Oklahoma Sooners: Oklahoma Sooners

It’s football time in Oklahoma.

The Sooners open the season against Louisiana Tech on Saturday with an eye on cementing a spot in the College Football Playoff derby in 2014. Here are five key stats to keep an eye on.

Sooners yards per carry average: It is important for the Sooners to replace last year’s trio of seniors — Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams — with another solid running game. Oklahoma averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2013 and leaned on its running game to carry a Sooners’ offense that averaged 199.1 passing yards per contest. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will get the first chance to prove they can handle the bulk of the carries, but they could be looking over their shoulders at true freshman Samaje Perine. Between the three of them, Oklahoma should hope to, at the very least, match last year’s yards-per-carry average against Louisiana Tech.

Trevor Knight’s completion percentage: Knight’s 59-percent completion rate from 2013 isn’t going to get it done if the Sooners expect to earn a College Football Playoff berth. The good news for Sooners fans is Knight had a 67.1 completion percentage in the final five games of the 2013 season. So if he can mimic his strong play at the end of the season, Oklahoma could be in business. It starts against Louisiana Tech, so the Sooners should hope Knight can complete 65 percent of his throws on Saturday.

Sooners’ second leading receiver: Nobody’s worried about Knight finding a No. 1 target. Sterling Shepard should fill that role with ease. But Oklahoma needs at least one more consistent target to emerge in the offense alongside Shepard. It feels like now or never for junior Durron Neal, who stepped on campus with as much acclaim as Shepard. Redshirt freshman K.J. Young joins Shepard and Neal in the starting lineup and could become a key playmaker if he fulfills the promise he’s shown during his 12 months on campus. Tight end Blake Bell could also emerge as a legitimate No. 2 option. It doesn’t really matter who it is, but someone needs to show signs they will be a trustworthy target for Knight against Louisiana Tech by hauling in at least five receptions.

Tackles for loss: The Sooners defense was good in 2013, but it could be dominant in 2014 if it can make more tackles for loss. Oklahoma finished seventh in the Big 12 with 73 tackles for loss, an average of 5.6 per game. If the Sooners can record at least seven tackles for loss against Louisiana Tech, it would be a sign that the defense can create more chaos in opponents' backfields this season, which could be the perfect recipe for a College Football Playoff berth.

Third-down conversion rate: Oklahoma must get better on third down if they plan to compete for a national championship. The Sooners converted just 39.5 percent of their third-down attempts a year ago, ranking 69th among FBS teams. It’s no coincidence the Sooners were 7-0 last season when their conversion rate was 40 percent or higher, including victories over Alabama, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Thus, converting 45 percent of their third-down attempts should be the goal on Saturday.
Oklahoma knows a lot more about its Class of 2014 recruiting class than it did a month ago.

Several true freshmen could make an impact for the Sooners this fall after impressing during their first month on the practice fields in Norman, Oklahoma. Here’s a look at five impact true freshmen that could make noise during their first season in crimson and cream:

[+] EnlargeDimitri Flowers
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDimitri Flowers has impressed coach Bob Stoops with his versatility and smarts.
Fullback Dimitri Flowers: Flowers' potential impact has been clear since he stepped on the field as an early enrollee last spring. OU’s coaching staff has raved about his maturity, versatility and upside since he arrived in January. Flowers has the ability to slot in at various different spots in the offense from fullback to H-back to tight end. It would be a surprise if he isn’t a consistent contributor in 2014.

“He has a natural feel for the game and is a very bright young man, picking up on schemes and everything,” coach Bob Stoops said. “As you can see, a player very similar to Trey [Millard] in how versatile he is.”

Safety Steven Parker: Parker has arrived on campus as one of the most “college ready” freshmen in recent memory. Currently listed as a second-team safety on the depth chart, Parker could be too versatile to keep on the sideline. He has the coverage skills of a cornerback and range of a safety. OU has a pair of quality sophomore safeties in Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd along with senior Quentin Hayes ahead of Parker but he is still likely to force himself on to the field at some point this season.

Cornerback Jordan Thomas: Arguably the most surprising name on this list, Thomas also could end up being the best. He didn’t step on campus with as much fanfare as some of the other names on the list this summer but he has immediately impressed. He’s secured a spot as Julian Wilson’s backup at cornerback and should be a contributor in the secondary.

“He and Steven Parker are as good of players at corner and safety as we have ever recruited,” Stoops said. “It is obvious though this number of practices how strong they are and how they are physically in a position to play and to handle it. They are intelligent and it is natural for them. You usually don’t get that all in one.”

Running back Samaje Perine: Sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford set atop the running back depth chart but the Sooners have been impressed with the upside of Perine during his first month on the field. He provides another physical running option for OU.

“He’s one of the freshmen that has an opportunity to contribute,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “He’s a big, physical kid, he’s taking care of the football, we’re gaining more confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads really well and he’s learned quickly. Kids that play as freshmen carry themselves with maturity and he’s done that.”

Receiver Michiah Quick: The California native has been the best true freshman receiver on the roster. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him force his way into the lineup at slot receiver or punt returner this fall. His surname (Quick) is the perfect description the asset that could help him earn a role in OU’s offense.

“[He’s] explosive when he has the ball,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s made some freshman mistakes at times because the game is faster, the plays are more competitive; he is learning to play in that atmosphere.”

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
9:00
AM ET
Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

 
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series followed the roster numerically and concludes today with No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 98 Chuka Ndulue, defensive tackle, 6-foot-3, 289 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Arguably the most overshadowed contributor on the roster. He’s displayed terrific versatility and production during his time as a Sooner. He’s started 19 of 32 career games with 91 tackles including 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2013, he brought a veteran presence to the defensive line with nine starts in 12 games played and 42 total tackles.

Impact in 2014: Ndulue should be a core contributor for the Sooners’ defensive line for the third straight season. His versatility and experience are key assets on a defensive front that could become the Big 12’s best unit.

Long-term upside: Much like 2013, he’s likely to be outshined by Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom, Charles Tapper and the rest of OU’s attacking pass rush, thus missing out on postseason honors, but he’s a key part of the Sooners' defense.

Evaluation grade for Ndulue: A. Anytime a signee becomes a three-year starter, he’s a pretty good evaluation. Brought in as a defensive end, Ndulue should the willingness and ability to move around the defensive line to help OU get its top performers on the field.

Development grade for Ndulue: A. Thanks to a redshirt season in 2010, Ndulue is around to provide a productive, experienced player in the middle of OU’s defensive interior.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 97 Charles Walker, defensive tackle, 6-foot-2, 296 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Walker hasn’t made an impact on the field but did create a buzz during his redshirt season and this offseason. If his production can match the hype, the Sooners will be thrilled.

Impact in 2014: Walker is one reason veterans like Torrea Peterson and Quincy Russell will have to raise their games if they want to earn a spot in OU’s defensive plans. It would be a surprise to see him force his way into a major role but he should be a contributor in his redshirt freshman season.

Long-term upside: It’s early to say but he has exceptional talent so fulfilling his upside would mean emerging as a major force for the Sooners during his career.

Evaluation grade for Walker: B. The only reason this grade is not an A is because Walker has not done anything on the field yet. All other signs point to an exceptional evaluation as he appears poised to make an impact as a redshirt freshman, yet his other offers were New Mexico, Houston and others. He looks like a hidden gem who was unearthed by OU.

Development grade for Walker: A. A redshirt season was perfect for Walker, who needed the time to adjust to playing defensive tackle in the Big 12 after lining up at several positions in high school. Thanks to a year of seasoning, Walker should be better prepared to help the Sooners this fall.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 95 Quincy Russell, defensive tackle, 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: The junior college signee didn’t make much of an impact during his first season in Norman, Oklahoma. He played in two games and finished with three tackles in 2013.

Impact in 2014: There’s no reason to expect Russell to make a major impact this fall with the Sooners’ wealth of talent at the position. Quite frankly, he may have missed his opportunity last season when Jordan Phillips was lost for the year early in the campaign.

Long-term upside: Any contribution will make OU’s depth along the defensive interior even better.

Evaluation grade for Russell: D. More would have been expected from Russell in 2013. As a junior college signee, there are high expectations for an immediate impact and Russell fell short in that regard. Nonetheless, he still has a season to make people forget that disappointing debut.

Development grade for Russell: A. Not much else the Sooners could have done for Russell. He arrived late in the summer of 2013 yet played in OU’s first two games, a sign they wanted to give him the opportunity to make an immediate impact but he didn't seize the opportunity and cement himself in the defensive tackle rotation.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 94 Torrea Peterson, defensive tackle, 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Peterson had the most productive season of his career with seven games played and one start with four total tackles in 2013. He hasn’t made a major impact with 13 career games (one start) and seven tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss during his career.

Impact in 2014: Peterson is one of the reasons the Sooners could have the Big 12’s top defensive line. He’s not slated to start but he provides veteran competition and little drop off if called upon this fall. He’a a quality option for OU’s defensive line rotation.

Long term upside: He should be a contributor during his final season.

Evaluation grade for Peterson: D. More is expected from a three-star signee who has been on campus for four years. One start in 13 career games isn’t good enough. Peterson has done some things to keep himself off the field early in his career but if he continues to improve like he did heading into his junior season this grade would jump to an C.

Development grade for Peterson: B. There’s not much more the Sooners could have done to develop Peterson. They redshirted him and waited for him to mature before he finally became a contributor as a junior.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 93 Jordan Wade, defensive tackle, 6-foot-4, 314 pounds, Sophomore

Impact thus far: After a redshirt season in 2012, Wade was arguably the most overlooked contributor to Oklahoma's Allstate Sugar Bowl championship campaign. Wade was thrown into the fire after Jordan Phillips was lost for the season after four games. Wade ended up starting eight games, finishing with 17 tackles including 1.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman.

Impact in 2014: He should continue to be a key contributor for the Sooners, particularly if Phillips suffers any setbacks with his back. Wade is one of the stronger defensive linemen on the squad and got better as the season progressed a year ago.

Long-term upside: Wade has the ability to become an all-conference performer during his time in crimson and cream.

Evaluation grade for Wade: A. As the No. 103 player in the ESPN150, Wade arrived in Norman, Oklahoma, as a highly regarded defensive prospect. He went a long way to meeting those expectations with his eight starts as a redshirt freshman. Wade had games where he was disruptive and dependable in the middle, allowing his teammates to shine.

Development grade for Wade: A. No complaints here. Wade’s redshirt season helped prepare him to make an impact in 2014, and there is no guarantee he will leave before his fifth season in the program. Thus it’s very possible the Sooners get four productive seasons from Wade, which would not be the case if they had let him see spot duty as a true freshman in 2012.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 92 Matthew Romar, defensive tackle, 6-foot, 287 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Romar redshirted during his freshman season in 2013.

Impact in 2014: Romar should provide depth along the Sooners’ defensive line. It would be a surprise if he earns a bigger role, but he did have a solid spring and is already showing signs he can be a contributor on OU’s defensive line during his career.

Long term upside: Don’t expect a major impact as a redshirt freshman but Romar has the ability to be a three-year contributor and emerge as a key asset along OU’s defensive front for the next few years.

Evaluation grade for Romar: C. It’s early to grade Romar but it would be a surprise if he never makes an impact for OU after having a solid spring following a redshirt campaign. The talent in front of him in 2014 is likely to have more to do with his lack of an impact than a lack of ability on his part.

Development grade for Romar: A. Even though the Sooners lost Jordan Phillips to injury during the season, a redshirt year for Romar was the right move. Now he has four full seasons to emerge as a impact player after one season in the strength and conditioning program.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 91 Charles Tapper, defensive end, 6-foot-4, 281 pounds, junior

Impact thus far: Tapper had a breakout season as a sophomore, earning All-Big 12 honors while starting 12 of 13 games. He had 49 tackles including nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2013. As a true freshman he played in five games and recorded two tackles in 2012.

Impact in 2014: If Tapper makes another jump as a junior he could find himself in the fight for All-American honors. He has all the physical skills to dominate a game yet still has plenty of room to grow as a guy who didn’t start playing football until midway though high school.

Long term upside: All-American honors and individual awards are in play for Tapper during his career, if he continues his development.

Evaluation grade for Tapper: A. The Baltimore, Maryland native is a former basketball player who intrigued the Sooners, particularly Bobby Jack Wright, with his raw talent and OU didn’t hesitate to offer him a scholarship despite his inexperience on the gridiron. He’s been everything they could have asked for and more. Tapper is easily the best evaluation on the roster.

Development grade for Tapper: B. Normally the Sooners would get a D or lower for playing a true freshman in just five games and essentially wasting a year. But it’s highly unlikely Tapper will be in Norman, Oklahoma for five years anyway as he seems destined to play on Sundays in the future. Thus, getting five games as a true freshman and having him prepare with the first team probably helped him breakout as a sophomore. And, although he probably could have played more in 2012, five games as a true freshman is better than nothing.

Crimson Countdown: DE Matt Dimon

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
11:00
AM ET
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 90 Matt Dimon, defensive end, 6-foot-2, 271 pounds, sophomore

Impact thus far: Dimon worked his way out of a redshirt season, playing in 12 games as a true freshman in 2013. He made the biggest impact of his career with a solid showing against Kansas, recording two tackles and adding a blocked punt against the Jayhawks.

Impact in 2014: Dimon is one of the reasons the Sooners could have one of the deeper defensive lines in the Big 12. Rarely talked about, Dimon is solid and relentless from his defensive end spot, providing another quality option in OU’s defensive line rotation. He should be a contributor this fall.

Long term upside: Expect him to be a key contributor in OU’s defense for the next three seasons.

Evaluation grade for Dimon: B. He hasn’t turned it into consistent on-field production yet but all signs point to Dimon being a terrific evaluation. He’s taken the right approach since he stepped on campus and has a great mindset that will make him an asset for years to come.

Development grade for Dimon: B. Normally Dimon’s five-tackle freshman season would be looked upon as a waste of a year but he brought a different option to the table at defensive end and saw significant time as a backup defensive end which could help him expand his role this fall. Even though he finished with single digit tackles, he saw more time on the field than his numbers would signify.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 88 Taylor McNamara, tight end, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, sophomore

Impact thus far: He started a game as a true freshman before injury forced a medical redshirt in 2012. As a sophomore, McNamara played in three games in 2013. He made his first career reception against Alabama and enters this season with one career reception for four yards in two years on campus.

Impact in 2014: More and more the Sooners have been using tight ends as key pieces of the offensive attack, so the opportunity for McNamara to earn a role is there. It wasn’t unusual for the Sooners to use two-tight end sets last season, and that trend could continue in 2014, but Blake Bell, Aaron Ripkowski and Dimitri Flowers are his main competitors to fill one of those slots. Quite frankly, it’s up to him.

Long term upside: It really depends on his progression. He needs to prove he can force his way onto the field.

Evaluation grade for McNamara: C. He hasn’t lived up to his hype as a four-star U.S. Army All-American, but he still has time. This season is an important one for McNamara and he started showing signs he might be ready to make an impact at the end of the 2013 season.

Development grade for McNamara: B. The Sooners could have given McNamara more playing time during the 2013 season but the onus also falls on McNamara to force himself into the lineup, as he did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Thus, the Sooners have handled his development relatively well.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 87 D.J. Ward, defensive end, 6-foot-2, 256 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Ward hasn’t had an impact at all after a redshirt season in 2013.

Impact in 2014: Ward is one of several talented youngsters looking to make an impact along the defensive line. It’s been over two years since Ward played in a football game after he was forced to miss his senior year in high school due to transfer/eligibility issues, so it could take him a while to get back into the rhythm once he gets the chance to play in a game. If he makes a major impact it would be a surprise, but he's not incapable of forcing himself into the lineup.

Long-term upside: Ward was a highly regarded recruit with high upside, but his long-term potential remains to be seen.

Evaluation grade for Ward: C. It’s too early to grade as Ward hasn’t really had the opportunity to show what he can do.

Development grade for Ward: A. A redshirt season was the right move for Ward, who now has four seasons to fulfill his upside in a Sooners uniform. It would have been unlikely for him to make an impact last fall and would have been silly to waste his redshirt season for minimal on-field production.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 85 Geneo Grissom, linebacker, 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: It’s been a roller-coaster career for Grissom but he seems to finally be getting comfortable. He redshirted in 2010, then saw spot duty while playing five games as a redshirt freshman. In 2012 he made the move to tight end before the season and remained on the offensive side of the ball until midway through the season when he returned to defensive end, playing in 12 games as a sophomore. Last season was a breakout year for Grissom, particularly during the final half of the season. He started five games and was outstanding in the Sugar Bowl win with 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries, including an 8-yard touchdown return in the win.

Impact in 2014: He’s made the move to linebacker, becoming a more versatile option on Mike Stoops’ defense. Grissom should be a key contributor to the Sooners with his athleticism and pass-rush skills.

Long-term upside: Grissom has all-conference potential, particularly if he adapts well to his new position.

Evaluation grade for Grissom: A. Grissom was highly regarded out of high school and has NFL-level talent. Now that he’s starting to maximize his upside, he looks like a terrific evaluation.

Development grade for Grissom: C. The Sooners didn’t do Grissom any favors by moving him around. He’s played several positions as the Sooners tried to find him a home, which is good and bad. Ultimately Grissom and the Sooners probably would have been better off if he had found a home earlier in his career.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 82 Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, linebacker, 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Okoronkwo redshirted during his first year on campus.

Impact in 2014: The redshirt freshman faces a tough task to get on the field this fall with Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom among the players standing between Okoronkwo and playing time. But if he displays supreme pass-rushing skills, those traits will be hard to ignore, regardless of who is on the roster.

Long-term upside: He has terrific long-term potential but will need to show the versatility to play several roles in Oklahoma's defense as the Sooners strive to adapt on the fly to various teams. Time will tell just how good he will be, but if he works his way onto the field this fall that would be a terrific sign for the future.

Evaluation grade for Okoronkwo: C. It’s early to grade him, but he has impressed at times during his time on campus. But, ultimately, that means nothing until he makes a play on Saturday.

Development grade for Okoronkwo: A. A redshirt season was the right move for Okoronkwo, who needed to put on some pounds and find a position to call home after arriving on campus as a undersized defensive end/linebacker type of hybrid prospect. He is much more likely (and prepared) to make an impact in 2014 than he was as a true freshman in 2013.

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