CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

7 Comments

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Antonio Callaway among Gators reportedly set to face felony charges

Getty Images
6 Comments

If one report is accurate, things are about to get very real for a couple of members of the Florida football team.

Citing unnamed sources, thereadoptional.com reported overnight that “Antonio Callaway, Jordan Smith, and one other player are likely to be arrested on charges of felony grand theft, with the possibility of further misdemeanor charges being tagged on, according to a lawyer representing one of the players.” That trio is part of the group of nine Gator football players who have been indefinitely suspended in connection to the misuse of scholarship money in general and, specifically, for making improper charges on their student debit cards at the school bookstore and then selling those items for cash.  The Read Optional has further added that the players then claimed that the debit cards had been stolen.

In addition to Callaway, a junior wide receiver, and Smith, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman, the other suspended players include junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis, sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, freshman linebacker James Houston, freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller, junior running back Jordan Scarlett, freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort and redshirt freshman wide receiver Rick Wells.

Charges against the three players, one of whom is unnamed, are expected to be filed later on this week, next week at the latest.  It’s also expected that the other six players will be arrested as well.

Restitution for the debit card scheme has already been made, the website noted.

The off-field trouble for the football program doesn’t end there, however, as The Read Optional is also reporting that a separate investigation into players using stolen credit cards is underway.  From the website:

This morning, we reported that several players were also being investigated in a separate credit card fraud case being run in conjunction by the Gainesville Police Department and the University of Florida Police Department.

Both police departments uncovered the stolen credit card details from the same victim while operating its own individual investigations — the GPD into Jordan Smith paying his rent with stolen credit card details; and the UFPD into the student debit card scheme, an investigation that broadened over time.

The investigation into the stolen credit card information is ongoing, with other student-athletes to be interviewed on Wednesday.

All nine players remain indefinitely suspended from the football program and, based on this report, they will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Baker Mayfield, what derailed Sooners’ 2014 season? ‘I blame Katy Perry’

2 Comments

Well, that explains it.

Oklahoma began the 2014 season a perfect 4-0 and was ranked fourth in the country before heading into Fort Worth for a showdown with No. 25 TCU. ESPN‘s College GameDay was in Oxford for the huge Alabama-Ole Miss matchup, with Katy Perry serving as that weekend’s epic guest picker.

At one point during the show, the pop singer famously — or infamously if you’re an OU fan — very seductively hit on Trevor Knight, telling the Sooners’ starting quarterback to “call her.”

Knight waited four months before publicly acknowledging the offer. Coincidentally or not, OU, including the 37-33 loss to TCU, went on to finish out the 2014 season on a 4-5 skid, including a 40-6 pasting at the hands of Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Knight missed three of those nine games because of injury, throwing nine interceptions in the six games he did play in after throwing three in his first four pre-Perry flirtation.

Monday, Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ current starting quarterback who was a transfer from Texas Tech during that 2014 season, was asked what OU’s downfall that year was.

I blame Katy Perry,” the 2017 Heisman front-runner said.

Way to go Katy. Or Trevor, for not immediately following up with a call and triggering the jinx that killed OU’s season.

That said, I’m fairly certain neither the call for action or the inaction to the call for a call had anything to do with the Sooners’ collapse that season.  A defense that gave up more than 30 points in each of the losses, as well as once in one of the wins, though, is certainly a prime and more realistic suspect when it comes to laying blame for the collapse.

One final note: Katy Perry is easily Top 3 when it comes to all-time GameDay guest pickers.  And that’s not up for debate.

Nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2015 granted release from Auburn

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the top players in the Class of 2015 will reportedly ply his football wares elsewhere.

As reported by 247Sports.com‘s Brandon Marcello and subsequently confirmed by al.com, Byron Cowart requested a release from his Auburn scholarship at some point Monday.  Tuesday morning, the former reported, that release was granted.

There’s no word yet on what stipulations were attached to the release, or the reasons behind the original request.

Regardless of the why, there’s little doubt the defensive lineman’s on-field play failed to live up to his recruiting pedigree.

A consensus five-star signee, Cowart was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 while 247Sports.com had Florida product as the No. 3 player overall on its composite board.  In 26 career games, Cowart was credited with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  He was one of four Tigers arrested for marijuana possession in May of last year.

This past spring, Cowart was moved from end to tackle in an attempt to jumpstart his career.  In three games at his new position this season, he had three tackles and half a tackle for loss in three games.

‘Highly questionable’ Florida CB Duke Dawson plays vs. Kentucky

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Duke Dawson suffered a head injury in Florida’s wild win over Tennessee in Week 3.  On his personal Twitter account, the Gators’ most veteran cornerback indicated that he will play in Week 4 against Kentucky despite the injury.

Dawson’s head coach, though, tapped the brakes on that notion.

Jim McElwain has, at least for now, labeled the fifth-year senior as “highly questionable” for the matchup against the unbeaten Wildcats in Lexington. The door, though, is not completely closed.

We’ll see where that is as we go throughout the week,” the head coach said.

Dawson started seven of the 12 games in which he played last season. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the season-opening loss to Michigan, then had a key interception in the win over rival Florida.