Oklahoma football: Good, bad, and ugly of Sooners’ 2021 season

Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners incoming coach Brent Venables (left) and interim coach Bob Stoops celebrate with the championship trophy after the 2021 Alamo Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners incoming coach Brent Venables (left) and interim coach Bob Stoops celebrate with the championship trophy after the 2021 Alamo Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Two things you can say in summarizing the 2021 Oklahoma football season are: It was far from typical and full of unexpected developments

The Sooners capped off the 2021 season with a 47-32 Alamo Bowl victory over the 14th-ranked Oregon Ducks, and in so doing picked up their 11th win against two losses. For most teams, that would be considered a highly successful season. But Oklahoma is not most college programs. The Sooners aspirations and expectations run much higher than ending the season with a win in the Alamo Bowl.

Oklahoma came into the 2021 season with high hopes, surrounded by a Heisman hopeful in Spencer Rattler, playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and a talented defensive unit.

What we witnessed instead, though, was a level of decline week after week from the Sooners, especially in the opening five games, and it started with the head man in Lincoln Riley. Many believe Riley had one foot out the door, which could be remotely true. After all the calamity and mishap that occurred, the Sooners still managed to have an 11-win season for the seventh time in the last eight years.

We look back at the positive, unpleasant, and unsightly moments that came about in the 2021 season.

Caleb Williams broke the stage, and his return to Oklahoma looks promising

The freshmen star, known as “Superman,” took over for Spencer Rattler and ended the Sooners’ season on a high note. Caleb Williams finished with 1,912 passing yards, along with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven starts at quarterback. He also rushed for 442 yards and six touchdowns. Although the Sooners were looking for a College Football Playoff appearance, one can’t take away what Williams accomplished. Now the question everyone wants to hear is, Will Caleb Williams return to Oklahoma?

After watching the Alamo Bowl, Sooner fans have to feel a sign of hope and relief. Williams played with a sense of urgency along with leadership. Out of all the opt-outs for the Sooners, Williams stuck to the task and capped off an Alamo Bowl victory for the Sooners. The Sooners bring in an offensive guru in Jeff Lebby, who could do magnificent things with Williams and the OU offense.

There have been reports about Lebby staying in close contact with Williams in an effort to convince him to remain at Oklahoma for the 2022 season, which would be every Sooner fan’s dream. The Sooners hope to bring back explosive offensive weapons such as Marvin Mims, Mario Williams, Jahlil Farooq and Drake Stoops. Theo Weese will also be a huge target if Williams returns to Oklahoma, along with a talented 2022 receiving class.

Close finishes week after week after week

It all started in the season-opening game of the 2021 season, when the Sooners escaped by Tulane. Oklahoma came in as a 31- point favorite, but the Green Wave went toe-to-toe with the Sooners. Spencer Rattler threw an early interception, which resulted in Tulane scoring on a six-yard pass from QB Michael Pratt to WR Cameron Carroll. Tulane had an early 14-7 lead. The Sooners exploded for 23 unanswered points in the second quarter for a 37-14 halftime margin.  The Sooners scored just three points in the second half, but managed to hold on for a 40-35 victory.

The history of the rivalry between Nebraska and Oklahoma lived up to expectations in Norman. The Sooners offense was held in check most of the game, which meant the defense had to make some critical stops to secure a 23-16 victory.  The outcome drew huge concerns for Oklahoma, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Against West Virginia in Week 4, it was the same old situation.

Emotions were felt inside Gaylord Memorial Stadium against West Virginia. The offensive continued to be stagnant, and it drew boos inside the stadium. The offense couldn’t accomplish anything against the Mountaineers, and a lot of that was pointed at Spencer Rattler. Sooner fans chanted “We want Caleb” countless times in the third quarter. After a game-winning field goal by Gabe Brkic, the Sooners survived the Mountaineers 16-13.

All-told, seven of the Sooners 11 wins this season, and five of the first six, were by seven or fewer points

The close finishes drew question marks on how good this Oklahoma team was. We don’t know when contacts were first happening between Lincoln Riley and USC, but it was a pretty good indication the head man wasn’t totally locked in for the Sooners.

Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma, in every bad way possible

Lincoln Riley was a Sooner icon turned to “turncoat” in a split instant after revealing that he was leaving OU for USC. The now former Oklahoma head coach was rumored to be taking the vacant LSU job, but the morning after the Bedam loss to Oklahoma State was on a flight headed west to Southern California and USC.

The news shocked the college football world and put Oklahoma in a tough position moving forward. The timing of the debacle was a non-pleasant image for Sooner fans. The early signing period for 2022 recruiting classes was approaching for the Sooners, and Riley’s news resulted in players decommitting from Oklahoma. It brought questions on what Oklahoma’s response would be and how it would impact the immediate future.

The winningest coach in Oklahoma history, Bob Stoops, was fortunately available and willing to step in immediately to provide leadership in the interim. Oklahoma football is like family to him. Stoops found himself visiting recruits’ homes and representing Oklahoma in the most unique way possible. Not many former coaches come out of retirement to recruit for their former team, but that’s how Stoops is.

It was Stoops back in the spring of 2017, who gave Lincoln Riley the keys to the Palace. Four and a half years later, Riley was on his way out of town on his own accord, seeking supposedly greener pastures. It’s an occurrence that will confuse and boggle the minds of Sooner fans for quite some time, but the hype Brent Venables is getting is for real.

The 2021 season witnessed drama and excitement all in one. The departure of Riley brought shock to the Sooner faithful but gained toughness and energy in the hiring of Brent Venables. We are a number of months away from the 2022 college football season and the beginning of the Venables era of Oklahoma football., but it’s the right hire and a great feeling for the Oklahoma Sooners.

The Sooners have turned to one of their own in Brent Venables, alongside offensive genius Jeff Lebby, and also are bringing back former strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt.

Now that the 2021 season is officially and finally behind the Oklahoma football program, all focus can and will be directed toward the future and what Brent Venables can bring to the Sooner brand.