New contributor Jake (@DynastyBrit) is here to give you the lowdown on what the season has in store for the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners.
Hopes are high for fans of the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners. Lincoln Riley’s “Transfer U” has set the standard for how to utilise the transfer portal. At the same time The Sooners have recruited elite talent. Oklahoma has appeared in 4 of the 7 College Football Playoffs. Recently, transferred QBs Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray led them to losses against SEC powerhouses Georgia, Alabama and LSU respectively. This year, The Sooners’ hopes are pinned on second year starter and Heisman favourite, Spencer Rattler.
Playoff losses notwithstanding, Oklahoma has cemented itself as one of the premiere powers in college football with their electrifying offence. Arguably only Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State sit atop them in the power rankings of college football.
College football fans wondered if Riley would be able to carry on the winning ways of Mark Stoops. He surpassed those expectations. The Oklahoma Sooners were transformed into a verified QB factory. Mayfield, Murray and Jalen Hurts all have transitioned to NFL starters. Current QB Spencer Rattler has a puncher’s chance of being the number one pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which would follow in the footsteps of Oklahoma Sooners alumni Mayfield and Murray.
2020: slow start, strong finish
2020 was a very strange year for everyone, not least the college football world. Oklahoma only played 10 games. After an opening 48-0 rout of Missouri State, the Sooners lost their two opening conference games. This effectively ruled them out of the college football playoffs.
An incredible comeback by Kansas State shocked the Norman crowd. Then a gritty, talented Iowa State side managed to hold serve in Ames, sending the Sooners to 1-2. After stumbling out of the gate, Rattler began to fire on all cylinders and the Sooners went on to dominate the Big XII. Oklahoma had sweet revenge on Matt Campbell’s Cyclones in the Big XII Championship Game. They then went on to annihilate a thread-bare Florida Gators line-up in Cotton Bowl, 55-20.
Lincoln Riley’s 2020 Sooners went on to have 5 players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, with standout pick Creed Humphrey selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2nd Round.
Lincoln Riley has kept the Sooners in the upper echelons of recruiting classes since taking the job in 2017. The Sooners have finished no lower than 12th and as high as 6th in his time in Norman (24/7 Sports).
Riley only took 16 recruits in the 2021 class, topping up the roster by raiding the transfer portal and decimating the talent nucleus of the Tennessee Vols. They signed OT Wanya Morris, S Key Lawrence and RB Eric Gray. All of these athletes were sought after by college football’s biggest powers. Once more, Lincoln Riley sat atop the world of college football as the King of the Transfer Portal.
So what does the season ahead hold for the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners? Let’s begin with the Defence.
Alex Grinch has made considerable improvements since arriving in Norman from BIG10 juggernauts Ohio State two years ago. Grinch has raised the Sooners defensive rankings every year. The unit ended the 2020 season in the ESPN Top 25.
It’s highly likely the defence takes another step forward for the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners have ten returning starters. With the addition of Lawrence to the DB room, an argument could be made that it is 11.
After the Red River victory over Texas (53-45), no other team scored more than 28 points on the Sooners D for the rest of the season. They made light work of their in-state rivals’ usually potent offence, holding the Oklahoma State Cowboys to 13 measly points.
By the end of the year, opponents averaged 21.73 points against Grinch’s defence, whilst the offence averaged 43 per game. For contrast, the National Title winning defence for Alabama averaged 18.3 points conceded per game. Oklahoma’s rushing defence improved significantly: in 2019 they allowed 134.1 yards a game. In 2020 that had dropped to just 105.1.
Improving year on year
Personnel-wise, tackles Brian Asamoah, Delarrin Turner-Yell, Pat Fields and Woods Washington all return, as well as Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas who both cause havoc off the edge. Bonitto and Thomas had 16.5 combined sacks in 2020. The studs are there, and if the Sooners return to the College Football Playoff, I doubt we’ll see a repeat of years past where teams scored on them for fun.
The historic problem with Oklahoma was that the offence always carried the defence. Alex Grinch has turned that around and now the defence more than pulls its weight. I think we can expect the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners to provide the same level of defensive quality as in 2020.
Bill Bedenbaugh is the OC in Norman, but we all know who runs that offence and who calls the plays. Bedenbaugh, largely responsible for the offensive line, is worth mentioning himself, sending 6 guys to the NFL since arriving there in 2017.
However, the focus of the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners offence is Spencer Rattler. After putting those early losses behind him in 2020, he led the team to eight straight wins and looked to have an increasingly better handle on the offence.
Riley knows how to develop a QB and get the best out of them. Just look at what he did with Jalen Hurts, who lost his job at Alabama because of his low passing accuracy. Hurts left Norman as a second round draft pick, and is now set to take the reins at the Philadelphia Eagles. Rattler is a better passer than Hurts, a more prototypical QB.
The Norman Rattlesnake
If you’ve seen Spencer Rattler on Netflix’s QB1, you’ll know very well Rattler’s attitude can be called into question. He of course left high school under a cloud for breaking school rules, the details of which we are still unaware of. That aside, to win 8 straight games after two hard losses and become a leader in the locker room shows a growth in maturity. There is no better man to coach up Rattler than Lincoln Riley.
Rattler’s stats speak for themselves. He threw for 3,031 for 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, with a 67.5% completion rate. Not bad for his first year at the position. The 2021 Oklahoma Sooners will expect another step forward in his second year as a starter. His tape has earned him the enviable position of Heisman favourite before a game is played, and appears to be a top five NFL Draft pick in-waiting.
Strong supporting cast
Rattler’s supporting cast also requires some attention. With Seth McGowan leaving the team, the RBs fighting for the lead role will be the returning Kennedy Brooks and Tennessee transfer Eric Gray. Anyone who watched the Oklahoma spring game saw that Gray could be special. Gray was an instant impact player for the Vols and will likely get work in the receiving game in Norman as well. Early prediction is that Gray leads the backfield for the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners.
The WR room at Oklahoma has seemed a perpetual strength since 2015 and 2021 should be no different. We’ve seen Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, Marquise Brown and recently the best of them all CeeDee Lamb. Last season, Marvin Mims broke out with 37 receptions for 610 yards. Five-star recruit Theo Wease contributed later on in the season with 37 for 530. Other five-stars Trajen Bridges was suspended and Jadon Haselwood suffered a knee injury, but should be back to play a key role on the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners offence.
The Sooners bring back all three five-stars and have added another five-star WR Mario Williams as well. Those four plus Mims and you are looking at a seriously talented WR room that the other Big XII defences will struggle to stop.
The offensive line has also been a strength for the Sooners in recent years. The 2019 NFL Draft demonstrated this, with four starters being drafted into the NFL. Adding Wanya Morris to the team is a huge addition, and will be a plug and play starter for the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners offence. We can expect Rattler to have just as good protection as he did last year, if not better.
With the transfers Lincoln Riley has brought in, it’s clear he’s going all out for a title in 2021. Their two main conference rivals are Texas and Iowa State but the Sooners have more talent, the most successful coach and their once vulnerable defence is firmly on the rise under Alex Grinch. Steve Sarkisian put together the best college football offence in history (statistically) last year in Tuscaloosa, but to expect that in his first year as head coach of Texas is a long shot. Matt Campbell, with Brock Purdy and Breece Hall, will put up a good challenge I’m sure, but at the end of the day I think the 2021 Oklahoma Sooners lift the Big XII title.
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