Let me throw the disclaimer out there for the literal fan to save you the frustration. Yes…I understand that football is a team game and no one player is bigger than the entire team.
With that said, here is a list of the most important “individual” player for each team in Oklahoma for 2014.
Oklahoma Sooners: Trevor Knight, Quarterback. Without a doubt the ability of Knight to stay health and continue to improve will be key to the Sooners ability to complete for a spot in the 4-team playoff. Knight struggled early in the 2013 campaign but came to life after returning 100% against Iowa State. Despite missing the second half of the OSU game, Knight was magnificent in wins over Iowa State, Kansas State, and of course Alabama.
Knight has seemed to be comfortable with the spotlight. During the off season he rose to almost celebrity status in college football after leading the Sooners to the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. While his ability has never been an issue his durability could be the bigger question. A majority of the reason why Knight is considered the most important Sooner for 2014 success is based on the lack of a true back-up quarterback. But the recent news that Blake Bell may be working at quarterback could ease some of the concern about the spot behind Trevor Knight on the depth chart.
As Bob Stoops likes to say… in the end… if Oklahoma is going to be contend for a Big 12 Title and a National Championship, the Sophomore from San Antonio, Texas will have to be consistently on the field and constantly improving.
Julian Wilson – The move to cornerback is a big challenge that so far has been a home run experience.
Steven Parker or Quintin Hayes – The need for consistency in the secondary will be huge if the Sooners defense will continually improve.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: Ryan Simmons, Linebacker. I think the easy answer is always the quarterback position. But Simmons will be the key to the Oklahoma State defense in 2014 and ultimately a successful Cowboy season.
After shifting from Weakside linebacker last year to middle linebacker this season Simmons is the quarterback of the OSU defense. Simmons will be in charge of making the calls for the Cowboys defense and will be one of the few returning players on a defense that has lost 7 starters. The addition of Josh Furman who transferred in from Michigan and will shift from safety to linebacker helps depth. But there is no question that the key is Ryan Simmons.
The Cowboys offense has never struggled to put up points, the same can’t be said for the defense not allowing them. Simmons and his ability to shift to from the outside to the inside and embrace his increased responsibility will go a long way in solidifying a fresh faced OSU defense.
JW Walsh – Again the only reason I didn’t make him the ultimate key is because Gundy has had incredible success with just about any quarterback they decide to lead the offense. (lets go ahead and exclude Alex Cate from this conversation) Walsh is a dangerous runner that struggled at times with accuracy during his junior season. Despite nearly leaving two years ago, Walsh now finds himself as the leader in the clubhouse to engineer the OSU offensive attack in 2014.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Dane Evans, Quarterback. The consistent theme during TU camp has been that the Golden Hurricane has cleaned up its offense. As it was brilliantly put by TU offensive coordinator Denver Johnson, the TU playbook was kind of like the junk drawer you have in your kitchen. A little bit of everything and of course you are never able to truly find what you need. Last season the TU offense was tailored towards the abilities of Cody Green. When Green came up lame the Tulsa offense struggled unlike it has in the last decade. Dane Evans struggled, completing just 43% of his passes while throwing 10 interceptions and just 4 touchdowns.
The Golden Hurricane have cleaned up the play book and Evans has constantly worked on his touch and understanding of the playbook. If Tulsa is going to emerge from its funk last season, they need a huge bounce back from the Sophomore out of Sanger. The most frustrating aspect for TU fans is there isn’t even really one performance from last season that makes you feel comfortable that Evans will be ready for the season long challenge of leading the TU attack.
But if the Golden Hurricane are going to not only compete but win in its new conference, TU needs a huge improvement from Evans to inject some confidence into the offensive attack.
Demarco Nelson – The TU safety has to stay on the field this season. With him and Mudoh the golden Hurricane may have the most potent pair of safeties in the American Conference. Nelsons disappearance crushed the TU defense last year… now a year later his emergence could be the key to a return to form for Brent Guy’s defense.