Oklahoma football: Sooners take back seat in way-too-early 2022 top-25 projections

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: The College Football Playoff logo is seen before the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: The College Football Playoff logo is seen before the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Save for the refreshing 15-point Oklahoma football win over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, the past six weeks have been the most unusual and unsettling time in recent Sooner football memory.

Georgia’s dramatic 33-18 victory over Alabama on Monday night for the national championship brought a final punctuation point on the 2021 college football season. The lights hadn’t even been turned out at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis before the first of the way-too-early college football top-25 projections for the 2022 season began appearing in the media.

Since Nov. 29, Oklahoma has lost its head coach, several assistants, nine players from the current roster to the NFL Draft process and eight to the transfer portal, and that doesn’t take into account decommitments from a number of elite prospects in OUs 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes.

So, turnover would be an understatement in describing the outlook for Sooner football looking ahead to the 2022 season. Oklahoma football is definitely going to look different come the start of the new season in the fall. That’s somewhat to be expected with a new head coach, new coordinators on offense and defense and a lot of new faces at a number of key positions.

Head coach Brent Venables has assembled a terrific staff and has a number of talented newcomers joining the program to replace the expected personnel losses, but the outlook for 2022 is still probably going to be different than what Sooner fans have come to expect in recent years. At least that’s what college football experts are starting to tell us as they turn their attention to who the national title contenders and top teams will be heading into next season.

ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Athletic have all come out with their annual way-too-early top-25 projections for the 2022 season. The Sooners are ranked no higher than 15th to begin next season, according to the college football staffs at those three popular sports media outlets.

All three outlets have the top three the same: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Georgia. ESPN has Texas A&M at No. 4 and Michigan at No. 5. The Athletic ranks Utah and Notre Dame Nos. 4 and 5, and Sports Illustrated projects Clemson and Utah as the No. 4 and 5 teams, respectively.

As for Oklahoma? Well, let’s just say we’ve seen better times when it comes to forecasting the Sooners’ standing among the nation’s top 25 teams looking eight months ahead.

Over the past five years, Oklahoma has ranked in the top five in the Associated Press preseason poll three times and never lower than seventh.

Oklahoma ranks 17th in the ESPN way-too-early top 25. The Sooners are all the way down to No, 25 in the early projection by The Athletic. Sports Illustrated ranks Oklahoma 15th.

Those are sobering thoughts for Oklahoma fans, who have come to expect a much higher outlook in terms of the projected strength of their football team looking ahead to the next college season.

What is even more unsettling to Sooner fans, based on these early observations and projections is that Oklahoma State and Baylor are ranked ahead of OU in all three forecasts, and The Athletic even has Kansas State (No. 24) ranked ahead of the Sooners.

ESPN has Oklahoma State No. 9 and Baylor No. 16. The Athletic likes Baylor (12) ahead of Oklahoma State (14). Sports Illustrated has Oklahoma State 10 and Baylor 12.

It is interesting to note that the Sooners are at home against Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the 2022 season.

If you are curious how Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans fared in the top-25 projections for next season issued by the three popular media outlets, you’ll probably be happy to know that the Sooners rank higher in two of the three forecasts. ESPN has OU No. 17 and USC 22. USC is not ranked in The Athletic too-early top 25 for next season, and Sports Illustrated ranks USC two spots higher than OU, at No. 13.

In reality, all of this means very little because the real rankings will be decided by the players on the field when the games begin in September. What is does do, however, is give sportswriters, sports columnists and sports talk-radio hosts something to chew on, write and talk about and debate in the months ahead leading into the new season.

A lot could and likely will change between now and the fall football season. We have February National Signing Day coming up, followed by spring football and the fluidity of the transfer process that will continue right up through early summer.

But as we sit here in early January, it appears that Brent Venables and Oklahoma have some work to do.