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Opponent Preview Series: Oklahoma Sooners

After a tumultuous offseason, OU looks to return to the top of the Big 12

Oklahoma Spring Game
Dillon Gabriel takes over for the new-look Sooners
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Our opponent preview series rolls into October as the Horned Frogs open Big 12 play at home against a conference heavyweight. The Frogs haven’t knocked off the Sooners since the 2014 conference opener in Fort Worth. TCU will look to capture that magic and have history repeat itself to get the first Big 12 campaign of the Sonny Dykes era off to a great start.

2022 Outlook

Projected Win Total: 9.5
Odds to win Big 12: +200
Odds to win National Championship: +4,000
Overall Preseason SP+ Rank: 5th (Offense: 5; Defense: 24)

In 2021, the Oklahoma Sooners failed to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2014, not even reaching the conference title game due to road losses in Waco and Stillwater. The standard in Norman is so high that an 11-2 season with an Alamo Bowl victory is considered it’s worse in nearly a decade. The troubles weren’t contained to between the lines, as the day after the Sooners’ loss in Bedlam, Head Coach Lincoln Riley announced that he’d be taking his talents out west as the new Head Coach at USC. Over the following months, Riley took much of the roster and recruits with him to Los Angeles. Oklahoma brought Brent Venables back to Norman, where he was once the DC under Bob Stoops, to take over as Head Coach. The new offense will be led by Jeff Lebby, known for his role in the Baylor scandal and being Art Briles’ son-in-law his offenses at UCF and Ole Miss, and he’ll bring with him his former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel to take the reins. The turmoil didn’t end there, as longtime Sooner assistant Cale Gundy resigned earlier this month due to allegedly reading a “racially charged word” aloud multiple times during a film session. The uneasy offseason has allowed the Sooners to fly under the radar into the 2022 season to play the unfamiliar role of underdog: not picked to win the Big 12 by the media and only one player on the Preseason All-Conference team (Punter Michael Turk). Despite the unrest, once their season kicks off September 3 against UTEP, expect the Sooners to perform as a Top-10 and potentially Playoff-caliber team that will likely see itself back in Arlington for the Big 12 Championship and with plenty of names across the post-season All-Conference roster.

History vs. TCU

The Sooners have won 17 of the 22 contests with the Horned Frogs, including all but one matchup since the Frogs joined the Big 12 a decade ago. While TCU often would put a scare into Oklahoma, victories have been hard to come by. In 2019, current TCU DC Joe Gillespie’s Tulsa defense held Jeff Lebby’s UCF offense to its second lowest scoring game of the season, forcing Dillon Gabriel into six sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble. Perhaps there’s a blueprint for this version of TCU to handle this version of Oklahoma.

Key Departure:

Lincoln Riley, Head Coach

The Sooners appeared to be primed to field one of the country’s most explosive offenses and lift the Big 12 trophy every year for the foreseeable future. That future arrived much sooner than expected with the disappointing season and shocking departure of Lincoln Riley to the USC Trojans. Riley took with him super freshmen QB Caleb Williams and WR Mario Williams, along with a treasure trove of recruits. OU will reload and bounce back, but Riley’s exodus was a major shock to the long-held stability in Norman, though perhaps for the better for the Sooners.

Key Newcomer:

Trey Morrison, Defensive Back

The four-year starter at North Carolina has the cover skills to play Corner and the physicality to play Safety. He could step in to start right away in an effort to improve a secondary that too frequently surrendered big plays in 2021. For his career, he has 163 tackles, 15 passes defensed, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble.

Match Up vs. TCU

The Sooners travel to Amon Carter Stadium for the first of back-to-back weekends in the Metroplex, with their Red River Showdown in the Cotton Bowl the next week. Maybe OU gets caught sleeping a bit looking ahead to the Longhorns and the Horned Frogs can take advantage. Despite the departures from the roster and coaching staff, Oklahoma will still sport one of the most talented squads in the country. TCU’s greatest advantage will be Quentin Johnston against the OU Secondary, as was on full display in Norman last season -perhaps Venables will bring an improvement to that unit to slow QJ. The Sooners O-Line will be experienced, returning three starters from a mediocre unit (by OU standards) and adding an All-Pac 12 Guard transfer from Cal - if that unit stays healthy and can slow the pressure looks from Gillespie, giving sufficient time for Gabriel to keep his eyes downfield and allow a talented WR group shake free from the TCU Secondary, it could be a long day for the Frogs. However if TCU can make Gabriel uncomfortable there could be a path for a big-time upset.