Welp, the regular season came to a close at 6-6.
A season that started out with Brent Venables looking into a stadium that was packed for a spring game. A fan base that was on edge and filled with anticipation of “getting back to who Oklahoma is” at the core, as it was put by many, myself included.
It felt like it was clear a rebuild was coming and that this season was likely going to be one with some moved goal posts, but hope was high. Brent spoke and walked like a man who could climb to the summit that Oklahoma had been looking at for a long time. The passion at the start of that spring game is something I will remember for awhile. The buzz. The energy. The hate. It was almost pouring over the walls of the stands and onto the field.
The season arrived, and a team on rebuild felt like it had a puncher’s chance in a weak Big 12. Oklahoma State and Baylor were both taking steps back. Texas and Kansas State were answering questions at the most important position. It felt like while this OU team would be far from competing at the highest level, it could swing its weight around the conference.
Oklahoma walked like one that could overachieve. Oklahoma talked like one that could overachieve. All that was left was to do it.
The talent exit was large, but scabs and bandages brought in from the portal made the wounds seem more manageable. Bleeding? No, but the team walked with a limp. The most important position was addressed quickly by bringing in a QB who had experience and success (at a lower level) with the new offensive coordinator. Oklahoma might have the most stable, ready-to-play quarterback after Spencer Sanders in the Big 12. It felt like everything was at the finger tips of this coaching staff. They could take an encouraging recruiting offseason and some on-field success to rub it in the face of all those who called the program dead.
The start wasn’t amazing. An easy victory over UTEP, a slow first half against Kent State that later turned into a blitzing, and a drumming of Nebraska. Suddenly it felt like maybe the hope to be a threat in the conference wasn’t too far off. Heck, Tulane beat Kansas State. TCU was already managing a QB injury. Texas just lost to Alabama.
Then, conference play began. Questions came like a dam breaking under the weight of the water on the other side. Kansas State punished Oklahoma with physicality, and the defense buckled. TCU broke long plays over and over again, coupled with an erratic Dillon Gabriel prior to his injury. Then things came to a crossroads following a loss to Texas.
The Sooners now were starring at bowl ineligibility, and questions about toughness and commitment were surfacing heading into a bye week – much less the conference championship that was on the minds and in the mouths of Sooner fans just three weeks prior. What a turn: In just 21 days it was hard to talk about this team in a positive way. It was hard to see the growth that was promised on the other side.
They were soft – not very Brent Venables of them. They made mistakes in bunches – not very Brent Venables of them. They seemed to flinch in the face of adversity – not very Brent Venables of them. Was his message landing?
The conference start was the opposite of every way you would describe OU’s head coach.
The second half of the season was the same rollercoaster. The offense buckles and collapses in all the worst moments. The inability to win on key downs. (Do I need to recite the 3rd down stat?) The fear of failure oozing out from every snap in the second half against Baylor. The offensive insecurity to blow out a bad Iowa State team. The running game being iced by the offensive coordinator in West Virginia, which was turned to again once the weather got worse. The uncertainty of how to close the Sooners were against Oklahoma State; all the way to the many failures against Texas Tech.
The team was far from perfect. We all look at this season asking the same question: What on earth was that?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Do I think Brent is a good coach? of course. Do I think this coaching staff had its heart in the right place? No doubt. Do I know for a fact that they are the ones to lead this team into its next chapter? No way.
I am not going to make this season out to be any more than it was, or my conclusions any larger than they should be. Brent Venables could be the the next great coach at Oklahoma, or he could be another example of why hiring head coaches is so hard. An imperfect science that just fails sometimes through no fault of those involved. The college football winds blew in the wrong direction for a little while, and what once seemed like a slam dunk now feels like a lost half decade.
The roster is a long way away, and next season could be worse. Add in the pressure of the SEC knocking, and these next few weeks in recruiting and transfer portal management will be crucial. Oklahoma will need to help make sure next year isn’t this one. However, there are loud questions for this coaching staff, and it’s fair for them to be asked.
Why did this team play flat week after week?
Why did this team stuggle with physicallity for most of the season?
How did the disipline promised and preached all offseason not ever show up?
Why did momentum allude this team at every turn – coaches and players alike?
How did Oklahoma’s offense get yards in bunches, but they continued to crumble under their own weight when the team needed its most crucial three, four, or five yards of the game?
Why is it so hard to spot sizable development? Why was no young player ready to play by the end of the season? Where is the growth that gets talked about so much in press conferences?
How was Oklahoma time and time again on the wrong side of clock and game managment?
Why did the product remain the same when this team great about acknowledging mistakes and being accountable?
Are any or all of these reasons to pull a rip chord on a first-year coaching staff? Of course not. Rebuilds are tough, and expectations are unfair most of the time. Are any of these to be ignored or chalked up to “Riley” or “first season” in hopes that they don’t matter? Come on, you know me better than that.
Football is tricky. It is imperfect. It seems at times to be more random than anything. The Sooners will spend an entire offseason trying to ensure that that doesn’t happen again.
Brent might be the next name on all the famous t-shirts right under Bud, Barry, and Bob... but he also might not be. We have to be honest in admitting that. There are reasons for hope. The 2023 recruiting class, highlighted by fie-star quarterback Jackson Arnold, looks like it could answer so many questions. However, the entire program riding on a 19-year-old QB feels like a bet I think Venables might hesitate to make.
Is Oklahoma desperate enough to turn on Gabriel – the handpicked replacement for Caleb Williams – and turn to a true freshman in a crucial season? This year, this OU coaching staff had more chances than I can count to let the freshman play when criticism would have been withheld and evaluation could have taken place. Oklahoma played to win every game, piling snaps on older players. The Sooners kept development behind the scenes, attached to the practice field for none to see or judge. They kept a lid on the youngsters all year in fear of the mistakes they could make.
Now they are going to hand the reins to a freshman in Jackson Arnold? I wouldn’t make that assumption.
That choice cost them a few players as the portal got going. Nick Evers and Alton Tarber from the 2022 recruiting class. Jordan Mukes is moving on after just one season as a redshirt. Do you think the young guys were frustrated they weren’t given their chances to try – just try – when things went wrong? Their actions speak louder than their words.
So now, with players heading to the NFL and other colleges, OU has to play the messy game of trying to find out who can plug the holes. OU will have to attack every position group execpt QB, if you are taking Brent at his word. Even then... will it be enough?
Oklahoma’s offseason is going to be messy and not without second guessing, no matter the choices made. Sooner fans need to look up and wish on a few stars becuase this season does prove that coaching is imperfect. Even when everything feels right, it might be wrong.
But we just don’t know yet. We have to wait a year to see.
All this works in the shadow of a bowl game that right now on paper looks like a butt-kicking. Florida State is good, much better than Oklahoma. The Sooners need to hope that maybe a few kids hop in the portal, make the leap to the NFL, or decide that bowl games are overrated. Because man for man? Oklahoma is outclassed. The game sits in Orlando, home territory for the Seminoles. Fair to say that is less than ideal. Not even discussing the two new offensive tackles, a new running back and a new defensive tackle who will all be making their debut.
However, things are turning. The transfer portal is meeting every description of the Wild West, and Oklahoma is rumored to be in on a lot of players. This seems big.
BREAKING: The McCullough brothers, Dasan and Daeh, have Committed to Oklahoma!— Hayes Fawcett (@Hayesfawcett3) December 13, 2022
Dasan is a 6’5 225 Freshman All-American LB transferring from Indiana, & Daeh is a 4-star safety flipping from Cincinnati.
They join the Sooners’ Top 8 Class in ‘23.https://t.co/NMPlOCMF1p pic.twitter.com/KKUss12cLf
The McCullough brothers are a shot in the arm and could be the accelerant that this team needs this offseason. Dasan cracking heads in the middle of a defense in the Big 10 should not be scoffed at. His brother, coming in as a true freshman, obviously shows promise, but we will see what role the youth injection can play next year. All I know is that if I was Key Lawerence, David Ugwoegbu or Danny Stutsman, I just gulped. Okahoma has a chance to push returning starters with more talented players. “Get right or lose your spot” has been proven to always be one of the best motivators.
Sometimes it has to rain before it pours. As I see it right now, this bowl game might be the hurricane that has been building all season.
This season is the first season I have ever written about college football. I admit that I am talker, not a writer, so I appreciate anyone who gave my pieces some thought this season. It was learning for me, but fun interaction.