Oklahoma Sooners season preview

Previewing the 2014 season for the Oklahoma Sooners:

Key returners: LB Eric Striker, DE Charles Tapper, QB Trevor Knight, WR Sterling Shepard

Key losses: C Gabe Ikard, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, CB Aaron Colvin

Most important 2014 games: Oct. 11 vs. Texas (in Dallas); Nov. 8 vs. Baylor; No. 15 at Texas Tech.

Projected win percentage: 80.4 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 10 wins

Instant impact newcomers: FB Dimitri Flowers, S Steven Parker. Flowers worked his way into the Sooners' plans during the spring as an early enrollee. He has the skills and maturity to play a similar role as departed standout Trey Millard as a fullback/tight end hybrid. Parker has impressed early in preseason camp and could work his way into the Sooners' secondary with his terrific cover skills and versatility at the safety spot.

High point from 2013: The Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama carried them into the preseason top 10 in several polls. The win gave the nation a glimpse at the potential of a young Oklahoma team that returns the bulk of its major playmakers for this season.

Low point from 2013: OU’s 41-12 loss to Baylor was disappointing to say the least, but the Sooners got embarrassed by Texas in the Red River Rivalry in a game they were expected to cruise to victory. UT won the battle in the trenches and never looked back in the 36-20 win.

Defining stretch: OU begins November with a challenging three-game stretch that could decide its College Football Playoff and Big 12 championship aspirations. The Sooners visit Iowa State on Nov. 1, host Baylor on Nov. 8 then visit Texas Tech on Nov. 15. Paul Rhoads always has his Cyclones ready to play, particularly in Ames, Iowa. The Bears' visit to Oklahoma Memorial Stadium could decide the Big 12 title and Lubbock, Texas, has never been kind to the Sooners. If OU sweeps this stretch, they could be in the middle of the conversation for a College Football Playoff berth.

X factor: LB Geneo Grissom. The Sooners' defense is full of talented playmakers such as Eric Striker and Charles Tapper, but Grissom has the ability to really take things to another level if he plays like he did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl when he was extremely active and disruptive. The thought of having Striker, Tapper and Grissom attacking the quarterback and Jordan Phillips in the middle should make quarterbacks shiver.

They said it: “Win or lose, we've lost seniors and the team chemistry and everything will be different than it was a year ago, so I don't ever buy into last year means you're going to do something this year. I guess where the positive is the number of guys that are back, but you're still going to be different in some areas and it has to come together, so you earn your stripes every year.” — Bob Stoops on the momentum from the Allstate Sugar Bowl victory.