By: Ryan Chapman, Editor-in-Chief

Despite losing a second straight Heisman Trophy winner, four of five starting offensive lineman to the NFL, and their most explosive receiver, the expectations for the Oklahoma Sooners are the same.

Earn a bid to the College Football Playoff.

Replacing key playmakers is not unfamiliar territory for head coach Lincoln Riley. Just last season, the Sooners had to replace Baker Mayfield, as well as NFL-caliber players on the offensive line and defense. 

As is tradition at a top tier program such as Oklahoma, the process is less a rebuild and more of a reload. 

Kyler Murray stepped in, and all the Sooners could accomplish was a return to the College Football Playoff and a historic second straight Heisman Trophy. 

Turning the page to 2019, Murray is an Arizona Cardinal, and Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts has been named the starting signal caller in Norman.

Hurts out-dueled freshman redshirt Tanner Mordecai and true freshman Spencer Rattler to earn the starting job. Rattler received rave reviews in camp, but Riley told the media Hurts won the job because he was the most consistent quarterback throughout fall camp. 

Hurts’ large frame may serve the Sooners well early on, as offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has to replace 80 percent of the offensive line. 

The lone returner may be the most important piece, though as standout center Creed Humphrey will anchor the line in the middle in what is potentially his last season in Norman. 

Though Marquise Brown moved on, the wide receiver room may be the strength of this year’s team. 

CeeDee Lamb returns primed for a breakout season, as do the reliable Grant Calcaterra and Charleston Rambo, who burst onto the scene against Alabama after Brown left the game injured. 

2019 also will see the arrival of a trio of five-star wide receivers in Trejan Bridges, Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood. 

Riley has shown no hesitation to play freshmen if they flash on the practice field, so all three could see significant playing time for the Sooners this season.

The biggest change over the offseason comes on the defensive side of the football.

Filling the vacant hole at defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The former Washington State defensive coordinator has ushered in the era of the “#SpeedD” as he tries to implement his style of defense where players are told the most important thing they can do is play fast and rally to the football.

Unfortunately for Grinch, he inherits a majority of the defense that posted the worst school season last year. 

If Grinch can get the best out of his defensive lineman and create pressure up front, he may be able to lead the defense to see drastic improvement in year one. 

Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore are two potential playmakers to watch along the defensive front. They flashed top end talent at times last season, but both players will have to be more consistent this season for the defense to make a big leap forward.

The new-look Sooners defense will face a huge test in their first game as Dana Holgorsen and top returning quarterback D’Eriq King lead the Houston Cougars into Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. 

After their yearly showdown with Texas, the Sooners will host Iowa State at home before hitting the road to play Baylor and finishing the season at rival Oklahoma State. 

Oklahoma’s schedule isn’t overly difficult this season. And should they escape the regular season with just one loss and win the Big 12 Championship, the Sooners will certainly be favorites to make their third straight trip to the College Football Playoff. 

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