By Michael Briggs @MichaelSBriggs on June 23, 2014
Oklahoma is entering an important 2014 campaign after showing a lot of promise in their Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. With a college football playoff berth certainly in the cards, OU will ask a few players to rise from their current ranking on the roster and become big-time contributors. Here are five Sooners with breakout potential for the 2014 season.
Darlington has some of the biggest shoes to fill in replacing former All-American Gabe Ikard, but the 2014 Rimington Trophy Watch List member appears to be up for the task. While he only appeared in three games last year, the junior center played in nine games in place of an injured Ikard as a true freshman. Three returning starters on the Sooners' offensive line will help push Darlington forward.
Playing opposite Aaron Colvin as a redshirt freshman was a valuable learning experience for Sanchez, whose performance last season suggests he will emerge as a playmaker for OU as the team's top corner in 2014. With two picks in the Sooners' final three games — both of which came at important points in their respective games — Sanchez showed big-play is his middle name. Consistency, however, will need to be his calling card for a breakout year.
Alexander was one of Oklahoma's top defensive players as a freshman, but the linebacker will be on the national radar in 2014. After recording 80 tackles, 3.5 tackles for-a-loss and two forced fumbles last season, Bob Stoops gave the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the year the thumbs-up to switch from number 42 to 1 — a change that could foretell Alexander's all-conference ranking by the end of the season.
In 2014 Neal will finally make good on the promise of his high recruiting ranking, as the junior will be given every opportunity to step up beside Sterling Shepard as one of OU's top receivers. The Sooners are in dire need of playmakers, and from the flashes he has shown, Neal might as well have a massive arrow pointing at him. If he becomes a contributor, OU will be good, but if he becomes a downfield threat, 2014 will be magical.
Ford enters 2014 as the most experienced back on Oklahoma's roster despite handling just 23 carries (5.8 yards-per-carry) last season. However, there isn't as much pressure on Ford as one would expect with freshman Joe Mixon looking like an immediate contributor who can complement Ford's game nicely. Factor in a strong offensive line and a more experienced QB under center and the sophomore looks primed for a major breakout as OU’s featured back.
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