Oklahoma football: Sooner silly season; roster turnover like never before

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterbacks Caleb Williams #13 and Spencer Rattler #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners throw passes before a game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners won 28-21. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterbacks Caleb Williams #13 and Spencer Rattler #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners throw passes before a game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners won 28-21. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

The old Morton Salt tagline, “When it rains, it pours,” comes quickly to mind in describing the rippling effect — more like a Tsunami, actually — that Lincoln Riley’s exit continues to have on the Oklahoma football program.

When the first domino fell, that being the sudden and shocking decision by Riley to pack up his things and head west to the sunnier climes (pun intended) of Southern California and USC — no one really knew what the residual fallout would be. But we all knew and were concerned there would be further consequences.

Much has happened over the past five weeks, a time of turmoil and uncertainty like no other that I can recall in over seven decades of following Oklahoma football. Obviously, the Sooners have undergone coaching changes before, but none with the after-effects this change has created.

Riley was highly successful at Oklahoma. He inherited a championship-caliber program from Bob Stoops and continued that high level of success, winning 55 games against just 10 losses in five seasons as head coach. With two Heisman-winning quarterbacks who also became No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks, Riley quickly became known as a quarterback whisperer and a place elite QB recruits were attracted to prepare and develop for a career at the next level.

The Sooners were blessed with a dream roster featuring two former No. 1 quarterback recruits at the beginning of the 2021 season and with a third No. 1 quarterback prospect committed to OU for 2023. Over the past 30 days, all of this prosperity has gone up in a pile of smoke.

Riley was well liked and is able to recruit and develop blue-chip quarterback talent like no other college coach in the country. And that in itself had a ripple effect on the talent the Sooners have been able to assemble, especially on offense, because other talented offensive recruits wanted to come play with the quarterbacks at Oklahoma.

Former Sooner receivers Jadon Haselwood and Austin Stogner and current wide receiver Theo Wease, are prime examples of highly recruited top talents who chose to come to OU largely because of QB Spencer Rattler. The same can be said for why wide receivers Mario Williams and Jahlil Farooq elected to follow Caleb Williams to Norman.

Oklahoma wasted little time in filling the vacancy created by Riley’s departure, bringing in former Sooner assistant Brent Venables, who wields the same kind of national acclaim and coaching prowess as Riley, except on the defensive side. Plus, he is an Oklahoma guy, having been there before, for 13 years, under Bob Stoops.

Venables is in the process of heavy-duty recruiting and finalizing what appears to be an outstanding staff with impressive credentials.

With the support of Sooner coaching legend Bob Stoops and several existing staff members, has done everything Venables has been doing everything he can to ease concerns during the transition and stem the rising tide of uncertainty among players, recruits and OU fans, but the stark reality is that the Sooners are experiencing an unprecedented roster shakeup.

We all know that Oklahoma football is bigger than any one coach or player and will live on and thrive well after all the current turmoil has past. But the present level of defections is fairly significant and is bound to have some impact.

Thirteen of the 22 players who started Oklahoma’s final regular-season game with Oklahoma State have either declared for the NFL Draft or entered the transfer portal. Seven of those are offensive players, including QB Caleb Williams, RB Kennedy Brooks and wide receivers Mario Williams and Jadon Haselwood. Five are on defense.

In all 11 Sooners have declared for the NFL Draft (five on offense, five on defense, plus a kicker) and seven players have opted for the transfer portal. And this may not be the final tally.

It’s hard to imagine any other major college program experiencing that level of fallout, and we’re talking about some highly talented personnel at skill positions.

As in past seasons, Oklahoma has gained several players for the 2022 season via the transfer route, including quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who the Sooners were able to flip this week from UCLA after learning that Caleb Williams was going to explore his options in the transfer portal. But OU is running a negative balance so far in what the portal has giveth and taketh away.

While Caleb Williams’ landing spot for next season remains to be determined, several of his former Sooner teammates have already found new homes. Spencer Rattler and Austin Stogner are at South Carolina, joining former OU assistant Shane Beamer, now the head coach of the Gamecocks.

Jadon Haselwood, the No. 1 WR in the 2019 recruiting class that also included Rattler and Stogner, has transferred to Arkansas, and S Pat Fields will play at Stanford next season.

Make no mistake, Oklahoma is still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and has a potential top-10 recruiting class coming in for next season. Venables has also made it clear that the Sooners will utilize the portal to fill out existing needs for next season.

Venables has been the architect of some of college football’s best defensive teams at Clemson over the past decade, so we can expect he will make a major difference for the Sooners defensively in the coming seasons. Jeff Lebby is recognized as one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game (his offense at Ole Miss produced higher numbers than Riley’s at OU this past season).

Despite the roster upheaval. OU should still field one of the best teams in the Big 12 in the 2022 season, which could be the Sooners final Big 12 season. They may not be the powerhouse offensively they have been the past seven seasons, and they will have to do it with a different roster makeup than they were counting on a couple of years ago,

Venables and his staff are gearing up for the long game, and that’s the way we should be looking at it, as well.

Current list of Sooner roster defections

Declaring for NFL Draft

DT Perrion Winfrey

DT Isaiah Thomas

LB Nik Bonitto

LB Brian Asamoah

S Delarrin Turner-Yell

RB Kennedy Brooks

WR Michael Woods

TE Jeremiah Hall

OL Marquis Hayes

OL Tyrese Robinson

K Gabe Brkic

Transfer portal

QB Spencer Rattler (South Carolina)

QB Caleb Williams

WR Mario Williams

WR Jadon Haselwood (Arkansas)

WR Marcellus Crutchfield

TE Austin Stogner (South Carolina)

S Pat Fields