The first Wednesday in February used to be something like a national holiday for college football fans as recruits around the country revealed where they were heading in the fall. Although the implementation of an early signing period in December has robbed the day of its sizzle, national signing day did hold some intrigue for the Oklahoma Sooners and their new coaching staff. Brent Venables and his assistants left a strong impression when all was said and done.
OU finished the day with the No. 8 recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports. It marked the program’s best finish since 2019. In 247Sports’ new blended rankings incorporating transfers, the Sooners checked in ninth overall.
For a transition class under a new head coach, you can’t ask for much better than that.
A few thoughts on Wednesday’s developments and Venables’ first crop of recruits:
*The 2022 class is missing the blockbuster signings that were a specialty of former coach Lincoln Riley. Defections after Riley left for USC included Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, a five-star defensive tackle who ended up at Texas A&M.
It doesn’t lack for depth, though. Of the 21 players who signed with OU in this cycle, 15 rated as four-star prospects. The other six all were ranked as three stars, but a few of them had four-star status from at least one publication.
*In terms of new additions in the late signing period, retaining in-state defensive back Gentry Williams out of Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, OK) has to go down on the staff’s biggest win.
Williams committed to the Sooners prior to Riley’s departure and held off on signing in December. Venables and cornerbacks coach Jay Valai brought him back to the fold in the interim period.
Aside from the possibility that Williams will end up as a rotation player at CB this fall, his signature gives OU a needed win in the Tulsa area. Green Country prospects have shied away from picking the Sooners in recent years.
*The other big story of the day: Flips. Two edge players pledged to other schools end up signing with OU Wednesday.
First, three-star Floridian R Mason Thomas jilted Iowa State in favor of the Sooners. Even though Thomas’ profile won’t raise any eyebrows, it’s tough to argue against a player who was a take for the Cyclones and master evaluator Matt Campbell.
Later on, Michigan commit Kevonte Henry switched from the Wolverines to OU. The news that Jim Harbaugh is staying in Ann Arbor apparently couldn’t sway the Californian to stick with UM.
*It seems fair to wonder if new defensive line coach Todd Bates might have landed another interior player if only given a little more time. As it stands, however, Gracen Halton (6-3, 270 pounds) out of St. Augustine (San Diego) makes for a strong addition to Alton Tarber and Cedric Roberts on the inside.
*Judging by the high school recruits in the ‘22 class, Venables and Co. clearly saw needs on the defensive side of the ball. Twelve of the 21 signees in the group are slotted as defenders. That includes four defensive backs – Williams, Robert Spears-Jennings, Jayden Rowe and Wednesday addition Jamarrien Burt. Four-star athlete Jaren Kanak also could see some time as a big nickel.
The staff’s opinion of the current DBs on the roster seems even lower when you factor in that three secondary players are joining the team via transfer. If you’re wondering where some of the inevitable roster attrition will come from in the offseason, start there.
*Offensive line constitutes one glaring area of concern going forward. OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh got signatures from two blue-chip players during the early period in The Two Jakes – Sexton and Taylor – but no one else hopped on board Wednesday.
Bedenbaugh needs to hit the trail hard for 2023. Another transfer or two in the coming months wouldn’t hurt, either.
*Keep an eye on the quarterback spot, too. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby left no doubt that Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel will go into the coming season as the unquestioned starter behind center. Even so, rolling with a bench of true freshman Nick Evers, walk-on Ralph Rucker and lightly used Penn State transfer Micah Bowens sounds like trouble.
Lebby may find a veteran in the transfer market who is looking for one last ride before transitioning into coaching.
*Lastly, it almost goes without saying, but this recruiting cycle could have turned ugly fast for OU if Bob Stoops didn’t take charge after Riley’s departure. He calmed the waters around the program as the interim coach and gave recruits the assurances they needed to hear before Venables was hired.
Simply put, there is no way OU is looking at a top 10 recruiting class for ‘22 without Stoops’ intervention. Venables and the athletic department owe him a huge debt of gratitude.