Oklahoma football: Sooners still a top-10 team in future offense power rankings

Sep 4, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner before the game against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner before the game against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Every season, ESPN projects who the top-25 college offenses will be looking three-years out. Oklahoma football has been at or very near the top of that list for the past three years.

That’s when the quarterback whisperer and offensive wunderkind Lincoln Riley was running the show at Oklahoma. Under Riley, the Sooners were perennially one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Over the past three years, Oklahoma ranked No. 1 in 2021, No. 3 in 2020 and No. 2 in 2019 in the ESPN college football Future Offense Power Rankings.

Riley left Oklahoma after last season, however, for the warmer climate of Southern California and the USC football program. Since then, a familiar face in Brent Venables was returned to the OU coaching staff replacing Riley. And a new offensive coordinator was added in Jeff Lebby, himself an Oklahoma alum who has become a rising star in the offensive coaching ranks with successful stints as OC at UCF and Ole Miss.

Riley wasn’t the only Sooner to leave the program. The team also lost both of its former No. 1 overall quarterback recruits. Spencer Rattler, the top quarterback in the 2019 national class entered the transfer portal and is now at South Carolina, and Caleb Willilams, the No. 1 QB in the 2021 class, followed Riley to USC in arguably the worst kept secret in college football this offseason.

In the wake of Oklahoma’s revolving-door offseason, one of the big questions, looking ahead to the 2022 season and beyond, is what kind of impact will all the changes taking place at OU have on the team’s high-powered offensive capability.

Venables’ reputation has been built on defensive excellence. The general presumption is that the Sooners will get much better on the defensive side of the ball, but at what cost to Oklahoma’s long-standing recognition as an offensive juggernaut?

The truth is the Oklahoma offense is going to be just fine. Statistically, OU’s offensive numbers may not be as grandiose as they were in the best seasons under Riley, but they aren’t going to be that far off. The Sooners are still going to score plenty of points, and probably enough to win most every game they play. An improved defense should make up for any drop off offensively.

The ESPN college football writers appear to agree with the premise that while the Oklahoma offense may not be as power laden as it has been in recent seasons, it won’t be far off as the Brent Venables era of Sooner football kicks off with the 2022 season.

ESPN’s 2022 version of the Top-25 Future Offense Power Rankings, which projects out what the best college offensive teams will look like over the next three years (2022 to 2025) places the Sooners at No. 6. That’s clearly down from the No. 1 and No. 2 spot Oklahoma occupied in the previous two years of the Future Offense Power Rankings, but still highly respected as one of the best despite all the changes and uncertainly surrounding the OU football program because of the coaching transition.

Here is what ESPN staff writer Adam Rittenberg writes in his scouting comments on the Sooners:

“No unit in college football has been impacted more by offseason changes than Oklahoma’s offense. Riley went to USC along with both Williamses (QB Caleb and WR Mario), and several notables have left the program.

“While the characters will be different in Norman, the results might not change very much. Quarterback transfer Dillon Gabriel is the key to providing stability in the short term.”

Gabriel has already had success at the college level. In 2019, in his second season as the starting quarterback at UCF, he led the nation’s second-best team in total offense at the FBS level, averaging 540.5 (Oklahoma was No, 3 that same season with 536.7 yards per game).

If Gabriel was able to do that at UCF, imagine what he will do with the weapons he will have at his disposal in the Oklahoma offense.