2016 season preview: Oklahoma Sooners
Despite a tough loss to end the year, it’s hard to say that Oklahoma’s 2015 season was anything other than a success. After a close loss to Texas early on, Oklahoma won their next seven games to become the Big 12 champions. They earned the Big 12’s first birth in the College Football Playoff before losing to Clemson. This year Oklahoma looks to build off that success and once again compete for a spot in the CFP. Here’s a look at the team and a preview for the 2016 season:
Despite losing top receiver Sterling Shepard to the NFL, the returning Oklahoma offense promises to be extremely good. It starts with early-Heisman candidate quarterback Baker Mayfield and his third-best overall grade last season. But don’t sleep on this running game either. RB Samaje Perine has rushed for 3067 yards, 37 touchdowns and a well above-average overall grade combined his last two seasons at Oklahoma. His 79.8 elusive rating ranked 12th in the country last season. While those are the stars, the Sooners also see the return of some solid offensive linemen like LT Orlando Brown, and some good receivers like Dede Westbrook.
The Sooners lost some big-time production in DT Charles Tapper and LB Eric Striker, but there’s still more than enough talent on this defense for it to be successful in 2016. It starts up front with DE Charles Walker. He graded out as the fifth-best returning interior defender in all of college football for this season thanks to a position-best 11.2 run stop percentage. There’s also corner William Johnson, who came on late in the year last season. He played significant snaps in just seven games, but finished with a team-best coverage grade after allowing just 13 receptions on 24 targets for 165 yards and just one touchdown. This team is built around their high-powered offense, but this defense should be able to do enough to find some success.
This is as obvious a player as anyone would expect. Baker Mayfield is the star of this team and could very well be the biggest star in the country this season. No returning quarterback graded higher than Mayfield did last season. His adjusted completion percentage of 77.2 ranks third among returning quarterbacks in the country. He also was a top 10 deep passer last year, throwing accurate passes on 51.7 of his throws greater than 20+ yards downfield. He also added a threat as a runner, carrying the ball 107 times for 598 yards, seven touchdowns and 23 missed tackles forced. Mayfield is a Heisman candidate and it’s easy to see why. If he has success like last season, Oklahoma will succeed.
Breakout player to watch
While Samaje Perine is the clear No. 1 running back, don’t look past backup RB Joe Mixon. Last year as a redshirt freshman Mixon carried the ball just 114 times and gained 756 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He also added 28 catches for 358 yards and four touchdowns. Mixon was incredibly elusive, forcing 38 missed tackles on just 142 touches and averaging 3.65 yards after contact per touch. That elusive rating of 97.7 ranked 14th in the nation among running backs who had at least 100 touches last year. Mixon is young and impressive and there’s no reason to think that Oklahoma won’t give him even more touches and chances to shine this year.
Oklahoma is the early favorite to win the entire Big 12, and for good reason. The return of Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield is reason enough to be optimistic about the Sooners, but he’s not the only one. With the one-two runningback punch of Perine and Mixon, Oklahoma’s offensive backfield is one of the scariest in the entire nation. If the defense can make just a handful of stops a game and allow this offense to work, the Sooners could definitely play their way right back to the College Football Playoffs.