Oklahoma football: SEC-bound Sooners aren’t releasing grip on Big 12

Lincoln Riley said OU's move to the SEC is "going to be a positive thing for this university and state."cover
Lincoln Riley said OU's move to the SEC is "going to be a positive thing for this university and state."cover /

Today marks the unofficial start to the 2021 Oklahoma football season, as the Sooners open preseason training camp in quest of a seventh straight Big 12 title.

The Sooners’ 114-member roster and coaches assembled on the practice field in Norman for the first day of preseason practice leading up to the 2021 season-opening game at Tulane on Sept. 4.

Head coach Lincoln Riley held a press conference on Thursday and opened things up by telling reporters it was good to see everybody and that if felt a little weird not having to do this on Zoom after all this while.

The Sooner head coach said he met with the team for the first time on Thursday and that everyone was excited to be back and get going. He reported that with the exception of one player (freshman long-snapper Ethan Lane, who is recovering from a knee injury) the team is healthy and full go for the beginning of fall practice sessions.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

“It’s all of our favorite time of year,” Riley said, “A chance for a lot of hope, a lot of excitement. You really look forward to it, and maybe this one more than most because of what we’ve all been through the past 18 months.”

We’ve prepared hard this offseason, Riley said, we’ve got a great plan and we’re ready to go get after it.

Recognizing the elephant in the room, the fifth-year Sooner head coach pre-empted questions about things going on with the conference and OU’s move to the SEC, saying that he would take questions at this press conference on that subject, but that “as a team, coaches and leaders, we’ve all decided that (after Thursday’s press conference) the focus will be on the 2021 season and the opportunity at hand with this team.”

Riley did say he thought the move to the SEC was “a positive thing for his university, the athletic department, coaches everybody.” But that’s down the road a while; “right now we’re a member of the Big 12.”

Asked if he would like to see the Bedlam game with Oklahoma State continue after the Sooners become members of the SEC, Riley said yes, that he respects the history of the rivalry and what it means to the state of Oklahoma. “It’s our intention and hope it will continue,”

In addition to a 2021 recruiting class that 247Sports ranked the 10th best in the country, the Sooners welcome seven new additions from the transfer portal, including three from Tennessee (RB Eric Gray, OL Wanya Morris and safety Key Lawrence), WR Mike Woods from Arkansas, QB Micah Bowens from Penn State, WR Tre Bradford from LSU, offensive lineman Robert Congel from Arizona, and Josh Plaster, a punter from Arizona State.

The expectations for the 2021 edition of Oklahoma football are extremely high, as evidenced by their top-four projection in practically every national preseason poll. Riley was asked how he and his staff plan to handle the high expectations along with all the other headlines recently around the OU program.

Our focus is about the immediate opportunity before us, Riley said, and that is to be the best we can be on and off the field and be the best representative we can be for this league for as long as we are a member. “The talking season is about over. It’s time to put on the pads and go out and win games,”

So Oklahoma’s quest for a seventh consecutive Big 12 football championship is unofficially underway. The Sooners (14) and Texas (3) have won 17 of the 25 conference championships awarded since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.

As anger and disappointment that the remaining Big 12 teams have toward OU and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, is probably tempered a little by the resulting opportunity for someone other than Oklahoma to win a conference title.