Bloguin Top 50: No. 19 — Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners
2014 Record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12 (lost bowl game)

1 Burning Question: Is Bob Stoops done?

The story of Oklahoma football at the moment belongs to its coach, not the team. Bob Stoops won the national championship in his second year with the Sooners and has spent the last 15 seasons trying to get back to the top of the mountain. In the last five, however, he has looked at times like a legend trying to hold onto his status as one of the best in his profession.

Never did that appear to be the case more so than in 2014. Brutal mistakes sunk OU in tough losses to TCU and Kansas State. Baylor blew the Sooners off their home field. Stoops handed OU’s in-state rivals a gift win in the Bedlam game. The Clemson defense, overseen by former lieutenant Brent Venables, chewed the Sooners up and spit them out in a listless bowl performance.

Stoops isn’t in danger of being fired if his program doesn’t turn it around this season. Yet, another year of underachievement would add more weight to the theory that he has lost his touch, especially after shaking up the coaching staff in the offseason.

Historically, this is when Stoops and his teams are at their best.

2 Stats to Pay Attention To

38.7% — The percentage of total fumbles (31) recovered by the Sooners (12) in their 13 games last year. Generally, that kind of miserable luck doesn’t follow a team from year to year. At least, that’s what Sooner Nation is hoping.

96 — Oklahoma’s national ranking in passing rating last season. Frankly, OU hasn’t thrown the ball all that efficiently since Sam Bradford’s offense was rewriting record books in 2008. The Sooners’ best finish since then came in 2010, when they finished 25th nationally.

3 Games That Will Make or Break the Season

Saturday, November 14, at Baylor
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 2-3
Last Year’s Result: L, 14-48

Why it matters: Baylor’s dominance over Oklahoma in the last five seasons embodies the Bears’ miraculous turnaround under Art Briles. BU has smacked OU around in their last two meetings, including a boo-inducing beatdown in Norman last year. The Sooners will have a lot of pride on the line in this road trip to Waco.

Saturday, November 21, TCU
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 3-2
Last Year’s Result: L, 33-37

Why it matters: No one realized how good the Horned Frogs were a year ago when they upset OU early in the year. That’s not the case now: They enter 2015 as one of the favorites for the national championship. If revenge isn’t enough, the Sooners dropped an unfathomable three games at Owen Field last season. It seems likely they’ll be gunning for a perfect home record in ‘15 in this contest.

Saturday, November 28, Oklahoma State
Record in Last 4 Meetings: 3-2
Last Year’s Result: L, 35-38

Why it matters: OU caps off a wicked November slate with Bedlam in Stillwater. Stoops boasts a 12-4 record in his career as a head coach versus OSU, but the Cowboys have taken two of the last four in the series. Another loss to the Pokes won’t sit well with Sooner fans after how things went down a year ago.

Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield

4 Key Players

The Quarterback – While Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas still have a chance to state their cases in the next couple weeks, it sounds like this will be Baker Mayfield. Whoever wins OU’s QB competition will have an array of dangerous weapons at his disposal in the passing game. It could turn out to be that OU’s signal caller just needs to get out of the way.

Josiah St. John, LT – St. John has the unenviable task of replacing an all-conference selection and NFL draft pick in Tyrus Thompson. The quality of edge rushers in the Big 12 will add a bit to the degree of difficulty. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is implementing the Air Raid at OU, which could take some heat off of St. John by emphasizing quick throws and timing patterns.

Frank Shannon, LB – After a Title IX inquiry sidelined Shannon for the entire ‘14 season, the Crimson and Cream faithful want to know how much rust the inside linebacker will be shaking off this year. OU has other quality LBs to hold down a spot inside, but Shannon has demonstrated the best combination of defense against the run and the pass in the course of his career. Having him back on the field could provide a serious lift to a D that bended so far without him that it might as well have broken.

Steven Parker, DB – Atrocious roster management in earlier recruiting classes forced Parker to grow up in a hurry last year. He took some lumps as a true freshman playing safety/nickelback. As the year wore on, though, he showed signs of being a difference-maker in the secondary. Look for the native Oklahoman to continue his upward ascent in year two.

5 Bold Predictions

5. Oklahoma will not lose a game at home this season.

The Sooners’ home dominance felt like a distant memory a year ago. The ‘15 squad will try to make up for three ignominious defeats on their home turf with an undefeated campaign at Owen Field. That includes a revenge win against highly touted TCU in November.

4. Joe Mixon will have more total yards on offense than Samaje Perine.

Mixon’s off-the-field issues have garnered plenty of negative attention for OU in the last 12 months. On the field, he has the skills to flourish in Riley’s offense. Mixon and Perine will find themselves playing together often this season, with Mixon racking up more yards catching and running the ball than Perine, who had nearly 2,000 yards combined in his freshman season.

3. Mike Stoops will restore some of his reputation as a defensive genius.

Bob Stoops brought his brother back to OU with the hope that they could recapture some of the spark behind the Sooner D in the early 2000s. We haven’t seen that so far. The play of OU’s secondary last season was especially embarrassing. Mike has now rebuilt the defensive backfield through recruiting and the Sooners hired Kerry Cooks away from Notre Dame to coach both the cornerbacks and safeties. In light of the Sooners’ strong corps of linebackers and depth along the defensive line, their D stands to make big gains from a year ago.

2. OU won’t be the Big 12’s one true champion.

That will be Baylor, which will get the nod by virtue of a head-to-head win over the Sooners. (Ironic, huh?) OU will have to settle for tying for the top spot.

1. Bob Stoops will be back in 2016.

A 10-2 regular season and appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl game will spark talk that Stoops’ offseason moves have given OU new life. With just 12 scholarship seniors departing from the ‘15 squad, hopes will be high for the Sooners in ‘16. And Stoops won’t be going anywhere.