Oklahoma opens its season againt Akron on Saturday. The Sooners are a 38-point favorite as they look to kick off the year on a strong note.
1. Baker Mayfield: Nothing new here … how will the new, starting quarterback play and will he be able to harness his seemingly boundless energy to make positive plays and eliminate turnovers? Mayfield simply needs to manage the offense and not attempt to carry the team. Hopefully, #No. 6 has patience. Suggested pre-game beverage … Sanka.
2. Offensive line: OU is fortunate to have a stellar offensive line coach in Bill Bedenbaugh, who has expressed confidence in his new starters, especially his plus-sized tackles. Left tackle Orlando Brown is 6-foot-8,350 pounds and his development will be a key to the O-Line’s success this year. It always starts up front and this group has unlimited potential. The question is how soon will it get comfortable as a unit and recognize the pressures that it will encounter?
3. Receivers: A new coach, new and bigger bodies and a new offensive coordinator equates to many unanswered questions, but the Sooners’ pass catchers have talent, especially the returning Sterling Shepherd. Plus, to the the delight of many, the tight end position returns from obscurity as redshirt freshman Mark Andrews, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, is a big target with excellent hands. Andrews is a matchup nightmare for defenses and he becomes especially dangerous in the red zone.
4. Defensive backs: Somewhat disappointing last year as it relates to giving up big plays but some of that burden also falls to the front seven that has to attack opposing QBs. Nonetheless, based on last year’s tape, expect OU’s secondary to be challenged early and often and it will be interesting to see how the defensive backs respond. Tackling was an issue last year and hopefully that basic football fundamental will improve. In the Big 12, an average secondary won’t cut it. This unit has the athletes to be as good as any secondary unit in the league but potential won’t buy the groceries … or win games that are tougher than a $2 Steak.
5. Front seven: No reason, other than injuries, that this group shouldn’t be one of the team’s strengths. DE Charles Tapper and OLB Eric Striker need to have breakout years if they expect to earn a good living on Sundays next year. The defensive tackles may be the most surprising unit on the squad. The linebacker position is in greabob t hands especially with Frank Shannon back to spell a much bigger and stronger Jordan Evans, who has grown to 242 pounds and Dominique Alexander, both Oklahoma high school products.
6. Kicking game: The field goals and punting will be handled by a true freshman who has won the jobs during a competitive fall practice. The Sooners are blessed with some quality legs in this group and Austin Seibert, who was the No. 1 punter/kicker in the country last year according to many scouting services will be challenged to handle this all important role. The question always has to be asked how will a true freshman respond on the big stage? Only one way to find out….
7. Injuries: The Sooners are healthy coming into this opening game against Akron, which is a tremendous blessing. The key is to stay that way as many eyes are looking ahead to the trip to Knoxville next week where 100,000+ are standing by to welcome OU to Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium.
These are exciting times for Oklahoma football as Bob Stoops has three, new coaches, a new offensive system, a renewed focus on the defensive and their approach to it, a new quarterback, an offensive coordinator who looks more like he’s 18 than 31 years old and a running back who’s arguably the best the Sooners have had since a guy nicknamed AD passed through Norman. How will the Air Raid account for the running game that Samaje Perine and company can provide to create balance and better clock management? Is the moniker “Air Raid” even applicable? We’ll find out Saturday evening at the 99th consecutive sell out at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium.
Prediction: Oklahoma 52 Akron 10
Jim Ross @JRsBBQ
J.R is an Oklahoma native who lives in Norman with his wife Jan. He’s a WWE Hall of Fame broadcaster, two-time New York Times Best -Selling author, and is recognized as the “Voice of Pro Wrestling” after a 40-year career in the field. His podcast, The Ross Report, can be heard on iTunes weekly and is one of the most listened to podcasts in the world. JR’s line of BBQ Sauces, Chipotle Ketchup, Jalapeno Honey Mustard, and All Purpose Seasoning/Dry Rub are available at the three, Norman Homeland Grocery Stores and online at www.wweshop.com.
JR will also be performing his nationally acclaimed one man show, RINGSIDE w/ Jim Ross, of comedy, outrageous road stories, and Q&As on Sept. 10 in Knoxville at the International venue at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and available at the door and online at www.ticketweb.com. All Sooner fans who are in Knoxville early are invited to attend and enjoy the two-hour show.