Oklahoma linebacker David Ugwoegbu, left, and defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas, center, both return for the 2020 season. The Sooners had the Big 12's top defense in 2019. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today)

Our 12th annual preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma is making a habit of Big 12, CFP, Heisman runs

The Sooners are starting fresh at quarterback, but are the favorites to win a sixth straight Big 12 title anyway.

Posted July 21st, 2020

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The college football season is less than two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.

Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.

No. 5 Oklahoma

OU fans have enjoyed three glorious years in Norman under head coach Lincoln Riley. There were back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners and last year’s feel-good story in college football with Jalen Hurts. Oklahoma has won three Big 12 titles the last three years and has become a regular on the College Football Playoff stage. But this year looks to be more difficult. There is no obvious Heisman-caliber quarterback, at least not yet. The defense, which should be better than last season, still has room for improvement inside the 20-yard line. The Sooners should get the benefit of the doubt, though. And they have in most preseason Big 12 polls.

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Oklahoma was ranked fourth in our preseason poll last year.

 

About the Sooners

2019: 12-2, 8-1 in the Big 12; beat Baylor in the Big 12 championship game and then lost 63-28 to LSU in the CFP semifinals

Coach: Lincoln Riley (36-6, all in three years at Oklahoma)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

Shoes to fill: QB Jalen Hurts (Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year, 2nd round, Eagles); WR CeeDee Lamb (1st, Cowboys); WR Lee Morris; DL Neville Gallimore; LB Kenneth Murray (all-conference);

Catching up

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch made quite a first impression last season. Last year was the first time in the 24-year history of the Big 12 that Oklahoma led  the conference in total offense (526.9 ypg) and total defense (330.6 ypg) in league play. The 1997 Nebraska squad was the first to accomplish that. A lot of that offense was driven by Hurts, a transfer quarterback from Alabama. Now OU has to rely on its home-grown, recruited talent. Tanner Mordecai was a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2018. Spencer Rattler was dynamic in his three brief appearances last season, preserving the freshman’s redshirt status. Kennedy Brooks and Charleston Rambo will get most of the offensive attention early, but OU needs a strong triggerman at the controls.

 

Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks celebrates with offensive lineman Creed Humphrey after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of last season’s Big 12 championship game. Both are back this season and should power the Sooners’ running game. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today)

Returning leaders

Passing: Tanner Mordecai (2nd on team), 16-26-207 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; Spencer Rattler (3rd), 7-11-81 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs

Rushing: Kennedy Brooks (2nd), 155-1,011-6; Rhamondre Stevenson (3rd), 64-515-6

Receiving: Charleston Rambo (2nd), 43-743-5

Tackles: S Delarrin Turner-Yell (2nd), 75; S Pat Fields (3rd), 64; LB DaShaun White (4th), 52

Sacks: DL Jalen Redmond (led team), 6.5; DE Ronnie Perkins (2nd), 6

Interceptions: DB Brendan Radley-Hiles (led team), 2

 

Returning all-conference

Offense: OL Creed Humphrey (co-offensive lineman of the year, 1st team); RB Kennedy Brooks (2nd team); WR Jeremiah Hall (2nd team); OL Adrian Early (2nd team)

Defense: DL LaRon Stokes (def. newcomer of the year); DL Ronnie Perkins (2nd team); S Pat Fields (hon. mention); DL Jalen Redmond (hon. mention); S Delarrin Turner-Yell (hon. mention); LB DaShaun White (hon. mention)

Special teams: K Gabe Brkic (2nd team); P Reeves Mundschau (hon. mention)

 

FYI

Six in a row: The Sooners are looking to win their sixth consecutive league title this season, something that would be an incredible accomplishment at a school with a long championship history. OU last won six straight league titles in the 1970s. Oklahoma is the only Power Five program to win six outright conference titles in a row (12 straight, from 1948-59). By comparison, Texas has won only three Big 12 titles in the 24-year history of the conference.

Young guns: Oklahoma’s defense tilts young. Seven of the Sooners’ top 10 tacklers last season were either freshmen or sophomores. Safeties Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell, defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins and linebacker Shaun White started all season while other first-year players like linebackers Nik Bonitto and David Ugwoegbu, defensive lineman Jalen Redmond and cornerback Jaden Davis all got starting experience somewhere along the way. It’s a unit that could be monstrous at some point.

Getting his kicks: For all the hullabaloo that Texas kicker Cameron Dicker received early in his career, OU’s Gabe Brkic is proving to be every bit as dependable. The Lou Groza Award semifinalist enters the season with a school-record 17 consecutive made field goals. Last year he became the first kicker in school history to make all his field goal attempts (17 for 17) and extra-point kicks (52 of 52) in a single season. His contributions are critical; OU ranked sixth nationally in scoring (42.1 ppg).


2019 national stat rankings

Where Oklahoma ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Sooners ranked in 2018.

Scoring: 6th (2018 — 1st)

Scoring defense: 64th (101st)

Total offense: 3rd (1st)

Total defense: 38th (114th)

Passing: 18th (7th)

Pass defense: 58th (130th)

Rushing: 14th (11th)

Rush defense: 32nd (59th)

Red zone offense: 13th (9th)

Red zone defense: 128th (127th)

Turnover margin: 109th (81st)

Time of possession: 39th (90th)

 

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Boise State figures to keep its perch atop the Mountain West

No. 24: Might this pandemic lead to not one, but two Iowa State-Iowa games?Inside the Cyclones

No. 23: Will Kirk Ferentz emerge from Iowa’s summer of discontent unscathed? / Inside the Hawkeyes

No. 22: Cincinnati’s picking up recruiting in 2020 where it left off in 2019 / Inside the Bearcats

No. 21: Former Gamecocks quarterback hopes to take over at Utah / Inside the Utes

No. 20: Central Florida, Darrell Wyatt are reloading with receivers / Inside the Knights

No. 19: Recruits are raving about Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck / Inside the Gophers

No. 18: A Q&A with North Carolina coach Mack Brown / Inside the Tar Heels

No. 17: Jim Harbaugh is fighting for Michigan, college football / Inside the Wolverines

No. 16: Oklahoma State’s Hubbard finds his voice / Inside the Cowboys

No. 15: USC is Zooming up the recruiting rankings / Inside the Trojans

No. 14: Is Jimbo Fisher taking Texas A&M back to the good ol’ SWC days? / Inside the Aggies

No. 13: Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst stands with his players’ new-found voices / Inside the Badgers

No. 12: Assistant coach will Auburn’s recruiting in Alabama / Inside the Tigers

No. 11: For Texas and Sam Ehlinger, it’s now or never / Inside the Longhorns

No. 10: Oregon’s Penei Sewell eyes a second straight Outland Trophy / Inside the Ducks

No. 9: Notre Dame’s AD on the Irish, this season / Inside the Irish

No. 8: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase the latest to wear team’s beloved No. 7 / Inside the Tigers

No. 7: Florida’s AD dealing with COVID-19, too / Inside the Gators

No. 6: New Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has USC in the rear view / Inside the Bulldogs

No. 5: Oklahoma Sooners

 

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 4 team. Want a hint?

This school’s stadium is the second largest football stadium in the country, regardless of level. It seats 106,572.

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