Oklahoma football: Tough go recruiting the best against the best

To be the best you have to play and beat the best, and if you’re Oklahoma football that means getting your share of the best players.

The problem is, in recruiting the best players you must have a reach, a relationship and compelling reputation in the geographical parts of the country where the best prospects are located. And you can expect to be in competition with the best teams in the country.

There is hardly an OU recruiting target that isn’t also contacted by the Alabamas, the Clemsons, the Ohio States and the Texases of the college football power oligarchy.

You win some and you lose some. You just hope to be able to get your share of the available talent. knowing that there is a scholarship limit available to all teams. There is also the domino effect to consider. The top players in every national recruiting class generally are friends and know each other because of summer football camps and various all-star and recruiting events.

One commitment can lead to one or more others. For example, QB Caleb Williams of Oklahoma’s 2021 class was actively involved in the Sooners’ recruiting efforts after committing to OU in July of 2020. Four-star wide receiver Jalil Farooq was a close friend of Williams and from the same part of the country (the Maryland/Washington D.C, area). Farooq committed to the Sooners a couple of months after Williams did.

The Sooners earned the commitment of five-star prospect Malachi Nelson, the No. 2 quarterback in the 2023 class, in July. Several weeks after that Nelson’s high school teammate, Makai Lemon, another five-star recruit who plays both wide receiver and defensive back, pledged to play at Oklahoma.

Over the past 10 recruiting cycles, Oklahoma has been highly successful making it into the final four or five teams that its primary recruiting targets are considering.

Recruiting battles for the top prospects are highly competitive, so you know you’re probably going to miss out more times than not — Although Alabama’s recent record of recruiting success at the highest level is in direct contradiction of this. In recent years, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and, more recently, Georgia, always seem to get more than their fair share of the top prospects available. That’s why those teams are consistently at the top of the college football rankings every season.

For Oklahoma and the rest of the teams, that’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t mean you stop trying to be the very best you can be. Recruiting is the lifeline of every successful college program. With players coming and going every season, there has to be a continual infusion of talent to fulfill program needs, provide position depth and maintain or, better still, improve performance.

The Sooners have done an exceptional job of that under both Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley and Barry Switzer before them. In the last five recruiting cycles, Oklahoma has brought in three top-10 recruiting classes, and going back 10 years, the Sooner’s average class ranking was 12th, according the 247Sports, and 13th in the Rivals class rankings.

The burgeoning growth of the transfer portal has added an entirely new dimension to the college recruiting process. Now high school and junior-college prospects are competing for scholarships with players with college experience who, for whatever reason, elect to change schools and are able to do so, on a one-time basis, and receive immediate eligibility.

It used to be that players picked up through the transfer process were average players at best, typically looking for a fresh start elsewhere or an opportunity to gain more playing time. That is no longer the case. Some first- and second-team players from major programs are becoming available through the transfer portal, some just looking to finish out their college careers in a new environment or with a chance to compete for a championship.

Oklahoma is one of the programs that has benefited greatly from players transferring into the program. The best examples that are Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU after one season at Texas Tech; Kyler Murray, who came to Oklahoma from Texas A&M; and Jalen Hurts, who transferred from Alabama. As everyone knows, Mayfield and Murray became Heisman Trophy winners while at OU, and Hurts was a Heisman runner-up.

This season alone, Oklahoma has added seven new players by way of the transfer portal, and three of those are  from one school (Tennessee). The four others come from LSU, Arkansas, Arizona and Arizona State.

More than half of OU’s listed 2021 roster of 100-plus players come from Texas and Oklahoma, with the vast majority from the Lone Star State, where the Sooners have always recruited heavily. But the Sooners are a national brand, and as such they have players on the roster from California, Florida and a number of other states.

Sixty-three players currently on the active roster come from states within the SEC footprint (48 from Texas and 15 from other SEC states).

Theoretically, when OU officially moves to the SEC, it should enhance their ability to recruit top talent. But moving to a conference where a number of the top teams in the country reside and the opportunity to win conference championships becomes more difficult will also create a more competitive recruiting environment, particularly in the states where there are SEC schools, Texas and Florida being the most prominent.

One thing is certain, the world of college recruiting is changing right before our eyes, and things are moving very fast. We haven’t even touched on the new Name, Image Likeness world of college athletics. That whole evolution — which when it gets really rolling will seem more like a revolution, actually — is certain to have a major impact on recruiting and where the top prospects choose to go.

Another thing that’s certain is: The best teams will not only survive all this change, but continue to thrive through it.