There’s a number of stress on Oklahoma this 12 months — greater than this system has felt shortly. That’s as a result of the Sooners completed 6-7 in head coach Brent Venables’ first season, this system’s most losses since 1998, the 12 months earlier than Bob Stoops was employed.
It’s additionally Oklahoma’s last season enjoying within the Big 12 earlier than transferring to the SEC with Texas in 2024, and it definitely doesn’t wish to depart the league it’s owned for 20-plus years on a bitter word. It’s an odd feeling to see OU on this place. Stoops created a juggernaut and Lincoln Riley stored issues rolling with no drop-off. However when he left for USC, Riley took Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams and vast receiver Mario Williams with him, leaving the following workers in a lurch.
Venables sucked it up and made it by means of 12 months 1. Heading into 2023, he’s taken benefit of the switch portal — particularly so on protection, which completed final season ranked No. 122 out of 131 groups. It was an uncomfortable place for a defensive guru like Venables, as his unit gave up 461 yards and 30 factors per sport.
Whereas OU has misplaced a number of the finest expertise it had, together with main receiver Marvin Mims Jr., main rusher Eric Gray and prime tight finish Brayden Willis, it will get veteran quarterback Dillon Gabriel again. Even with Oklahoma’s awful season, Gabriel was the second-most productive quarterback within the Large 12 (behind Spencer Sanders, who transferred from Oklahoma State to Ole Miss) and his expertise will probably be essential to OU’s success in 2023.
With all of that in thoughts, listed below are just a few storylines surrounding the Sooners as they start spring ball.
Is Brent Venables the precise man for this job?
For years Venables was yearly the preferred title within the teaching carousel. He was glad in his place as defensive coordinator at Clemson, the place he and Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to 2 nationwide championship victories towards Alabama in 2016 and ‘18. It was all the time going to take the proper job for him to depart.
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Oklahoma was — is — that job. Venables’ profession began within the Large 12. He performed linebacker at Kansas State earlier than teaching at his alma mater for six seasons and was later employed at OU as its defensive coordinator and affiliate head coach beneath Stoops. OU was the dream situation for the nation’s most prized coordinator.
However then his first season in 2022 was a catastrophe. This included a 31-point loss to TCU the week earlier than a historic 49-0 shellacking by Texas within the Crimson River Showdown. It was this system’s worst loss within the historical past of the rivalry. To complete issues off, the Sooners ended the season with a slender 35-32 loss to Florida State within the Cheez-It Bowl.
It’s foolish to assume Venables’ head might be on the chopping block after one dangerous 12 months. Even Stoops had just a few dangerous seasons in Norman, together with his first two. However there’s a big quantity of stress on Venables in 12 months 2 to show issues round, particularly earlier than the Sooners be a part of the SEC.
With a top-five recruiting class for 2023 and the Large 12’s best returning quarterback, are issues trying up for Venables and the Sooners this 12 months?
Dillon Gabriel integral to OU’s success
For as crummy as Oklahoma’s season was in 2022, Gabriel was the brilliant spot. The rising senior accomplished greater than 60% of his passes for 3,168 yards with 25 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He did miss one sport — the painful loss to Texas — with an harm. However he’s the Large 12’s prime returning quarterback for 2023 and no one could be stunned if he in some way willed the Sooners to a convention title.
Gabriel has expertise now after one season working with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, with whom he has a tight-knit relationship. Gabriel understands the offense, can carry youthful playmakers alongside, and can present that management and stability for an offensive line that misplaced three starters to the NFL, together with potential first-round decide Anton Harrison.
OU’s offense wasn’t the issue final 12 months — Gabriel led a unit that ranked thirteenth nationally in complete offense and scored 32.8 PPG. Examine that to a protection that gave up 30 PPG. Whereas Gabriel shouldn’t be the identical caliber as some latest star quarterbacks at Oklahoma, like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Williams, he’s nonetheless a veteran man who may also help set this system up for achievement and get it out of its present funk.
Ready within the wings is five-star QB Jackson Arnold, who has enrolled early and is predicted to be the following large factor in Norman. Rated the No. 4 quarterback within the nation, Arnold was additionally the Gatorade Nationwide Participant of the 12 months and held the Sooners’ 2023 class collectively after Riley left for L.A.
Dillon Gabriel to Jalil Farooq
Oklahoma Sooners might have seen a glimpse of their future on this play towards Iowa State final season.
However who will Gabriel give the ball to?
All this discuss Gabriel, however what we don’t actually know is who’ll catch his passes. His prime playmakers left for the NFL, so it’s going to take working time beyond regulation with youthful, much less skilled guys to get this offense clicking and scoring a lot of factors.
Guys to control embrace Jalil Farooq, a rising junior receiver who completed fourth on the group final season behind Mims, Willis and Drake Stoops with 37 catches for 466 yards and 5 touchdowns. The previous four-star recruit is 6-foot-1, 203, and began 9 video games final 12 months. The Sooners additionally acquired some assist from the switch portal, snagging Michigan receiver Andrel Anthony, who might make a right away affect.
Followers also needs to be enthusiastic about operating again Jovantae Barnes. His title may be extra acquainted, because the rising sophomore was the No. 2 rusher behind Grey final season with 519 yards and 5 touchdowns. When Grey opted to take a seat out of the Cheez-It Bowl, Barnes, who’s barely greater than his predecessor, stepped up and ran for 108 yards and a landing within the loss to FSU.
No matter who shines this spring, an important factor right here is that the Sooners have Gabriel to prepared the ground.
Laken Litman covers faculty soccer, faculty basketball and soccer for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand wrote for Sports activities Illustrated, USA Right now and The Indianapolis Star. She is the creator of “Robust Like a Lady,” printed in spring 2022 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX. Observe her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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