Oklahoma football: Four reasons to get fired up about what’s coming in 60 days

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 10 : The Sooner Schooner takes the field after a touchdown against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks September 10, 2016 at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Warhawks 59-17. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) *** local caption ***
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 10 : The Sooner Schooner takes the field after a touchdown against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks September 10, 2016 at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Warhawks 59-17. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) *** local caption *** /

Summer is here and the Dog Days are fast approaching. It’s time to fire up the grill and get fired up for what promises to be another exhilarating, action-packed and, hopefully, championship Oklahoma football season.

In recognition of the 4th of July holiday, we’ve identified four choice reasons to begin ramping up your excitement in anticipation for the coming college football season and the 125th anniversary of Sooner football.

New quarterback

For the third time in as many seasons, the Sooners will begin the season with a new starting quarterback. We’re not talking about just any QB, however, and to Oklahoma’s credit, that’s been the case the past two seasons, as well.

Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts transferred to Oklahoma after last season and becomes the third consecutive Sooner quarterback to take over the QB duties without having begun his college career at OU.

Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both transferred to Oklahoma after beginning their careers at Texas Tech and Texas A&M, respectively. Both set new school records at the position, won the Heisman Trophy and were selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.

Big shoes to fill for sure, but Hurts is a big-time player who comes from arguably college football’s best program and has played in the biggest college game of all: three consecutive national championship games.

Oklahoma clearly was the big winner among teams bringing in players off of the transfer portal this offseason. And with it comes the chance to produce a Heisman-winning quarterback.

Hurts was 26-2 as a starting quarterback at Alabama. He played in all but two games last season as a backup QB after losing his starter’s job to Tua Tagovailoa the year before. He completed 72 percent of his pass attempts last season, a 10 percent improvement over his freshman season at Alabama.  He accounted for 71 touchdowns in three seasons with the Crimson Tide (48 passing and 23 rushing).

Hurts’ skills are a perfect fit for Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense. With the skills and experience Hurts brings to the position and talent he has around him, Oklahoma will simply reload and continue churning out yardage and putting up points, as always.

New defensive coordinator

As outstanding as the Oklahoma offense has been the past few seasons, the exact opposite is true for the defense. This past season, the Sooners ranked 114th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams is total defense, allowing opponents an average of 454 yards per game.

It’s a wonder OU won as many as 12 games with a defense that bad and, in truth, they had several games in which their winning margin was five or fewer points.

Enter new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who comes to the Sooners from Ohio State, where he was co-defensive coordinator last season. For three years before that he was at Washington State as DC under Mike Leach.

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Grinch wants the Sooners to be faster and play more aggressively on defense. Grinch has the reputation as one of the best young defensive minds in the college game, which should complement Lincoln Riley well. Riley is widely regarded as one of the best young offensive minds in college football.

When Grinch took the job at Washington State as defensive coordinator, the Cougars were ranked 99th nationally in total defense and 127th in both pass defense and in turnover margin. After two seasons, WSU had improved to 16th in total defense and ninth in pass defense and turnovers.

In addition to skill and scheme improvement, Riley is looking to Grinch to change the culture of the Sooners on the defensive side of the ball.

It won’t be a quick fix, because Grinch needs to bring in the players who fit best in his system. He is an excellent recruiter, however, and we are already starting to see some high-profile defensive recruits committing to OU for 2020.

A reload of offensive weapons

Oklahoma lost Kyler Murray, Rodney Anderson, Marcelius Sutton and electrifying Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, not to mention four of five starters off of the offensive line judged to be the best in college football.

Losing that much talent in one season would equate to a disaster on many teams. Not so for the Sooners. It’s next man up, and Oklahoma has plenty of returning talent on offense along with perhaps the best class of receiver recruits in the school’s storied history.

It’s reload and keep rolling on down the track offensively for the Sooners. The Sooners’ incoming recruiting class (the 2019 class) includes three five-star wide receivers (Jadon Hasselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges) and a four-star tight end (Austin Stognor. That class also includes five-star quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler, who will have the opportunity to learn and grow into the position for one season behind Jalen Hurts.

The country’s No. 1 offense could be even better this year because of all the new weapons the team has added to the offensive arsenal.

The one wild card is the offensive line. It’s a solid bet that the O-line won’t be as good as the last couple of years, but with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, one of the best in the business, you can count on the guys upfront in the trenches to get better as the season progresses and still be formidable, despite the heavy losses.

Lincoln Riley

All Lincoln Riley has done in his two seasons as the Sooners’ head coach is win 24 games, two Big 12 championships, lead his team to back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances and produce back-to-back Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. Oh, and both Heisman winners were selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.

Outside of going undefeated and winning the national championship both seasons, you can’t put together a better resume than that.

Oklahoma has lead the country in total offense each of the last two season, and the Sooners have finished in the top 10 all four years Riley has been at Oklahoma, first as offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops and now as head coach.

CBS Sports’ Ben Kercheval earlier this spring ranked Riley as the fourth best coach in college football behind only Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson and Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M. That’s pretty lofty company for a head coach who is just 35 years old and has only been in the head job for two years.

Riley is also a top recruiter, which everyone knows is the lifeblood of a successful college football program. His two recruiting classes have both finished in the top 10, and the 2020 class is currently ranked ninth by ESPN.

Riley is a huge part of Oklahoma’s current success, and that is reason alone209847 to be excited about the coming season.