NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma finally gets a chance to live up to the hype.
The Sooners have gotten tons of attention since beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The opener Saturday at home against Louisiana Tech offers the fourth-ranked Sooners a chance to start living up to it.
"Everyone is expecting us to be great, unlike last year," defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue said. "For us as a team, we know that we haven't done anything yet. They're still a lot to be proven, starting with this first game on Saturday.
"Yeah, last year was great, but we still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals."
Quarterback Trevor Knight received acclaim for his MVP performance against Alabama, and the sophomore is ready to prove he can replicate that effort.
"Received a lot of praise for that game and that's awesome," he said. "That's great and everything, but it's a new season. It's not only a new season for me, but a new season for our team, a new group of guys. So I'm excited to take that next step forward and build on that momentum, ride it into this year and start a new chapter."
Louisiana Tech went 4-8 last season in Skip Holtz's first year, and he knows he'll have a major challenge to start his second.
"When you sit down and look at what we are going to be facing on both sides of the ball, sometimes you have one team that will be better on offense than defense, and vice versa," he said. "The reason this team is receiving so much attention is because it is a very balanced team and a very heavy experienced team with a lot of guys coming back. That is one of the reasons I think they are receiving attention they are with the talent they have."
Here are some things to watch Saturday night:
OU's PASS CATCHERS: Sterling Shepard is Oklahoma's only established receiving threat, but the Sooners boast plenty of talent across the board. Outside receiver Durron Neal and tight end Blake Bell, a converted quarterback, have received the most attention. It will be interesting to see who Knight is comfortable with, given the fact that he started just five games last season and is still getting familiar with most of his options.
IMPROVED DEFENSE? The Sooners switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 last season and finished first in the Big 12 in pass defense and total defense. Most of that team is back, and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is optimistic that better things are in store because the returnees are comfortable with the scheme.
"I feel like we're in great shape in what we want to do and players understanding it and the different wrinkles and how we want to attack people," he said. "Hopefully, that will lead to fewer mental mistakes and better play overall. I believe it could and will."
BACKFIELD UNCERTAINTY: With highly touted freshman Joe Mixon suspended for the season, the Sooners lost arguably their most talented back. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will get the first shots to take over the position. Freshman Samaje Perine has impressed throughout camp.
"It's something that you're going to want to see in the early games," Stoops said. "Is anybody ahead of the other assignment-wise, protection-wise, ball security-wise, is anyone better than the other? Who's making plays that are there and who's making plays that are extra and he shouldn't have gotten 30 and he got 30."
STAR RB: The most accomplished running back in the game will be Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon. He ran for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns as a freshman, then added 917 yards rushing during an injury-shortened sophomore season. He has a grand stage to return to his freshman form.
"Their running back is nifty guy, powerful and strong," Stoops said. "He's about 215 pounds. He can make people miss him and run through arm tackles. He's really a good player."
QUICK HOOK? The Bulldogs have named Iowa transfer Cody Sokol their starting quarterback over incumbent Ryan Higgins. It will be interesting to see how long Holtz sticks with Sokol if the Bulldogs trail big early.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP