NORMAN — College football’s upcoming season remains a mystery in terms of its feasibility. In particular, its schedule stands the most subject to change amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As uncertain as how college football will look this year is, Thursday’s release of Sporting News’ preseason All-America team — and presumably more organization’s preseason honors to follow — provided an ounce of offseason normalcy.
Oklahoma claimed two spots with center Creed Humphrey and kicker Gabe Brkic making the All-American list as first-team picks.
Sporting News recognized Brkic for his electric redshirt freshman season. He connected on each of his 52 extra-point tries and made 17 of 17 field-goal attempts. Humphrey, on the other hand, is coming off a redshirt sophomore year that he parlayed into a finalist finish for the Rimington Award, which is annually presented to the nation’s best center.
Humphrey was also a Walter Camp Foundation preseason All-America selection, which was released earlier this month.
Based on Humphrey’s buzz, the Sooner center might be OU’s best chance at an All-America selection this year. Who else, though, might contend for the honor? Here are four names to watch and why:
• Charleston Rambo, wide receiver: Charleston Rambo’s breakout 2019 campaign (743 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns, 17.3 yards per catch) went under the radar because of CeeDee Lamb, OU’s lone All-America selection last season. Lamb is now a Dallas Cowboy, opening the door for Rambo to be the Sooners’ top pass-catcher and making that jump has generally worked out over the last five years.
When star OU receiver Sterling Shepard left Norman following the 2015 season, Dede Westbrook became “the guy” in 2016. After Westbrook departed for the pros, Marquise Brown became the Sooners’ top target for two years. Then, following Brown’s matriculation to the NFL, Lamb asserted himself as OU’s No. 1 receiver.
In terms of other experienced receivers, there’s little to get in Rambo’s way of that being the case for himself this upcoming year.
• Ronnie Perkins*, defensive end: The talented Ronnie Perks enters Year 3 with the Sooners after finishing as an ESPN Freshman All-American in 2018 and an All-Big 12 second-team selection last year. Perkins was responsible for 38 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a forced fumble last season. He will naturally be essential to OU’s defense taking another positive step in 2020.
So, why the asterisk? Perkins potentially faces an extended suspension, stemming from last season that forced him to miss OU’s Peach Bowl loss to LSU. Missing more time would obviously derail Perkins’ chances of an All-America-caliber season but OU might have bigger issues to worry about if Perkins’ on-field production becomes difficult to replace.
• Kennedy Brooks, running back: Kennedy Brooks returns as OU’s most proven tailback with Trey Sermon transferring to Ohio State over the offseason. Brooks was Oklahoma’s second-leading rusher last season behind quarterback Jalen Hurts. Brooks still posted respectable numbers with 1,011 rushing yards on 155 carries and six rushing touchdowns.
It won’t be a shock if his numbers cross the 1,000-yard threshold again with both Hurts and Sermon out of the picture. OU tailback Rhamondre Stevenson, like Perkins, also might sit out for half the season due to suspension.
Based on the potential workload he will carry, Brooks is poised for career-best statistics but his biggest competition for All-America accolades will be in-state rival, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard.
• OU’s starting quarterback: Yes, this might be too obvious but OU’s starting signal-caller will contend for national honors as long as coach Lincoln Riley is on staff. Riley has quickly built a reputation as one of the best quarterback coaches in the country, but his talents as a head coach will be put to the test with as inexperienced of a quarterback room as he’s had since taking the job in 2017.
This might even be a stretch, considering the returning quarterback talent across the nation. Can a first-year OU starter beat Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields for this achievement?
If they do, the Sooners should be positioned for another College Football Playoff run as the past three Riley-coached seasons have shown.