Fall camps are opening up all over the country. With that, we are mere weeks away from the start of the 2021 college football season. However, for Oklahoma, it could be a season to remember. The Sooners come into the 2021 season with as much optimism and expectations as any team in the country. Conference title, a playoff berth, and a spot in the national championship game is an expectation for a team that will likely come into the season ranked no worse than third. But, like many others, the Sooners still have questions to answer. With that, we’ll look at five Fall Camp storylines for Oklahoma.
Who will win key position battles?
There have been five guys mentioned that will battle for the starting center position. Andrew Raym, Chris Murray, Ian McIver, Nate Anderson, and Robert Congel will get reps in camp at this position. The loss of Creed Humphrey made this quite possibly the biggest position battle on the team. Realistically, Raym and Murray are the two biggest names to watch. Raym excelled in the mental aspects of the position during the spring. But, a solid summer in the weight room would allow him to add some much-needed strength. Conversely, Murray struggled somewhat with the mental aspects of the position. Whichever of these two that are able to overcome those two weaknesses will have a great opportunity to win the job.
Oklahoma has seen the most movement in this room than any others. Depth was a concern at times last year. But, that seemed to have changed early in the spring. However, with the loss of Seth McGowan and Mikey Henderson that depth took a hit. Now, there have been some whispers that Marcus Major is working through some potential academic ineligibility issues. Depth is still a concern. Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks will likely be 1a and 1b for the Sooners with Gray likely starting. The wildcard here will be Kevontre Bradford, an LSU transfer. Physically, this kid might be more talented than Gray or Brooks. But, it could be critical that he translate that athleticism to the field sooner rather than later.
One of the biggest battles at the linebacker position might be between David Ugwoegbu and Deshaun White. White probably is in a position where he always knows where to be and knows the schematic aspect of the position better. However, Ugwoegbu might be the most physically gifted of the two in terms of his natural ability. After switching positions last season, this may be to put up or shut up season for him. He has all the tools but must put it all together. One guy that could be a wildcard in this is Danny Stutsman. Stutsman is just a freshman but has received rave reviews from his coaches and teammates as a guy that could see the field very early on.
In the minds of many Sooner fans, Pat Fields is a guy that may have already lost his starting spot. Be that as it may, it’s difficult to unseat a multi-year starter and a team captain. However, Tennessee transfer Key Lawrence will try to do exactly that. With Fields sitting out the spring, Lawrence took the opportunity and ran with it. The measurables, speed, and athleticism are off the charts for Lawrence. The biggest key for him is to bring consistency to the field every day. If he’s able to show that in the fall, he might be impossible to keep off the field.
The final position battle in our five fall camp storylines for Oklahoma is the Nickel back. Alex Grinch asks his Nickel to be responsible for a lot. So, the Sooners are looking for great playmaking ability out of that position. Jeremiah Criddell is a kid that we’ve been told has finally put it all together and is ready to become a big contributor. However, when asked who were some freshmen that would see some action this season Grinch did not hesitate when mentioning Billy Bowman. The spring was invaluable for Bowman and Grinch was impressed at how Bowman bought into the offseason weight program as a true freshman. This will be as intriguing as any battle to watch.
Which receivers will separate themselves?
Even though Oklahoma averaged 315 yards passing last season, the production at the wide receiver position was lacking. The Sooners led the country in dropped touchdown passes. Lincoln Riley challenged that group early in Spring Camp and it could be a catalyst to how good the offense could be in 2021. The emergence of Marvin Mims in his freshman season solidified him as the most reliable receiver in that room. However, Oklahoma has loads of talent.
Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease both came in as five-star recruits for the Sooners. But, neither has translated to the expectations. Haselwood was sidelined with an injury that derailed a majority of his 2020 campaign. Meanwhile, Wease had solid production with 53o yards and four touchdowns but more is needed.
True freshman Mario Williams has looked the part in spring as well as early on in Fall Camp but has not played a snap for the Sooners. The same can be said for Arkansas transfer Mike Woods in his first camp at Oklahoma. Drake Stoops is another guy that will fit into the rotation. To win a championship, the Sooners will need at least three of these kids to come along and be consistent impact players in 2021.
Is the defense going to live up to the hype?
For once, there’s more talk about the defense than the offense this offseason for Oklahoma. The defense has steadily improved under Grinch. But, they will be expected to make an even bigger jump in year three of the defensive coordinator. There’s good reason for optimism with the flood of talent that Oklahoma has on the defensive side of the ball. But, for a defense that has struggled in recent years, can they live up to the pressure of being the best in over 15 years?
In his opening remarks, Grinch felt like his defense could play as many as 14 kids on the defensive line in the regular rotation. This lays claim to the belief that the defensive line is the deepest position on the team. But, the Sooners may be equally deep at the Linebacker and Secondary. The biggest impact may be that Oklahoma could absorb some injuries much more than they have in the past. But, make no mistake about it, Oklahoma’s ability to make a championship run is heavily dependant on the hype being real.
Can Lincoln Riley develop a killer instinct?
As we continue looking at the five Fall Camp storylines for Oklahoma, we’ll look at an intangible situation. The Sooners have lacked that killer instinct over the last couple of years in putting teams away. In 2019, Oklahoma had a 42-21 lead over Iowa State and had to fight off a late two-point conversion to survive. Additionally, the Sooners had a 21-0 lead over TCU but hung on to win 28-24. And, last year a 35-14 lead over Kansas State ended in a 38-35 loss. In the Red River game, the Sooners held a 31-17 lead over Texas and had to survive in four overtimes. Finally, a 24-7 halftime lead over Iowa State landed a late game-saving interception by Tre Brown. While the Sooners have many things to work through on the field, the sense of urgency and ability to have a killer instinct from the top down will be critical for Oklahoma to have the season they want.
How will the Sooners handle preseason pats on their backs?
As we discussed in the open of our five Fall Camp storylines for Oklahoma this season the Sooners have big expectations. ESPN has ranked the Sooners number two in their preseason rankings. Conventional wisdom says that the Sooners will be at number three at the worst. However, Oklahoma has not performed particularly well with these types of expectations. The Sooners have had three years in the last 15 years in which they have been ranked third or higher in the preseason. Each of those seasons has resulted in at least two losses in each year with no national championship or playoff berth.
What will be different this season? First, Oklahoma seems to be better equipped to handle the pressure with complementary football on the heels of an improved defense. The schedule sets up to be more advantageous for a championship run than in years past. However, key components of improvement and solidification are needed at areas of the team in order for Oklahoma to have a special season. If the five Fall Camp storylines for Oklahoma are met with success a special 2021 could be in store for the Sooners.