Oklahoma football: The 2019 Sooner offense could be the best yet

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 06: Trey Sermon #4 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter of the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 06: Trey Sermon #4 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter of the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

In his first two seasons at the head of the Oklahoma football program, Lincoln Riley’s Sooners have led the nation in total offense.

The 2017 Oklahoma team, led by Baker Mayfield at quarterback, produced 8,114 yards of total offense in 14 games, an average of 580 yards per game, setting a new school record. The previous record of 7,670 and 567 yards per game was set in 1971 by another OU offensive juggernaut.

Kyler Murray was the quarterback of the 2018 Sooners, who picked right up where the Oklahoma offense left off the previous season. The 2018 team averaged a nation-best 570 yards of total offense per game, which also broke the earlier long-standing record, and averaged an NCAA-record 8.6 yards per play.

For the third time in as many seasons, Oklahoma will have someone new starting at quarterback. This year is Jalen Hurts’ time to run the Sooners’ Air Raid offense under Riley’s masterful tutelage. An Oklahoma quarterback has won college football’s most prestigious individual award, the Heisman Trophy, in each of the past two seasons.

And with the experienced Hurts taking over the OU quarterback reins, after a three-year run under Nick Saban at Alabama that included a national championship, don’t be surprised to see Hurts in contention to make it three straight Sooner Heisman winners.

The Bama transferee (he has already graduated) has the winning mentality, the pedigree and will have a wealth of weapons around him when he leads the Oklahoma offense this fall.

Like Murray before him, Hurts provides an additional dimension as a dual threat at the quarterback position. He started two seasons for the Crimson Tide before being displaced by Tua Tagovailoa, who himself is a top contender for the 2019 Heisman.

Hurts still appeared in 14 games for Alabama last season, throwing for 748 passing yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. He also posted 167 rushing yards. In three seasons in Tuscaloosa, he recorded 5,481 passing yards and 46 touchdowns along with 1,945 yards on the ground and 22 touchdowns.

With the offense he will have behind him at Oklahoma and defenses in the Big 12 that are considered to be much softer than what he went up against in the SEC, the former Alabama QB may be in line for a career year.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The Sooners are only some 50 yards off of the all-time NCAA record for total offense (Houston holds the record, averaging 625 yards of total offense in 1989).

The top three running backs are returning for OU this fall in a rushing offense that averaged 275 yards per game last season, 11th best in the country. The receiver arsenal is perhaps the deepest in college football (the Sooners were seventh in NCAA Division I a year ago in passing offense, at 323 yards per game, and they have even more depth at that position).

Junior CeeDee Lamb, who led the Sooners with 11 touchdown catches and 65 catches a year ago leads a solid group of returning receivers, and you can add to that a recruiting class that included the No, 1 (Jadon Hasselwood) and No. 3 wide receivers (Theo Wease).

Factor in a mobile quarterback who can beat you with his arm and his legs, and you have the makings of an offense that is extremely balanced and highly unpredictable — the worst of combinations for a defense to plan for and defend.

One big uncertainty that could have a major impact on how good Oklahoma can be in the coming season is the makeup and performance of the offensive line. The Sooner O-line last season was the best in college football, but four of the five starters are now gone and will need to be replaced.

The Oklahoma coaches believe they have able replacements ready to step into the roles, and with Bill Bedenbaugh, one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, responsible for the evolution and development of the offensive linemen, chances are good the Sooners will be all right upfront.

The rub on Hurts in his first two seasons at Alabama was his arm strength and passing efficiency. He was considered much more dangerous tucking and running with the football than throwing it. His passing numbers have improved considerably, however, from what they were his first season leading the Crimson Tide offense.

In his freshman season at Alabama, Hurts completed just 63 percent of his passes. He did throw 23 touchdown passes but also had nine interceptions. Last season, albeit in primarily a backup roll, he completed 73 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 196.7.

In the SEC championship game against Georgia, Hurts had perhaps his best single-game performance wearing an Alabama uniform. He led the Crimson Tide to a fourth-quarter comeback win, coming on in place of the injured starter Tagovailoa and leading the team to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game. He completed seven of nine passing and threw and ran for a touchdown,

Hurts was also impressive in the annual Oklahoma Red-White spring game. He completed 11 of 14 passes and added both a passing touchdown and an rushing touchdown in leading the Red team to a 35-14 victory.

The 2019 OU offense has a good chance to be the best in Lincoln Riley’s four seasons at Oklahoma (the first two as offensive coordinator before being named head coach), if not the best in Sooner history. Regardless, it should be another superlative year for one of the nation’s most prolific offensive teams.