The Oklahoma Sooners finished the 2017 regular season with a full head of steam. After winning their final eight games, they’re heading to a College Football Playoff semifinal game versus Georgia in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
OU’s 2017 campaign featured superstars who lived up to the hype and newcomers who proved to be stars in the making.
Offensive MVP: Baker Mayfield, QB
Despite losing a bevy of weapons from last year’s team, OU developed an even more potent attack this season thanks to Mayfield’s growth. He wasn’t just OU’s best offensive player this season; he was the best player in the entire country.
The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner became the big story of the college football season, whether he was orchestrating an upset of Ohio State or giving an opponent the business. Whatever happens in January, this season has belonged to the Sooners’ field general.
Defensive MVP: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/OLB
Okoronkwo continued to create chaos in opposing backfields this season, was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12, and received plenty of All-American nods as well. Even when Obo wasn’t taking down QBs, he was forcing them into bad throws and poor decisions. His departure will create a massive void on next year’s team.
Best Freshman: CeeDee Lamb, WR
You could make a good case for linebacker Kenneth Murray in this position, but Lamb is probably the best freshman wideout in the nation. He finished third on the team in catches, third in receiving yards and second in touchdown receptions. More importantly, he proved himself as both a reliable possession receiver and big-play threat.
Next year, Lamb might emerge as the top receiver in the country.
Best Newcomer: Marquise Brown, WR
Combined with Lamb, “Hollywood” Brown should give Sooner fans confidence in next year’s receiving corps. The junior college transfer’s speed and elusiveness made him a threat to hit the end zone on short catch-and-run routes and stretching the field vertically. He averaged 20 yards per reception this season.
Best Play of the Season: Rodney Anderson Seals a Win in Manhattan
A sleepy effort against Kansas State had OU in position to suffer a season-crippling loss to the Wildcats. Tied at 35 with 16 seconds remaining on the KSU 22, the Sooners looked ready to put their hopes on an Austin Seibert field goal try.
Lined up to Mayfield’s left, Anderson took a handoff and headed around the left side of the offensive line. A stiff arm to a would-be tackler in the backfield enabled Anderson to hit the edge, where a block from Brown on a KSU defensive back sprung the running back down the sideline.
Seconds later Anderson was standing in the Wildcats’ end zone, and the Sooners had survived.
Best Performance (Player): Baker Mayfield vs. Ohio State
The Heisman winner played a flawless game against the Buckeyes in the second week of the season. His numbers were sterling (27-of-35, 398 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs), but the stats don’t do justice to his command of the Sooners’ offense that night in the Horseshoe. Given the circumstances, Mayfield put in a performance for the ages.
Best Game (Team): First game vs. TCU
The first meeting between the Sooners and Horned Frogs on Nov. 11 in Norman got out of hand quickly. TCU had no answer for OU’s offensive machine, as the Sooners put 38 points on the board in the first two quarters.
Head coach Lincoln Riley took the air out of the ball in the second half, enabling TCU to put some face-saving points on the board. Make no mistake, though: OU beat a strong TCU team soundly in this game.
Defining Moment: Bob Stoops Retiring
Stoops shocked the college football world when he stepped down this summer after nearly two decades at the helm to give control of the program to his offensive coordinator. The decision demonstrated the utmost confidence in Lincoln Riley, who rewarded the show of faith with a conference title and spot in the College Football Playoff.
It’s a stretch to say that Stoops’ retirement galvanized the team before the season. However, it did change the overall mood around Norman. He delivered a strong statement about his view of Riley as a coach, and the Sooners clearly took the message to heart.
Biggest Surprise: Du’Vonta Lampkin, DL
Coming into this season, Lampkin was best known for his wild recruiting process that saw him ultimately spurn Texas for Oklahoma despite signing a letter of intent with the Longhorns. Whispers about the sophomore nose tackle’s will to win quieted down once the season started. His ability to collapse the pocket and generate an inside rush played a key role in the successes that OU’s defense did have this year.
Biggest Disappointment: Secondary
A combination of experience and skill should have given OU one of best defensive backfields in the Big 12, if not the entire country. Instead, the unit busted assignments and got toasted deep with alarming frequency. Inserting true freshman Tre Norwood into the starting lineup late in the season at cornerback appeared to give OU’s DBs a shot in the arm. The rookie now has to prove himself on an even bigger stage than the one he played on in OU’s final games this year.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Baker Mayfield, QB
Lincoln Riley has highly touted QB Kyler Murray waiting in the wings behind Mayfield. Replacing arguably the best player in program history rarely goes smoothly, though.
Player to Watch in 2018: Creed Humphrey, C
The freshman center from Shawnee, Oklahoma, has drawn raves from the OU coaching staff during his redshirt season. With Erick Wren graduating, Humphrey essentially has the first-team spot at center locked up. There has been talk that he might turn out to be the best player that offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has ever brought to campus.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Linebacker
You could make a good argument for safety here, but the LBs appear to be of greater concern. Caleb Kelly and Kenneth Murray are givens, but that leaves a whole lot of uncertainty about who will fill the upcoming vacancies in OU’s 3-4 defensive scheme that will be created by the departures of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and inside backer Emmanuel Beal.
The unfortunate reality in 2018 for position coach Tim Kish is that he will once again enter a season painfully thin on depth.
— 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.