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Oklahoma Football: An Early Look At The Sooners In 2014

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma's 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl has propelled the Sooners into the national conversation heading into next season. Oklahoma seems to have found their quarterback of the future, and almost the entire defense will return next season. However, that's not to say the Sooners won't be losing some key pieces from this year's team.

Here's a look at what the Sooners are losing on both sides of the ball, as well as a projected starting lineup for each unit.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Losing: None

Projected Starter- Trevor Knight

Players to watch- Blake Bell, Baker Mayfield

-The quarterback position is no longer up for debate, but it does have a different level of intrigue this offseason. First is what Blake Bell will do. He'll be a redshirt senior and could transfer and play right away like Drew Allen did a year ago. However, after his less-than-impressive season, you'd be hard pressed to find a school that would need (or want) him.

-Mayfield is another story entirely. After playing at Texas Tech this past year, Mayfield transferred to OU after some miscommunication with the coaching staff. His appeal to play right away was denied, but he still plans to attend OU and sit out the 2014 season before playing in 2015. He still has not spoken with the OU coaching staff about his plan.

Running back

Losing- Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams (dismissed in November)

Projected starter- Keith Ford

Players to watch- Alex Ross, Joe Mixon

-The Sooners' don't really have a change-of-pace back like Roy Finch right now. All three running backs on the roster, as well as Mixon, are big and powerful, and there aren't really many options for one both on the roster and available among the top recruits in the country. It will be interesting to see what Oklahoma does there.

Fullback

Losing- Trey Millard

Projected starter- Aaron Ripkowski

Players to watch- Dimitri Flowers, Samaje Perine

Perine is the No. 17 running back in the country, but the Sooners plan to use him at fullback when he gets to Norman. Flowers is built in the mold of Trey Millard, but isn't nearly as capable as Millard was at this stage. However, expect the Sooners to use him in much the same way they used Millard, although he probably won't have to play a lot of. . .

Related Story: A Knight To Remember: Sooner QB, Team Prove Doubters Wrong

Tight end

Losing- Brannon Green

Projected starter- Isaac Ijalana

Players to watch- Carson Meier, Mark Andrews

-The tight end position has been lost for the Sooners the past two seasons, but OU has shown a commitment to bringing in quality players at the position. Carson Meier of Tulsa Union and Mark Andrews from Arizona are both top-10 players at the position and Ijalana was the No. 1 junior college tight end this year. It will be interesting to see how OU uses the sudden plethora of talent at the position.

Offensive line

Losing- Gabe Ikard, Bronson Irwin, Austin Woods (deep snapper)

Projected starters- Ty Darlington, center

Nila Kasitati, guard

Adam Shead, guard

Tyrus Thompson, tackle

Daryl Williams, tackle

Players to watch- Tyler Evans, Dionte Savage

- Ty Darlington has started before when Ikard was hurt a year ago, so he has experience and coaches like him a lot. However, he isn't nearly the center Ikard is, so there could be some growing pains as Darlington proves how good he is and can be.

-Also on the offensive line, Kasitati moves into Irwin's spot at right guard, where he started half of 2013. Dionte Savage's strong play in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama could lead him to unseat Adam Shead as the starter in 2014, but Shead's track record is very strong and he'll probably retain his starting spot.

-One other note on the offensive line is that Tyler Evans—who was an honorable mention All-Big 12 team member in 2011 before tearing his ACL twice the past two seasons—is back in 2014 for the Sooners, having earned a sixth year of eligibility. Evans provides the Sooners with a solid veteran presence, as well as more depth.

Wide receivers

Losing- Jalen Saunders, Lacoltan Bester, Jaz Reynolds

Projected starters- Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal, Derrick Woods

Players to watch- Dallis Todd, Jeffery Mead, Dannon Cavil

- Durron Neal should see the field a lot more now, taking the place of Jalen Saunders, as well as Derrick Woods, who had a big 3rd down reception in the Sugar Bowl.

-Replacing Bester on the outside isn't a huge deal, but it's more a question of who gets that role. The Sooners will probably want to fill that spot with a big wide receiver and they have that in Cavil. However, the Sooners have two more receivers standing at least 6-foot-5 coming in Todd and Mead and both could compete immediately for a starter's role.

Related Story: HOW SWEET IT IS: Sooners Stun Alabama In Sugar Bowl

 

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Losing- No one

Projected starters- Charles Tapper, defensive end

Jordan Phillips, nose tackle

Geneo Grissom, defensive end

Players to watch- Charles Walker, Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Wade

-Based on their individual top performances this season, the OU defensive line should be terrifying in 2014. That doesn't even include Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade, both of which made big strides this season. The trio of Tapper, Phillips and Grissom should be the top defensive line in the conference and one of the best in the country.

-Coaches have raved all season about Walker as a player to keep an eye on in the future. Walker played defensive tackle in high school, but should play some defensive end for the Sooners. Expect him to be on the field early and often for Oklahoma in 2014.

Linebackers

Losing- Corey Nelson (out since Oct. 5)

Projected starters- Frank Shannon, middle linebacker

Dominique Alexander, outside linebacker

Eric Striker, outside linebacker

Players to watch- Jordan Evans, Devante Bond

-Alexander gained valuable experience this year filling in for the injured Nelson. He made incredible strides over the course of the season as he took his lumps and learned from them. He'll be an excellent player for the next several years.

-The emergence of Striker this year was a perfect thing for the Sooners as they made a transition in the makeup of their defense. The biggest key going forward will be for Striker to continue to grow as a traditional linebacker. His pass-rushing skills off the edge are not in doubt, but his ability to roam the middle of the field is still a work in progress.

Secondary

Losing- Aaron Colvin, Gabe Lynn, Kass Everett

Projected starters- Quentin Hayes, safety

Cortez Johnson, cornerback

Zach Sanchez, cornerback

Julian Wilson, nickleback

Ahmad Thomas, safety

Players to watch- Hatari Byrd, Stanvon Taylor

-Replacing Aaron Colvin at cornerback will definitely be the hardest thing for this Oklahoma defense. Luckily for the Sooners, they have two players who will be able to fill that position without a huge drop-off in Cortez Johnson and Stanvon Taylor. The coaching staff has said a lot of good things about Taylor, while Johnson was beat out this year by Zach Sanchez. Not sure what that says about Johnson's chance for a starting spot next year, but it could mean something.

-At safety, Gabe Lynn was very good for Oklahoma this year, but he won't be as difficult to replace and there are some very talented players waiting in the wings. Both Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas have a lot of talent and could be joined by Jenks safety Steven Parker, should he decide to come to Norman.

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