After the departure of head coach Lincoln Riley, the University of Oklahoma Sooners began a new era under head coach Brent Venables. Venables does have history in Norman after serving as an assistant coach at Oklahoma for 13 seasons before going on to be defensive coordinator at Clemson University for 10 years under Dabo Swinney. Jeff Lebby, a University of Oklahoma graduate, is the new offensive coordinator after working in the same role for two years at the University of Mississippi. On the defensive side Venables will certainly have a lot of input in the schematics, but has named a trio of co-defensive coordinators consisting of linebackers coach Ted Roof, defensive tackles coach Todd Bates, and cornerbacks coach Jay Valai. The team returns nine starters from last season, as well as some notable signings through the transfer portal. Even with Riley leaving, the Sooners were still able to produce a top-10 recruiting class for 2022 according to ESPN and rivals.com. In addition, ESPN’s College Football Power Index (FPI) currently ranks the Sooners 8th in the country with a projected 9.1 wins and 3.4 losses. It is very early and games are still months away but it appears that although there will be a new head coach; Oklahoma is still expected to be, at the very least, in contention for a conference championship.
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Jeff Lebby’s entrance as play-caller for the offense should be a positive addition that can help the offense produce the similar numbers to last season under Riley. In Lebby’s past two years at Ole Miss his offense managed to put up pretty comparable numbers to the ones that Riley’s offense did for the Sooners. While Oklahoma managed to average more points per game over the last two seasons, the Ole Miss’ offense had the edge on rushing and passing yards per game in a more difficult conference. One of the highlights to the OU offseason has been the addition of quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who is transferring to Norman after three years at the University of Central Florida. He also has an immediate advantage with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby because Lebby ran the offense at UCF during Gabriel’s freshman year. Gabriel is coming off a 2021 season where he missed all but three games after sustaining a broken clavicle against Louisville in mid-September. Over the course of his three seasons at UCF Gabriel played in 26 games registering 60.7% completion percentage with over 8,000 passing yards, 70 passing touchdowns, and only 14 interceptions. The running back position is likely going to feature a few different backs throughout the season depending on the circumstances. Two pieces of the backfield returning from last season that figure to have more prominent roles this season are Eric Gray and Marcus Major. Gray is a versatile player that can catch passes out of the backfield or when lined up wide. Major operates more between the tackles and will likely be asked to get the tough yardage to move the chains. Incoming freshmen Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk could also be factors at the position. Another player to watch on the offense is wide receiver Marvin Mims, who returns after having 32 receptions last season. According to Nick Kosko of 247Sports, Mims is the sixth best returning wide receiver in the entire country. The Sooners return starting left tackle Anton Harrison, center Andrew Raym, and right guard Chris Murray. Three-year starting guard McKade Mettauer also moved onto Norman from the Cal Golden Bears and is likely to start at the open guard position.
On the defensive side of the ball there have been several changes since last season including the three co-defensive coordinators joining the team. Jalen Redmond, who is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) 8th highest rated interior defensive lineman going into 2022, will likely be paired with Tulane transfer Jeffrey Johnson. They will have good depth behind them thanks to Isaiah Coe, Josh Ellison, Kori Roberson, and Jordan Kelly all returning from last year. At defensive end Marcus Stripling, Ethan Downs, and Reggie Grimes all return from last season as well and figure to play prominent roles in the pass rush. The 2022 recruiting class brings in a couple young edge rushers in Kevonte Henry and R Mason Thomas, who may end up being needed for depth throughout the season. At linebacker, starting senior DaShaun White returns for a fifth season along with senior reserve David Ugwoegbu. Clayton Smith is a former five-star recruit and will likely be in the mix for snaps along with sophomore Danny Stutsman, who played pretty well as a freshman. There are three incoming freshman that could end up seeing playing time as well in Jaren Kanak, Kip Lewis, Kobie McKinzie. Two returning players in the secondary that could really emerge in 2022 are cornerback Woodi Washington and safety Key Lawrence. Washington started six games last season while missing seven due to injury and Lawrence made four starts while appearing in every game. Justin Broiles also returns at safety and is expected to make plays for the defense. Cornerbacks D.J. Graham and Joshua Eaton also return and will be competing against incoming freshmen Robert Spears-Jennings, Gentry Williams, and Jayden Rowe.
Oklahoma has quickly retooled and they are now repositioned to be a perennial powerhouse with the College Football Playoff in their sights again. It is now just a matter of if Brent Venables can put it all together and get the players to believe.
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