The Sooners’ football season is coming to an end, as a new year is beginning. Looking back on the year for this team, it has been one of highs and lows emotionally. After a rough 1-2 start, people were calling for Bob Stoops' job. However, Bob and his boys did not disappoint as they clawed their way to a Big 12 Title and into the national spotlight.
Death. Taxes. OU winning Big 12 Titles.
Although the season seems to be ending on a high-note (barring a loss to Auburn) there are still some improvements that can be made next season. With that being said, I have assembled a new year's resolution list of what the Sooners should focus on next year.
1. Improve defensively
It is not any secret that the Sooners defense has struggled this season. Although they had great moments, it is evident that there are still some serious question marks. This was made widely known when the playoff committee chair, Kirby Hocutt, responded to Rece Davis' question of what kept OU out of the playoff discussion: "The defensive side of the ball." Those six words were all the validation that Sooner fans needed to justify all of the belly-aching over the years of how mediocre the Sooners defense can be. Bob can no longer brush aside the attacks against the defense, and his brother, and it is time to address these issues head-on.
The rushing defense, which is ranked 49th in rushing yards per game, 44th in amount of first downs allowed off of the rush and 69th in yards per rush, wasn't THAT bad in 2016. Thisnisn't a shutdown defense, but it did provide some much needed stops down the stretch of pivotal games. The obvious weakness on defense was the passing defense. Although the passing defense is 2nd in the country for opponent incompletions per game, it is mostly due to the amount of times teams were passing it on this below-average secondary. Oklahoma's opponents threw the ball 39 times per game; Only five more times had the ball thrown on them more. The passing defense is 116th in passing yards per game (279.0), 109th in completions per game (21.5) and 109th in opponent's interception thrown percentage. This defense has struggled tremendously on 3rd downs. The defense is allowing their opponents to 16.8 3rd down attempts per matchup, and they are converting 7.2 of those 3rd downs. Only eight teams allow more 3rd down conversions than the Sooners. This needs to be solved, and very soon.
2. More night games
Nothing mellows out and creates noticeable gaps in the crowd like a good ole 11 AM kickoff. Sooner fans and players became well acquainted with their alarm clocks early Saturday mornings, as the Oklahoma football schedule was jam-packed with several morning/mid-afternoon kickoffs. It is evident that early games provide less time for player and fans to get amped, but early kickoffs seem to carry less significance. Less people are prone to watching morning game than a primetime night game. The Sooners will have a solid schedule next season. If they can consistently win, they should be able to play at more convenient times, and perhaps College Gameday will pay a visit to an Oklahoma game.
3. Trips to New York/ Dallas
In back-to-back seasons, the Sooners have had at least one player finish in the top five of the Heisman finalist race. This last season, Mayfield and Dede Westbrook both were able to travel to New York, joining an elite group of players that have had the privilege of traveling to the Heisman ceremony with their fellow teammate. This next season, Mayfield has already announced he is returning. Mixon and Samaje Perine have the option of returning, as well. If they all three return, this three-headed monster would cause headaches and nightmares for all of their opponents. Could they be the first trio of players to make a trip to New York (No, but that would be amazing!)? Could one of these beasts add a statue to Heisman row?
Starting next season, the Big 12 returns the Big 12 championship game. This is significant because it allows the Big 12 the extra game that other conferences have played, and would settle any sort of ties within the conference. With a trip to Dallas, OU can help solidify their resume and perhaps clinch their second playoff appearance.
4. National Championship
Is it wishful thinking to believe the Sooners will be a real threat next season? No. Oklahoma will have a ton of expectations going into next year, and will have the schedule to provide the stage. It has been long enough since OU has had a crack at the championship, and even longer since they have actually won one. It seems that if the Sooners are going to win one anytime soon, it will need to be next season while Mayfield, Lincoln Riley and possibly Mixon/Perine all returning. If they cannot get the job done next season, Oklahoma may experience some rebuilding whike replacing Mayfield and Riley.