Oklahoma football: Athlon Sports deems Sooner O-line nation’s best

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01: Baker Mayfield
FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01: Baker Mayfield /

We’ve written numerous times in this space over the past few months about the offensive line being one of the major strengths of the Oklahoma football team as the 2017 season kickoff looms less than three weeks away.

The Big 12 has built a dubious reputation as the all-offense, no-defense league, and Oklahoma has been the standard bearer of the conference’s points-a-plenty notoriety for the better part of two decades and especially since new head coach Lincoln Riley took hold of the offensive reins a couple of seasons ago.

We’ve made no bones about calling this year’s edition of the Oklahoma offensive line the best in the country. We’re not alone, however, in that assessment. Phil Steele, college football analyst and publisher of the eponymous College Football Preview magazine that serves as the bible for many, ranked the Sooners’ 2017 O-line as the best in the game, ahead of perennial college powers Alabama, Ohio State, LSU and Clemson.

And now Athlon Sports is adding further credence to that No. 1 claim. In a post today on its website, Athlon lists the Oklahoma offensive line unit as the best in the country in the upcoming season.

It is no coincidence that the Sooners best offensive seasons in winning 10 or more games 14 times and 10 Big 12 championships since 2000 have come when they possessed tremendous talent, strength and continuity on the offensive line.

“In order for Oklahoma to challenge for a CFP Playoff bid, the (offensive) line must keep opposing defenders away from quarterback Baker Mayfield.” –Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports

The 20o4 team, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Jason White at quarterback, finished the season 12-1, its only loss coming in the national championship game to USC. That team was led up front by an outstanding offensive line anchored by Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph.

In 2008, when Sam Bradford led the Sooners to the BCS National Championship against Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators, Oklahoma’s success that season was largely attributable to the protection provided for its Heisman-winning quarterback and the holes opened up for running backs Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray by one of the country’s best offensive lines.

Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Trent Williams were the stalwarts upfront on offense for the 2008 Oklahoma team.

Flash forward to the present. The Sooners are once again blessed with one of the best offensive lines in the country, and it couldn’t come at a better time for a team that will rely heavily on the play of its quarterback and team leader, Baker Mayfield, who himself is a solid contender to win a Heisman Trophy, to make 2017 a successful season for its first-year head coach.

Oklahoma loses a tremendous amount of firepower in its backfield with the departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. With a lot of new or untested blood in the Sooner backfield this season, the play of the offensive line is typically the critical difference-maker for a team that relies on the running game to ignite its Air Raid attack.

All five starters for Oklahoma on the offensive line return for the 2017 season. Left Tackle Orlando Brown is the best player on what hands-down is the best O-line in the Big 12 entering the new season and perhaps in all of college football in 2017.

He is joined by teammates Ben Powers, Erick Wren, Dru Samia and Bobby Evans. The group averages 6-foot, 5-inches, 323-pounds and brings with them a collective 97 career starts.

Remember those names, because you won’t hear them called by the public address or play-by-play announcers, but they will play a pivotal role in how the Sooners’ offense rolls this season.

You could run the ball behind that offensive line,” Mayfield told Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World at Big 12 Media Days several weeks ago and cited again by OU beat writer Brooke Pryor in the Oklahoma City Oklahoman.

In his article ranking the top-50 offensive lines in college football this season, Athlon’s Steven Lassan wrote: “In order for Oklahoma to challenge for a CFP Playoff bid, the (offensive) line has to keep opposing defenders away from quarterback Baker Mayfield. That task shouldn’t be tough for Lincoln Riley’s group with all five starters returning.”

For any college team, success on offense begins upfront, and that’s where a growing number of folks with great knowledge and feel for the game believe Oklahoma is at its best in the upcoming season.