Sooners, Cowboys should dominate Big 12 football again in 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football teams finished the Big 12 Conference in first and second place respectively in 2016, and after impressive bowl performances, the Sooners and Cowboys have sent notice to the rest of the conference that they will be back atop the league again in 2017.
OSU hammered Colorado, 38-8, in the Alamo Bowl on December 29 to finish the regular season with a 10-3 record (7-2 in the conference). The Pokes racked up a 31-0 lead before the Buffaloes got on the board. Poke quarterback Mason Rudolph threw three touchdowns, each to a different receiver. The Rock Hill, South Carolina junior completed 22 of 32 passing for 314 yards and no interceptions.
Receiver James Washington led the Pokes with 9 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown and was named the game’s Offensive MVP. Running back Justice Hill rushed for 100 yards in the game and scored the final tally with a 37-yard sprint in the fourth quarter.
Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor was named the game’s Defensive MVP after recording 7 tackles and one sack for the Cowboys. OSU held the Buffs to 318 total yards, 128 below Colorado’s season average. CU also averaged 32.8 points per game coming into the game.
The Cowboys’ jubilation was short-lived as Taylor announced the next day that he was bypassing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. Six other defensive starters are seniors including All-big 12 safety Jordan Sterns. Leading the list of defensive returnees are linebacker Chad Whitener and safety Tre Flowers, both named to the Big 12’s second team defense in 2016. Whitener was third on the Pokes’ squad with 71 tackles and Flowers logged 61 stops and broke up 7 passes last year.
Washington, an all-Big 12 receiver, and Rudolph announced they are returning for their senior years in Stillwater. Receiver Jalen McCleskey also returns, which gives the Cowboys the top two receivers coming back. Marcel Ateman, who sat out last season with a foot injury, returns to the lineup this year. He caught 45 passes for 766 yards and 5 TDs in 2015.
Running back Justice Hill, named the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year, returns to give the Pokes some teeth in their ground attack. He ran for 1,142 yards and scored six times in 2016.
OSU will need to replace three on the front line as center Brad Lundblade and left guard Marcus Keyes are the only returnees.
Zach Sinor, one of the league’s best punters, will return in 2017, but the Pokes will need to find a replacement for kicker Ben Grogan.
Sugar was sweet for Sooners
Oklahoma defeated Auburn, 35-19, in the Sugar Bowl Monday night extending OU’s record to 11-2 for the season (9-0 in the Big 12). The Tigers had been one of the nation’s stingiest defenses in 2016, but the Sooners scored 20 more points and 75 more yards than Auburn’s season averages.
Auburn drove 75 yards to take a 7-0 lead in the game’s opening series. Oklahoma tied it with Baker Mayfield’s 13-yard strike to Mark Andrews in the second quarter. Joe Mixon’s 3-yard run gave OU the lead for good at 14-7. The Tigers kicked a field goal just before halftime and didn’t score again until a meaningless touchdown on the game’s final play.
Mixon scored another touchdown, and Mayfield also threw another, both in the third period. Mayfield was named the game’s MVP by completing 19 of 28 for 296 yards and the two scores. Mixon rushed for 91 yards and caught 5 passes for 89 more. Running back Samaje Perine rushed for 86 yards and to the top of the OU record book. The Pflugerville, Texas junior upped his career total rushing yards to 4,122 eclipsing Billy Sims’ record of 4,118 set in 1979.
Perine announced on Tuesday that he was skipping his senior season in Norman by declaring for the NFL Draft. Mixon has until January 16 to make his declaration public. Although just a sophomore, he is eligible for this year’s NFL Draft because he redshirted for his first year after punching a girl at a Norman sandwich shop in July 2014.
If Mixon returns in 2017, he will be the feature back for the Sooners. He was second in the country with an average of 194.3 all-purpose yards.
Oklahoma will be loaded on offense next year as everyone returns except for All-American wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Perine. Mayfield, who could have declared for the draft, decided to stay in Norman for his senior season. The two-time all-Big 12 quarterback set the NCAA record in passing efficiency for one season. He finished with a 196.4 rating eclipsing the record of 191.2 set by Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in 2011.
Mayfield will have one of the best offensive lines to protect him including all-conference left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
OU must find a replacement for Westbrook, last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner in the receiving corps. The leader appears to be all-Big 12 tight end Mark Andrews, who was fourth on the squad with 31 catches for 489 yards and 7 TDs.
The Sooners return seven players on defense in ’17. They will need to find a replacement for all-Big 12 linebacker Jordan Evans, linemen Jordan Wade and Austin Roberts, and safety Ahmad Thomas.
All-Big 12 cornerback Jordan Thomas will return. He had given up numerous big plays last year but ended the season with an interception in the Sugar Bowl.
The linebacking corps will again be fierce without Evans, the team’s leading tackler with 98 stops. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo led the Sooners with 12 tackles for loss including 9 sacks and two forced fumbles. Freshman Caleb Kelly, a five-star recruit from Fresno, California, should be a menace to opposing quarterbacks next year. He stepped up his game late in the season and led Oklahoma with 12 stops in the Sugar Bowl.
Punter/placekicker Austin Seibert will be back to take on all kicking chores.
Oklahoma is likely to finish in the top five of the polls when they are released next week. OSU should be close behind with a possible top ten showing.
The Sooners will be seeking to extend their 17-game conference winning streak and defense of their two-straight Big 12 championships. The big showdown will be November 4 between OSU and OU, and both teams could be ranked in the top ten to start 2017. The winner of that game in Stillwater will have the upper leg toward the conference crown, but this year, the league’s championship game returns.
It’s likely to be a rematch between the Cowboys and Sooners at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 2.
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