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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma should have its full complement of offensive starters when it face No. 18 Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Quarterback Trevor Knight, running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Sterling Shepard all should be recovered enough from late-season injuries to be ready to play by Dec. 29, coach Bob Stoops said Wednesday.
But the Sooners will be without a pair of senior defensive starters - linebacker Geneo Grissom and defensive back Julian Wilson.
One of the biggest question marks for the Sooners (8-4) has been Knight's condition. He suffered a neck injury on Nov. 8 against Baylor that later was diagnosed as transient quadriplegia. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas started the past three games, but Stoops says Knight, who returned to practice on Saturday, will start against Clemson (9-3) in Orlando, Florida.
"Absolutely," Stoops said when asked if Knight - last season's Sugar Bowl most valuable player - would be the starting quarterback. "We expect him to be. He's doing everything right now as he always did. I think they key part, too, is, after practice he's feeling good. It isn't taking a toll on him."
Oklahoma's medical staff made the decision that Knight could return and "there was a lot that went into it," Stoops said.
Knight said it feels good to be back and he isn't afraid of getting injured again, describing his medical care as "very thorough."
"I've seen and talked to specialists all over the country," Knight said. "They are very confident in the decision to let me come back and play. I'm confident in coming back. They even told me I'm no different than I was before the injury. ... Obviously, there's a risk, but anybody has a risk playing the game. So I'm going to go out and play like I did before this ever happened."
Third-team All-America linebacker Eric Striker said Knight is performing well in practice.
"I haven't been over there much, but when we've been going against him he looks the same — fresh and fast," Striker said. "He got me on a couple plays. He got me on a little trickery and he smiled at me and said, 'I got you, Eric.' He's ready. He's back and looking good."
Perine, who has rushed for 1,579 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman, sprained his ankle during a loss to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. Stoops said Perine "is improving. He hasn't practiced yet, but talking to him, he feels like he's making really good progress."
Shepard, the Sooners' top receiver, has struggled with a groin injury since Nov. 1. He missed the Baylor game and tried to play against both Kansas and Iowa State before having to leave each game. Stoops sounded cautiously optimistic about Shepard's availability.
"He feels significantly different and better than he has," Stoops said. "We won't practice him much until we get him to the bowl site as well. . We'll have to see once he gets in the game moment, is he able to make the explosive plays and hold up?"
On defense, Grissom is making progress after a knee injury he suffered Nov. 15 against Texas Tech, but Stoops said the timetable is about seven to 10 days behind when it would need to be for him to play in the bowl. Wilson had been expected to play until two days ago, when he separated a shoulder during practice.
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