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OU Hopes Sugar Bowl Victory Provides Momentum
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12, defeated Alabama 45-31 in Sugar Bowl.

Returning starters: 7 on offense, 9 on defense.

Top players returning: Sophomore QB Tervor Knight, junior WR Sterling Shepard, senior TE Blake Bell, senior FB Aaron Ripkowski, senior K Michael Hunnicutt, senior OT Tyrus Thomas, senior OT Daryl Williams, senior DE Geneo Grissom, junior LB Eric Striker, sophomore LB Dominique Alexander.

Key players to replace: RB Brennan Clay, WR Jalen Saunders, WR LaColtan Bester, RB Roy Finch, C Gabe Ikard, DB Aaron Colvin, LB Corey Nelson, FB Trey Millard.

Spring review
Bowl games come at the end of one season but bowl victories can be the springboard to the beginning of the next season. Oklahoma hopes that's the case after stunning Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl last January.

"Hopefully our kids understand that they're only going to be as good as their next performance," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said after the spring game. "I do think that the (Sugar Bowl) energy is a positive thing for this program. Our kids understand that we're not that far away from being where we want to be. They're pushing for it every day."

Heupel's top protégé, sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight, fueled the bowl victory. If he continues to play at that level, the Sooners will solve last year's inconsistency at that position. However, OU needs to find reliable, productive running backs plus receivers to go along with junior Sterling Shepard.

"We're just trying to see who's gonna be the playmaking guys and see who's gonna be dependable on the field," Shepard said.

Other than Shepard, the only receivers on the roster with a career reception are junior Durron Neal, and sophomores Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett. Combined, those three players have 22 career catches for 303 yards and zero touchdowns.

The defense must replace some key play makers at linebacker and in the secondary but returns lots of talent and depth. This season's defensive line, which was outstanding against Alabama, might one of the best of the Bob Stoops Era.

"There's a huge competition," defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. "There's a bunch of great guys out there, and any one of them could be the starting man. There's just more drive because you want to play, so we just know that your job is on the line each snap so it just makes you play to the best of your ability. As the defensive line, we know that there's competition every day. It makes our (meeting) room a lot better."

Quick slants
Senior Blake Bell, who was the starting quarterback in eight games, volunteered to move to tight end. The Sooners want that position to be more productive and emphasized in the offense. Bell is 6-6 and 264 pounds and the position change worked well in spring practice.

Cody Thomas is a redshirt freshman quarterback who threw for 52 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. He's had a busy spring as he also is a member of the Sooners' baseball team. Thomas has played in 11 games and has one hit in his 12 at bats.

Baker Mayfield, the Big 12's offensive freshman of the year at Texas Tech Tech, transferred to Oklahoma and will be ineligible this season. In the spring game, Mayfield was 9-of-9 for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

Coach Bob Stoops on …
The team's running backs:
"I just want to see consistency; guys taking care of the football. Understand what they're asked to do, protect, routes, are they doing the right things? And who can make big plays. Who can make something when there's not much there? To be honest with you, a big part is taking care of the ball."

Senior kicker Micahel Hunnicutt:
"Michael is an All-American-type guy. This year I believe that will happen. He's been right on the cusp of it. In the end, he's been awesome. The kick he made in the Sugar Bowl was right down the middle when we had to have it. When your own teammates name you captain, that tells you something too."

Assessing spring practice:
"I don't know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices. What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven't had a ton of experience have more now. We'll build on it. There's such a long time from now to September that they still have a lot of opportunity to improve and for growth here in the summer and two-a-days."

2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 6 at Tulsa
Sept. 13 Tennessee
Sept. 20 at West Virginia*
Oct. 4 at TCU*
Oct. 11 Texas* (Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas)
Oct. 18 Kansas State*
Nov. 1 at Iowa State*
Nov. 8 Baylor*
Nov. 15 at Texas Tech*
Nov. 22 Kansas*
Dec. 6 Oklahoma State*
* - Big 12 Conference game.
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