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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Preparing for the Playmakers of the Big XII

The Sooners defense must be ready to face the explosive playmakers awaiting them in conference play.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

After being exposed early by quality out-of-conference opponents, Oklahoma will have to be ready for the numerous playmakers that they’ll face through Big XII play. While it’s unlikely the Sooners will face a team loaded with multiple talents the likes of Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown the rest of the 2016 season, the Big XII is certainly not short on dynamic playmakers that could potentially enjoy their own days of success against an Oklahoma defense in search of identity and solutions. The Big XII never lacks on quarterback talent or innovative offensive schemes, but here’s a look at a few of the non-QB skill players who could have a big impact on the Sooners’ season come conference play.

@ TCU (October 1)

With KaVontae Turpin injured for possibly the rest of the season, the Horned Frogs have turned to sophomore speedster Kyle Hicks, who exploded last week for 117 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries, and added three receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. When Hicks isn’t breaking free in the open field, the ‘Frogs can also lean on change-up bruising back Trevorris Johnson.

Gone is super wide receiver Josh Doctson, but former LSU receiver John Diarse has quickly established himself as quarterback Kenny Hill’s favorite target and will definitely look to make an impact early and often when Oklahoma heads to Froggle Rock next week. Catches like this could foreshadow a long afternoon for the Sooner secondary:

Texas (October 8, in Dallas)

The ‘horns have been able to play Oklahoma well on the defensive side of the ball since Charlie Strong took over, and it’s been assumed for some years now that if the offense could catch back up to the talented defense, Texas would be back as a legit conference contender. Enter 2016 and former TU offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Early returns for the ‘horns offense…

Including non-conference contests against Notre Dame and on the road at Cal, the ‘horns have begun the season averaging nearly 45 points per game and employing a balanced attack that highlights the numerous athletes they have in Austin. It’s impossible to touch on just one playmaker, but it all gets going through freshman quarterback Shane Beauchele. In three weeks, we will all know just how resurrected the Texas program is in year three under Charlie Strong, and just how long I’ll be able to make it the rest of the season before turning off the college football and devoting much time and energy to Russell Westbrook’s budding MVP season.

@ Texas Tech (October 22)

We’re all familiar with brilliantly talented quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and the playmakers at his disposal are reloaded and ready to shoot it out in Lubbock with the Sooners on October 22, which, ironically, is five years to the date of the weather-delayed blundering home loss to the Red Raiders in 2011. Gone from Kliff Kinsbury’s blistering air-raid attack is do-everything wide receiver Jakeem Grant, now with the Miami Dolphins, but the Raiders have found an emerging star in silky smooth 5-foot-11, 185-pound sophomore Jonathan Giles – a trusted outside threat for Mahomes to complement multi-purpose sophomore running back Justin Stockton. Plays like this could result in a few broken TVs on the third Saturday in October...

Baylor (November 12 )

We know all about the skill Baylor still has on roster. Lead back Shock Linwood, coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in Waco, just became the school’s all-time leading rusher and is complemented by talented redshirt freshman rusher JaMycal Hasty, the Big XII Newcomer of the Week. This dynamic pair could wreak havoc on the edge of Sooners defense that has recently failed to contain other dynamic rushers not too far above the talent at Baylor’s disposal.

While the offense hasn’t clicked the same way early on in 2016 as we’ve seen through the last five seasons, the Bears still have one of the best wide receivers in the nation in field-scorcher KD Cannon. No reminders of how easily talent like this could exploit an already exposed Sooner secondary.

Oklahoma State (December 3)

The Pokes easily feature the best wide receiver unit in the Big XII, and with a healthy Mason Rudolph, who threw for 540 yards last week, could terrorize the OU secondary despite lacking an effective run game. Along with the conference’s premier deep threat and returning leading receiver James Washington, Oklahoma State has gotten production from senior Jhajuan Seales and sophomore slot receiver Jalen McCleskey, among multiple pass-catchers, until standout Marcell Ateman hopes to return soon from an offseason injury.

Bedlam is thankfully in Norman this season so a little bit of the worry is off, unless additional losses from now until then would’ve led to a tanked OU season, in which case another Tyreek Hill-like debacle could unfold all over again. There’s no doubt the football gods we undoubtedly angered sometime after last Thanksgiving could come up with another creatively deflating late-season moment or two to bestow upon the Sooners.

Kansas (October 29)

Bill Self has once again recruited the top blue chipper in America to Lawrence, and the Sooners will surely have their hands full trying to guard small forward phenom Josh Jackson, a possibly more athletic Andrew Wiggins (a very scary thing, I know.) I’m also looking forward to the matchup between point guards as Jord--… Wait, what’s that? Oh, they still play college football? Well…that threw me off. I’ll just pencil in “Homecoming Week Game” until I can learn more about this newfound Kansas Jayhawks football team.

A couple of other notable playmakers with the potential to produce big numbers against Oklahoma:

@ Iowa State (November 3)

Although the Iowa State Cyclones aren’t considered world-beaters by any stretch, reigning AP Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Mike Warren can certainly be a prolific and productive running back on any given Saturday. The main cause of unease here is that this is a road trip to Ames on a Thursday in early November. But the Sooners would’ve likely earned a a tough win against Homecoming U the week before, so a little rest and focus should do the trick during the short week leading up to Iowa State. Not trying to get cocky here, but I just found out moments ago Kansas still plays college football. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

After a breakout freshman year in which Warren rushed for a school-record 1,339 yards, the former Lawton standout has started slow this season and was held to 95 yards rushing by TCU. But given space to work and time to build up rhythm, Warren has the talent to steal a headline or two on a random Thursday night in Iowa.

Iowa State  v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

@ West Virginia (November 19)

Mountaineer wide receiver Shelton Gibson is one to definitely watch as the Sooners are always on upset alert when playing on the road in Morgantown. Though this season’s West Virginia team doesn’t have the quarterback play nor the expectations from some we’ve seen in recent years, a lit crowd and the offensive acrobatics of a Dana Holgersen attack is bound to be of concern to OU’s pass defense. Last time Oklahoma went to the far east of the Big XII, wide receiver Kevin White dominated Zack Sanchez and the secondary, and if it weren’t for Samaje Perine’s breakout performance and a kickoff return touchdown from Alex Ross, that game could’ve easily gotten away from the Sooners. Every year is different, but if the OU pass defense doesn’t find some answers soon, the Sooners could find themselves in uncomfortably close road contests in Lubbock and Morgantown. The lightning-fast Gibson ranked second in the NCAA and topped the Big XII in yards per catch last season, and could certainly stretch the Oklahoma secondary with the multiple looks and tempo the West Virginia offense is known for.

Iowa State v West Virginia Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images