Sooners’ five most-important players this season

It’s a big year for coach Bob Stoops, whose team heads into the season as an underdog.

It’s a huge year for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops whose defense was beaten up badly a season ago.

But it will ultimately come down to what the players do. Here are the five most-important players this season for the Sooners.

5. Chuka Ndulue, defensive line
Only four starters are back from last year’s defense which played well at times and then played miserably the second half of the season. One of those starters is Ndulue, who could very well miss the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, due to a possible suspension of relating to his DUI  arrest earlier this summer. Nothing has been announced yet.

Last year he had 48 tackles from his defensive end position and a team-best five sacks. Ndulue will move to defensive tackle this season and hope to help the defensive line improve from a team that ranked ninth in the conference in rushing defense.

OU also has a new defensive line coach in Jerry Montgomery, so things will certainly look a lot different. Ndulue, along with Jordan Phillips, are about the only constants from a season ago.

4. Aaron Colvin, cornerback
The All-Big 12 pick a season ago could have very well left for the NFL draft, along with fellow defensive back Tony Jefferson.

Instead, he stayed and he’ll head into the season with 26 career starts. He’s not just the anchor of the defensive backfield, he’s the only player with experience in the defensive backfield.

Colvin had four interceptions a year ago and has played both safety and corner. He has started every game the past two seasons. There will be a lot of players learning on the job, Colvin won’t be one of them. The good news is, teams will try to avoid Colvin, effectively limiting the field. Less field means less stress on a young, inexperienced defensive backfield.

3. Trey Metoyer, Wide Receiver
Remember Metoyer? He was the star of the recruiting class two seasons ago and the star of the 2012 spring game before becoming overlooked a season ago. He managed just 17 catches and only one touchdown in 2012

This season, there is no Kenny Stills and no Justin Brown. There’s no excuse for Metoyer either. He has every chance to be a star on a team that doesn’t have a go-to receiver. Jalen Saunders is back and so is Sterling Shepard. Jaz Reynolds might even be back, too, but Metoyer is the one coaches gushed over all last year before the season started.

This is the season the former five-star recruit has to show he’s one of the best on the team. He won’t draw a lot of attention, at least not early this year, as teams will focus their attention on Saunders, who became a sensational, possession receiver in his first year with the team last season. Metoyer will have every chance to be a star.

2. Trey Millard, fullback
For the past few years we’ve been hearing about how Millard is the best player on the field – and he is really good. But what we haven’t seen is the OU offense making sure Millard is given the chance to flourish.

This season, with Blake Bell likely at quarterback, you have to figure the running game will be featured more prominently. That would also seem to make it more likely Millard is given the ball a lot more. He’s a capable runner, a decent pass-catcher and a punishing blocker. Millard had just 33 rushes a season ago and caught 29 passes.

In his career, Millard is averaging about four touches per game, yet when you see the highlight plays against Kansas State (61-yard run) and Texas (73-yard catch, leap and stiff-arm against Texas) you wonder why he isn’t getting 10 touches per game.

Millard can be an All-American, but the question is whether the OU offense will finally give him the chance.

1. Blake Bell, quarterback
Yes, he’s not officially listed as the starter at this point, but we can go ahead and say, at the very least, Bell is going to be counted on a lot again this year.

You could make the case Bell is the most-important player in the past six seasons as he will likely be the most-different quarterback the Sooners have used. In the past half decade it’s been Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. Now, with Bell, the Sooners have a Collin Klein kind of player who is a run-first, throw-second talent.

Bell will excel in short-yardage situations, as he’s done the past two years, but what’s going to happen when he has to throw. That’s what makes him so intriguing. Coaches say Bell is a good thrower.

I guess we’ll see.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK