The Oklahoma football outlook for 2016 season. The Sooners made one big adjustment and everything changed. Now they need to make one more tweak.
The tweak worked, and now Oklahoma needs another.
What was the difference between going 8-5 in 2014 and going 11-2 in 2015 with a Big 12 championship and a trip to the College Football Playoff? The Sooners won the close games – they were able to come away with tight wins over Tennessee and TCU last year after three of the five losses two years ago came by a grand total of eight points. But the biggest key was a passing game that blew up.
With a quicker tempo and faster overall pace, the Air Raid offense did exactly what it was supposed to do, going from 93rd in the nation in passing efficiency – while relying on a terrific ground attack – to fourth, while not sacrificing the running game and even being more effective at times.
It wasn’t the jaw-dropping scoring-fest of the Sam Bradford 2008 offense, but the difference in styles allowed for the Sooners to keep up the pace – and then some – with the rest of the high-powered Big 12 attacks. It was Bob Stoops recognizing something had to be done to take that one step forward to be back in the championship world, but as Clemson proved in the Orange Bowl, there’s still more to do.
There’s absolutely no need to apologize for winning a Power Five championship and finishing up as one of the four best teams in college football, and great teams find ways to win, but if Tennessee could’ve figured out how to close – something it struggled to do in big games all season long – and if TCU had QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson, and if Baylor had Seth Russell at quarterback, it could’ve easily been another very good year for OU, but without the CFP finish.
But winning close games and catching the right breaks are what great teams need in a big season, and it helped to have the right guy running the offense to make it all happen.
Stoops made it well known after getting Manzieled by Texas A&M in the 2013 Cotton Bowl that something had to change. He wanted his own Johnny Football with a higher-powered attack that took the fight to the defenses – sort of like the Bradford and Jason White offenses did in the mid-2000s, only with more of a rushing element from the quarterback.
Trevor Knight was sort of it, but not really, and that’s where the Texas Tech walk-on came in. Baker Mayfield proved to be the baller the offense needed, and now he and the attack might be ready to go to a whole other level.
The backfield is loaded with Mayfield along with the rushing tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, and the receiving corps should make up for the loss of Sterling Shepard with Geno Lewis coming in from Penn State and several good options ready to work into the mix. The line will be more than good enough to ramp up the production again in shootout after shootout.
And now it’s up to the defense to come up with its own adjustment – deal with the power.
Clemson wasn’t Alabama when it came to cranking up the tough guy ground game, but it did exactly that in Miami, wearing down the Sooners on the way to 312 yards and total control of the second half. Texas did almost the same thing in the other Sooner loss – OU allowed 313 yards – meaning the work this summer has to come on the defensive side, needing to find the nastiness from a defense that didn’t allow more than 160 rushing yards in any game in 2014, and allowed just one 300-yard rushing game – 458 in the 2012 win over West Virginia – since facing Air Force in early 2010.
The secondary should be the strength of the OU defense – always a positive in the pass-happy conference – but the front seven will likely be more of a front six, going with bulk up front and toughness at linebacker to try changing up just a wee bit to prevent the losses of last year to happen the same way again.
Close time and again over the years since beating Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl to win the national title, Oklahoma should at least be the favorite to repeat as conference champion. Win the Big 12 title, crank up the offense against Houston and Ohio State, be a rock against the run get back to the CFP.
No one will complain if the next tweak has to come in Atlanta or Glendale on December 31st.