners try to retool the defensive line. Meanwhile, if available, Stevenson would figure to play a bigger part in the ground attack following Trey Sermon's transfer to Ohio State — he will instead need to work his way into the backfield rotation after missing most of the first half of the season.
— 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.