Today at No. 3: Oklahoma
Coach: Lincoln Riley (0-0, entering first season; 0-0 overall)
2016 record: 11-2, 9-0 in Big 12, first in league
Look back: Oklahoma rebounded after a dismal start to the 2016 season. The Sooners lost two out of their first three games, then rattled off nine consecutive wins and earned the program’s second consecutive Big 12 championship. It was the first time in Big 12 history a team has gone 9-0 and it was the 10th conference championship for then-head coach Bob Stoops. OU went on to finish the season with an impressive 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 7
Key losses: RB Joe Mixon, RB Samaje Perine, WR Dede Westbrook, LB Jordan Evans, DE Austin Roberts, S Ahmad Thomas, DT Jordan Wade
Top returnees: QB Baker Mayfield, TE Mark Andrews, FB Dimitri Flowers, LB Emmanueal Beal, DL Neville Gallimore, LB Caleb Kelly, LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, CB Jordan Parker, S Steven Parker, CB Jordan Thomas
Strengths: Baker Mayfield has finished the past two seasons in fourth (2015) and third (2016) in the Heisman Trophy voting after completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for more than 7,665 total yards and 76 total touchdowns while leading the Sooners to a 22-4 record and back-to-back Big 12 titles.
A solid offensive line has helped fuel Oklahoma’s recent success and it will remain a team strength, with all five starters returning. The unit allowed just 21 sacks in 2016 and was responsible for leading a rushing attack that ranked third in the Big 12.
The defense, which was restocked during the offseason, centers around a pair of all-conference selections in LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (71 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss) and CB Jordan Thomas 17 pass breakups). Thomas is one of several starters back from a secondary that takes nothing for granted and will be the strength of the defense.
Weaknesses: Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season and their departures to the NFL leaves a gap Oklahoma, which only returns 20 percent of its rushing production.
There’s some anxiety at the receiver position. Dede Westbrook left after a career-best season, accounting for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior Nick Basquine suffered a season-ending injury this offseason, leaving tight end Mark Andrews (538 yards) as the team’s top returning receiver.
Outlook: Oklahoma is a national powerhouse, so imagine the surprise when longtime coach Bob Stoops stepped down in June and turned the program over to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Riley inherits a team loaded with talent on both sides of the football. The Sooners are the preseason pick to win the Big 12 for a third consecutive season, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Oklahoma won three in a row from 2006-08.