There is no question that OU has been the class of the Big XII conference for the majority of it's existence. Bob Stoop manned the head of a powerhouse for the entirety of the last decade. He owns a record of 168-44 (.793) as head coach of the Sooners and from 2000-2010 he captured seven Big XII titles and a national championship to boot. Twice during that run the had the longest home winning streak in the nation. While some fans are disappointed by last year's 8-5 record (seriously, they're really upset about going 8-5) and there are rumblings here and there that maybe it is time to make a change, the question remains: who are they going to get that is better than Stoops?
It's interesting because while Stoops has been wildly successful at Oklahoma, it has also been very frustrating at times for fans. Maybe its just that they virtually never lost so when they did lose it really got people's attention, but there are several major programs in today's college football landscape that first struck it rich by taking down the Sooners. In 2006 the Oregon Ducks knocked off OU when an officiating mistake robbed the Sooners of a successful onside kick attempt. In 2007 Boise State beat them in the Fiesta Bowl pulling off the hook-n-ladder and the statue of liberty in a glorious final two minutes and overtime. And in everyone's favorite, TCU defeated them in Norman to open the 2005 season, a win that began our rise to the ranks of college football's #NewRoyalty. This year we will attempt our first win in Norman since that historic day, but first let's take a look back at...
The Last Time They Met
Oklahoma was one of the preseason favorites to make the inaugural College Football Playoff coming off a 2014 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama and cruising to a 4-0 record and a #4 national ranking to open the season. TCU was eager to try out their new toy, the Air-Frog offense installed by Cumbie and Meacham, and test the limits of their potential. The Frogs immediately drove the length of the field for a touchdown and after a forcing OU into a quick three-and-out, they went right back to work with another to take a 14-0 lead. What a rush.
Thanks to Sterling Sheppard the Sooners came roaring back to tie it up and the two teams traded blows for the rest of the game heading into the fourth quarter tied 31-31. That's when Paul Dawson introduced himself to the world:
... and The Carter exploded like a Michael Bay movie. Immediately after that OU returned the 2-point conversion to make it 37-33. Even after TCU turned it over twice in the final five minutes of the game, giving Oklahoma plenty of chances to win it, that ended up being the final score and TCU secured the victory. The rest, as they say, is history.
Oklahoma in 2015
The Sooners have come full circle in 2015, returning to the air-raid offense that won led them to a National Championship in 2000. To help them make this transition they hired Lincoln Riley, the former offensive coordinator of East Carolina. Riley hails from Muleshoe Texas, a small town of about 5,000 people located on the sweeping plains of West Texas. He brings an aggressive, up-tempo attack akin to that of TCU and Baylor and he has a lot to work with.
On offense, Oklahoma returns a preseason Heisman candidate in RB Semaje Perine and a preseason All-Big XII wide receiver in Sterling Shepard. At RB they will be joined by the speedy freshman Joe Mixon who is 6'1", 209 pounds with a 4.53 40 time and the big, bruising junior Alex Ross (6'1", 220 pounds). The rest of the WR corps is relatively unproven as the Sooners struggled mightily last year when the lost Shepard to injury, but OU is never short on talented options. Two players that are expected to step up next year are junior DeDe Westbrook and freshman Mark Andrews. Here is what ESPN's Brandon Chatmon had to say about them in his post spring depth chart analysis:
Westbrook is a newcomer who had coaches and teammates buzzing during the spring with his speed and quickness. Andrews provides a big option as a tight end/receiver prospect in the mold of Jace Amaro. Keep an eye on Quick and Humphrey, both could excel in OU's high tempo attack.
On the offensive line OU has to replace three starters, but after spring practices they had four seniors and one junior penciled in as the starters. Being that TCU doesn't face the Sooners until 11/21/15, Riley will have plenty of time to figure out who his best options are before these two teams meet on the gridiron.
The biggest question is who will be playing quarterback. Trevor Knight looked like the future at quarterback up until the TCU game last year, and things got really rocky after that. Baker Mayfield, the 2013 Big XII freshman of the year and notorious signal stealer, is available to play in 2015 after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. Knight represented OU at Big XII media days, but the battle will ultimately be settled during the spring. Neither performed especially well during the spring game, but Mayfield brings a lot of swagger and confidence into the competition. Lincoln Riley is known as a guy who loves to see that kind of aggressiveness in his signal caller, and my bet is that Mayfield will eventually win the starting role if the two are close in skill and their understanding of the offense at the end of fall practices.
Defensively, Oklahoma brings back an experienced front seven led by preseason All-Big XII linebacker Eric Striker, who makes a strong case for the best named linebacker in college football. He lives up to that name too. Striker led OU in tackles for loss and sacks in 2014 with 17 and nine respectively. Oklahoma's other preseason All-Big XII selection on defense is cornerback Zach Sanchez, who was second in the Big XII in interceptions behind former TCU safety Chris Hackett, who left early for the NFL after his junior year. The same style of aggressive play that generates all those interceptions also leads to Sanchez getting beat deep a lot, which makes him a bit of a double edge sword.
The Sooners will be looking to junior linebacker Dominique Alexander and sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas to step up and provide leadership in 2015. Oklahoma was eighth in the nation last year in rush defense allowing only 3.2 yards per carry so and I expect them to lean on their run defense again this season. The Sooners have experience in the safetyposition, but they will need to get more consistent play out of their returning starters in order to show significant defensive improvement this season.
Score Prediciton: TCU 45, OU 38
While they had their struggles in Norman last season, don't expect that to continue this year. OU has one of the best home field advantages in college football and TCU faces a tough task having to go on the road to face them this year. As Gary Patterson said in his press conference on Tuesday, the West Virginia and Kansas games last year were fights. I expect this to be another one, but TCU has historically played very well in Norman. I think that this one will come down to OU's secondary simply not being able to handle Trevone Boykin and the TCU offense in the fourth quarter. The game is tied in the fourth quarter, but TCU comes up with a late turnover and drives down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes. OU has a chance to force overtime, but the TCU defense holds strong in the red zone and is able to take the victory on the road to set up a showdown with Baylor for all the marbles the following week.