Oklahoma: New Faces; Same Story

Lincoln Riley took over the coaching reins at Oklahoma from Bob Stoops prior to last season and the Sooners didn’t miss a beat. They churned out another Big 12 title. They got great production at quarterback, with Baker Mayfield winning the program’s third Heisman of the 21st century (Jason White, 2003 & Sam Bradford, 2008). And they managed to break the heart of their fan base at the biggest moment, blowing a 17-point lead to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semi-final, then blowing a chance at redemption in overtime when they got ultra-conservative with the money on the table.

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When you look at the Sooners in totality, both their indisputable successes and their frustrating shortcomings, the saying made famous by Dennis Green when he was with the Arizona Cardinals comes to mind–”They are, who we thought they were.”

Examine OU’s recruiting classes and it won’t surprise you to know that they have significantly more talent than everyone in the Big 12 except Texas. With the Longhorn program still looking to find its footing, that’s left the field basically open for the Sooners to win or share the conference championship 11 times in the past 18 years, including three straight coming into 2018. Oklahoma’s talent base is also decidedly less than what’s available at the top SEC programs, Ohio State, Florida State/Clemson or USC.

That’s how its played out on the field. The coaching staffs of Stoops, and now Riley, are good and get their talent to play to its potential, but rarely beyond it. That’s why, even with the departure of Mayfield and two other All-Americans (OT Orlando Brown and TE Mark Andrews), expectations are not significantly altered.

In Norman, that means people expect national championships. In the world of Las Vegas betting where emotions get checked at the door, it means the Sooners stay pretty predictable and the betting numbers reflect that…

*The Over/Under on wins is 10
*OU is a solid favorite to win the Big 12, with odds of 3-2.
*The Sooners are 25-1 to win the national championship. Only six teams are seen as better, and Oklahoma’s price is on a par with Wisconsin, Miami, Auburn and Washington.

Even without Mayfield, the offense can be expected to keep rolling. Rodney Anderson is a talented running back that emerged in the second half of last season and the offensive line should be pretty good. That’s a nice building block to ease a new quarterback into and the track record of this Sooners program suggests that it’s just about finding the next name to put up big numbers.

The defense has to be rebuilt and that’s probably a good thing. The only thing surprising about Oklahoma blowing the lead to Georgia in the Playoff and giving up 45 points in regulation is that it took until the second half for the Sooner defense to be overrun. A fresh start should be healthy.

The reality though, is that Oklahoma is more likely to underperform expectations than overperform them. They’ll probably get their 10 wins and win the Big 12 again, but there’s no value in that and no reason whatsoever to think this team can win a national championship or go 12-0. At this point, they have more to worry about whether Texas gets its act together in this conference. Most fans would gladly take the “normal” in Norman. But OU fans aren’t “most fans” and they need something landscape-changing to happen if the Sooner Schooner is to ride off with another national championship.