Oklahoma’s 63-21 win over Texas on Saturday made it clear the Sooners' immediate future is brighter than most of us believed after their upset loss to Kansas State.
But it's their long-term future that is turning heads. OU has several sophomores and freshmen playing key roles this season and proving they have the potential to become the foundation of future Sooners squads.
Here’s a summary of several sophomores, redshirt freshmen and freshmen who could be the foundation of OU’s championship hopes over the next few seasons:
Quarterback Blake Bell: The Kansas native already has made an impact with his feet, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t make an impact with his arm. OU didn’t recruit him to run the Belldozer; it recruited him to play quarterback. And he’s already displaying leadership qualities that help win championships.
Tackle Daryl Williams: Arguably the offensive lineman with the biggest upside on the roster, Williams would be entering his second year starting if he hadn't suffered an ankle injury in 2011. He should anchor the line for the next couple of seasons.
Defensive end Chuka Ndulue: Ndulue is new to the game of football yet already has earned a contributing role on the defense. His soccer background has helped his footwork, and he’s starting to get more and more comfortable with the technique he needs to excel. Once he gets more versed in the game, he could be an impact player.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: Teammates call him the next big star on the inside for OU, and his size (6-foot-6, 318 pounds) and athleticism are unique at the defensive tackle position. He’s gotten his feet wet early this season and could see more action as the season progresses and the Sooners look to ensure Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker don’t see too many snaps before late November.
Linebacker Frank Shannon: Shannon burst on the scene against Texas Tech, but linebackers coach Tim Kish has been praising him since Kish arrived in Norman in January. Kish consistently spoke highly of Shannon’s instincts, and those traits showed up in Lubbock. Look for Shannon’s impact, both this season and beyond, to continue to be felt with every week that passes.
Guard/center Nila Kasitati: The only thing keeping Kasitati off the field has been injuries since he arrived in Norman in 2011. He played as a true freshman, was injured, then redshirted. This season, he was pushing for additional playing time behind Adam Shead until a torn ACL against Texas Tech ended his season. If he can stay healthy, he can be a key anchor on OU’s offensive line thanks to his aggressiveness and versatility.
Receiver Sterling Shepard: The most impactful true freshman this season, Shepard already has shown competitiveness, playmaking ability and passion just five games into his OU career. He should be a cornerstone of OU’s offensive attack in the future, and he’ll likely be a key part of OU’s offensive plans for the rest of 2012.
Center Ty Darlington: Darlington has impressed early in his career and played himself out of a redshirt season, thanks in part to depth issues for the Sooners. Nonetheless, he’s shown he could potentially provide a solid interior line presence in the footsteps of Gabe Ikard and Ben Habern before him. Expect him to see increased time as this season goes along and the Sooners try to get him additional experience in case disaster strikes.
Receiver Trey Metoyer: Although Metoyer hasn’t been as productive as expected and lived up to expectations, the unusual physical talent remains. He has started every game of his career and should be a difference maker on the Sooners offense for the next few seasons. Once he gains experience and goes through the natural maturation process of any college football player, he should start to turn his physical talent into production.