For all intents and purposes, Oklahoma’s dreams of another College Football Playoff bid died before the Sooners even made it out of September. Losses to Houston and Ohio State in non-conference play left the team essentially playing for a Big 12 championship and nothing more.
Nine straight wins later, the Sooners had captured Bob Stoops’ 10th conference title in 18 seasons in Norman. They did it by relying on one of the best offenses in the nation to overcome one of the worst defenses the program has fielded under Stoops.
Offensive MVP: Dede Westbrook, WR
With apologies to quarterback Baker Mayfield, Westbrook made the Oklahoma offense go. Once he got healthy after a rough September, Big 12 defenses couldn’t cover him. He might not have had the greatest single season for a receiver in school history, but it would be tough to top the nine-game stretch he put together to close the year.
Defensive MVP: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB
By virtue of his consistency, Obo edges out leading tackler Jordan Evans for this honor. The Sooners’ best edge rusher tallied nine sacks on the season, but he was an equally effective run-stopper from his position as outside linebacker.
Best Freshman: Jordan Parker, CB
Injuries and uneven play from OU’s upperclassmen in the secondary forced Parker into action ahead of schedule. His rookie season wasn’t without its ugly moments. As he gained experience, however, he turned into a relatively reliable cover man. Even with some competitors for his spot coming back, Parker will presumably begin spring ball as a starter.
Best Newcomer: Ben Powers, OL
Redshirt freshman Cody Ford showed promise at guard before a broken leg ended his season. When Powers, a junior college transfer, jumped into the lineup in Ford’s spot, the offense didn’t really miss a beat. In fact, Powers played well enough this season to merit all-conference consideration. He’ll join Ford and a number of returnees on what will be one of the best offensive lines in the country in 2017.
Best Play of the Season: Joe Mixon’s One-Handed Catch vs. Texas Tech
Mixon made his fair share of electric plays this season, but none could top his breathtaking one-handed catch and run for a touchdown in OU’s midseason shootout against the Red Raiders.
Best Performance (Player): Samaje Perine vs. Texas
You could have just as easily recognized Dede Westbrook’s play against the Longhorns for this award. Yet, OU had to have every single one of Perine’s 214 rushing yards and 35 carries to prevent another upset in the Red River Rivalry. Over the course of two straight drives in the second half, he carried the ball 17 times as the Sooners salted away the win.
Best Game (Team): Oklahoma 56, Kansas 3
It may seem cheap to pick a game against a perennial doormat such as KU here, but this was the closest thing to a complete performance that OU gave all season. Notably, the defense held the Jayhawks to just 170 yards of total offense, an average of a measly 2.6 yards per play. The Sooners fired on all cylinders in this game.
Defining Moment: End of First Half vs. Oklahoma State
As the first half of the 2016 Bedlam game drew to a close, the Sooners looked stunned. Westbrook was out with a concussion, and the Cowboys had just marched 50 yards in eight plays to take a 17-10 lead. The ensuing five-play, 76-yard drive, led by Mayfield, featured a 42-yard bomb to Jeffrey Mead. Mayfield tossed a 10-yard scoring strike to Geno Lewis to tie the game up with less than a minute left in the second quarter. OU never trailed again.
Biggest Surprise: Erick Wren, C
Word spread during fall camp that the walk-on Wren was pushing incumbent Jonathan Alvarez at center. Alvarez eventually gave way to the challenger. Wren received a well-earned scholarship weeks later.
Biggest Disappointment: Secondary
The defensive group that was supposed to be one of the squad’s biggest strengths was anything but. The success of Houston had in throwing the ball all over the field in the season opener made it look as though the defensive backs were completely outmatched by the Cougars’ receivers. Even after shuffling some personnel, the play of OU’s secondary still left plenty to be desired.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Dede Westbrook, WR
Easy call. The Biletnikoff Award winner’s 74 receptions accounted for 30 percent of OU’s catches in the regular season and nearly 40 percent of the team’s receiving yards. Good luck finding someone to replace that next season.
Player to Watch in 2017: Caleb Kelly, OLB
Kelly, a five-star recruit out of California in 2016, became a fixture of the defense at strong-side linebacker late in the season. He has the kind of all-around skills required of the players at that position in OU’s scheme, including proficiency in coverage and the ability to put heat on opposing QBs.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Inside Linebacker
Jordan Evans is graduating. Concussions forced one-time starter Tay Evans into retirement. Fill-in Emmanuel Beal struggled to stand his ground in run defense. OU simply doesn’t have much depth at ILB. Maybe the coaches could come up with a position change to bring a potential contributor into the fold.
— 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.