OKLAHOMA (11-2, 9-0 Big 12 in 2016)
Returning starters on offense (9)
QB Baker Mayfield (Sr.), FB Dimitri Flowers (Sr.), WR Jeffery Mead (Sr.), TE Mark Andrews (RS Jr.), OT Orlando Brown (RS Jr.), OG Ben Powers (Jr.), C Erick Wren (Sr.), OG Dru Samia (Jr.), OT Bobby Evans (RS Soph.)
Returning starters on defense (8)
DE Neville Gallimore (RS Soph.), DE D.J. Ward (RS Sr.), DE/OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (RS Sr.), ILB Emmanuel Beal (Sr.), OLB Caleb Kelly (Soph.), CB Jordan Thomas (Sr.), S Steven Parker (Sr.), CB Jordan Parker (Soph.)
Circled Non-Conference Game in 2017:
OU plays at Ohio State on Sept. 9. The Buckeyes won 45-24 in Norman in 2016.
5 Who Could Surprise (redshirts, non-starters in 2016 vying for starting spots):
RB Rodney Anderson (RS Fr.) – Stay healthy and maybe we’ll get to know why Anderson was so highly recruited coming out of Katy (Texas) High. His season was ended in Week 2 in 2015 and before the season in 2016. Could be that rare six-year player when all said and done. Needs to emerge with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon leaving for NFL.
WR Mykel Jones (Soph.) – slot receiver position is going to be one to watch in Norman. Will it be incoming junior college four-star signee Marquise Brown? Or Jones, who was slowly developing during the 2016 season? Either way, Lincoln Riley is ready to make this spot matter again.
DT Du’Vonta Lampkin (RS Soph.) – Suspended for the first half of 2016 season, Lampkin showed what he could do when he was on the field. He’s a bully out there. Most of OU’s defensive line is about containment, but Lampkin can attack and do it well.
LB Ricky DeBerry (RS Soph.) – With outside linebacker locked up, DeBerry is hoping to find a spot at inside linebacker. It’s clear the determination is there from the former five-star prospect, but will the results follow as well?
S Will Sunderland (Jr.) – Sunderland had his one shining moment with an interception in a win against Texas. With Ahmad Thomas graduating, it’s time for Sunderland to make his mark. He has been waiting for it. He’s ready.
3 Reasons for Concern:
Reason No. 1 … OU doesn’t regroup at running back, it reloads. But how in the world do you reload after Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon? That’s the question right now. Anderson and Abdul Adams are on campus, while OU’s 2017 running back class is among the best in the nation.
Reason No. 2 … You had Sterling Shepard in 2015. You had Dede Westbrook in 2016. On paper, there is absolutely nobody who looks to be the breakout receiver in 2017. The experience of Baker Mayfield and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is going to be huge here.
Reason No. 3 … Lack of depth with front seven. OU is starting to build up the championship depth at defensive line and linebacker. But it sure as heck is not there for 2017 season. Defensive end and inside linebacker will be huge for OU to stay healthy because the cupboard is pretty bare.
Why this team could win big:
Because this is a year of unfinished business for the Sooners. OU, deep down, knows it should have been a college football playoff team in 2016. After a 1-2 start, the Sooners finished 11-2 and won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl. Mayfield is back. Riley is back. The entire offensive line returns. Actually, the top eight offensive linemen return. A defense has budding star in Caleb Kelly. Expectations are high again.
Offensive player to watch:
WR Jeffery Mead – Has the light bulb come on for Mead? He’s tall, has great hands, but never seemed to put it together until the latter half of 2016. Nobody is asking for Shepard or Westbrook numbers, but Mead must be ready to make a move as consistent performer for Mayfield in 2017.
Defensive player to watch:
OLB Caleb Kelly – He was a five-star prospect for a reason. Just a sophomore, but he could absolutely be in consideration for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.