Oklahoma rings in 2018 with plenty of changes ahead

Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb takes a hit as he runs with the ball during the Sooners' game against Georgia at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Lamb will be a sophomore next season and is one of the team's top targets. 

Kyle Phillips / the Transcript

LOS ANGELES — One day after a crushing loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Oklahoma licked its wounds.

Sooner players unloaded heartfelt messages to each other and fans on social media Tuesday, searching for an emotional release after a 54-48 double-overtime loss in the Rose Bowl.

The effects of that loss will linger for some time.

But when the grieving process is complete, the focus shifts to next season, which will bring about plenty of changes.

• Player personnel: The nation’s best offense this season will look different without Baker Mayfield throwing passes for the first time in three years.

A quarterback battle between Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall will ensue this spring, but Murray looks like too big a frontrunner to knock off.

Left tackle Orlando Brown, whom many expect to declare for the NFL Draft, will likely need to be replaced. OU could also lose tight end Mark Andrews, the Mackey Award winner who faces a decision over his NFL future.

The Sooners could ultimately lose three unanimous All-Americans in Mayfield, Andrews and Brown, but a deep backfield returns.

Running back Rodney Anderson is draft eligible and could have a more difficult decision than many think regarding his future. His 201-yard, two-touchdown game against Georgia was overlooked in the disappointment of the loss.

If he returns, he can challenge Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill as the Big 12’s top ball carrier.

Defensive ends Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and D.J. Ward’s careers are done, as are safeties Steven Parker and Will Johnson. They’ve combined for 101 starts.

OU will usher in new leadership, with the possibility of losing each of its four captains in Mayfield, Brown, Okoronkwo and Parker.

• Stoops factor: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has faced the ire of fans for some time.

The finger-pointing will likely continue.

While the Sooners scored just 10 offensive points in the second half against Georgia — with Mayfield totaling only 78 passing yards through the final two quarters and two overtimes — OU finished with 48 points, and it wasn’t enough to advance to the national championship.

The Sooners missed opportunities for critical stops — see the last minutes of the fourth quarter — and seemed helpless stopping the run.

Will OU coach Lincoln Riley try to replace Stoops? How would that work, with Stoops’ brother Bob being the major player in Riley getting the head coaching job last summer? That’s a difficult dynamic for Riley to step around.

OU’s three-year dominance in the Big 12 has been largely shouldered by its offense. Do the defense’s shortcomings become more glaring to Riley now that they’ve surfaced on this kind of stage?

“You’re never as good as people think you are, and you’re never as bad as people think you are, I can tell you that’s as honest as it can be,” Mike Stoops said earlier this season.

Referring to reporters, he added: “You got all the ink, you got all the ink, you got all the ink. You can write whatever you want. The narrative is what it is. All we worry about is how we’re going to do approach the next game, and that’s what we do. So there’s good, there’s bad, but like I said, we know we’re not that far away. We’re just going to keep pushing ourselves to get better.”

Regardless of what the staff might lose, OU will definitely add another coach. The NCAA now allows schools to have 10 assistants, so Riley will be on the lookout for another staff member.

• Other changes: This is a little more uncertain.

Riley took over the program in June with little time to make every adjustment he wanted to within the program.

Now, with some time to ponder, he can be more creative and make those changes.

“Probably the biggest challenge was starting in early June,” Riley said of the regime change. “That honestly was probably the biggest challenge. Whatever changes that we did want to make you felt like you had to get them done pretty quickly. I think there will be some more changes that we make that we feel like because of the timing it wasn't appropriate to try to change maybe something bigger in June. That's maybe something that happens down the line after the season.”

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