With football season here and OSU having done the expected to Missouri State, we kick off our weekly feature full of hopefully interesting facts, figures and a lot of what’s been going through my brain — quite scary, I agree.
In Stillwater, Mike Gundy is open about the fact that as long as he’s Head Poke, the trio of non-conference opponents will tip the scales at about the same weight of overmatched MSU. We’ll save that discussion for another day. Thursday night, the Cowboys excelled in several areas but it’s obvious they’ll not be the lethal deep-ball team they’ve historically been under Gundy.
The new-look 2018 Sooners open against what could be a dangerous Florida Atlantic team. The much-publicized Lane Kiffin brings his 20.5 underdog Owls to Norman, looking for an upset that would extend FAU’s nation’s best ten game win streak, and send Norman into the wrong kind of September Bedlam. Kiffin has consistently ‘Woe is me’d’ the media about his bunch not having a chance against these Green Bay Sooners.
But no question, if they get good QB play, FAU will score against this Oklahoma defense enough to extend this game - if not win it outright. Key? Start fast. Slug ‘em in the mouth. Again. And again. OU’s major edge is superior depth.
DEPTH CHART RELEASED BUT HEAVY ON ‘ORs’: OU’s much-anticipated depth chart was released Thursday. But not a lot of the key questions were answered. Looks like elite OL Coach Bill Bedenbaugh will wait till game time to decide who starts at center.
Indications were BB would go with the veteran Jonathon Alvarez at center over the future all-everything RS FR Creed Humphrey. But Alvarez has experience at guard and could be moved over in week one if there are game day injuries that would keep a starter out at one of the guard positions. So, it’s listed as one of the ‘ORs’.
Humphrey will be the centerpiece for the next few years and I expect he’ll see plenty of playing time in crunch time this season. He’s just not as advanced in making calls at the line of scrimmage, which could make things unnecessarily harder for a new QB.
Alvarez is proven, a pros’s pro at understanding the intricacies of his offensive line and a defensive front, and passing along imperative pre-snap info to his Big Uglies in the right spot.
CALEB KELLY IS ONE OF THE BEST GUYS - to roll through Norman in many a year. Love his character, modesty, honesty, discipline, and everything else I know about him away from the field. However, Kelly is the first to admit he’s underachieved after coming in a highly-touted 5-star recruit from California. BTW, I’ll save my thoughts for later about the perplexing high number of 5-stars who’ve not played to expectations in Norman.
After sitting out the spring due to injury, Kelly has struggled with the major changes from playing on the outside to moving to an inside backer at will.
Word is Curtis Bolton has been at least his equal in camp as Kelly’s struggles working through new challenges like the congested traffic near the Los.
The depth chart says ‘Bolton or Kelly’ at will. Both will play significantly and decide the job on the field. If Kelly does not start, it’d be two 5-stars coming off the bench, behind a pair of seniors who’ve never been regulars in previous seasons. Interesting.
5-STAR ROBERT BARNES BEHIND: Kahlil Haughton, who has improved since last season when he played mostly in a reserve roll at free safety. Barnes has battled injuries and is believed to become the stud they expected when they got former Sooner linebacking great Reggie Barnes’ son.
If Stoops can get winning play at free safety, despite the loss of two quality safety starters from last season, at some point this season, this secondary should be improved. And it should only get better and better with an obvious upgrade in recruiting.
PREDICTION: DRAKE STOOPS BECOMES FAN FAVE FROM START - which won’t surprise those who’ve followed Bob’s son both in high school and in the off-season/camp. Precise routes, hands of glue, dependability and playmaking have stood out, putting the local walk-on in an ‘Either OR’ depth chart battle at H receiver with former walk-ons Nick Basquine and Myles Tease.
OSU DEFENSIVE CONSULTANT GARY GIBBS: Hold it. OSU’s Gary Gibbs? The former six-year head coach of the Sooners? The national champion starting linebacker for the Sooners? The longtime, brilliant, Barry Switzer defensive coordinator?
The Double-G who was bright enough to be hired by then-LSU HC Nick Saban and become a widely respected NFL defensive assistant through the 2016-17 season. The Gary Gibbs, living in the same home he’s owned for decades - just a skinny post from Owen Field — the place he sweated, bled, celebrated, recruited and coached for 20 years. The quiet but ultra-competitive football-devotee Gary Gibbs, who frankly never sounded anything like an OSU admirer during those decades. Yes, that Gary Gibbs, was keenly hired in a potentially meaningful move by OSU’s equally competitive head coach Mike Gundy. And the Sooners decide to sit this one out, leaving many to scratch there heads and wonder why. I have it on good authority that Gibbs is bored, would like to keep football sharp, would like to continue coaching, but wouldn’t have been an analyst at OU. And he isn’t an analyst at OU — still, a valuable resource in evaluating OSU’s defense and adding his ideas and opinions.
Lincoln Riley said Monday he’d had great talks with Gibbs twice … that maybe someday if there’s a spot he’d love to have him aboard (don’t know that a former OU head coach with current NFL cred would be interested in joining, say, a Mike Stoops staff as a position coach. Actually, that’s not true. I know darn sure there’d be no interest. Perhaps a part-time contributor or maybe an analyst. But not a mid-sixties Gibbs multiple notches below an OU head coach).
Riley indicated that with the defensive coaches aboard now that the timing wasn’t right. There’ll be more fleshing out down the road. In the meantime, Gibbs will regularly drive to Stillwater and back, contributing what he can to a rival to his Oklahoma Sooners. November 10 will see Gary Gibbs and the Cowboys taking on Lincoln Riley’s Sooners in Norman. One thing is certain. It could be the shortest trip home ever for a visiting coach.
FULLBACK WILL LOGICALLY SEE A DROPOFF - as the exceptionally versatile and productive Dimitri Flowers used up his eligibility last season. No knock on Carson Meier, who’ll get the start among a deep group of H’ers against FAU. And there’s reason to believe that the 6-5 veteran Meier will be solid and dependable.
But at least early, Riley won’t have the defendable playmaker in Flowers to draw up creative plays around – easy to picture dynamic plays drawn up by Riley last season in Columbus and Pasadena where defenses were perplexed and burned when Flowers snagged a Baker Mayfield pass up a seam or up the boundary and then added on valuable yards after contact.
The Stoops-Riley run of H-Back types is truly remarkable. And an edge the Sooners had every game they line up. Not necessarily the case now, at least in the beginning of 2018.
THE E.F. HUTTON & VOICE OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL, KIRK HERBSTREIT SAY: “Lincoln Riley is by far the best offensive coach in college football today.” True. But always good to have Herbie’s acknowledgment.
Baker Mayfield told me something recently in Cleveland I’ve thought about a lot. He said defenses could be in for a shock when you have one of the fastest players in football — who can also throw the football — combined with the ‘best in football’ OC.
Riley’s head could be spinning creating wrinkles to utilize Kyler Murray. Of course, it’s one thing to draw up the plays. It’s another to execute them in the Cotton Bowl on 3rd and 9.
YOURS TRULY FIRST REPORTED- from an early June interview with Lincoln Riley that the coach did not buy into the reports that Kyler Murray would only play this one year of football, then transition full-time to baseball with the A’s. Some scoffed at the notion pointing to a report out of Oakland that it was in Kyler’s contract. Then later pointing to controversial agent Scott Boras proclaiming that Kyler was one and done - forget it Sooners.
But we stuck with Riley’s statement, where he never equivocated. Several media members appeared shocked that Riley repeated what he’d told me and that I regularly reported – that Murray leaving after 2018 is not a done deal. No one knows the specifics of what leads Riley to state and re-state that position. But clearly, he knows something that only a handful of people know. Having said that, I’d post the odds of Murray returning in 2019 at 20 to 1 against.
UNOS, DOS, TRES: Tre Brown and Tre Norwood will team up with a much-improved Parnell Motley, in what should be markedly improved production at the corners. Motley’s shaken off that mid-2017 slump and could become an elite player, per coaches. The Tandem of Tres were rock solid last season as freshmen and should see OU produce play at that all-important position closer to the level of the Bamas and Bucks.
BOOKIE TO GET LOTSA LOOKIES - after arriving as a 5-star talent with a 5-star name and early on, a 5-star game. The hype and expectation levels of the Inglewood by way of Florida’s IMG Academy stud, has been not unlike highly-touted newcomers like Tommie Harris and Rocky Calmus. Nagging injuries hurt his development during a critically important time in camp. He’s not where he could’ve been after missing valuable camp reps. Still, Bookie could provide one thing that’s not been in abundance around here as much as back when ‘Defense REALLY won Championships’ – a contagious swagger backed up by big time play, along with an ability to communicate & motivate in a Baker Mayfield’ish kind of way.
IT’S BEEN HARD TO FIND SWAGGER WHEN: your defense is coming off a season when it remarkably was a play away from a Bama Natty Title Date while ending up with vulgar national statistics, including – hold your nose: 68th in points allowed, 105th in first downs allowed, 103rd in red zone D, 82nd in sacks, 87th in pass yards allowed, 54th against the rush, 57th on third downs, and 67th total defense.
BUT ON A POSITIVE NOTE: there’s no one on the schedule that OU’s offense shouldn’t score enough to beat — even on days this defense gives up 30 points. And that’s not an easy swipe as so many in the national media take at Big 12 defenses, as it is how productive Riley’s offense could become.
THEREFORE, FEEL COMFORTED IN KNOWING FACTS: The opinion of many Big 12 experts is that the gap between the Sooners and the next few contending league teams has shrunk — can’t say I disagree. And for the sake of the contenders, it had better. Because there has been and was last season a clear gap between the three-time defending champs.
After stunning Suburban Meyer’s Mighty Buckeyes in their own backyard by fifteen, the Sooners beat a fired-up first year Texas team, despite playing below their norm, 29-24. A 7-point road win at K-State was followed by a 22-point win at Tech.
Before a raucous Stillwater crowd, OU once again beat an 11th-ranked OSU team in a wild 62-52 game that Vegas saw as a toss-up going in. Once again, the ‘toss-up’ was won by the better team in Oklahoma, despite impressive improvements across the board under the undeniably strong leadership of Mike Gundy. That November night, there clearly a gap between the in-state rivals – one that has shrunk, but persists.
OU thumped No. 8 TCU 38-20 at home, rolled West Virginia by 4 TDs. Then the gap between last year’s No. 2 team league team and No. 1 OU was obvious when the Sooners embarrassed TCU and it’s justifiably proud head coach Gary Patterson, by twenty four, 41-27. Point made.
The 2017 contenders could have indeed closed the gap to a degree to be later determined; and could take down the program that’s won eight more Big 12 titles than the next team — UT has three titles.
But if OU can continue its high-quality play displayed the past few years, it’ll be hard to keep them from making it a Dirty Dozen Big 12 titles and a remarkable 49th overall conference titles.
GAME 1 PREDICTION: Oklahoma wins 41-21.
OH BY THE WAY: OU plays at Iowa State in week three. Hello. I sure would like to think Sooner coaches and players have done due diligence to be appropriately prepared to play a good team with a really good head coach that will play with a really, really good home field advantage, less than one year from the shocking upset of Baker Mayfield’s playoff-bound squadron. A challenging non-conference slate best not keep a team with promise from what would be a disastrous start in Big 12 play.