SEC fans, here’s a primer on the state of Oklahoma Sooners football
Get used to it, SEC fans. You’re going to hear it a lot, and perhaps as early as 2022.
But even if you can hear them coming from a mile away, you might want to actually be able to have a conversation about Oklahoma. Like, besides just defense, what’s been holding them back from winning a Playoff game? When is it not too soon to bring up the 2019 Peach Bowl?
(Oklahoma fans might not have an answer to that second one. At the very least, they’ll give you a look of disapproval to let you know just how much you poked the bear.)
Despite what some might think, Oklahoma is far more than a Texas-hatin’, horns down-throwin’, wagon-lovin’, Toby Keith-supportin’, Heisman quarterback producin’ university. It’s been one of the best programs in America in the 21st century. It owns 6 consecutive Big 12 titles, and only Alabama and Clemson have more Playoff appearances than the Sooners.
If you’re an SEC fan, maybe you knew that, maybe you didn’t.
The other day, we offered up a primer of the current state of Texas football. Today, let’s dig into what you should know about Oklahoma football:
The lack of Playoff success shouldn’t totally overshadow the ridiculous run of quarterbacks
I get it. In this era, if you don’t at least get to a national championship, it’s held against you. That’s especially true if you’re a decorated quarterback.
But my goodness, man. Some of this stuff is absurd:
- 4 consecutive years (2016-19) with a QB who averaged > 11.0 yards per attempt
- 5 consecutive years (2015-19) with a QB who finished top-4 in Heisman voting
- 3 consecutive years (2017-19) with a Heisman winner or runner-up
- 6 consecutive years (2015-20) with a QB with quarterback rating > 170.0
- 5-year stretch (2015-19) in which QBs averaged 49 total touchdowns per season
- 3 consecutive years (2018-20) with a QB drafted in first 2 rounds
No, I don’t know how all of them would’ve played against an SEC schedule. I’m pretty sure a pair of Heisman winners/No. 1 overall picks (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) would’ve been just fine, and, before transferring, Jalen Hurts was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman at Alabama. Oh, and if we’re allowed to mention last year’s Cotton Bowl, well, Spencer Rattler had 287 scrimmage yards and 4 total touchdowns in a beatdown of Florida.
(I know, I know. It wasn’t the same Florida team you had throughout 2020, Dan Mullen.)
The SEC isn’t suddenly about to turn Oklahoma quarterbacks into Jarrett Guarantano. What Lincoln Riley has built in Norman is a pipeline of quarterbacks that’s as rock solid as it gets. He’s no longer building up talented transfers and taking their game to a new level. Rattler is the 5-star, blue-chip quarterback who will enter the season as the Heisman favorite and projected No. 1 overall pick in the way-too-early mock drafts.
And what happens if and when Rattler leaves after the 2021 season? Caleb Williams is the true freshman who stepped on campus as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2021 class.
In other words, don’t expect the quarterback pipeline to run dry by the time Oklahoma enters the SEC.
Don’t cross your fingers that Lincoln Riley is leaving for the Cowboys, either
Remember this? Fun times.
5-Star QB Brock Vandagriff has decommitted from Oklahoma. He previously told SI he’d decommit from the Sooners if Lincoln Riley left for the NFL. #BoomerSooner
— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) January 1, 2020
Spoiler alert — Riley stayed at Oklahoma after Vandagriff flipped to Georgia.
It’s just not worth your time to assume Riley is leaving for the Cowboys, despite what future Skip Bayless will yell at you. Instead, assume you’ll see a lot of the 37-year-old head coach who happens to be roughly half the age of Nick Saban.
On one hand, there are plenty of SEC fans who probably aren’t worried about the idea of Riley joining the league. After all, those 3 consecutive Playoff losses to 3 different SEC programs are still fresh in all of our minds.
But make no mistake. Riley is on the short list of any ranking of elite offensive minds. Including his time as offensive coordinator in 2015-16 — people forget that he replaced the fired Josh Heupel — Riley’s worst offense was No. 6 in FBS. Averaging just 42 points with Hurts as the starter was the floor for Riley. So far. He’s coming from a conference that hasn’t had a top-10 defense since 2014. Basically, the entire time that Riley was there, he hasn’t faced an elite defense in the Big 12.
You could argue, of course, that Riley was a reason those top-10 defenses didn’t happen. For example, 2017 TCU had a top-20 defense, and had it not allowed 38 points to the Sooners, it would’ve finished better than No. 18.
For what it’s worth, Riley’s offenses averaged 39 points in those 6 matchups against SEC teams from 2015-20. I wouldn’t say that Oklahoma’s offenses were “exposed” when they hit 28-plus in all of those matchups. Riley is exceptional at scheming for his skill players, and he’ll continue to do that at an elite level when he enters the SEC.
As for his defense …
Oklahoma finally feels like it has a defense that can hang
And I agree.
That’s not just based on the Cotton Bowl. It’s based on Alex Grinch, who is proving to be one of the top rising defensive minds in the sport. After that shootout win in the Red River Rivalry, Grinch’s defense surrendered an average of 16 points in its final 7 games. Oklahoma finished with a top-30 defense for the first time since 2015. Shoot, that was Oklahoma’s first top-60 defense since 2015. Nik Bonitto might lead an even better group this year, even after the departure of Ronnie Perkins.
Of course, this year’s group won’t really matter as much to SEC fans. What does matter is how long Grinch stays in Norman. If he’s the 40-something version of Brent Venables who is perfectly content to remain a coordinator and not pursue head coaching options, look out.
They love this guy in Norman:
Want to know how Alex Grinch teaches/coaches?
Watch this all the way through. He let’s you know what he wants. pic.twitter.com/8x7omfTpHs
— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) March 7, 2019
Grinch just got an extension through 2024 that’ll pay him $1.8 million annually. That was good for No. 6 in FBS last year. Oklahoma fans know the struggle of finding a competent defensive coordinator. Before Grinch, you had Mike Stoops get fired in the middle of 2018 after allowing 48 points in a loss to Texas (Sooners fans will tell you that was long overdue). Ruffin McNeill — Riley’s old boss at ECU — struggled in the interim role and Oklahoma didn’t even have a top-100 defense in 2018.
So yes, Grinch is valued. Greatly. He should be. Want to become friends with an Oklahoma fan? Tell them “man, I really hope they back up the Brinks Truck to keep Grinch around.”
The last time Oklahoma didn’t win the Big 12?
The year was 2014.
The Playoff was young and naive. We all were. The most overplayed song in human history, “Happy” was No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Academy Awards and was years from getting canceled. Only 6 iPhones had been released.
Bob Stoops was Oklahoma’s head coach. Shoot, 12 of the 14 SEC programs had different coaches. Urban Meyer looked like he was building a juggernaut that he’d sustain for 20 years at Ohio State. Tom Herman was the top rising coach in the sport, and Jim Harbaugh was about to save Michigan.
Ah, fun times.
Life was much different when TCU won the Big 12 in 2014. Since then, it’s been all Sooners. Six consecutive Big 12 championships and a 47-7 mark in conference play. Pretty, pretty good.
The recruiting breakdown
If you look at 247sports talent composite for 2020 — something you should totally do with how much correlation there is with elite talent and winning national titles — you’ll see that Oklahoma was at No. 9. The recruiting can improve. It already has improved. Before Riley’s classes were the majority of that roster, the Sooners were a good ways off from being in the top 10 in talent composite. They were in that 15-20 range for the Stoops era and for the first year of the Riley era before settling into that 8-11 range in the past 3 years.
Why is all of that worth mentioning? Because this move was made in hopes that Oklahoma can raise its national profile even more. Oklahoma’s most recent top-5 class was in 2010.
Here’s what the classes ranked nationally in the past decade:
- 2012 — No. 12
- 2013 — No. 16
- 2014 — No. 14
- 2015 — No. 15
- 2016 — No. 19
- 2017 — No. 8
- 2018 — No. 9
- 2019 — No. 6
- 2020 — No. 12
- 2021 — No. 10
I’m gonna credit Riley’s 2015 arrival as a reason that mid-decade boost is so evident. When you know you’re going to have an elite quarterback in any given year, the rest lines up pretty well. The top 5 recruits in each of Riley’s past 3 classes were composed of 13 offensive players and just 2 defensive players. Not surprising, is it?
Oklahoma will enter the SEC with a national recruiting profile. Williams was from DC. Rattler was from Arizona. In those past 3 classes, only 2 signees in each class were from Oklahoma. Texas is where Riley does his damage. When Oklahoma signed that No. 6 class in 2019, 10 of the 24 signees were from the Lone Star State. In 2020, that number was just over half (52%).
What about those talent-rich SEC states? Let’s Texas out of the discussion and focus on states with an SEC program. In Riley’s full recruiting cycles (2018-21), he signed 6 top-100 overall recruits were from those states:
- 2018 — 4
- 2019 — 1
- 2020 — 0
- 2021 — 1
By the way, the 2019 blue-chip recruit from the SEC footprint was 5-star Cedar Grove (Ga.) receiver Jadon Haselwood, and in 2021, it was 4-star Plant City (Fla.) receiver Mario Williams.
That’s the biggest area where Riley can continue to improve with Oklahoma’s new SEC-focused recruiting pitch.
That wagon is comin’ to the SEC, too
Sooner Schooner gets the people going in a way that SEC fans will appreciate. Yes, it’s a wagon with a couple of fired up ponies pulling it.
More times than not, it executes a post-Oklahoma score celebration onto the field in flawless fashion. There have been 2 known incidents of the Sooner Schooner hitting the corner a bit to quickly and tipping over. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in either case.
“Watch her ability to roll… Nice roll!”
Gus Johnson is a national treasure 💀
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 19, 2019
After that 2019 fall, Sooner Schooner was canceled for the rest of the season. That explains why Oklahoma suffered such a brutal loss at the hands of LSU. Obviously.
In Schooner’s defense, it went 26 years between incidents (1993 and 2019). Think about all of those reps since 1964, especially with the way Oklahoma scored in the 21st century. That’s certainly a 99% success rate.
In the same way you can’t get “Rocky Top” out of your head after you go to Knoxville, you’re going to see that wagon in your sleep after a trip to Norman.