It feels like an eternity has passed since the final whistle blew at the Alamo Bowl back in January and the viewer was passed from Bob Stoops to Brent Venables. In a time of great upheaval for Oklahoma, expectations are still high for one of the country’s most storied and iconic teams.
ESPN’s Dave Wilson and Bill Connelly took a hard look at all 10 Big 12 teams and gave their thoughts on what we have learned so far and what each program needs to figure out before week one in the Fall.
Needless to say, the new guy in charge in Norman has been noticed.
What we learned this spring: Brent Venables looks comfortable in his first head-coaching gig, not a surprise since he’s been a staple as one of the most high-profile assistants in the country since his first stint at Oklahoma from 1999 to 2011. His offense will look different, with the departure of both of last year’s starting quarterbacks, Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) and Caleb Williams (USC). UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel has sole command now, including taking most of the reps in the spring game for both teams. In Jeff Lebby’s offense, they’ll play fast and have the talent to make it work. – Wilson and Connelly, ESPN
Venables has been learning and preparing for this opportunity his entire life. He exudes confidence and energy. His run of him as a defensive coordinator might have been lengthy, but he was picky and methodical in choosing his first head coaching job. That patience paid off when Oklahoma came calling.
He’s got Oklahoma’s arrow pointed up as they work to get back to the Big 12 championship and the College Football Playoff. While the Sooners lost their two highly-rated quarterbacks to the transfer portal, they landed one of the most experienced signal-callers in Dillon Gabriel. His experience and ability from him will help get the Sooners off to a fast start in the 2022 season. His familiarity with him with what Lebby wants to do should help the Sooners offense be on the same page as they look to play and aggressive uptempo style on offense.
While a lot of positives came out of Norman this spring, there are still some things that ESPN would like to see by the time the Sooners open the season against UTEP.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can Venables and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof shore up a defense that ranked 76th nationally last season and ranked 109th against the pass, allowing 261.8 yards per game? Will key departures (receivers Jadon Haselwood and Mario Williams and TE Austin Stogner among them) have an impact on offensive depth, especially with the tempo? There’s no question Oklahoma fans are energized by Venables’ return from him, but Lincoln Riley never lost more than two games a year and won four Big 12 titles in his five seasons. There are still big expectations at a place like Oklahoma, so there’s not much time for a learning curve. – Wilson and Bill ESPN
The questions they raise are fair. OU’s defensive woes have been well documented in the years. Despite Lincoln Riley’s unceremonious departure, the Sooners did enjoy very successful regular seasons under his watch. Venables won’t have much time to get comfortable.
That being said, staying in the Big 12 this season is a perfect opportunity for Venables to experience his first season as head coach before being thrown into the meat grinder that is the SEC. If all things go according to plan, the Sooners will have one, maybe two more Big 12 titles in the next year or two before making the move with Texas.
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