OU rides Sugar high into new season
College football is officially back, and the Oklahoma Sooners open up the 2014 season at 6 p.m. on Saturday at home against Louisiana Tech.
The Sooners are entering the new season with a preseason national ranking of No.3, which if OU can stay in the top four by the time the regular season is complete, will earn them a spot in the first-ever four-team college football playoff.
Despite returning a lot from the team that went 11-2 a year ago and defeated SEC beast Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, OU still has some new faces on this year’s squad that will determine how good this team can be.
“It’s been one of our best camps we’ve had since I’ve been here,” OU head coach Bob Stoops told reporters at his weekly press conference. “This is probably the healthiest we have ever been coming out of camp. We didn’t have many guys missing practices, which allowed us to build more depth, because guys were able to get more work. Really very pleased with everything to this point.”
Last season, the OU offense averaged 32.8 points per game, while the Sooner defense allowed 22.1 points per contest. Oklahoma averaged 423 total yards of offense every time they took the field in 2013, and the D gave up 350.2 total yards per game.
OU was run-heavy a year ago as they averaged 223.9 rush yards per game while allowing 137.6 rush yards to their opponents. Through the air, Oklahoma was mediocre, averaging 199.1 pass yards per contest and giving up 212.5 pass yards per outing.
Some of the top returners to the team in 2014 will include sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight, sophomore running back Keith Ford, junior receiver Sterling Shepard, junior receiver Durron Neal, senior offensive linemen Daryl Williams, Tyrus Thompson, Adam Shead, Dionte Savage and Tyler Evans.
Junior offensive linemen Nila Kasitati and Ty Darlington are also returning for the Sooners this fall.
Senior Blake Bell, who spent the first four years on campus for OU as a quarterback, will switch positions and play the tight end role in 2014 for Oklahoma.
Knight comes into 2014 after having a rocky 2013. The sophomore had a passing efficiency rating of 125. He completed 79 passes out of 134 attempts a year ago with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He averaged 102.4 yards per game through the air.
Knight also presents a threat on the ground for OU. He ran the ball 67 times last season and gained a total of 485 yards and had two touchdowns on the ground.
Ford is the leading returning rusher for the Sooners in 2014 after OU graduated Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch in 2013. Ford had a total of 23 carries for 134 yards and one touchdown last season for the Sooners.
Sophomore Alex Ross will share time with Ford in the backfield. The Jenks native had three carries in 2013 for 19 total yards.
Oklahoma will be talented but raw at the receiver position to start the 2014 season. The Sooners graduated Jalen Saunders, LaColtan Bester and Jaz Reynolds from last year’s group.
Shepard will lead the way for OU this fall. Shepard caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Neal had 13 receptions for 176 yards and sophomores Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett each had two catches in 2013.
At tight end, OU will go with Bell as the starter, having never caught a pass in a real game before, and sophomore Taylor McNamara will back up Bell. McNamara caught one ball last season for a total of 4 yards.
The most experienced group on the offensive side of the ball this season will be the offensive line. OU lost two players to graduation in 2013, Mustang native Bronson Irwin and Gabe Ikard, but will have five seniors leading the way.
Defensively, Oklahoma will return defensive tackles, junior Jordan Phillips, sophomore Jordan Wade and seniors Torrea Peterson and Quincy Russell.
At defensive end, OU returns junior Charles Tapper and senior Chuka Ndulue. Senior Geneo Grissom played at the DE position a year ago for the Sooners, but moved to linebacker this season.
Grissom will be joined by junior Eric Striker and sophomores Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans as returners this year.
In the back end, senior safety Quentin Hayes will return as the lone starter for the Sooners. Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd saw some action last season, but will still be young in 2014.
Senior Julian Wilson will make the switch from nickelback to cornerback this season opposite sophomore Zach Sanchez, who is a returning starter in 2014.
Special teams will also play a big role in the success or lack of success Oklahoma has this year. Both kickers are returning to Norman this fall. Seniors Michael Hunnicutt and Jed Barnett will handle those duties.
Hunnicutt is the returning place-kicker and Barnett is the returning punter for OU in 2014.