The Oklahoma Sooners are a popular pick to win the Big 12 in 2014 and make a run at the inaugural College Football Playoff this postseason. Part of that optimism stems from the breakout performance in the AllState Sugar Bowl of quarterback Trevor Knight. But if Knight is going to build on his strong finish in 2013, he’ll need someone to throw to. That’s where Sterling Shepard enters the equation.
In all, Oklahoma will lose seven of their top 10 receivers from last season to graduation. Only two players will return to the lineup this fall who caught more than two passes last season. Leading the way is Shepard who finished second on the team with 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013. Durron Neal is the only other returning player of note after he caught 13 passes for 176 yards during his sophomore campaign.
Shepard is really the only returning player in 2014 that was a significant part of the Oklahoma passing attack a year ago and has shown a nice rapport with Knight. In the Sugar Bowl win, Shepard caught seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the vaunted defense of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Having Shepard emerge as a reliable pass-catcher and continuing to build on his chemistry with Knight will be a huge part of the Sooners’ passing attack this fall.
The Sooners will try and get Shepard some help, however, to keep defenses from loading up on one side to take him away. Neal will see an expanded role and returning players like Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett will be handed a major increase in responsibilities. There’s also more help on the way in the fall.
There is a great deal of receiving talent in the 2014 recruiting class and Oklahoma will try and fast-track some of their incoming freshmen receivers into positions to make an impact. The team signed three huge targets in 6-foot-6 Mark Andrews, 6-foot-6 Jeffery Mead, and 6-foot-5 Dallis Todd along with four-star speedster Michiah Quick during this cycle. Getting them up to speed quickly could drastically improve the receiving corps in 2014.
But until those young and untested receivers prove themselves, the pressure will be on Sterling Shepard to lead the way in the passing attack. If he can shoulder the responsibility of being the No. 1 target in the Oklahoma offense next season, the Sooners could be a very dangerous team in 2014.