No. 8 Oklahoma

One has to admire any god-fearing, major-college program at which the head coach requires an off-season pay raise just to keep pace with the quarterback’s salary.

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That’s payroll football the way we remember it back in the days of wine, roses and Eric Dickerson’s Trans Am, but there is no need to send this Oklahoma case to the committee on fractions.

Kyler Murray, the man most people think will replace Baker Mayfield at quarterback, is also an outstanding baseball player who earned a $4.6 million as Oakland’s No. 9 (overall) pick in this year’s MLB draft.

Since the NCAA graciously allows “student-athletes” to play professionally in other sports, Murray’s deal made him the highest-paid Sooner on staff until the higher ups increased coach Lincoln Riley’s annual haul to $4.8 million.

What Oklahoma really needs, though, is to raise the salary cap on defense, the only question keeping the Sooners from making another run to the college football playoff.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The loss of Mayfield, the No.1 overall pick to Cleveland, may sound like a bigger deal than it is. But most expect Oklahoma’s offense to keep purring under Riley’s up-tempo direction.

Most expect that quarterback to be Murray, a dual-threat who will play one year at Oklahoma before going pro in baseball, although Riley said in July the QB position is still open.

“Kyler is not the quarterback yet,” Riley said at Big 12 media day. “Kyler is going to have to fight like crazy to win the job.”

Assuming he does beat out Austin Kendall, whom Riley calls a “sneaky-good athlete,” Oklahoma’s offense should remain a blur.

(Update: Surprise, surprise, Murray on Wednesday was named Oklahoma's starting quarterback for the home opener against Florida Atlantic).

It’s on defense, though, where Sooners fans are rubbing their eyes. Oklahoma is coming off a Rose Bowl loss in which it allowed Georgia 527 yards in a double-OT defeat. Worse, the Sooners were gassed by Bulldog Backs for an astonishing 9.3 yards per carry.

That has to change, or defensive coordinator Mike Stoops needs to join brother Bob at retirement ranch.

“We had some great moments defensively,” Riley insisted.

Running a defense in the high-flying Big 12, admittedly, is no easy task and numbers can get skewed. It’s equally hard being a D-coordinator when your team scores so fast, as Nick Aliotti found out as Chip Kelly’s coordinator at Oregon.

It’s also true that Oklahoma should never, ever lack for quality athletes on defense, so somebody there needs to figures it out.

Oklahoma’s schedule is ambitious enough to please the wonks on the selection committee. Home games against Florida Atlantic and UCLA are followed by a trip to Iowa State. The Sooners also must play at TCU and West Virginia.[/membership]

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