Perhaps one of the most intriguing questions entering Oklahoma’s 2015 football season: How will the Sooners use Sterling Shepard in Lincoln Riley’s new Air Raid offense?
The senior wide receiver averaged 19 yards a reception last year, which ranked first in the Big 12 Conference. He was a first-team all-conference selection despite missing half of the league season after suffering a groin injury at Iowa State.
On Wednesday, the OC Heritage Hall graduate was named to the Biletnikoff Award’s preseason watch list. Ty Darlington and Trevor Knight were also recognized on the Wuerffel Trophy preseason watch list, which is presented to the FBS player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
In 2014, Shepard was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff, which is awarded to college football’s most outstanding receiver.
Shepard put up huge numbers in his junior season despite being the focal point of opposing defenses. He finished with 51 catches for 970 yards and five touchdowns. After being injured on an outstanding 46-yard reception at Iowa State on Nov. 1, Shepard only had one more catch – a 13-yard reception against Clemson – in the Sooners’ final five games.
What would have happened if he stayed healthy and could have maintained his averages following the Iowa State game?
Shepard’s projections would have been 84 catches for 1,511 yards. The receptions, for a single-season, would have been third-most in school history (behind Ryan Broyles’ 131 in 2010 and 89 in 2009). The single-season yardage would have only been behind Broyles’ 1,622 in 2010.
It will be interesting to see how Riley will use the talented wide receiver in 2015, and if those records could fall.
Of course, everything will be contingent on quarterback play.
A look at Oklahoma’s 2015 preseason watch list representatives:
Hornung Award (most versatile player): RB/KR Alex Ross.
Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year): CB Zack Sanchez, LB Eric Striker, DE Charles Tapper.
Rimington Trophy (top center): C Ty Darlington
Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player): LB Dominique Alexander, Sanchez, Striker, Tapper
Outland Trophy (best interior lineman): Darlington
Butkus Award (top linebacker): Alexander, Striker
Lombardi Award (top lineman or linebacker): Alexander, Striker
Biletnikoff Award (top wide receiver): Shepard
Wuerffel Trophy (community service, athletics, academics): QB Trevor Knight, Darlington