Steele Walker, Oklahoma

Steeler Walker and Oklahoma hope to turn the tide in the spring. (OU photo)

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Fall Report: Oklahoma

Analysis

Pete Hughes and Oklahoma hope history repeats itself during the upcoming season.

Hughes, of course, is no stranger to finding himself in a situation where programs must be somewhat rebuilt. After a solid stint at Boston College, he struggled his first three seasons at Virginia Tech. At that point, there were some serious questions about whether he was the right fit for the Hokies. Sound familiar? At any rate, Hughes returned to Virginia Tech for his fourth season and took the program to impressive heights, tallying a 40-22 overall record, while also guiding the Hokies to their first NCAA postseason appearance since 2000. Hughes went on to reach other milestones at Tech, including helping the program earn a regional host the year before he arrived at OU with a familiar 40-22 overall record.

Oklahoma logoThe fourth-year Sooners coach now wants to follow a similar path. The Sooners have compiled records of 28-27, 34-27 and 30-27 his first three seasons with no NCAA tourney appearances, while this year’s team looks like one, on paper, with some uncertainty but with the potential to build into a postseason contender.

“I love our team right now. Our first recruiting class are now sophomores, and they were freshman last year. There, we played 15 freshmen, and honestly, that should never have to happen,” Hughes said. “With that said, I think having to do that gives you a unique perspective on things and it gives some young players some great experiences.

“Our guys were kind of thrown into the fire last year, but I think we started to see the payoff from that this fall,” he continued. “We’ve got a lot of experience and talent coming back this year. And really, if you go back and look at every team that got to Omaha last year and had success, the common denominator is that those teams had experience and seniors. We have some senior presence on this team. We’ve got young talent mixed with a strong senior core, and that will be a big plus for us.”

As the Sooners went through fall workouts and prepared for 2017, the questions about this team were rather obvious. For starters, the weekend rotation needed to be refined. Last year, Alec Hansen and Jake Elliott each struggled throughout the spring, while Jake Irvin, who should spearhead the rotation in a few months, had a good but not great campaign. Meanwhile, the bullpen should finally be a strength with the return of some seasoned arms, while the offense must press forward without a lineup stalwart such as All-American Sheldon Neuse, who in addition to being a premier defender, hit .369 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs.

“I think we’re definitely going to be a little different from an offensive standpoint because we lost some firepower,” he said. “We have guys like Neuse and Cody Thomas gone, and both of those guys, had they been back, would’ve had some serious power production for us. But, we’ll make things work.”

With that, it’s now time to take an inside look at the Sooners with loads of scoop.


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