No Big 12 team benefited more from its bowl game than Oklahoma. Thanks to a 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners should be the preseason favorite to win the conference next season.
The hype isn't unfounded, though. Oklahoma returns its entire defensive front six/seven and quarterback Trevor Knight, whose potential makes him a scary player for opposing defenses.
Be prepared to hear about it all offseason, folks.
What does Oklahoma need to do this spring to turn those expectations into a reality and bring home a ninth Big 12 title?
Knight Takes the Next Step
It's no secret that Knight has to improve his game and be more consistent in 2014.
Though his four-touchdown performance in the Sugar Bowl was memorable, there's no revisionist history going on here. Knight was a one-dimensional quarterback in Week 1 against Louisiana-Monroe and missed nearly half the season with various injuries.
However, Knight showed that he could develop as a passer and that needs to continue. Accuracy, decision making, ball security—those are all areas where the redshirt sophomore-to-be has to be better.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel has taken his fair share of criticism through the years, but he did an excellent job developing Knight. This should provide optimism that Knight will look even better next August.
Find Replacements at Wide Receiver and Running Back
What are the Sooners losing on offense? Oh, not much, just three of the top four running backs (Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch) and wide receivers (Jalen Saunders, Lacoltan Bester and Jaz Reynolds).
To put that into context, that's about 64 percent of its rushing attack and 52 percent of its receiving yards.
Several young players need to step up to assume bigger roles, and Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal should be early favorites to lead the receiving unit. How former quarterback Blake Bell adjusts to tight end will also be an interesting angle to watch.
Running back Keith Ford only had 23 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown last season, but the former 5-star running back contributed immediately as a freshman. Expect him to be in the running back rotation, eventually joined by incoming 5-star all-purpose back Joe Mixon.
There's a ton of talent at the offensive skill positions for the Sooners, it's just a matter of developing it.
Shore Up the Interior of the Defense
The good news for Oklahoma is that it has a wealth of experience returning on defense; the bad news is that defense was vulnerable in the middle.
Glaring examples of the Sooners' inability to stop a power rushing attack came in their two losses to Texas and Baylor. In each game, Oklahoma gave up exactly 255 yards on the ground on an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
Notre Dame and Oklahoma State also eclipsed 200 yards rushing against the Sooners. In the Sugar Bowl, Alabama's bruising running back, Derrick Henry, ran for 100 yards on just eight carries.
Analysis: That's not good.
Injuries played a role, of course. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson were lost to season-ending injuries, but freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander picked up the slack.
Typically, Big 12 offenses are known for spreading the field, so defenses have adjusted their personnel accordingly. But the current offensive trend is more focused on running the ball.
Oklahoma has to adjust.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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