No. 19 Oklahoma OK without the hype
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) TCU and Baylor are getting most of the hype in the Big 12 this season.
Oklahoma is fine with that.
The Sooners entered last season with a No. 4 ranking, boldly talking about securing a berth in the college football playoff. But a season derailed by injuries and close losses culminated in a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl and a disappointing 8-5 finish. No. 19 Oklahoma will take its lowest preseason ranking since 2000 into its opener against Akron on Saturday night.
The Sooners talked about the low expectations, but only to put them into the proper perspective.
''We're not too much paying attention to the outside,'' receiver Sterling Shepard said. ''We can only focus on what we can do, and the guys want to just go out there and show everybody what we have. We're not too focused on what the media has to say.''
The Sooners shook things up after last season. They hired offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to bring back the Air Raid offense that pushed the Sooners to the elite in college football the previous decade. They also switched quarterbacks, picking walk-on transfer Baker Mayfield over last year's starter, Trevor Knight.
Now, it's game time.
''We know what we can do, and we've got to go out there and show it,'' Shepard said.
Akron has a habit of annoying the big boys. Last season, the Zips knocked off Pittsburgh and pestered Penn State. In 2013, Michigan struggled with the Zips at home before holding on for a 28-24 victory.
Akron coach Terry Bowden believes this challenge is bigger than the others.
''We've played well against our big away game opponents each year, but this will be especially tough,'' he said. ''This is an especially talented team, in one of the most hostile environments in the country.''
Here are some things to watch in the opener:
AIR RAID? Much has been made of Oklahoma's return to its old offense, but Riley has said all along that Samaje Perine will be a key piece to his puzzle. Perine rumbled ran for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns last season as a freshman, and he has dropped about 20 pounds to check in at a trim 230. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season, and he said he feels faster this year and has maintained his strength. East Carolina, where Riley was the offensive coordinator last year, averaged 49 passes and 33 runs last season. That's probably not the ratio we'll see this season.
JOE MIXON: One of the nation's top high school running backs two years ago, the Sooners suspended Mixon last year after he punched a woman in the face at a restaurant. He's back, and he has drawn raves throughout preseason practice for his speed, energy and versatility. He is No. 2 on the depth chart, and coach Bob Stoops said he'd like to see how Mixon does returning punts.
AKRON QBs: Bowden hasn't said who will start this week, and it won't become apparent until the offense takes the field for the first time. The returning starter, Kyle Pohl, passed for 2,189 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games last year. The newcomer, Tra'Von chapman, is a dual threat who transferred from Pittsburgh.
KNIGHT NO. 2: Oklahoma's starter last year lost out to Mayfield in a close competition. Knight is an exceptional runner, and there are ways to get an athlete of his caliber on the field. Stoops said it's unlikely Oklahoma will roll out a special package for Knight's skill set, but the Sooners have been known to do unique things in the red zone, such as the Belldozer package with Blake Bell.
FRANK SHANNON: Oklahoma's senior linebacker led the team in tackles in 2013, but he was suspended last season for a violation of the school's Title IX policy, which covers sexual misconduct. His replacement last year, Jordan Evans, will start Saturday. The coaches have said Shannon looks ready to go.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .