It’s here, it’s finally here!!!
Game week for the 2022 Oklahoma Sooners has finally come, and in just a few days, the Oklahoma Sooners will host the UTEP Miners to launch the start of the Brent Venables era.
Analysts are mixed on Oklahoma’s prospects this season. Some believe the Sooners will win the Big 12, while others think they’ll miss the title game altogether. Even those that think the Sooners will return to their place as conference champions, a throne they sat on for six-straight seasons, the consensus is that Oklahoma won’t make it through the season with fewer than two losses.
Given all of the turnover the Oklahoma Sooners underwent in the offseason and the coaching change, many are taking a “wait and see” approach with Brent Venables’ Sooners. However, in a conference with no definitive favorite, Oklahoma has just as good a shot to win it all as anyone.
But as Oklahoma gets set to start the 2022 season, let’s look at the top storylines facing the Sooners in Brent Venables’ first season at the helm.
Kicking off the Brent Venables era
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables poses with former players and family during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Since the Oklahoma Sooners made the Brent Venables hire official back in December, the anticipation and excitement for the new era of Oklahoma football have been growing to a fever pitch.
Finally, in game week, the Oklahoma Sooners can put everything they’ve felt and learned over the last nine months into action. UTEP is the unfortunate team that will face the pent-up energy of Sooner Nation this Saturday when they roll into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
The record crowd for the spring game and the record donations pouring into the Oklahoma football program last fiscal year provide a glimpse of the excitement surrounding the Sooners heading into 2022.
Brent Venables as a head coach
Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables reacts during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
We won’t know how good he will be as a head coach until Brent Venables manages big games with high-leverage situations. UTEP and Kent State will provide opportunities to fine-tune in-game processes, but that road trip to Lincoln to take on his first Power Five team as a head coach in a hostile environment will provide the first true test of his career.
At the same time, there’s little doubt that Venables will be prepared for the in-game decision-making that can elevate or sink a team (looking at you Scott Frost). Venables has spent his career watching some of the best minds in college football manage games and make critical decisions. When they’ve worked and when they haven’t worked, Venables has gleaned knowledge and wisdom from those situations that he’ll be able to apply to his first foray as a head coach.
Time spent with Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops, and Dabo Swinney and coaching defenses in national championship and College Football Playoff games has provided the necessary proving ground to become a great head coach.
If the success on the recruiting trail is any indication, Brent Venables knows how to execute a plan. It won’t take long before that becomes a realization on the football field.
Can the defense make improvements?
Nov 27, 2021; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Jalen Redmond (31) during the third quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State Cowboys won 37-33. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
One of the more fascinating things to watch heading into 2022 is the impact the new defensive staff will have on this unit. A unit that, in 2021, didn’t live up to expectations. It was a unit that saw five starters drafted into the NFL, yet they struggled as a group.
Was that a scheme and coaching thing? We’re about to find out.
Whether it was Grinch’s comments to the media that his guys didn’t like practice or not knowing how to utilize NFL talent, there were several games where the defense just didn’t look right.
This year’s roster doesn’t have the name recognition that last year’s group did, but there still seems to be optimism that the unit can improve upon 2021’s No. 76 ranking in total defense.
For Oklahoma to return to contention this season, the Sooners will have to be better than that. And there’s no reason to think Venables defense and the realized potential for guys that were young rotational players last season can’t help Oklahoma make significant strides in Venables’ first season.
They may not be a top 10 defense year one, but they could very well be a top 30 defense.
Can Jeff Lebby keep the offense rolling?
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby watches quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) warm up during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In a word, yes.
When national analysts take a look at the Oklahoma Sooners and discuss why they might not be as good in 2022 as they were in previous seasons, they discuss the loss of Lincoln Riley. Riley was a really good offensive mind for the Sooners. And at times, he was great. His run as offensive coordinator and then head coach from 2015 to 2019 was fantastic. Not perfect but really, really good.
The last two seasons with his coveted five-star quarterbacks left something to be desired. And still, many are still really high on what Riley can bring to the table on the offensive side of the football.
Well, Jeff Lebby is a fantastic offensive mind in his own right. From his first stint as an offensive coordinator for NAIA Southeastern to running the offense for Ole Miss, Lebby’s done nothing but have a ton of success on the offensive side of the football.
His style of play helped Dillon Gabriel earn freshman All-American honors and get Matt Corrall some first-round pick buzz before he was injured.
In 2020, Lebby’s Rebels averaged 39.2 points per game in the mighty SEC. In 2021, it dipped a bit, but they still averaged 33.7 points per game.
Lebby may not have the Heisman accolades that Riley left OU with (yet), but it may only be a matter of time before Lebby’s producing Heisman finalists and winners at the University of Oklahoma.
How much will turnover matter?
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
Brent Venables provided national media with the necessary ammunition to cast doubt on this Oklahoma team when he mentioned that 40% of the roster had never taken a snap with the University of Oklahoma. The part that many are leaving out of that discussion is that they’ve brought in quite a few players that have played a ton of snaps elsewhere.
Players like Dillon Gabriel (1,905 snaps), Jeffery Johnson (2,312), McKade Mettauer (1,768), Trey Morrison (2,631), and Jonah La’ulu (1,224) bring a wealth of experience to the Oklahoma Sooners that should help make up for the losses to the NFL and the transfer portal.
In addition to that, the Sooners have several players who were highly-regarded prospects coming out of high school expected to take on bigger roles this season, like Ethan Downs (4-star EDGE in 2021), Marcus Stripling (4-star EDGE in 2018), and Key Lawrence, (4-star safety in 2020). Add to that the return of their best wide receiver Marvin Mims and the return from injury of former five-star wide receiver Theo Wease, the Oklahoma Sooners have a bunch of talent to work with on both sides of the football.
Turnover hits every team every offseason. But this is a group that will return three of five starters on the offensive line, has an experienced quarterback, and defensive unit with a bunch of players that are hungry to prove themselves in 2022.
Turnover matters, but the Oklahoma Sooners have a host of players primed for breakout seasons.
Can Oklahoma return to the College Football Playoff in 2022?
Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables during an NCAA college football practice, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Norman, Oklahoma. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Oklahoma’s been shut out of the College Football Playoff for each of the last two seasons after dropping multiple Big 12 games. Oklahoma hadn’t lost two games in the conference since 2014 and they did it two seasons in a row.
In a deep conference where there are a handful of teams that could contend for the Big 12 title, the Sooners have to get through the season avoiding multiple conference losses. In 2020, they were fortunate enough to back into the Big 12 title game. In 2021, they weren’t so lucky.
If the Sooners want to get back to the College Football Playoff, they have to get through the regular season unscathed or with just one loss. As tight as things are at the top and with the possibility of multiple SEC teams once again forcing their way into the playoff, Oklahoma may not be able to avoid even one loss if they want to return.
The Sooners can’t simply win this year. They have to be impressive. As we saw in 2021, an undefeated Oklahoma team hadn’t impressed the College Football Playoff committee, coming in at No. 8 in the first rankings. For Oklahoma to convince the committee that they’re a playoff contender, they’ll have to win and win big.
With the playoff at four teams, there’s little margin for error for the Oklahoma Sooners heading into 2022.
Overlooked and being called overrated, the Oklahoma Sooners open 2022 with a chip on their shoulder and with something to prove.
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