Media, personalities weigh in on Oklahoma’s breakout player, toughest game in 2022

We’re just a few days away from kickoff and the Oklahoma Sooners are about to embark on their quest to return to the Big 12 title game and the College Football Playoff.

A two-year absence from the playoff hit harder in 2021 when Oklahoma missed the Big 12 title game. Armed with a new vision and new life under first-year head coach Brent Venables, the expectations remain the same for the Sooners.

As the Sooners conclude final preparations for the 2022 season, Sooners Wire asked some of our friends in the Oklahoma media and other personalities to weigh in on a couple of questions. Who will be Oklahoma’s breakout player in 2022, and which game will prove to be the toughest for the Sooners?

John Hoover: All Sooners on SI and Sports Animal Tulsa

Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Marcus Major (24) runs the ball against the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the 2021 Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Marcus Major

I’ve predicted Marcus Major will be the Sooners’ breakout player on offense. He’s been shut down by things out of his control, and every time he’s gotten even a chance, he’s shined. He had a good spring and has had a fantastic camp. He’s got incredible power, good acceleration and just enough juice to make guys miss. To me, he looks like Oklahoma’s next 1,000-yard running back. – Hoover, All Sooners on SI and Sports Animal, Tulsa

Toughest Game in 2022: Texas

Baylor has the best defensive talent. OSU has the best offensive talent. So one of those two is the right answer — especially with OU on a revenge tour with them. But while they’re definitely not a good football team, Texas might ultimately be the trickiest opponent on the schedule. We’ve seen bad Texas football teams upset double-digit favorite Oklahoma teams. I don’t expect OU to lose in Dallas, but I do expect it to be a close game. Sometimes OU has to just manage that game. Is Brent Venables and his staff ready to do that in Year One? – – Hoover, All Sooners on SI and Sports Animal, Tulsa

Travis Davidson: 94.7 The Ref and the JP and Trav Show

Marcus Major (24) is pursued by Justin Harrington (37) during drills as the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU ) hold fall football camp outside Gaylord Family/Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Aug. 8, 2022 in Norman, Okla. Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman

Breakout Player: Justin Harrington.

He was given a second chance, and that’s not lost on him. He’s got the physical tools that NFL scouts dream of, but his leadership and maturity are what put him in the first half of the NFL draft after this season. – Davidson, 94.7 The Ref Norman, The JP and Trav Show

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

Dave Aranda is all that needs to be said. He’s been the best coach since he’s been a part of the Big 12 with less talent than a number of his opponents. It’s his league until someone takes it. – Davidson, 94.7 The Ref Norman, The JP and Trav Show

Parker Thune: OUInsider at 247Sports and 94.7 The Ref, Norman

Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive end Ethan Downs (40) tackles Western Carolina Catamounts running back TJ Jones (0) on fourth down during the second quarter at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Ethan Downs

He’s a freak.

– Thune, OUInsider and 94.7 The Ref.

Toughest game in 2022: Texas.

Not that the Longhorns are going to be an elite football team, but that game is always tough any way you slice it. – Thune, OUInsider and 94.7 The Ref.

Ari Temkin: SXM College Ch. 375 and 105.3 The Fan, Dallas

Oct 30, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Marvin Mims (17) runs for a touchdown as Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Malik Dunlap (8) chases during the first quarter at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Marvin Mims

Maybe you are thinking ‘breakout player?’ The rest of the country forgot about mims after a down year last year but Mims is rejuvenated within Jeff Lebby’s offense. – Temkin, Sirius XM College and 105.3 The Fan

Toughest Game in 2022: Kansas State

First conference game of the season and in recent history, they’ve struggled w/ KSU – Temkin, Sirius XM College and 105.3 The Fan

Mike Steely: 94.7 The Ref, Norman

Oklahoma’s J.J. Hester (13), Theo Wease (10) and Jalil Farooq (3) during an NCAA college football practice, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Norman, Okla. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Breakout Player: Theo Wease

We’ve seen what this former five-star star can do if he’s healthy. He can make plays and I think he’ll make a bunch for Jeff Lebby’s offense this fall. Steely, 94.7 The Ref

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

I was going to stay Nebraska because of it being in Lincoln where it is on the schedule, but Scott Frost torpedoed that thought. I’ll go with Baylor. I know they lost a lot, but Aranda is heckuva coach and I’m a believer in Blake Shapen. Fortunately, OU has them in Norman. – Steely, 94.7 The Ref

Blinkin Riley

Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Billy Bowman (5) in action during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Billy Bowman

He’s super talented. He’ll be playing his natural position and it sounds like he won’t be moved around, which will allow him to really focus in on his role. – Blinkin Riley

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

Not trying to be clever with this one. I think they are the toughest team on the schedule and, as of right now, I think the best coach in the league. – Blinkin Riley

Josh Helmer: 94.7 The Ref, Norman and Managing Editor of Hawkeyes Wire

Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Jayden Gibson (1) scores a touchdown past defensive back Dorian Plumley (34) and defensive back Damond Harmon (17) during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Jayden Gibson

One of the names in terms of skill players that just keeps popping up throughout fall camp is Jayden Gibson. OU needs another wide receiver to step up beyond the proven commodities of Marvin Mims and Theo Wease. Jalil Farooq is an obvious candidate, but let’s toss some sizzle into the equation. The 6-foot-5 freshman wide receiver from Winter Garden, Fla., will follow in previous Sooner greats like Kenny Stills and CeeDee Lamb’s past and be an impact player from year one on campus. – Helmer, 94.7 The Ref and Hawkeyes Wire

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

It wasn’t Nebraska in the first place, but, if that thought ever entered your mind, go ahead and toss that trip’s difficulty meter into the trash. The Red River bout down in the Cotton Bowl is always an obvious choice, and the Longhorns might have the best collection of quarterback, running back and wide receiver that OU will see in 2022, but give me the team that on paper is OU’s most difficult test. It’s the defending Big 12 champion Baylor Bears invading Norman on Nov. 5. – Helmer, 94.7 The Ref and Hawkeyes Wire

Seth Oliveras: Formerly of Crimson and Cream Machine

Oklahoma’s Ethan Downs (40) during the University of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 23, 2022. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Breakout Player: Ethan Downs

I believe Ethan Downs will be this year’s breakout player because of his physical development over the offseason as well as an upgrade in coaching under Miguel Chavis. With his size and motor, I expect Downs to not only lead the team in sacks, I predict he’ll finish the season among the sack leaders across the Big 12. – – Oliveras

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

Like always, the Red River Showdown will be the most unpredictable game of the season, but in my mind the most difficult game on the schedule will be at home against Baylor. Dave Aranda’s team is experienced in the trenches and disciplined at every position. Defeating the reigning conference champs won’t be easy, and if all goes as I expect, OU will likely have to face the Bears twice in 2022. – Oliveras

Shehan Jeyarajah: CBS Sports

Dec. 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Jalil Farooq (14) attempts to elude Oregon Ducks cornerback Dontae Manning (8) in the 2021 Alamo Bowl at Alamodome. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout player: Jalil Farooq, WR

Marvin Mims is a sure thing in the receiving corps, but finding other playmakers around him with the four next receivers gone. Luckily, Farooq has gotten strong reviews in camp and appears ready to capitalize on his strong Alamo Bowl with more playing time. Farooq is a relatively big receiver who moves well for his size and earned a starting spot at outside receiver. Dillon Gabriel threw a number of shots outside the numbers at UCF with receivers who could win 50/50 balls. Farooq can develop into that type of player in Jeff Lebby’s offense. – Jeyarajah, CBS Sports

Toughest Game in 2022: Nebraska

The Baylor and Oklahoma State games will rightfully get the majority of attention, but going on the road against a desperate Nebraska team will present a unique challenge. The matchup marks the first real test against Power Five competition, and neither previous Sooner game will particularly prepare it for the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma fans know better than anyone how much weight opponents give to Oklahoma. The first OU trip to Lincoln since 2009 will give the rivalry unmatched juice — as in Scott Frost saving or losing his job levels of pressure. – Jeyarajah, CBS Sports

Colby Daniels: The Blitz 1170, Tulsa

Oct 16, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners fans before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: R Mason Thomas

My prediction for breakout player of the year is R Mason Thomas. The Freshman defensive end should be impactful from the start. Thomas is listed as the 3rd DE at both DE spots on the initial OU depth chart. Venables wants to rotate and play as many capable bodies as he has, so Thomas should get plenty of opportunities. I’ve been told The Florida freshman has been as impressive rushing the passer as anyone in fall camp. His natural ability combined with coaching and experience could make him a key piece to this teams success by the end of the year. – Daniels, The Blitz 1170, Tulsa

Toughest Game in 2022: Oklahoma State

For Oklahoma’s toughest game of the year, I’ll go with Bedlam on Nov 19. Following a road trip to Iowa State, home vs Baylor, and a road trip to WVU, the Sooners will look to avenge last year’s rivalry loss in front of their home crowd. OSU has the most experienced QB in the conference, and the Defensive Line looks poised to repeat last year’s success. With a limited amount of Bedlam games left to be played in this series, the 2022 edition should give us a classic. – Daniels, The Blitz 1170, Tulsa

Tyler McComas: 94.7 The Ref, Norman

Jayden Gibson (1) is covered by Bryson Washington (15) during drills as the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU ) hold fall football camp outside Gaylord Family/Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Aug. 8, 2022 in Norman, Okla. [Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman]

Breakout player: Jayden Gibson, WR

I think there’s a legit chance he’s a starter by the end of the season. We’ve seen true freshman receivers emerge before – CeeDee Lamb, Malcolm Kelly, Kenny Stills, so why not Gibson as a Top 3 target in this offense? He’s freakishly athletic and has a 6’5” frame that’s ideal for a deep ball threat. He’s been consistent throughout training camp and looks poised for a massive season. – McComas, 94.7 The Ref

Most difficult game: Texas

I hate saying it but you know it’s true. Whether UT is 5-0 (not likely) or 1-4 (more likely) they’ll show up and play their best game.

It’s the ultimate sign of a front running program, but you can always expect Texas to show up in the Cotton Bowl. OU hasn’t won this game by double digits since 2012, the year after Brent Venables left for Clemson. Recent history says it’ll be another close game. – McComas, 94.7 The Ref

John Williams: Sooners Wire and Locked On Sooners

Nov. 27, 2021; Stillwater; Oklahoma Sooners tight end Brayden Willis (9) catches a pass for a touchdown against Oklahoma State Cowboys cornerback Jarrick Bernard-Converse (24) during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Brayden Willis

Part of a three-headed monster at H-Back each of the last two seasons, Brayden Willis didn’t have many opportunities to standout. But we caught glimpses of how good he could be against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Now the starter at tight end in Jeff Lebby’s up-tempo offense, Willis will have a chance to shine in his senior season. – Williams, Sooners Wire and Locked On Sooners

Toughest Game: Baylor

The Baylor Bears have arguably the best offensive and defensive fronts in the Big 12. It helped propel them to the Big 12 title in 2021 and that’s how they’ll make their mark again in 2022. Unlike 2021, Baylor won’t be sneaking up on teams. They’re the defending conference champion. Like Oklahoma has had in recent years, the Bears are the ones with the target on their backs in 2022. – Williams, Sooners Wire and Locked On Sooners

Patrick Conn: College Wire Regional Editor

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Player: Billy Bowman

With the mass exodus that ensued following the 2021 college football season for the Oklahoma Sooners, many players will need to step up to fill some of the voids. One of those players should be Bowman. Not only is he slated to be one of the starting safeties but he will line up on kickoff returns. He can provide a spark on special teams much as he did with Denton-Ryan on their way to a Texas state championship. – Conn, College Wires Regional Editor

Toughest Game: Baylor Bears

This was a toss-up between Baylor and the Texas Longhorns. The edge goes to the Bears given they won the Big 12 title last season. Dave Aranda’s team will be stout defensively and will test Jeff Lebby’s offense. If Oklahoma wants to reclaim the conference crown, they will need to knock off the defending Big 12 champs. – Conn, College Wires Regional Editor

Bryant Crews: Sooners Wire

Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Billy Bowman (5) and defensive back Justin Broiles (25) tackle Texas Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson (5) during the first half at the Cotton Bowl. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout player: Billy Bowman

I’m buying into the preseason hype on Billy Bowman. Billy’s a really good athlete and has shown that as a recruit when he was getting offers to play offensively for some Power 5 schools. He looks the best as a safety and he’ll have spent an entire offseason in the weight room, film sessions and on the practice field learning his craft at safety.

Injuries forced him into playing nickel back and cornerback last year but he’s now the starting safety.

He tallied 22 tackles, two pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2021. He’s back in a position he prefers and has gotten noticed by his head coach who just coached the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Also a safety. Billy Bowman shines alongside Key Lawrence. – Crews, Sooners Wire

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

Dave Aranda has had Oklahoma’s number over the last few years. His defense completely disrupted Oklahoma’s offense when LSU and Oklahoma met in the CFP in 2019. And Baylor’s defense once again stumped Lincoln Riley’s offense when the Sooners went to Waco last year.

They have possibly the league’s best interior defensive linemen in Siaki Ika. That team plays fast and violent for Aranda.

While they’ll have to replace 14 senior starters (two of which were their top two receivers) from that team that won the Big 12, I believe Aranda will have them ready to play when they come to Norman. – Crews, Sooners Wire

Ben Dackiw: Sooners Wire

Breakout Player: Eric Gray, RB

Eric Gray is due for a monster season. After a career low in rushing attempts and yards last season, Gray finds himself as the No. 1 running back in a run-heavy offensive scheme.

If Jeff Lebby can’t get a big season out of Eric Gray no one can. Kennedy Brooks rightfully got the bulk of the carries last season, but he’s no longer here. It’s Gray’s time to shine as the most proven running back on the roster. – Dackiw, Sooners Wire

Toughest Game in 2022: Baylor

Oklahoma State came close, but losing defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and seven defensive starters is a lot to make up for.

Baylor had their losses on defense as well, but return their entire defensive line and four starters on the o-line. The Bears have the big boys to give the Sooners a hard time on both sides of the ball. Dave Aranda deserves more buzz as one of the premier coaches in the country. The playmakers will reveal themselves for Baylor. – Dackiw, Sooners Wire

Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire