When asked anonymously about what he thinks of Oklahoma heading into the 2017 campaign, one opposing Big 12 coach called the Sooners “the team to beat,” while another referenced them as a College Football Playoff contender in Athlon Sports’ recent survey.
OU is coming off back-to-back Big 12 titles and returns quarterback and Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield. The Sooners, though, are not without change. Bob Stoops retired after 18 seasons as the coach in Norman, with young-but-talented offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley supplanting him.
“I think they’re definitely the team to beat,” one coach said. “They have most of their O-line coming back, … and the quarterback is a known commodity. [Mayfield] just makes plays.”
Offensively, the Sooners lost another Heisman candidate in Dede Westbrook, as well as dynamic running back duo Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, to the NFL. One coach was skeptical of their ability to replace that talent, but added “they have a pretty good track record of finding guys who can produce.”
One rival coach expected improvement on defense for the Sooners, saying he’s heard defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has switched to an even-front system.
“I see them being much better on defense — much, much better,” the coach said. “They got better as they went along last year. … That’ll be the big change, and I think it will help them.”
One coach questioned the Sooners’ linebacker and secondary play, calling it “a huge issue.” But for the most part, the conference’s coaches Athlon spoke with had positive impressions of OU, even considering an early matchup with Ohio State.
“Obviously they’re a team that has a chance to get into the Playoff if they win the games they’re supposed to win,” a coach said. “They’ve got a big game at Ohio State early, so we’ll see how they come out of that. Even if they don’t win, it makes them better for the conference run.”
The Sooners begin their hunt for a third straight Big 12 title Sept. 2 against UTEP.