Feb. 19—NORMAN — Last season, Skip Johnson's OU baseball team was looking like a contender for a berth in the College World Series.
The Sooners lost a few of their core players from that squad, especially pitchers, but still return plenty in 2021 and expectations are still high.
OU is ranked No. 22 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association's preseason poll.
As the Sooners begin their season Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus-Christi, here's a look at three things to know about the Sooners in 2021:
The Sooners' rotation was hit hard by the draft, so Johnson's staff will take on a much different look this year.
For the opening weekend, Johnson will go with right-hander Wyatt Olds, and lefties Dalton Fowler and Jake Bennett on the mound.
Olds figures to be at the top of the Sooners' rotation in his third year in the program after going 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA, striking out 29 batters in 19 innings in last year's pandemic-shortened season.
Fowler spent the last two seasons at Northwest Mississippi Community College, going 6-2 with a 3.76 ERA there in 2019.
Bennett, from Bixby, made three midweek starts last season, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA. He started the Sooners' last game of 2020, a 3-0 win over Texas-Arlington on March 10.
The recent weather has made it difficult for OU's arms to prepare for the season, so Johnson said pitching plans could change significantly as pitchers get stretched out early in the season.
If you're going to play in Texas...
The Sooners play their first 12 games in Texas after their season-opening series moved from being home against Southern, to playing Wichita State in Round Rock, Texas, to opening the season much further south against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
OU is scheduled to play a single game there Saturday afternoon before a doubleheader Sunday.
Then the Sooners make a tour of the Texas Rangers organization, playing two games at the Rangers' new home ballpark in Arlington next Tuesday and Wednesday against Stephen F. Austin and Texas-Arlington, before playing in the Round Rock Classic at the home of Texas' AAA affiliate in Round Rock, then four games in the Frisco College Baseball Classic at Dr Pepper Ballpark, the home of Texas' AA affiliate.
"The field's really manicured, the facilities are always big," Johnson said. "I think it's good for our kids to play in those venues, the ballparks because that's what their ultimate goal is to play professional baseball and play in those venues."
The schedule was a bit of a challenge this season, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a more regionalized approach.
OU's schedule in Johnson's first three seasons included two trips to Florida and games in California, Minnesota and South Carolina.
This season, only the series at West Virginia May 7-9 will be played in a state not bordering Oklahoma.
"Ryan Gaines has done a great job at trying to regionalize our schedule where we can get everywhere in a bus so to speak and try to save as much money as we could," Johnson said.
While the pitching staff took a big hit from the Major League Baseball draft, the offensive returns largely intact.
All but two hitters — fourth-round pick Brady Lindsly and outfielder Jordan Vujovich, who transferred — who played in at least six games last year return.
The Sooners hit .279 as a team in 18 games last season, third in the Big 12.
Newcomers, including former Westmoore star Jace Bohrofen, add some dimensions to the Sooners' offense.
"We can got a lot of different ways with our offense," Johnson said. "We can go all left-handed or all right-handed. We can put guys in that can run, guys that have a little bit of power. We can go several different ways, which is a good thing.
"I think the biggest jump forward for us is that they understand what offense is."