NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – Lincoln Riley has taken over for longtime Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, yet little has changed about Sooner football.
As usual, Oklahoma is expected to make a run at Big 12 and national titles.
“It’s not anything that needs to be said,” Riley said. “As a coach, I felt it the first time I walked in the door here. I felt it when I came to interview. You just know about the history, you know about the expectations, and I’ve hit on it a lot. I’m more focused on the great opportunity that we all have and what you can accomplish here when you do it the right way.”
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is a key reason the transition is expected to go smoothly. He set the single-season FBS record for passing efficiency last season, finished third in the Heisman balloting and led the Sooners to a win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl .
He’ll enter the season opener Sept. 2 against UTEP still figuring out his receivers. His top targets last season, Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook and running back Joe Mixon, are in the NFL.
Tight end Mark Andrews, an All-Big 12 selection last season, has 14 career touchdowns on 50 catches, and Mayfield said he will look to Andrews more this season.
“He’s a guy you have to pay attention to because he can run like a receiver and he’s big enough to play with the big boys,” Mayfield said. “He’s going to be huge part of the offense and have a great year.”
Jeff Badet, a transfer from Kentucky, will give the Sooners speed on the outside. He caught 31 passes for 670 yards last season for the Wildcats. He had seven touchdown receptions and averaged 21.6 yards per catch.
Here are some things to watch from the Sooners this season:
Inside receiver Nick Basquine recently suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury . Basquine was the team’s No. 2 returning receiver and a projected starter. Mykel Jones should step in for Basquine. He caught 13 passes for 106 yards last season.
The Sooners also will need to replace one of the best running back combinations in school history. Samaje Perine left as the school’s all-time leading rusher, and Mixon set the single-season school record for all-purpose yardage in a season. Rodney Anderson appears ready to step in and help fill the void after missing last season with a neck injury and most of 2015 with a leg injury. Abdul Adams is the top returning rusher, and Dimitri Flowers was the starting fullback last season.
Blocking should be a strength, with all five starters returning on the offensive line. Orlando Brown, a 345-pound left tackle, is back to pave the way after being named a second-team All-American last season. Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Dru Samia and Erick Wren also return.
“They know what they’re doing,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “They know the expectations. They’ll be ready to get out there.”
Oklahoma’s defense struggled at times last season, but got it together toward the end to help the Sooners go unbeaten in Big 12 play.
“We know we can play better, so I think that part affected them, affected all of us,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “So they care about how they play, and if we want to win like we want to win, we know we have to play better defense.”
Outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo returns after ranking third in the Big 12 with nine sacks last season. Steven Parker has 30 career starts at safety. Defensive tackle Matt Romar is back in the trenches. Emmanuel Beal and Caleb Kelly are back at the linebacker spots. Jordan Thomas, a preseason All-Big 12 pick, returns at cornerback opposite Jordan Parker.
The Sooners will find out early if they are national championship material with a Week 2 showdown at Ohio State. The Buckeyes rolled the Sooners 45-24 in Norman last season . The Sooners also lost their opener to Houston and the combo dropped them out of the national title picture.
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