(Photo credentials: Scout.com)
First of all– Happy Memorial Day to all of those that have died serving The United States both voluntarily and involuntarily.
The 2017-18 football season for the Oklahoma Sooners will be seen and answered by impact players on both sides of the ball. In recent years, names like Striker, Tapper, Sanchez, Shepard, Westbrook, Mixon, and Perine are all parts of personnel that were not afraid to make the big time play in the big time game; Most of them were leaders as well, but they led in various ways. Where Samaje and Dede led by example and let play speak for themselves, it was also nice to see Striker, Zack, and Sterling being outspoken after making the big play. So, who are the key impact players for Stoops and company this season?
Baker Mayfield: No brainer, right? Two years ago, people like myself were saying, “Mayfield is not the savior of Oklahoma football.” Well, if he’s not, he was certainly a part of the defibrillator switch along with Riley’s gameplanning to jolt Oklahoma’s offense back into skyrocketing numbers and efficiency. The Gunslinger embodies the moxie, poise, and exalted leadership that the team needs.
Mark Andrews: Many felt that he was going to have a breakout season in 2016, but injuries somewhat inhibited a possible big season. If he can stay healthy, Andrews can be the big body that creates mismatches when he’s faced against smaller DBs and the savvy receiver that can torment linebackers in space.
Jeff Badet: I know he hasn’t played a down in Norman. I also know that he hasn’t even stepped on campus. But, somebody that led their team in receiving (670 yards) as well as topping the SEC in yards per catch (21.6) is a big deal for a Sooner Squad that lost three of their top four receivers (Westbrook, Mixon, Lewis). Badet (Buh-det) only caught 31 footballs this past season because of the Kentucky offense– his speed and agility in a wide open offense will get him more opportunities in space AND to stretch the field. Badet will prove to be more impactful than the speedster Marquise Brown.
Obo Okoronkwo: 10. That’s the number of sacks that needs to have to surpass Striker as well as slide into 5th spot on the all time Oklahoma sack list. His presence off of the edge is different than the Striker– Obo is a very physical presence that can punish offensive linemen, fullbacks, and most importantly, quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter whether or not Oklahoma is playing a 3-4, 4-3, or 4-2-5, Obo is a force to be dealt with.
Caleb Kelly: It was like magic. All season, people (except the apparent Mike Stoops) begged to see Caleb Kelly on the field. It’s like he always seemed to find the ball and snuff out plays even when he wasn’t in the correct position to do so. Finally, when Kelly was able to get onto the field with regularity, it was as if the defense started to become functional and even reliable.
Steven Parker: Stevie has played since he was a true freshman in multiple roles. He’s the best cover safety the Sooners have had in quite a while and he often slides over to nickel in various situations. It’s no doubt that the defense is incredibly dependent upon his abilities to diagnose plays, help in run support, and come up big in space with tipped balls or interceptions.
The Sooners return 3/4’s of their starters from the previous year, including a massive offensive line. So, Oklahoma most certainly won’t have an issue with leadership or talent as far as the defensive players are concerned. The Oklahoma offense outside of Mayfield and the bodies protecting him are largely untested heading into UTEP, and then Ohio State– it’s from there that we’ll see who are the impact players for Stoops.