NORMAN — Sugar Bowl MVP Trevor Knight isn’t shying away from the grand expectations for himself and the Oklahoma football team in 2014.
“We’re back on top, preseason No. 1 in the Big 12, all that good stuff,” Knight said. “That’s where we want to be. You come to Oklahoma to play in big games and to have those predictions and to live up to them.”
Sooner Nation enters the 2014 season on a collective Sugar high, but there’s more to the hype than just Oklahoma’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama. OU has a favorable schedule, with many of its toughest games at home. Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper anchor a strong, attacking defense.
The Sooners return a veteran offensive line that is as deep as it has been in years. And if Knight can consistently play the way he did that night in New Orleans — or even close to it — the OU offense could be electric, even with a bunch of new receivers and backs.
Oklahoma is a consensus top-five team this preseason, but that’s not at all uncommon. The Sooners were ranked in the Associated Press’ preseason top-10 every year between 2001 and 2012, and in eight of those years, OU began in the top five.
Last summer, a study from Pollspeak.com — comparing pre- and postseason rankings — found Oklahoma to be the most overrated college football team between 2008 and 2012.
Last season, though, the Sooners turned out to be quite underrated from the beginning of the season to the end. Although OU was embarrassed in losses to Texas and at Baylor, it ended the regular season strong and earned a Sugar Bowl berth against two-time defending national champion Alabama.
After the victory, Oklahoma shot up to No. 6 in the final polls — 10 spots higher than it was ranked when the season began.
“Preseason hype means nothing because at the end of the day we have to go out there and play on Saturdays,” said senior defensive back Julian Wilson.
Oklahoma’s 2014 schedule should be manageable; the Sooners get defending Big 12 champion Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home. The annual Red River Rivalry game in Dallas against Texas is never a gimme, and a mid-November trip to Texas Tech could prove tricky; the Sooners have lost three of their last four games in Lubbock.
For most of the past several seasons, OU’s offense has been its strength with record-setting quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. The Sooners are hoping they have their next great signal caller in Knight, although he’s got few experienced playmakers to work with as the season begins.
The true strength of this Sooner team — at least as the season begins — appears to be the defense, and the defensive front seven in particular. Budding stars like Eric Striker, Charles Tapper, Jordan Phillips, Geneo Grissom and Dominique Alexander could have banner years.
“We’ve got a lot of really good players up there that have made really great gains,” Bob Stoops said. “Every one of them is bigger, stronger than they were a year ago and that should help us.”