This is not the preview of the Sooners I expected to be writing one year ago. Of course, nobody expected Lincoln Riley to bolt for Southern Cal last December either, taking several players with him as well. New Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables only has ten returning starters, which means that Norman is undergoing a much bigger rebuilding project than anybody suspected last fall.
It is, however, Oklahoma...so there is talent there. It just isn’t experienced talent at this point. Last year, Oklahoma had nine players named to the preseason all-Big XII team; in 2022, only one, punter Michael Turk. Now, if I were a betting man, I put the line on the number of Sooners named to the postseason all-Big XII team at somewhere around six. But that’s for December, and this preview is for a game in September.
Quarterback Spencer Rattler was a Heisman favorite last August, but found himself outplayed by Caleb Williams after the Nebraska game and benched following the Red River Shootout. Rattler transfered to South Carolina immediately after the season, and then Williams followed Riley out to Los Angeles. So Venables found Central Florida’s Dillon Gabriel (6’0” 205 lbs.) in the portal to take over at quarterback. (Fun fact: Scott Frost began UCF’s recruiting of Gabriel, who attended the same high school as McKenzie Milton.) Gabriel started 25 games for UCF in his career before breaking his clavicle last September. In his UCF career, Gabriel completed 61% of his passes for 70 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Junior running back Eric Gray (5’10” 209 lbs.) started the first six games last season before losing the job to Kennedy Brooks. Gray rushed for 412 yards (averaging 5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns last season, including 84 yards against the Huskers. Two four-star freshmen, Jovantae Barnes (6’0” 197 lbs.) and Gavin Sawchuk (5’11” 190 lbs.) join the Sooners roster this fall.
Sophomore Marvin Mims (5’11” 179 lbs.) has been OU’s leading receiver the last two seasons. Last season, Mims caught 32 passes for 705 yards and five touchdowns, earning him third team all-Big XII honors. Junior Theo Wease (6’2” 201 lbs.) returns after missing last season due to injury; in 2020, Wease caught 37 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns. Bob Stoops’ son Drake (5’10” 192 lbs.) also returns; he’s caught 41 passes in his career for 521 yards and four touchdowns. Despite losing an NFL draft pick (Mike Woods, 6th round to Cleveland) and a Southern Cal transfer (Mario Williams), the Sooners receiver group should be fine in 2022.
Up front, three Sooners return on the offensive line, led by senior right guard Chris Murray (6’2” 298 lbs.) who was a second-team all-Big XII honoree last season after transfering from UCLA, where he was a two-year starter. Sophomore left tackle Anton Harrison (6’6” 309 lbs.) moves over from the right side, while sophomore center Andrew Raym (6’4” 307 lbs.) also returns. And perhaps more importantly, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh stayed in Norman; Bedenbaugh’s 2018 offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for best line.
Defensively, the Sooners have just five returning starters, but they are backfilling many of those holes with key reserves and very experienced transfers. And let’s not forget that Brent Venables has been one of the best defensive coordinators this century, so Oklahoma probably isn’t dropping far, if at all, on defense. Up front, though, the Sooners have to replace three NFL draft picks with only junior defensive tackle Jalen Redmond (6’3” 284 lbs.) returning. The Sooners added Tulane transfer nose guard Jeffery Johnson (6’2” 302 lbs.), who started 45 games for the Green Wave, and Hawai’i transfer defensive end Jonah La’ulu (6’5” 272 lbs.), who had 34 tackles and four sacks for the Warriors.
Senior weakside linebacker DaShaun White (6’0” 224 lbs.) was third on the Sooners with 66 tackles. Junior middle linebacker David Ugwoegbu (6’4” 249 lbs.) added 49 tackles last season as a reserve, while Appalachian State transfer TD Roof (5’11” 216 lbs.) had 87 tackles and 10 for a loss the last two seasons. Roof followed his dad, who’s the new defensive coordinator, to Norman.
Solid returning experience can be found in the secondary. Senior nickle back Justin Broiles (5’11” 190 lbs.) was fourth on the team last season with 55 tackles. Sophomore corners Davon Graham (6’0” 190 lbs.) and Woodi Washington (5’11” 193 lbs.) started in the 2020 COVID season as well and added 37 and 27 tackles respectively last season. Safety Trey Morrison (5’11” 189 lbs.) started 41 games for North Carolina with 163 career tackles before joining the Sooners this season. Sophomore safeties Billy Bowman (5’11” 190 lbs.) and Key Lawrence (6’0” 204 lbs.) has 22 and 47 tackles last season.
Are there questions on this Oklahoma roster? Absolutely, but this Sooner squad still looks like the team to beat in the Big XII in 2022. And as we all know from last season, Nebraska has to play a much cleaner game than last year to beat the Sooners in 2022. Last year, the Blackshirts were trying to do something special against the Sooners only to have Nebraska’s special teams waste the effort. This year, it’ll probably take much more to get the Sooners.
What’s your prediction when the Sooners return to Lincoln?
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Ugliness as the Sooner Schooner rolls all over the Big Red
Sooner Magic bites Nebraska again as OU finds a way to win
Nebraska finally gets that win in a close game that has been so elusive in recent years.
Big Red Breakout Victory as the Huskers thump the Sooners at home.