Several players will decide the success of the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the squad in 2014. This week we’ll count down the five most important players on offense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production.
No. 5: Fullback Aaron Ripkowski, senior
2013 role: He was a major contributor to OU’s 11-2 season in 2013 in a fullback/tight end role. Ripkowski played in all 13 games, starting seven, and saw his role increase after Trey Millard was lost during the season. His blocking and durability was critical for the Sooners during their Sugar Bowl championship run.
Expected 2014 role: Ripkowski should play a very similar role to last season while also mentoring true freshman Dimitri Flowers to serve a similar role. The former walk-on has played in 33 games during his Sooners’ career and has gotten better every season. There's no reason to think that will change during his final campaign.
Why he’s important: The Sooners want to continue to be a physical running squad after ranking No. 20 nationally in yards per carry (5.21) last season. Ripkowski will be one of the centerpieces of that plan. His experience, consistency and toughness will make him a critical, though likely overlooked, member of OU’s offense. He can line up at tight end or fullback and have an impact on the game with his toughness regardless of the quality of the opponent.
If he was missing: The Sooners would have to lean on the inexperienced Flowers to fill some, if not all, of Ripkowski’s duties. Even though the true freshman appears mature beyond his years, OU’s offense would badly miss the consistent play of Ripkowski. Additionally, the Sooners would also be forced to turn to other options to fill the tight end role including Blake Bell or Taylor McNamara. Flowers and Bell appear likely to play alongside Ripkowski but if the senior fullback isn’t involved, OU's options at both positions would suffer a setback.