Oklahoma football: This week is huge for Sooner football

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: The Oklahoma Sooners script in the end zone prior to the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl game against the Clemson Tigers at Sun Life Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Clemson defeated Oklahoma 37-17. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: The Oklahoma Sooners script in the end zone prior to the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl game against the Clemson Tigers at Sun Life Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Clemson defeated Oklahoma 37-17. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

This is the first day of the second half of 2020 — if you can believe that — and also important because it is the day the Oklahoma football players return to campus for voluntary workouts.

Sooner players began returning to Norman today for the first time since mid-March, when, after one day of spring practice, all activities were ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma athletic department officials chose to delay the return of the OU players until July 1, even though a number of other major programs elected to restart activities several weeks sooner (no pun intended).

Riley said he thought waiting to July 1 would still allow Oklahoma ample time to get ready for organized preseason training later in the month while also providing the opportunity to see what is happening at other schools and learn more about the progression of and protection against the coronavirus.

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There have been widespread reports of multiple players testing positive for COVID-19 upon their return at other schools — as many as 37 Clemson players, around the same number reported at Texas Tech, and Kansas State suspended its voluntary workouts because as many as 14 of its players tested positive for the virus — and Riley acknowledged two weeks ago that Oklahoma may have had “a player or two” exposed or test positive for the coronavirus.

“The difference for us,” the OU head coach said in an interview on ESPN Radio’s “Golic and Wingo” show, “is our players aren’t all here together, so they haven’t exposed or infected a bunch of players here.”

Oklahoma players return to campus beginning today.

Beginning this week, we’ll see how OU’s delayed-opening plan ultimately works out. The school announced last week the extensive protocols and procedures that are in place to protect the student-athletes from exposure to the coronavirus and the action steps that are in place should one or more players test positive during voluntary workouts.

Because the coronavirus is still very active and the infection numbers continue to reach record levels in many parts of the country, there is growing concern that the 2020 college football season will kickoff as scheduled, or if there will even be a season.

Having the players back on campus and working out is just part of the good news for the Sooners this week. On the Fourth of July, they are anticipating having more to celebrate than just a national holiday.

On Saturday, the country’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2021, Caleb Williams, is expected to declare his verbal commitment on where he plans to play college football. Most everyone in the know about college football recruiting has him headed to Oklahoma, but there is also the chance that he could choose to stay closer to home (he is from the Washington, D.C., area) and pick Maryland over the Sooners.

Early last month, Williams said he will announce his commitment decision on July 4, and that long-anticipated announcement is now just three days away. If you hear fireworks going off in and around Norman, Oklahoma, and throughout the Oklahoma City area around midday on Saturday, you will know the decision.  It should be noted, however, that a verbal commitment is not binding. It only becomes official when the player signs a national letter of intent, which in Williams’ case won’t happen until early December at the earliest.

Williams has been OU’s top recruiting target ever since Brock Vandagriff, the top-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class, decommitted from the Sooners in early January and turned his allegiance to Georgia, which is where he is from. As a case in point, Vandagriff had been committed to Oklahoma since June 2019.

Before he makes his announcement on Saturday, Williams is busy at work near Nashville, Tennessee, displaying his top-rated talent in the Elite 11, a prestigious quarterback competition featuring the very best high school quarterbacks in the nation. You would expect this to be a showcase of Williams’ enormous skills and abilities and, indeed, that has been the case.

Following in the footsteps of OU quarterback Spencer Rattler, a five-star recruit in the Sooners’ 2019 class who won the Elite 11 competition two years ago, Williams has lived up to expectations, leading the 2020 competition heading into the final day of the three-day event.

Elite 11 head coach and former NFL QB Trent Dilfer, had this to say about the Sooners’ top recruiting target, as reported by Saturdaytailgate.com:

"“There’s nothing this kid (Caleb Williams) can’t do. I’ve been doing this a long time. He has very few limitations, if any. He’s uber-competitive. Very focused when he walked in. He’s really clean. He’s consistent.“Every throw was good to great. I think he takes it that serious. I’m interpreting what his mind is telling him, and it’s as if every throw is the most important throw of the day.”"

What makes Saturday’s news from Williams even more noteworthy for Oklahoma and its fans is who will choose to follow him to Norman. He has said that he has been recruiting some of his talented friends from other parts of the country to come play with him wherever he goes.

That could be just the catalyst the Sooners have been looking for to move up quickly in the 2021 class rankings. Oklahoma currently has nine commitments for 2021.