Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made several major decisions this offseason, including four new assistant coaches (offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, Dennis Simmons, Kerry Cooks and Diron Reynolds).
But more key decisions remain.
Here’s a look at five decisions that will have a major impact on OU’s season:
The starting quarterback: Easily the most important decision Stoops and Riley will have to make heading into 2015. Baker Mayfield, Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas give Riley options with experience, but picking the right signal-caller could completely change OU’s title hopes. Mayfield is the favorite with his experience in Air Raid style offenses and unwavering confidence. Knight’s Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama shows his potential, and Thomas' commitment to football amps up the competition even further. A Sooners program which has seen four different quarterbacks take meaningful snaps during the past two seasons needs to solidify the position if it hopes to battle for a Big 12 title.
Eric Striker’s role: OU needs to build everything around the potential All-American. Striker’s ability to consistently win his one-on-one battles should be the foundation of the Sooners' defensive approach. The senior linebacker is one of the nation’s top pass rushers and will draw attention from offenses no matter where he lines up. So OU needs to take advantage of the extra attention he draws. Last year, OU focused on making him a versatile threat who could drop into coverage at times. This year, OU needs to focus on finding ways to unleash him on opposing quarterbacks at every opportunity, no matter what it takes. If they do, Striker should reach double-digit sacks for the first time in his career (6.5 as a sophomore, nine as a junior).
Samaje Perine’s touches: The sophomore running back’s involvement has been one of the biggest offseason questions. Riley needs to do a great job balancing the desire to keep one of the Big 12’s top offensive threats involved while also taking advantage of what the defense gives him. Perine had 25 or more touches in seven games in 2014. And OU went 3-4 in those games. Clearly, building everything around him isn’t a guaranteed route to title contention. Perine needs to play a major role but getting other Sooners — such as receivers Sterling Shepard and DeDe Westbrook —the ball needs to be a top priority.
Approach to forcing turnovers: There is a direct correlation between disappointment and turnover margin during the past five years in Norman, Oklahoma. OU has finished with three losses or more in three of the past five seasons. Each of those years, the Sooners had a negative turnover margin. The other two seasons -- which featured positive turnover margins -- ended with at least 11 wins and a BCS bowl victory. Forcing turnovers needs to become a higher priority as Oklahoma State (147), Baylor (130) and Kansas State (126) have forced more turnovers than OU’s 119 during the past five seasons. Taking better care of the ball is part of the equation but forcing turnovers needs to become priority No. 1 for an OU defense whose 1.8 turnovers forced per game average ranks No. 52 nationally since 2010.
Commitment to the new offense: One of the keys to OU’s success will be the commitment to the new offense. For example, if the Sooners throw three first-half interceptions in a close game, will the commitment to taking risks and putting the ball in the air continue in the second half? Or will a safer, less proactive approach emerge, particularly with the option of leaning on Perine. Costly interceptions handcuffed OU’s title hopes in 2014 but, in this new offense, the Sooners can’t allow their commitment to the passing game to waver at any point for any reason.