Last season’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl dismantling of Alabama created a cacophony of high hopes and expectations for the University of Oklahoma football team, which enters this year with national championship aspirations. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State University’s football squad seeks to begin its season by upsetting defending national champion Florida State.
Finally, it’s game week. Here’s a primer to get you ready for kickoff.
Sooners ready for title run
Fourth-ranked OU opens at home against Louisiana Tech on Saturday at 6 p.m. The game is a sellout and will be televised on a pay-per-view basis.
Looking to build on his breakout performance, redshirt sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight is “much improved” from a year ago, with more offensive command and better touch on deep passes, head coach Bob Stoops said.
“(Knight’s) got a much better feel this year of getting those guys a chance with balls, and we’ve been more successful and in a better position the whole camp really,” Stoops said.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Thomas seems to have won the backup job, but Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield could be a factor if he is granted a waiver to play immediately, Stoops said.
Senior Blake Bell switched from quarterback to tight end during the offseason (don’t be surprised if you see Bell under center, in case of emergency), but OU lost its appeal to allow junior wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a Missouri transfer, to play this season. That means junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard — who gained 603 receiving yards with seven touchdown receptions last year — should be the No. 1 wide receiver. Shepard will also take over punt return duties for the Sooners.
With freshman Joe Mixon suspended for the entire season, OU’s running back corps will be led by sophomore Keith Ford, who gained 134 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown last year. Sophomore Alex Ross also figures to get significant touches.
On defense, the Sooners’ front seven should be fearsome. Junior linebacker Eric Striker has been named a preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated and is listed on several award watch lists. Sophomores Jordan Evans and Dominque Alexander and senior Geneo Grissom also return.
Redshirt senior Julian Wilson appears to be winning the battle for the starting cornerback position opposite sophomore Zack Sanchez.
The Sooners play at Tulsa on Sept. 6 before returning home to face Tennessee on Sept. 13.
Young Cowboys face top-ranked ’Noles
OSU opens against top-ranked Florida State on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the 2014 Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game will be televised by ABC.
The Cowboys must find a way to stop Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and an FSU offense that last year averaged 519.1 yards per game.
“(Winston’s) a really good player that’s dangerous, in that he can make a play at any time. He’s got a strong arm, he’s hard to bring down, he’s mobile and he’s got a great supporting cast,” head coach Mike Gundy said.
At Media Day, Gundy said it was a “very good possibility” that multiple quarterbacks — including juniors J.W. Walsh and Daxx Garman and freshman Mason Rudolph — would earn playing time.
However, Walsh seems to have emerged as the favorite. At last week’s pre-game press conference, Gundy said Walsh is “getting most of the reps with the ones, and the other two guys are splitting reps.”
A physical player who understands the game, Walsh is an experienced leader, while Garman has impressed the OSU coaching staff with his deep passes and Rudolph, at six-foot-four, is a prototypical quarterback, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said.
At running back, the Cowboys have options. Senior Desmond Roland rushed for 811 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and could be the featured back. Sophomore Rennie Childs has speed and power, and junior college transfer Tyreek Hill is all speed, an athlete who can play multiple positions.
At wide receiver, juniors Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden and sophomore Jhajuan Seales have made plays during training camp and should play a big role.
On defense, the Cowboys have depth up front but are young at linebacker and in the secondary, Gundy said.
“You have times you get a little frustrated because there’s so many young players out there, but then also it’s very enjoyable to watch them progress and develop. It’s a different year for us. We have a lot of players that are inexperienced and they’re learning on the run, so we bring them along just like we did the last group.”
OSU follows with four straight home games, starting with Missouri State on Sept. 6.