Oklahoma pushed into the 2019 College Football Playoff, but departures to the NFL provide a new look for head coach Lincoln Riley’s team.
A head coaching change did not stop the Oklahoma Sooners success in college football. Under Lincoln Riley, they have made consecutive College Football Playoffs, with different quarterbacks, and remained nationally prominent. They will look to continue this in 2019, except with another new signal caller.
- 2018 record: 12-2
- Spring game date: Saturday, April 13 — 3:00 p.m.
Biggest spring storyline
Kyler Murray is out and Jalen Hurts is in. For “biggest spring storyline,” it’s as simple as that, with another quarterback in for the Sooners and the latest big name to helm the position.
Hurts walks in as the likely starting quarterback, without question, although the attention and spotlight will hover over him throughout the spring, especially arriving from Alabama’s dynasty, where winning was in everyone’s DNA.
All eyes will watch Hurts’ every snap, drop back and throw this spring. He must fill the shoes of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, who could become the second straight Oklahoma quarterback to become the NFL Draft’s first overall pick. A daunting task, but Hurts’ road to matching them starts on April 13.
The biggest reason for optimism
The Sooners are an offensive-oriented program. Doubt about who will start next to Hurts aside, Riley has mixed and matched running backs and wide receivers over the past two years. Success followed, and while Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is out, backfield depth behind the quarterback remains.
As a sophomore, Trey Sermon broke through with 947 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Another year under his belt should provide a grand junior campaign. He is not alone, either, with Kennedy Brooks’ return from 1,056 yards and 10 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. These two could top their respective numbers from 2018 and become Hurts’ most dynamic options to turn towards, which also provides comfort for an offense with question marks, including on the offensive line and wide receiver.
Biggest question mark
Big 12 football and offense are two peas in a pod. Not for the Oklahoma defense, as it allowed 453.8 yards per game in 2018, which ranked 114th. Luckily for them, most Big 12 defenses are subpar, which benefits the Sooners until the College Football Playoff, when Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan and other big-name programs consume the nation’s top four spots.
If the defense can improve slightly — by 30 or 40 yards — it would become a noticeable improvement. It just depends on the talent in place and how much emphasis the school in Norman, OK places on it. They have Kenneth Murray — 2018’s leading tackler — returning, which benefits the front seven. The same for Caleb Kelly. Parnell Motley will once again man the secondary. If these players take a step forward this spring, maybe it teases improvement for the fall.
No improvement might not spell doom for Oklahoma, but only if the offense is as proficient as previous seasons.
Biggest offseason addition
It goes back to Hurts, who arrives with fanfare and expectations from one championship as a starter, a faulty sophomore year and a junior season backing up Tua Tagovailoa. Now, he steps into a program looking to make the leap from semifinal exit to a title-winning team.
For questions of Hurts’ real-time action, Alabama head coach Nick Saban kept him fresh with 70 pass attempts and 35 rushing attempts in 2018 for 10 total touchdowns. While not as extensively used as Tagovailoa, Hurts was effective in limited action to supplement the Crimson Tide’s success.
Is Hurts the big playmaker the Sooners are accustomed to? He did not cross 3,000 yards passing as a freshman or sophomore and watched his completion percentage sink to 60.0 in 2017. However, over 1,800 yards rushing from 2016-17 provides hope for the ability to create chaos with his legs and trend somewhere between Mayfield and Murray’s numbers.
Biggest game to look forward to
Oklahoma’s schedule always has one date circled: the Red River Rivalry Game — the annual matchup with the Texas Longhorns, in October, that draws national attention. It is an obvious choice, but this game rarely disappoints in drama and stakes, which the 2018 game had; the Longhorns briefly leaped the Sooners in the Big 12 after their win.
The 2019 Red River Rivalry Game takes place on Saturday, Oct. 12, and with an experienced Texas group and Hurts’ name attached to this showcase, college football fans will flock to watch this unfold.