How USA TODAY Sports sees OU heading into 2022

The Oklahoma Sooners were ranked No. 9 in the inaugural USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. It’s a spot that seems fitting for a team coming off a two-loss season and dealing with an offseason of turnover and change.

The Sooners were the top-ranked team in the Big 12 in the coaches’ poll, but Baylor (10) and Oklahoma State (11) are right behind them. The gap between the Sooners and the rest of the Big 12 narrowed in 2021, and the conference title race will be contested again in 2022.

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Looking at each team ranked in the top 25, Eric Smith of USA TODAY Sports had this to say about the Oklahoma Sooners.

Applying conventional wisdom, one would expect the Sooners to take a step back after losing coach Lincoln Riley and several key players, including quarterback Caleb Williams, transferring. Don’t tell Brent Venables that. The former Clemson defensive coordinator bringing a fresh approach and intensity after being hired that was embraced by others. Central Florida transfer Dylan Gabriel steps in at quarterback with former Mississippi coordinator Jeff Lebby leading the offense. WR Marvin Mims should have a breakout season, but play needs to improve. DL Jalen Redmond, LB DaShaun White and DB Woodi Washington are key pieces on a defense capable of contending for a College Football Playoff bid. – Smith, USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma’s coaching change was anything but conventional. The Sooners won 10 games under Lincoln Riley before he left for the west coast (Bob Stoops is credited with the Alamo Bowl victory). OU, like Notre Dame and Oregon, are elite Power Five programs that lost their head coaches to another Power Five program. It’s not something you see every day.

While many may think the Sooners will take a step back, the reality is that the Oklahoma Sooners were in pretty good shape when Venables arrived.

This team was still pretty good on offense when he arrived, they just needed a quarterback. Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby found that in Dylan Gabriel. But they made sure to address other potential needs in the transfer window with the additions of Jeffrey Johnson, LV Bunkley-Shelton and McCade Metauer.

Smith mentions that the running game needs to improve, but the offense as a whole needs to be more consistent. Stripping away the defensive and special teams output, they averaged just 19.67 points per game against Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State to close out the season. In all other games, except for their 76-point performance against Western Carolina, the Sooners averaged 38.75 points per game.

The three defenses they faced were good, but being held like that at the most critical time of the season was the difference between them playing for the Big 12 championship and not.

Jeff Lebby hopes to provide another in a long line of great offenses for the Oklahoma Sooners, but will be tested by Nebraska, Baylor and Oklahoma State again in 2022. The Sooners’ offensive coordinator will be tasked with creating a game plan that can to find success against top defenses in the Big 12.

The turnover leaves some question as to what Oklahoma will look like in 2022. There is no doubt that Brent Venables and his coaching staff will have this team ready to play on September 3rd. Oklahoma Sooners

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