Oklahoma football: Some critics hitting ‘overrated’ button on OU’s top-10 ranking

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 30: A general view of Oklahoma Sooners fans in the background of a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma won 52-21. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 30: A general view of Oklahoma Sooners fans in the background of a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma won 52-21. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

O.K., the coaches have spoken, projecting 2022 Oklahoma football as a top-10 team entering the new season. That’s good news, right?

Not according to some of the so-called college football watchdogs, who are hitting the “overrated” button regarding the Sooners’ No. 9 ranking in the first Coaches Poll of the 2022 season.

Historically speaking, nothing about OU’s preseason No. 9 ranking seems particularly surprising. After all, that is almost standard fare for the Sooners, who are among the winningest teams at the highest level of college football over the past two decades. And Oklahoma has opened in the top 10 in 7 of the last 10 college football preseason Coaches Polls.

Over the past 24 hours, though, we’ve seen the typical pushbacks from some experts and sports pundits who thrive in the world of controversy, challenging the legitimacy of where some of the teams landed in the Coaches Poll rankings. The Sooners were one of the teams in the critics’ crosshairs.

There is plenty to be said for brand equity and high national recognition. No, we’re not talking about Name, Image and Likeness, although that is only going to be enhanced by the Oklahoma football brand. OU is a college football blue blood in that the Sooners have played at an elite level for most of the past seven decades.

Only one other team (Alabama) has been ranked in the top five of the Associated Press weekly college poll more often than Oklahoma.

Given this history, and in the absence of overwhelming evidence otherwise, it is easy to understand how Oklahoma would receive the benefit of the doubt from voters in the preseason college football top-25 projections most every season.

No team from a Power 5 conference has gone through more change and potential turmoil this offseason than the team that makes its home in Norman, Oklahoma. Former Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley decided that success at Oklahoma wasn’t as enticing to him as the opportunity to do the same at USC and up and left the Sooner program after the final regular-season game last season.

We all know that story and all the collateral damage that followed the Riley resignation. Oklahoma finished 10th in both the AP and Coaches Poll final rankings last season, down from its No. 3 ranking to start the season.

The way-too-early projections for 2022 that started coming out in early January still had OU as a top 25-level team, but not expected to be as good as the Sooners had been the previous five seasons under Riley. In most of those way-too-early projections, Oklahoma was being projected in the middle of the pack in the second ten of the top-25 rankings.

Over the summer, with plenty of positive stories coming out of OU about how the players were responding well and enthusiastically to the new coaching staff, the new energy and direction of the program and the many other changes occurring in the football program, the outlook and expectations for Sooner football under Brent Venables grew increasingly more positive.

I personally believe Oklahoma’s positioning in the preseason edition of the 2022 Coaches Poll is right where the Sooners should be, and apparently the vast majority of the head coaches who make up the Coaches Poll voting panel feel the same way.

No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 7 Texas A&M are also getting a lot of “overrated” reaction. So it isn’t just the Sooners that have some of the college football crystal-ballers challenging the first Coaches Poll Top-25 of the season. The Twittersphere also lit up with questions about how and why Texas received a first-place vote.

It’s understandable that some experts, let alone fans who by all accounts aren’t supposed to know as much as the folks who live and breathe college football 24/7, might question Oklahoma being ranked higher to begin the 2022 season than the Sooners finished out the previous season before, as some would say, the bottom fell out.

For one thing, the Big 12 coaches picked reigning champion Baylor, not OU, to win the Big 12 this season. Yet the Sooners are ranked one spot higher than Baylor in the preseason Coaches Poll.

Another factor that might have you questioning a top-10 preseason ranking is the number of losses OU experienced, including the head coach and most of the defensive coaching staff. Also, the Sooners have a new starting quarterback, new offensive and defensive schemes and a roster in which almost 40 percent of the players have never played even one down in an Oklahoma jersey.

Something else to bear in mind is OU’s history of high preseason rankings only to often underperform preseason expectations, insofar as a high national ranking, over the course of a full season.

A couple of recent examples were 2014, when Oklahoma opened at No. 3 in the Coaches Poll only to end up with an 8-5 overall record and fourth place in the Big 12. Last season, the Sooners were No. 3 in the first Coaches Poll of the season but struggled all season. Six of OU’s wins were by one score and they finished out of first place in the conference for the first time in six seasons.

All of that on the face adds up to a lot of uncertainty surrounding the OU program heading into a brand new season.

We’re hearing and reading good things about the Sooners and how it is all coming together coming out of spring ball and into the summer. And after all, this is Oklahoma we’re talking about.

It’s important to remember there are two sides to every story and arguments pro and con to be made about every team ranked in the Coaches Poll Top 25.

The truth is, we won’t know how valid the preseason rankings are until the games actually get going. And even then, we won’t get a true read of how good or suspect a team really is until conference games get underway several weeks into the schedule.

Winning games is the best way to counter any and all criticism about being overrated or not living up to expectations. How you go about it is a whole different discussion. The Sooners have a relatively easy schedule in 2022 compared to other teams and to previous seasons, and they play three of their toughest opponents (Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State) at home in Norman this season.

A one or two-loss season has been more than good enough for a No. 8, 9 or 10-ranked team going as far back in college football history as you care to look.

There is no reason for this Oklahoma team to lose more than two games this season, and I think they can do even better than that.

So, is a No. 9 preseason ranking warranted for the Oklahoma Sooners? (You better believe their own goals and expectations are even higher than that.) I say, yes.

None of us who are debating this issue, however, have any control over the ultimate answer. Only the Oklahoma players and coaches do. And their journey begins for real in 24 days.