Oklahoma’s top receiver plans to return to Norman for another year

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Tis the season. College football’s top underclassmen are publicly declaring whether or not they’ll stay in school or choose to pursue a career in the NFL.

After being throttled by the Clemson Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Oklahoma Sooners needed a bit of good news, and they got it.

Junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard announced on Twitter that he will stay in Norman for his senior season.

Shepard, a First-Team All-Big 12 selection, led Oklahoma in every major receiving category despite missing three games this season due to a groin injury he suffered during a contest against the Iowa State Cyclones. In 10 appearances, Shepard caught 51 passes for 970 yards and five touchdowns. However, the wide receiver was quiet during Oklahoma’s bowl game with only one reception for 13 yards.

Not only will the Sooners retain their top receiver, but it’s also in Shepard’s best interests. At 5-10 and 195 pounds, size and durability will be the primary concerns regarding Shepard as an NFL prospect. The junior was basically a non-factor over the second half of the season due to the injury. His ability to play a full season and continue to produce at a high level over the course of an entire season will only help his draft stock.

Shepard’s return shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though. This year’s winner of Disney’s Spirit Award maintains a close relationship with Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops.

TCU upsets balance of power in Big 12 with 37-33 victory over Oklahoma

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The No. 25 TCU Horned Frogs didn’t do the Big 12 Conference any favors for the Big 12 Conference with a 37-33 victory over the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners. But TCU head coach Gary Patterson and his squad won’t care after one of the biggest wins in the program’s history.

For the first time since the school became a member of the Big 12 Conference, TCU asserted itself as one of the league’s premier programs. The Horned Frogs are now 1-0 in conference play and ready to make a run.

The problem with the victory is members of the Big 12 Conference are already beating up on each other. The Sooners were considered one of the top candidates to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. TCU, on the other hand, wasn’t ranked in the Top 25 prior to the start of the season and has a major hill to climb to be considered in the same vein.

Due to a lack of depth among the teams and no conference championship, the general belief was a top Big 12 team would have to remain undefeated to even be considered for the playoff. TCU is now 4-0, but the Horned Frogs don’t get a break next week. They travel to No. 7 Baylor to determine which team truly is the cream of the crop in the conference.

If TCU continues to win, it will climb the ranks and eventually enter the national conversation. But the Horned Frogs still have a very difficult schedule with Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State yet to be played.

Those are concerns for tomorrow, though. The Horned Frogs can enjoy a major victory tonight.

TCU’s stingy defense made plays when it was needed most and became the deciding factor against the Sooners. Senior linebacker Paul Dawson made the game’s deciding play when he intercepted Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and scampered 41 yards for a touchdown. TCU’s defense surrendered 461 yards, but it made crucial stops time and again.

Plus, TCU can enter next week with a newfound confidence in quarterback Trevone Boykin. The junior signal-caller was sensational with 395 total yards and a pair of touchdown passes.

The Big 12 Conference is there for the taking for TCU. The league just hopes one of its teams remains undefeated.

Suspended LB claims Oklahoma made him a ‘scapegoat’

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Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon isn’t pulling any punches after being suspended by the university for a year due to an accusation of sexual assault.

Shannon’s attorney, Aletia Timmons, spoke with the media Friday. Timmons painted a completely different picture than the one that was originally given regarding Shannon’s status.

The most pertinent statement made to the media was Shannon’s claim of innocence.

Shannon and his representation took the linebacker’s claims a step further.

The university reportedly conducted an internal investigation before it handed down it’s punishment. In doing so, Shannon claims the school “failed” him and made him into a “scapegoat.” Shannon even submitted to a polygraph test to clear his name.

Shannon never considered the possibility of transferring from the University of Oklahoma.

“I’m not running,” Shannon told Timmons during their initial meeting, according to The Oklahoman. “I’m not going to be branded as a rapist.”

Instead, Shannon plans to publicly protest the university’s decision to have him suspended.

Shannon’s adamant views make this a compelling case. The university and its football team have to err on the side of caution. Whereas, Shannon obviously feels like his name is being dragged through the mud.

The only thing that bring some finality to this case is the results of the ongoing investigation by the police department. The university can’t budge on its current stance after stating it “takes very seriously its obligation in cases like this.” And Shannon shouldn’t back down if he’s innocent.

Shannon, who was Oklahoma’s leading tackler a year ago, still has the “ability to appeal any decision reached by the University to a district court.” Until then, he’ll have to wait on the sidelines until some type of decision is made.

Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel responds to Green-Beckham ruling

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Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel placed Dorial Green-Beckham in the predicament the wide receiver is currently in, and the coach believes his former player can grow from missing a year of football.

Green-Beckham was forced to transfer from Missouri after Pinkel dismissed him from the program. Green-Beckham then found a new home at Oklahoma. The Sooners submitted a waiver to the NCAA to allow Green-Beckham to play this season, but it was denied.

Pinkel wouldn’t comment on whether the NCAA made the right decision, but he hopes Green-Beckham can realize his potential as a person and a player.

“I want him to use this year to really help himself so he can come back and have a great year after that,” Pinkel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Dave Matter.

Pinkel made a difficult decision by dismissing the most highly-touted recruit in the school’s history. But Pinkel couldn’t overlook Green-Beckham’s actions. The receiver had multiple off-the-field incidents, but the university and Pinkel reached a breaking point after Green-Beckham allegedly pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

The coach has been consistent with his message throughout this process.

At the time of Green-Beckham’s dismissal, Pinkel said, “Dorial’s priority going forward needs to be focusing on getting the help he needs. As we have all along, we will continue to do everything we can to assist Dorial and his family. We care deeply about Dorial and his well-being, but hopefully he can benefit from a fresh start.”

Green-Beckham is one of the most talented wide receivers in college football. He has an opportunity in front of him to reset his priorities and make a major impact as a member of the Sooners next season. And that’s exactly what Pinkel would like to see.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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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)