No. 4 wide receiver Sterling Shepard
Shepard was on his way to an easy OU 11 title before stepping just an inch or two out of bounds and landing flat on a camera lens in the back of the end zone.
Soon after, his hip injury evolved into a groin injury and never seemed to get better.
The season, which started with Shepard as the top pass catcher in the Big 12 Conference, ended as an ironic merry-go-round with the same weekly statement.
“Hopefully, I'll be good for this week,” Shepard said before Oklahoma’s game against Kansas.
For about every game in the latter half of the season, that was the feeling around Shepard. Every week, he gave it a shot, and every week, he watched the game from the sideline.
Oklahoma’s offense suffered drastically without Shepard in the lineup.
Through the first seven games of the season, Shepard averaged more than 100 yards per game and the Sooners’ offense surpassed the 250 passing yard total five times.
In the final five games without Shepard, Oklahoma threw for more than 150 yards only once – against Iowa State after Shepard opened the contest with a 46-yard grab and an injury on the first offensive play for Oklahoma.
“You saw when he was in there how big of a part of it he was,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “One guy can dramatically change the game. I know there’s 11 pieces in play, but one guy can dramatically change it, how they rotate coverage not just in the passing game, but how that affects your run game as well.”
Every week after came with the big question of whether Shepard was going to be able to play. He never suited up and his once insurmountable lead in the OU 11 was gone.
After seven weeks, Shepard was more than 10 points clear of any other player. He joined linebackers Geneo Grissom and Jordan Evans as the only three players in the final 11 that didn’t make a list after Game 7.
Without a doubt, Shepard changed Oklahoma’s offense more than any other player.
He was the lone playmaker on the outside and was the only receiver who could consistently take the top off the defense and give the Sooners’ running game any kind of real space.
After two weeks off in preparation for the bowl game, Shepard said he feels like he’ll be good to go. He felt better than ever since the injury.
That’s something Oklahoma has been waiting to see happen for a while.