We are a couple months away from February and National Signing Day, so why not take a general assessment of things and how they stand currently for the Sooners in this 2013 class.
In short, things are not great right now. Depending on the recruiting service, Oklahoma's current class rank falls anywhere between the Top 25-30 range. A far cry from the typical Top 10-15 (or better) they are accustomed to signing ever year. There are a number of players for Oklahoma fans to be excited about, but the class is lacking in players that could project as future All-Americans. Granted, there are still a couple months to improve that ranking and those of us who follow OU recruiting are under no illusions that there is still plenty of work to be done.
The concern comes in the number of holes still needing to be filled and at significant positions of need, namely defensive tackle, linebacker, and offensive tackle. That is a direct result of missing on a number of their top targets and almost all of those positions. Which is alarming when you consider that it's Oklahoma, a program certainly not lacking in prestige, and the fact that they've either voluntarily or been forced to lessen their focus on recruits from the state of Texas, previously the lifeblood of the program. The Sooners have taken a more national approach to recruiting in recent years and while they've had a decent amount of success with it, convincing a high school kid to come to Norman from say California or Florida is considerably more difficult than a three or four or drive up from Texas.
There has even been some questioning of the Oklahoma coaches effort on the recruiting trail and talent evaluation. It's almost as if there is some confusion at multiple positions as to just what exactly the respective positions coaches are looking for in a player. The roster is full of the kind of undersized defensive guys Brent Venables used to prefer, but Mike Stoops tends to look for bigger guys at linebacker and especially in his defensive backs. On the offensive line, much to the chagrin of OU fans, the coaches have preferred to bring in smaller guys and put the weight on them as opposed to bigger guys and, if need be, ask them to lose the weight.
At the end of the day, the scary part of this for Oklahoma fans is that there isn't just one thing you can point to as the problem and say "fix that." It's not all that dissimilar to the situation Mack Brown and the Texas coaching staff experienced (and are still suffering through) a couple years back that lead to a major overhaul. They got lazy on the recruiting trail and in their talent evaluations and are still dealing with the results of it. The difference being Bob Stoops isn't going to make the kind of changes to his staff that Mack did. Instead, we're hearing more recruits in this 2013 class talk about how Stoops has taken a personal role in their recruitment. It's an obvious shift in strategy as Stoops, like a lot of head coaches, isn't typically involved in the day-to-day aspects of recruiting. Maybe that's enough to inject some life back into this class, but it really feels like more of a temporary fix as it's difficult to imagine Stoops continuing to do this every year.
So, are you sufficiently depressed yet? That certainly was not our intention, but what purpose would it serve to pump a bunch of sunshine when you can look out the window and see it's a little cloudy up there? Admittedly, it's late in the process but Oklahoma has closed well in recent years and even pulled a couple signing day surprises so don't lose hope just yet.
For now however, we'll walk you through this 2013 class position-by-position to give you and idea where things stand.
Commits - (1) Cody Thomas Projected - (1)
The Sooners rarely take more than one quarterback in a class and they found a good one in Thomas. He is having a massive senior season, racking up ridiculous statistics, and making a solid case for the state of Texas' top quarterback. He has a big arm and is more mobile than some might assume for your typical spread style quarterback.
He's a dual sport kid (football and baseball) and has said he plans to try and play both while at Oklahoma. Which, while it would be very impressive, could potentially hamper his development as a quarterback.
Commits - (1) Keith Ford Projected - (2)
At one point, Oklahoma had their two running backs in this class with Ford and the five star Greg Bryant. Unfortunately, Bryant made the decision to decommit for what he said was a desire to play closer to his home state of Florida. Obviously, it's never a good thing to lose a five star recruit but having a player like Ford already in the fold sure as hell takes a lot of the sting out of it.
While he (Ford) did have some issues this year with ball security, he's a tough, punishing runner who has the build to legitimately come in and compete for playing time next year. Now, he likely won't be asked to do so since Oklahoma will be well stocked at running back, but with injuries that can change in a hurry so having a guy like Ford is a luxury most teams would kill for.
The Sooners really aren't actively pursuing anyone to replace Bryant in this class and appear to be happy with Ford as the lone back in this class. Ford is a four star according to Rivals and the No. 3 overall running back per ESPN.
Commits - (2) Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood Projected - (3)
Bennett is a slot guy while Smallwood is an outside, possession receiver. Both are listed as three star recruits by Rivals and while not the most explosive guys, both are solid football players. And that's kind of what we were referring to up above. It's not meant to be a knock against the players currently committed, as many could easily turn out to be significant contributors, but on it's surface it's just a class that looks to be lacking elite playmakers.
Oklahoma's only remaining serious wide receiver target at the moment is Laquon Treadwell who just so happens to be the No. 1 overall receiver in this class according to Rivals. Treadwell has had plans for a trip to Norman on multiple occasions, but for a variety of reasons has yet to actually make it to campus. He was supposed to make it for Bedlam, but his high school team advanced in their state playoffs and forced him to cancel the trip. It's fair to say he's a kid who has enjoyed the recruiting process and while Oklahoma has consistently been mentioned among his top schools, it's difficult to really gauge the Sooners chances of actually landing the talented receiver.
If we had to guess, it will be the second consecutive year OU is "in the running" late for the No.1 receiver in the class (Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012) only to come up empty handed.
Commits - (0) Projected (1)
Junior college prospect, Beau Sandland, continues to be the Sooners only current offer at the position (assuming recent offer Cameron Clear is in fact an offensive tackle prospect). Oklahoma has clearly, at least to this point, put all of their eggs in this one basket and frankly, have painted themselves into a corner. Sandland has taken a number of visits, including to Norman, but does not appear to be in a hurry to make a decision.
What isn't playing in Oklahoma's favor is the disappearance of the tight end position in the OU offense under the leadership of Josh Heupel.
If Oklahoma misses out on Sandland, it's unclear if they'd even seriously pursue someone to replace him in this class. Which seems baffling when you consider, following next season, they'd really only have one scholarship tight end on the entire roster (again, assuming Sam Grant moves to the offensive line as many expect). To that point, there is a valid argument to be made that you would need two tight ends in this class and yet we're looking at the legitimate possibility of zero.
Commits - (1) Dalton Rodriguez Projected - (3-4)
There is no way to spin this one, it's a nightmare right now. The OU coaches have missed on virtually every single one of their top targets. They've also refused to pursue any interior prospects, even going to far as to openly ignore one of the top players in the state, Rob Boyd of Vian, OK.
As you can see, they have only one offensive line commit and that's from a guy who has never even played on the offensive line before. Rodriguez plays defensive end and some linebacker for Tulsa Union and was supposed to see some time on the offensive line this year to prepare him for the shift, but that has not happened. And recently he has even admitted he's not sure he really wants to make the position switch and could even be rethinking his commitment. So, um, yeah there's that.
Oklahoma is being forced to hit the junior college ranks very hard, which is always a risk as their success rate with JUCOs has been very hit or miss. Guys like Josiah St. John, Desmond Harrison, and Trenton Brown look to be the top targets at the moment. Harrison and Brown are expected on campus for the Bedlam game (you can read more about both here). Obviously, we'll learn more about them following this weekend. St. John has been a difficult guy to get a read on so it's difficult to know where OU really stands.
There are also some high school prospects like Aaron Cochran, Sean Dowling, Christian Morris, and Na'Ty Rodgers. Cochran is the younger brother of a current Cal player, which has been a factor in his recruitment, but now with the firing of Jeff Tedford could give the Sooners the edge they so desperately need. Dowling and Morris are both currently committed to UCLA and the OU coaches have been trying to use a crowded Bruins offensive line class as their selling point to both. Rodgers is a Sooner legacy, but many believe appears headed for either South Carolina or Maryland.
Commits - (2) D.J. Ward, Matt Dimon Projected (3)
Oklahoma looks to be in pretty good shape here with both Ward and Dimon. Neither are that elite rush ends teams covet, but both project to be solid players at the next level. Ward was actually forced to miss his senior season after some eligibility issue surrounding multiple school transfers following his family's move. While disappointing for him on a personal level, not really that big of a deal in terms of his development. He's also expected to enroll early, which will only be a good thing after not playing for the better part of a year.
Dimon is a guy who probably won't "wow" you with his physical skills, but he's a very strong, intelligent player who knows how to use what he does have to make plays. Really uses his hands well to keep blockers at a distance, which allows him to quickly shed blocks and make tackles.
As far as the third defensive end in this class, Oklahoma has focused primarily on two guys in Dimarya Mixon and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Mixon decommitted from Arizona State recently and has been flirting with the Sooners for some time, even having been to multiple Oklahoma games this season. Okoronkwo is actually committed to Oklahoma State, but was in Norman a couple weeks ago for the Baylor game and admitted after he almost committed to Oklahoma. Despite his verbal pledge, he hasn't actually been to Stillwater yet and has said he will make that trip before coming to any kind of final decision. This could very much be a case of the first guy to act on the offer gets it as OU probably won't take four defensive ends in this class.
Commits - (0) Projected - (3)
Much like the offensive line, this one is really ugly at the moment. The Sooners lose three seniors at the position of this year's squad, so obviously defensive tackle is a MAJOR position of need in this 2013 class. Yet here they sit with really only one promising target at the position.
That guy is Justin Manning and if you've followed Oklahoma even casually, you know the story here. If you're not familiar, the short version is he's the younger brother of former Sooner Demarcus Granger and has a relationship with Oklahoma defensive tackles coach, Jackie Shipp, that no other school can even come close to competing with. It's been long assumed that it's simply matter of time before he commits to OU, but the Sooners did not help themselves by poor handling him early on.
Even if you assume the speculation that Manning is inevitable, many appear to be under the mistaken impression that he can come in and immediately contribute. Manning is very talented, and an excellent pass rusher from the tackle spot which is rare, but he's not a guy who as a true freshman is ready to come in and make an immediate impact.
As a result, again much like the offensive line, Oklahoma is having to look to the JUCO ranks. Quincy Russell, Toby Johnson, and more recently Ben Bradley are their top junior college targets.
Russell was originally a member of Texas' 2011 class, but failed to qualify academically. Coming out of high school he was very highly regarded and an Army All-American, but hasn't really displayed that game-changing kind of ability at the JUCO level. Johnson and Bradley are actually teammates, which can only help Oklahoma's pursuit of both. Johnson however recently suffered a serious knee injury and will probably have to sit out the 2013 season. He's stated that he will only consider those schools that continued to call following the news of his injury and by all accounts Oklahoma is one of those schools. Bradley is a Tennessee commit, but has decided to reopen things after Derek Dooley was fired.
Commits - (2) Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Dominique Alexander Projected - (3)
Full disclosure, I've included Alexander here based on my own opinion. His ultimate position is still up in the air after becoming OU's most recent commitment, but he'll very likely play that hybrid safety/linebacker role featured in the Oklahoma defense. So if you take that into account, the Sooners really only have the lone linebacker commitment and ideally would like two more.
In Mastrogiovanni, they of course have someone for the All-Name Team, but also a big, athletic guy who can make plays all over the field. At 6'3" 225 as a high school senior, he's already nearly as big as the Sooners current middle linebacker, Tom Wort. He could be that run stuffing MLB this defense has so desperately needed in years past.
Linebacker may not be quite as bleak as defensive tackle or offensive line, but it's not much better. Oklahoma's top remaining targets, E.J. Levenberry and Mike Mitchell, are both seen as a bit of a pipe dream with respect to OU's chances of actually landing either. Which only makes the treatment of local product Jordan Evans all the more confusing.
Evans has put together a monster senior season for Norman North, but continues to be slow played by the Sooners who have yet to even offer. It's strange in a year where Oklahoma appears to have made a concerted effort on in-state kids that a player as talented as Evans would virtually be ignored for months.
Outside of that, it's really looking as if Tim Kish's first true recruiting class at linebacker could be devastatingly poor.
Commits - (1) Stanvon Taylor Projected - (2)
While Taylor is guy who has put together a very impressive senior season, he's another player who Oklahoma is recruiting for a position at which he does not primarily play. Taylor plays both offense and defense for his high school team and made a ton of plays for his team as they moved him all over the field within their offense. He had such a good year, there has even been talk that he may prefer to play on offense once he gets to Norman. Only time will tell on that of course, so worst case you're looking at zero here and still needing two guys at corner.
The only other corner legitimately on OU's radar at the moment is Miami product Lamar Robbins, who is expected to be in Norman for Bedlam. Oklahoma looks to be in very good shape with Robbins and a commitment in the near future isn't out of the question.
Commits - (2) Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas Projected - (3)
Another position of need for Oklahoma after taking just one true safety in their last two classes, Mike Stoops has done a solid job here in filling that need. Both Byrd and Thomas are talented players with Byrd probably having the higher ceiling of the two. The Sooners are likely to lose both starting safeties from this year's team without anyone behind them returning that would really excite OU fans. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if either Byrd or Thomas can come in and compete for early playing time.
As we've indicated, in an ideal world Mike Stoops would add a third safety to this class. The only issue with that is their remaining targets are not very realistic. Marcell Harris has been to Norman, but is very likely headed to Florida. Jamal Carter is coming to Norman with his teammate Lamar Robbins for the Bedlam game, but is committed to Miami and even with the turmoil surrounding that program does not seem to be looking for a change despite the planned trip to Norman.
So there you have it. 3,000+ words on all things OU Football 2013 recruiting. If that doesn't provide you with your fix, then nothing will. May not have necessarily been what you wanted to hear, but you're not coming here for that and we certainly hope you appreciate our candor in recognizing that.