Sooners looking to ride momentum heading into 2014

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops celebrates with quarterback Trevor Knight (9) after his 43-yard touchdown pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second quarter of the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Chuck Cook/Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma saved its season with a road win at Kansas State in November.

Trevor Knight, the freshman quarterback, played his best game of the season as the Sooners ran for 301 yards.

The next game, Oklahoma did it again. A combination of Trevor Knight and Blake Bell at quarterback. A BCS clinching victory, spoiling a Big 12 title for Oklahoma State, restoring a bit of hope, too  – all in the same game.

But the Sugar Bowl was was something more. It didn’t clinch a national title or even a conference championship. It propelled Oklahoma back into the national scene.

Coach Bob Stoops might say the Sooners never left, but crippling losses to Texas A&M last year in the Cotton Bowl, a 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State the season and an Insight Bowl showing the year before that showed there was a significant gap between another national title and where the Sooners were.

Now, it seems like OU is closer than ever before. That’s what happens after a road win at Kansas State, a stunner at Oklahoma Sstate and an undoing of Alabama.

So, what’s next? A few things to get excited about for 2014:

The Ranking

Oklahoma will certainly start the year ranked either No. 2 or No. 3. Florida State, the defending national champion with Jameis Winston back at quarterback, will be the easy No. 1 pick. OU or Ohio State, both returning quarterbacks and a lot of talent on both offense and defense, will be No. 2 or No. 3.  

The Playoff

There will be a playoff for the first time in 2014. Four teams will qualify. Why does that matter? Well, not only will OU start the season in excellent position to be among the top four, the playoff allows a bit of slippage, should it occur that the BCS did not. A one-loss Big 12 team has little chance of making the BCS title game in recent years. However, with four teams in a playoff, in addition to OU’s schedule, the Sooners may have room to fall back.

The Schedule

The 2014 schedule is a lot more agreeable to the Sooners than the 2013 was. OU opens the season with a pair of home games, including a Sept. 13 game against a high-profile SEC school –€“ Tennessee. No, the Vols aren’t Alabama or Auburn, but playing Tennessee will keep Oklahoma visible.

The Sooners play their next four games away from Norman, but all four – at Tulsa, at West Virginia, at TCU and vs. Texas in Dallas – are games where OU will be massive favorites.

Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State will all be in Norman next year. Aside from Texas in Dallas, the toughest spot OU has is a Thursday night game at Iowa State and at Texas Tech on Nov. 15.

The Roster

Forget the schedule, the set-up or all of the twists and turns between here and there. The Sooners best shot in 2014 will be because of its roster.

Gone is ultra-playmaker Jalen Saunders at receiver and running backs to Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. But back is just about everything else, including a quarterback situation which was cloudy a month ago, but is clear now.

The defensive line should be better with the return of Charles Tapper as well as Jordan Phillips, who didn’t play the second half of the season, due to injury. Linebackers Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon are back as well.

OU returns a good number of offensive linemen, has enough receivers — including Sterling Shepard –€“ returning, as well as the addition of five-star running back Joe Mixon, who has announced his attention to attend OU.

The Momentum

There’s no team in college football who has more than the Sooners, and that includes Florida State.

FSU may start the next season ranked No. 1, but OU has four wins in a row, three from an underdog spot. The Sooners were an afterthought on the national scene just about a month ago, now with the win over Alabama, Oklahoma is in perfect position to make a run in 2014.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK