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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Five big questions for OU’s 2019 season

Some of the answers are readily apparent. Others are a bit trickier.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With the Oklahoma Sooners’ season opener against the Houston Cougars less than two weeks away, it’s time to answer five basic questions pertaining to the 2019 season.

Who is the most important player on offense this season?

This is an easy one.

With Oklahoma producing back-to-back Heisman winners and trotting out record-setting offenses in 2017 and 2018, it’s up to graduate transfer Jalen Hurts to keep the train moving in 2019.

Hurts lacks the arm talent of predecessors Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, but the Houston native brings his own unique attributes to the table. With his size and strength, he presents a power running threat that Riley hasn’t previously had available to him at the quarterback position. Additionally, his leadership, big-game experience and general work ethic will give him a chance to make his own mark on OU’s rich quarterbacking tradition.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma Spring Game Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The question remains — will he be able to run Lincoln Riley’s offense to a level at which it will be able to make up for the potential shortcomings of the OU defense? He doesn’t pose the downfield passing threat of a Mayfield or a Murray, but his command of the offense is already noteworthy — especially when considering how briefly he’s been on campus. The key will be Riley’s ability to put Hurts in positions that accentuate his strengths and mitigate his shortcomings. Fortunately, Riley has a history of effectively adjusting his offense to best suit his personnel (both at Oklahoma and at East Carolina), so that fact should allow fans to sleep a bit easier.

Having weapons like CeeDee Lamb, Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, Grant Calcaterra, Lee Morris, Charleston Rambo, Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood and... you get the point... will also surely help matters.

Who is the most important player on defense this season?

This one is a bit trickier, but I’ll go with redshirt freshman OLB/DE Jalen Redmond.

The Midwest City product’s potential for impact has always been through the roof, but recurring blood-clotting issues have prevented him from seeing much of the field up to this point. Fortunately, he appears to be on track after being cleared to play and practice this fall.

On the other hand, setbacks are never really out of the question as far as this issue is concerned. If he stays in the clear, he has the potential to be one of the more effective pass rushers in the country, which would in turn make things much easier on Oklahoma’s secondary. In that light, a healthy and disruptive Redmond is as vital to OU’s effort to create a defensive turnaround as is the case with any other individual player. His versatility — as in his ability to work with his hand in the ground or simply rush off the edge — should also allow Alex Grinch to deploy him in a variety of situations.

What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

‘Culture’ is one of the most overused words in the sports lexicon, but it’s a term that carries some significance in light of what Oklahoma has experienced on the defensive side of the ball in recent years.

Sure, much of what we’ve heard from Alex Grinch and his players throughout the offseason could be huffing and puffing, but it seems to resemble a bit of what we saw when (somewhat ironically) the Stoops Bros. and the rest of the ‘99 staff came into Norman and gave the returning personnel a rude awakening.

Outside of the importance of consistently doing the little things — such as tackling, being assignment-sound or LOOKING BACK FOR THE BALL — the scheme change should also a vital development in Oklahoma’s defensive renaissance. The implementation of the one-gap scheme along the defensive front (along with an emphasis on leaner, quicker athletes along the line) should help the unit in its effort to get into the backfield and create disruption (as opposed to simply eating up blocks). In the secondary, you should also see much more press coverage, which will allow Oklahoma’s corners to actually cause some disruption to opposing route runners.

One of the biggest themes of the offseason has been Alex Grinch’s emphasis on creating turners. However, much of that will come down to simply fielding a competent defense that gets back to the basics.

What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?

I’ll go with OU-Texas for two reasons:

  1. It’s the matchup of teams that appear to be the top two in the league
  2. It’s f***ing OU-Texas, and the amount of sh**-talking that will lead up to this particular matchup will be at its highest level in years
NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

However, don’t overlook road matchups at Baylor and Oklahoma State. Baylor’s offense should be dangerous from the jump, and the OSU offense could be a well-oiled machine by the time Bedlam rolls around in late November. The beginning of Oklahoma’s schedule sets up nicely, but this defense will really need to have its feet under it in time for a really tough stretch.

I firmly believe that Iowa State is the third-best team in this league, but I’m not too worried about those guys pulling out another upset in Norman.

What is the prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

This is my boilerplate prediction for the Sooners until I have true confidence in the defense leading up to any given season:

  • Oklahoma loses one regular season game in mind-boggling fashion
  • OU wins the Big 12
  • The team makes the College Football Playoff, but falls to a more complete football team that has elite athletes at every position on both sides of the ball

This year’s frustrating loss? Let’s go with Baylor in Waco.

The CFP loss? Let’s go with No. 1 Clemson in the Peach Bowl.

OU’s victim in Arlington? Last season, we got to experience a different type of OU-Texas, and I hope we’re treated to another new thing in 2019. Let’s mix it up and go with Iowa State.

I really want this to happen, mostly because it would be the Super Bowl for Iowa State, and their fans would travel/party accordingly. Who’s down to pound Busch Light (pronounced Busch Latte nowadays for some reason) with ‘Clone fans in the JerryWorld parking lot? I’ll throw my hat into that ring!

To recap: 12-2 overall, 11-1 in the regular season, Big 12 champs, win over Iowa State in Arlington, No. 4 seed in the CFP, lose to Clemson in Atlanta