The Oklahoma Sooners overcame the loss of an all-time great in quarterback Baker Mayfield and a horrific defense to win a fourth consecutive Big 12 conference crown in 2018. With a third bid to the College Football Playoff secured, the season has to go down as an unequivocal success in Norman.
Head coach Lincoln Riley assembled his latest cutting-edge offense centered around another Heisman Trophy-worthy signal-caller. The play of Kyler Murray was just one of a litany of standout performances by the Sooners in a 12-1 season.
Offensive MVP: Kyler Murray, QB
Plenty of Sooners on the offensive side of the ball could make a compelling case for this award. Only one of them is a Heisman Trophy winner, though. Assuming this really is Murray’s last season of football before departing for a career in pro baseball, he put together a dazzling final act.
Defensive MVP: Curtis Bolton, LB
For all the deserving candidates on offense, finding qualified Sooners on a moribund defense is a chore. Bolton has the best argument. He finished second on the team in tackles with 130 and gave OU its best pass-rushing threat. Bolton also chipped in three defensive touchdowns, including a key score in the 59-56 win over West Virginia.
Best Freshman: Kennedy Brooks, RB
The Sooners lost star runner Rodney Anderson for the year in game two, ending his career in Norman. Then Marcelias Sutton went down after appearing in six games.
Brooks eventually teamed with sophomore Trey Sermon to form a devastating backfield combo. With Sermon hobbled down the stretch, Brooks ended up leading the team in rushing with 1,021 yards. He also scored 12 rushing TDs.
Best Play of the Season: CeeDee Lamb’s Non-Catch
It didn’t count, but Lamb made an all-time great snag versus UCLA.
Best Performance by a Player: Marquise Brown Torches West Virginia’s Defense
You could pick from any number of Kyler Murray’s games for this award and you would be correct. However, Hollywood’s demolishing of WVU’s secondary takes top honors: 11 receptions, 243 yards and two TDs. The Sooners needed every last bit of it from Brown in the Morgantown shootout.
Best Game (Team Performance): Sooners Roll the Wildcats
Four hundred fifty-seven.
That was the difference in total yardage between OU and Kansas State in the Sooners’ 51-14 victory in October. Lincoln Riley’s offense scored on the first nine possessions of the game before punting in the fourth quarter. Murray was particularly brilliant, completing 19 of his 24 pass attempts for 352 yards and three TDs.
Defining Moment: Grant Calcaterra Drives a Stake Through Texas
Up five points with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 Championship Game, the Sooners were staring down 3rd-and-10 at Texas’ 18-yard line. A field goal would have extended OU’s lead to eight, putting the Longhorns in position to tie the game on their final possession.
Instead of playing it safe, Lincoln Riley opted to finish off UT. Tight end Grant Calcaterra split out wide and ran a corner route. Kyler Murray lofted a throw into the end zone. With a UT defensive back draped all over him, Calcaterra secured the ball with one hand to provide the Sooners with a game-clinching TD.
Biggest Surprise: Cody Ford, OL
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh auditioned a series of candidates before settling on Ford to play right tackle. The converted offensive guard responded with arguably the best season of any member of OU’s celebrated offensive line.
Now, Ford will probably hear his name called during the NFL draft in the spring, a remote possibility before the season started.
Biggest Disappointment: The Secondary
Before the season, it seemed unfathomable that OU’s defensive backs could play as poorly as they did in 2017. Somehow, though, they failed to clear that bar.
The Sooners have given up an average of 8.2 yards per pass attempt, up from 7.5 last season. Through 13 games this year, opponents have thrown 24 TD passes, one more than last year’s total in 14 contests.
The struggles of the secondary played a major role in defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ midseason firing.
Senior That Will be Missed the Most: Curtis Bolton, LB
Bolton had to bide his time to get his shot as a starter at linebacker. It finally came during his senior year, and Bolton matured into the emotional leader of the defense.
Kyler Murray’s departure will loom large behind center, but OU has a decent track record of identifying quality QBs.
Player to Watch in 2019: Brendan Radley-Hiles, DB
The cornerback more commonly known as Bookie arrived at OU in the spring as a celebrated five-star recruit. He secured a place in the starting lineup at safety right off the bat, but his talents didn’t fit in well on the back end of the defense. He should have a chance to compete at his more natural position of corner in the offseason. If he lives up to his prep reputation, he should quickly grow into OU’s best cover man.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Who’s the New Defensive Coordinator?
Mike Stoops’ reign of terror as OU’s defensive coordinator came to an end midway through the season, which meant Ruffin McNeill had to oversee the D the rest of the way in an interim role. No one in Norman believes McNeill is a long-term answer, including McNeill himself.
Whoever Lincoln Riley hires as the permanent replacement is facing a serious reclamation job. Luckily for the next coordinator, it can’t get much worse than a defense that gives up 32.4 points per game.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @OU_Football)