After No. 4 Oklahoma’s 63-28 loss to No. 1 LSU in the College Football Playoff, the Sooners’ coaches, players and fans are already gearing up for 2020.
The Sooners had a healthy balance of young talent and experienced superstars this season, and now coach Lincoln Riley will be tasked with replacing some of his best players on offense and defense.
Here is a breakdown of what every position may look like to start the new decade:
For the third straight year, Riley will have to replace a Heisman Trophy finalist under center, as Jalen Hurts finished his final collegiate season. The Sooners' only two returning quarterbacks are freshman Spencer Rattler and redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai, who Riley said will battle for the starting job in the offseason. Although Mordecai was the second string this year, the general consensus is that Rattler — Rivals.com’s No. 1 ranked quarterback in the class of 2019 — will be Hurts’ heir apparent next year.
Along with Rattler and Mordecai, Riley plans on landing a quarterback in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Three-star recruit Chandler Morris from Dallas announced he signed with the Sooners in early January, and he will likely fill the third string role in 2020.
The running back position is a bit of a gray area for next season, as the Sooners don’t know exactly what they have coming back right now. Former All-Big 12 selections in Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon are both eligible to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, but neither has been clear on where they stand for their future. If they decide to stay, both will likely have the opportunity to continue being featured backs for Riley.
Junior Rhamondre Stevenson became the Sooners’ second leading back after Sermon went down with a season-ending injury in November. Stevenson was suspended for the Peach Bowl loss and may still be suspended into next year, as Riley gave no clear timetable for his return. If one of or both Sermon and Brooks bolt for the NFL, Stevenson would be the presumptive featured back whenever he returns from suspension.
Sophomore T.J. Pledger and freshman Marcus Major will both return in the backfield, along with four-star recruit Seth McGowan. If Sermon and Brooks leave and Stevenson’s suspension goes into next season, those three would have the opportunity to step up for Riley.
Maybe the biggest loss on the Sooners' offense going into 2020 will be wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Although just a junior, Lamb will likely be a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft, and he is widely expected to be done as a Sooner. Along with Lamb’s likely departure, Nick Basquine and Lee Morris will graduate and Mykel Jones entered the transfer portal in December. Fortunately, Riley has an array of young talent waiting in the wings at wide receiver.
Redshirt sophomore Charleston Rambo flashed the potential to be a legitimate go-to guy in early parts of the season, and he is the leading candidate to be the Sooners' top target next year. Freshmen Theo Wease Jr., Jadon Haselwood and Trejan Bridges — all former five-star recruits — also showed promise at various points early in their first year. However, Bridges is in the same boat as Stevenson with a suspension, so it is unclear as to when he’ll be available in 2020. Along with Rambo and the returning freshman, Riley landed graduate transfer Theo Howard from UCLA, who reeled in 119 passes and nine touchdowns for the Bruins in his career.
Also watch out for four-star recruit Marvin Mims out of Frisco, Texas. Mims set the Texas high school record for career receiving yards, and he has the potential to be an immediate contributor.
Riley didn’t use the tight end in 2019 as much as he did in his first few years in Norman, as starter Grant Calcaterra retired from football midseason due to repeated concussions. With Calcaterra gone, the only tight end on the roster is freshman Austin Stogner, who was one of the most highly recruited at the position in the class of 2019. Stogner’s 6-foot-7 frame and ball skills give him unlimited potential, and this position is likely his going forward.
Redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Hall and sophomore Brayden Willis split time at fullback throughout 2019, and both were productive all season. With both returning in 2020, Sooner fans can expect the duo to continue to split fullback duties going forward.
The biggest question on the offensive line is the status of redshirt sophomore center Creed Humphrey. The undisputed best player and leader of the unit is eligible to head to the NFL, and should he go he’d be leaving a major hole on the offensive line. If he leaves, redshirt sophomore Ian McIver is the only other center on the roster. Should Humphrey return for a fourth year in Norman, the offensive line will likely be in great shape for 2020.
Outside of Humphrey, the only guaranteed key contributor to be leaving is senior R.J. Proctor, who appeared in 12 of Oklahoma’s games this year. The rest of the line will look largely the same, as right tackle Adrian Ealy, right guard Tyrese Robinson, left guard Marquise Hayes and left tackle Erik Swenson will all be back. Along with them are younger players like Brey Walker and Stacey Wilkins, both highly touted prospects who saw snaps this year.
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh also landed four four-star 2020 prospects in Andrew Raym, Anton Harrison, Noah Nelson and Nate Anderson, but he rarely plays true freshmen, so don’t expect any of them to play significantly next year.
This unit is probably the most up in the air on the defense, but it also has a lot of potential. Redshirt senior tackles Neville Gallimore and Marquise Overton played their last college football game in the Peach Bowl, and the two were a big part of OU’s pressure up front.
The good news for Sooner fans is that there’s a good amount of talent returning — veteran and young. Names like defensive end Ronnie Perkins and defensive tackle Jalen Redmond each will not be draft-eligible yet, and if LaRon Stokes stays another year, he’ll be another familiar face on OU’s pass rush.
But what makes next season interesting for the defensive line is that Perkins is going to miss at least the first five games of the Sooners’ 2020 season — although Riley hasn’t given an exact timetable for his suspension — which is a big blow to their pass rush. Those first five games also include Texas on Oct. 10. Luckily for the Sooners, in his absence there are a few names that can fill in.
Isaiah Thomas, who will be going into his redshirt junior season, has been under the radar this season. He’s played in 11 games and has tallied seven tackles — two in the Peach Bowl. The Sooners also landed a big signature from the No. 1 JUCO recruit per Rivals.com, Perrion Winfrey, from Iowa Western Community College.
Sophomore defensive end Marcus Stripling — a former four-star recruit out of Houston — played in all 14 games as a true freshman. He could especially be a big part of next season’s pass rush effort.
With Kenneth Murray likely leaving for the NFL Draft and Caleb Kelly being healthy, next season’s linebacker squad is going to look a little different.
Murray has been a leader on OU’s defense for three years, and he was a tremendous part of changing the culture of the defense under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Murray's absence will be felt. But the future is bright for this unit, and linebackers coach Brian Odom has a lot to work with.
Since Kelly hasn’t played in more than four matches, he’ll be able to take the redshirt and pick up where he left off after suffering a torn ACL before the 2019 season. There’s a silver lining to not making the national championship, because imagine how hard it would be to decide between either burning your redshirt eligibility by playing your fifth game of the season or sitting out to have another season. Sooner fans should be happy he’s getting a fresh start.
Nik Bonitto will likely compete with Kelly for the outside linebacker position. He’s had a big year with his 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception. DaShaun White is another critical part of the defense returning next season. He’s tallied 51 tackles and a sack.
The biggest thing here is that Patrick Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell will be returning, and they’ve been making big plays all year. The two have a combined 139 tackles and already have veteran experience, which is huge for Year 2 of OU’s new defense under Grinch.
There’s also a good amount of depth, both coming in and already being developed. Sooner fans will most likely get to see more of Jeremiah Criddell, a former four-star recruit who has played in only three games this season, and Chanse Sylvie, who is entering his redshirt senior season.
Freshman Jamal Morris is another name who could possibly get some snaps, along with the Sooners bringing in two safeties from the 2020 recruit class. One of those recruits is Bryson Washington, a four-star who is ranked the No. 14 safety on Rivals.com.
Junior Brendan "Bookie" Radley-Hiles, a former five-star corner coming out of high school, played a big role in the nickelback position for Grinch, and will be a seasoned vet going into the 2020 season for that position.
For the corners, all eyes will be on who replaces Parnell Motley, one of OU’s most trusted cornerbacks for four years. Tre Brown will be entering his senior season, and he has 40 tackles while also having 411 yards on kick returns.
As of right now, it’s safe to say Jaden Davis is the lead candidate. He’s tallied 26 total tackles and an interception, and he has shown ability to make big plays in various points throughout the season.
Another young name is Woodi Washington, a former four-star and the No. 7 corner of the 2019 class, per Rivals.com. In five games this season, Washington has tallied 16 tackles, which includes 10 in the Peach Bowl.
Gabe Brkic is perfect. He made all 69 of his place kick attempts — 52 PATs and 17 field goals — this season, while also making six field goals that are 32 yards or longer. His season-long is from 50 yards. He is, and will continue to be, one of Riley’s most reliable weapons.
Reeves Mundschau will be going into his redshirt junior season after completing his first season as OU’s starting punter.