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It’s an odd position to be in if you’re the Oklahoma Sooners, but certainly not an unwelcome one. The Sooners had just one player make the Big 12 media preseason first-team; punter Michael Turk. And the Sooners finished five first-place votes behind defending Big 12 champion Baylor for first place in the preseason poll.
To a man in the Oklahoma Sooners football program, they’ll tell you that none of that matters, and they’d be right. Preseason accolades don’t mean a whole lot in the big scheme of things. But the big takeaway is that this is a program that many expect to be good, but because of the turnover, there’s uncertainty about how good they can be.
And that was reflected in comments made by opposing coaches to Athlon Sports for their 2022 College Football Preview there’s confidence in what Brent Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby can bring to the table, but some uncertainty as to how it will translate in 2022.
Season of Change
Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners interim head coach Bob Stoops trades hats with incoming Sooners coach Brent Venables after the 2021 Alamo Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at the Alamodome. Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The best and most talented program in our league year in and year out, and now they’re dealing with more change than they’ve seen in 20-some odd years. The good news is that most of that is gonna be limited to coaches, not players… — Athlon Sports
They’ve had a ton of turnover and that can’t be understated. On both sides of the football, the Sooners lost a lot of talent. But that shouldn’t slow them down, because the coaching staff, led by Brent Venables, did a fantastic job attacking the transfer portal to fill holes in the depth chart. The Sooners may not be heading into 2022 with as much hype or as many stars as they did in 2021, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve the same results or more.
Brent Venables defensive approach
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables reacts during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Brent Venables is going to bring in a lot of new stuff, new looks and get wild, but he’s going to start with what they do well already. They had a great defensive line, the linebackers were fast and we thought the secondary improved. It’s odd — they actually did more DL movement to create big plays last year than any year before, which is something that looks like Brent’s stuff. Expect them to get more exotic and aggressive schematically as they settle in…
If Brent Venables’ defensive style is anything like his personality, it will be relentless and attacking. There will be very few times we see the Sooners take a conservative approach on the defensive side of the ball. No more defensive backs 10 yards off the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 5.
The Lebby Effect
Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby pats Dillon Gabriel (8) on the helmet 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
They have plenty of pieces on offense, even with the quarterback changes. (Jeff) Lebby is going to do a great job here. His specialty is putting a defense in stress. The biggest issue is whether or not he can find a quarterback who can follow that. That offense takes risks and expects the QB to absorb hits, the trade-off being they can blow you away with big shots. So can Dillon Gabriel stay healthy? That offense should work quickly…
One of the reasons there is continued confidence in the Oklahoma Sooners despite all of the changes is that they got one of the best offensive coordinators in the country to follow Venables to Norman. Jeff Lebby’s had nothing but success as an offensive coordinator. Whether NAIA’s Southeastern, the American’s UCF, or the SEC’s Ole Miss, Lebby had his offense working at the highest levels. No reason that should be any different at Oklahoma. The expectations are high because Lebby’s done nothing but perform at every stop along the way.
Defining OU Football
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables yells at his team during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The definition of OU ball is that no matter what they’re doing schematically, they’re mean. They’re harder than the other team. That’s what Brent loves to do. His identity fits perfectly. They just need to play ball and ignore the noise about their old coach.
Brent Venables has been adamant that the Sooners need to simply figure out how to go from “good to great.” That there are a lot of good things that Oklahoma has done in his absence, his job is to get them to the next level.
Though he hasn’t coached a game in his career or in Norman, that hasn’t minimized the excitement for what Oklahoma can be in year one or in the future under Brent Venables. He exudes passion and energy, and everyone that listens to him talk is ready to run through a brick wall. And he doesn’t seem to slow down.
And it has one of his former players making a prediction about the immediate future for the Oklahoma Sooners.
OU will win a National Championship under @CoachVenables within 3 years. Have a nice day
— Teddy Lehman (@TedLehman11) July 12, 2022