Key returning starters: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Dede Westbrook, RB Samaje Perine
The Sooners are set at quarterback with Heisman candidate Mayfield and the best running back tandem in the country, but they’ll have to replace Sterling Shepard’s 86 catches and two offensive linemen, including three-year starting right guard Nila Kasitati. Developing a go-to receiver (or two) will be a top priority in fall camp.
Key returning starters: CB Jordan Thomas, S Steven Parker, LB Jordan Evans
Gone are all the big-time playmakers from the best defense in the 2015 Big 12 (just 364.5 yards per game for opponents), including all-conference cornerback Zack Sanchez, who picked off seven passes in 2015. The linebacking corps is young and inexperienced, which means true freshman Caleb Kelly, a five-star prospect from Fresno, will have to live up to the hype.
Leader in rushing: Mixon. In truth, it could be him or the bulldozer Perine, but Mixon has breakaway speed and a year of experience. He’ll get a lot more carries (113) than last season.
Leader in receiving: Geno Lewis. Westbrook is the team’s returning leading pass catcher with 46 receptions, but the Penn State transfer has more experience than anyone else on the roster.
Leader in tackles: Evans. The Sooners’ only returning linebacker will improve on a productive 2015 (83 tackles, 5 tackles for loss).
Leader in sacks: Charles Walker. He’ll thrive as a starter, one season after putting up impressive numbers (9 tackles for loss, 6 sacks) as a rotation guy.
Opposing coach's take
“Defensively, they’re good. [Coordinator Mike] Stoops brings different looks, schemes and surprise blitzes each week. It keeps play-callers off balance. It helps to have good players, obviously, but they’re good at changing up fronts and mixing in pressures, too. They’ll be good defending the passing game because they bring back three guys in the secondary. Jordan Thomas, their [junior] corner, is so good, he can occupy your best guy, and they’ll just do whatever they want to your other receivers.
Baker Mayfield fits perfectly with what they want to do. It’s a similar scheme to the one he ran in high school and at Texas Tech—an Air Raid–based attack—so he knows where to get the ball, how to get the ball out quick and how to get out of a bad play. He can hurt you running, too.
Those two stud running backs [junior Samaje Perine and sophomore Joe Mixon] really complement each other. I’m not sure which one is better; they’re both first-round-type players. They’re physical and fast, and the coaches utilize them really well. With their receivers, they may not have one star, but as a group they may have more depth. [Senior] Dede Westbrook made some nice plays last year, and [sophomore] Mark Andrews can hurt you.
[Coach Bob] Stoops walks and talks with a lot of swagger, and his guys feed off it. They think they’re the best, and they play like it.”
A graduate transfer from Penn State, Lewis brings some much-needed big-play ability to Norman. But the 6'1" 205-pounder needs to get back to his 2014 form (55 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns) and forget about the ’15 season, when he got passed on the depth chart and caught only 17 balls.
83: Tackles in 2015 by senior ILB Jordan Evans, the only one of the four starting ’backers to return.
5: Star rating for 6'3", 221-pound freshman OLB Caleb Kelly.
572: Total yards for QB Baker Mayfield against Tulsa last year, a school record. His 4,105 yards as a junior (including 3,700 passing) ranks fifth among Sooners signal-callers.
5: Interceptions by now junior cornerback Jordan Thomas, the leader of the secondary, who also had 46 tackles.
2,102: Combined rushing yards for RBs Samaje Perine (1,349 as a sophomore) and Joe Mixon (753 as a freshman). Expect Mixon to get more than 113 carries and Perine fewer than 226.
|Sept. 3||vs. Houston (at NRG Stadium in Houston)|
|Sept. 10||Louisiana Monroe|
|Sept. 17||Ohio State|
|Oct. 1||at TCU|
|Oct. 8||vs. Texas (at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas)|
|Oct. 15||Kansas State|
|Oct. 22||at Texas Tech|
|Nov. 3||at Iowa State|
|Nov. 19||at West Virginia|
|Dec. 3||Oklahoma State|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|