NORMAN — Oklahoma's 2014 season opener against Louisiana Tech is seven months away, but after the Sooners' 45-31 upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, next year could easily become the most anticipated OU football season in a long time.
Of course, every season presents challenges as key contributors graduate, leaving Oklahoma with a few question marks entering 2014 spring practices.
Here is a look at three position groups that must replace a significant amount of lost experience in 2014.
Who's gone: Aaron Colvin*; Kass Everett; Gabe Lynn*
Who's back: Dakota Austin (So.); Hatari Byrd (So.); Quentin Hayes (Sr.)*; Cortez Johnson (Jr.)*; L.J. Moore (RFr.); Zack Sanchez (So.)*; Stanvon Taylor (So.)*; Ahmad Thomas (So.); Julian Wilson (Sr.)*
Who's new: Marcus Green; Vontre McQuinnie; Tito Windham
Analysis: Colvin leaves a giant void on one side of the field. The two-time All-Big 12 cornerback will likely be replaced by Taylor, Austin or Johnson. … Byrd seems like the likely candidate to replace Lynn at free safety. … Hayes (SS), Sanchez (CB) and Wilson (NB) all return after starting the entire season.
Who's gone: Lacoltan Bester*; Jaz Reynolds*; Jalen Saunders*
Who's back: Austin Bennett (So.); Dannon Cavil (RFr.); Trey Franks (Sr.)*; Durron Neal (Jr.)*; Sterling Shepard (Jr.)*; Jordan Smallwood (RFr.); Derrick Woods (So.); K.J. Young (RFr.)
Who's new: Mark Andrews; Jeffery Mead; Dallis Todd
Analysis: Saunders became the Sooners' most dynamic playmaker on both offense and special teams by the end of his career. He could play both inside and outside. … Woods made a career-long 20-yard catch in the Sugar Bowl, and could make a push for a starting spot. … Shepard returns as one of the Sooners' best overall players, and will assume a more significant leadership role with the unit as a junior. … Franks was suspended the entire 2012 season, moved to safety and then switched back to offense midway through last season. … Todd will enroll early and join the Sooners for spring workouts.
Who's gone: Brennan Clay*; Roy Finch*; Trey Millard*; Damien Williams*
Who's back: Daniel Brooks (So.); Keith Ford (So.); Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.)*; Alex Ross (So.); David Smith (So.)
Who's new: Dmitri Flowers; Joe Mixon; Samaje Perine
Analysis: Ford averaged 5.8 yards on his 23 rushes last season as a true freshman. He enters 2014 as the likely starting running back. … Mixon, a five-star prospect and the nation's No. 1 all-purpose back according to Rivals, will likely make an immediate impact on the offense as a ballcarrier and receiver out of the backfield. … Ross is immensely talented, but needs to continue maturing before he'll see significant action. … Ripkowski returns as the clear No. 1 fullback after assuming the role when Millard suffered a season-ending knee injury in late October.
— *: Started at least one game in 2013.