Kickoff: November 5th
Location: Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Norman, OK)
Conference: Big 12 (soon to be SEC)
Head Coach: Brent Venables (first year)
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Notable Outcomes: Lost to Baylor 27-14; lost to Oklahoma State 37-33; beat Oregon 47-32
Key Losses: Caleb Williams, QB; Jadon Haselwood, WR; Kennedy Brooks, RB
Key Returners: Marvin Mims, WR; DeShaun White, LB; Anton Harrison, LT
Strength: Offensive line. The Sooners lost a LOT of players after Lincoln Riley’s departure. They only return eight starters on both sides of the ball. One position, however, that they do return some talent is offensive line, where they keep left tackle Anton Harrison, center Andrew Raym, and right guard Chris Murray. They also add Cal transfer McKade Mettauer who was pretty good in the Pac-12. While I think this is enough to make this unit a strength, there is some reason for concern as well: OU’s line last year wasn’t particularly good, letting up 33 sacks. Additionally, the depth behind these starters is pretty slim. So this quickly could become a weakness if the starters don’t improve and don’t stay healthy.
Weakness: Wide receiver. The Sooners lost their top two receivers to the transfer portal, with Jadon Haselwood heading to Arkansas and Mario Williams reuniting with Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley at USC. The Sooners do return Marvin Mims who was a huge big play threat. However, he was not as consistent of a receiver as Haselwood and Williams, who both had more receptions. So the Sooners will likely need him to step up and become “the guy” outside of deep balls.
Way Too Early Prediction: I think Oklahoma is getting too much benefit of the doubt by most media outlets. The personnel losses from last season were substantial, meaning they have to get a lot of transfers to jive with a lot of players that have limited experience under a first time head coach. That’s a tall order, especially with an offense that is going to need a lot of work. Given head coach Brent Venables is a defensive mind, much of that will fall on new offensive coordinate Jeff Lebby (former Baylor running backs coach under Art Briles, and Briles’s son-in-law). While there’s plenty to talk about in terms of hypocrisy in that hire by the Sooners, Lebby has been a good offensive coordinator at Ole Miss. The problem for him in this particular game is Aranda’s defense picked his offense apart in the Sugar Bowl last season. And the Sooners have much less proven offensive talent than that Ole Miss team. All that plus implementing a new, complex defensive scheme and I think the Sooners are in for a serious rebuild year. The only things that give me moderate pause is this game being on the road and the Sooners wanting revenge for their loss last season (which saw Aranda taking a time out to kick a field goal with only a few seconds left, up by 10. I doubt the Sooners will care much for Aranda’s explanation of needing the points for a potential Big 12 tiebreaker, even though it was absolutely the right move). All that to say, I think Baylor will be focused because of the name of the opponent and is in a much better spot this season given the Bears’ relative stability on both sides of the ball (especially the lines).