Oklahoma football: Case for and against Oklahoma making 2022 College Football Playoff?

Jan 7, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; A large 2022 College Football Playoff national championship logo is in place on monument circle. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; A large 2022 College Football Playoff national championship logo is in place on monument circle. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports /

It was only a few weeks ago that we were wondering how the Associated Press and Coaches Poll voters would rank the Sooners heading into the post-Lincoln Riley era of Oklahoma football. Now there’s even talk about OU’s chances to make it back to the College Football Playoff.

New head coach Brent Venables and the Sooners seem to be a giant enigma as fans and experts alike get set to kick off a brand new season of college football.

Everybody knows Venables is an outstanding defensive coach and long has held a passion for Oklahoma football, but can he get a program that was rocked to the core with the sudden departure late last year of Riley for USC and get it headed back on course as the second winningest college football programs of the last two decades and one of the best of all-time?

With an experienced, accomplished quarterback in Dillon Gabriel manning the quarterback position and working in an offensive system he is very familiar with having played in it under OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby while at UCF, and with multiple offensive Sooner playmakers around him, the OU offense should be as prolific as ever.

What most Sooner fans will be watching for is what improvement Venables and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof can make in the Sooners’ much-maligned defense that has cost the Sooners multiple chances to play for an eighth national championship. Everyone expects the OU defense to get much better, especially with a defensive-minded coach at the helm. And not just any defensive coach, mind you, but one of the very best in the college game.

The Sooners lost some key defensive players to the NFL Draft and the transfer portal after last season, but they still have a lot of returning talent this and more elite prospects coming beginning in the 2023 recruiting class. So, it may take a year or two for Venables to achieve the improvement he is ultimately looking for defensively, but the expectation is still that the Sooners should be a lot better than they were under the previous coaching regime. And that would be bad news for OU’s 2022 opponents.

Even so, there is much uncertainty about how the Sooners will perform after all the chaos and changes the team went through following the Riley departure. Venables and his new staff have clearly established a new energy and excitement around the program and a positive team environment. But we don’t know yet how all that will translate this season on the football field.

We’re about to find out, though, in another nine days when the new-look Oklahoma Sooners take the field for their first game of the 2022 season, hosting UTEP at Gaylord Family–Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff.

The consensus among all the prime preseason polls has the Sooners at No. 9 nationally to start the season. So there is a general positive outlook regarding OU football in 2022, notwithstanding one particularly negative forecast by one Stewart Mandel of The Athletic. Some of the top college football prognosticators have Oklahoma returning to the top of the Big 12 pecking order and, at worst, finishing second and playing for the 2022 Big 12 championship.

Some national experts even have the Sooners sneaking into this season’s College Football Playoff, as they have so artfully managed in the past, joining the party with everyone’s clear favorites this season, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.

Here is our take on the case for and against Oklahoma delighting all in Sooner Nation with a berth in the 2022 Playoff:

Case for Sooners making the CFP

  • First and foremost, the Sooners must get to and win the Big 12 championship, which means they probably can’t afford to lose more than one game in the regular season.
  • The offense remains explosive, able to sustain drives and puts up plenty of points and, importantly, is able create offensive balance between running and throwing the football That will make this OU team very hard to beat. The reason: the defense is going to be aggressive, play with greater physicality and give up fewer points than previous Sooner defenses.
  • OU needs to avoid letting teams back into the game after scoring early and often.
  • Quarterback Dillon Gabriel stays healthy and is smart, efficient and highly productive with the ball.
  • The schedule is as favorable as it’s ever been, with the Sooners getting to play Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, arguably three of their four biggest games, at home.

Case against OU making the 2022 CFP

  • It’s only the first season under new head coach Brent Venables and there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way.
  • If Dillon Gabriel gets hurt or is unable to perform up to expectations, the Sooners will have little backup experience. Only Pittsburgh transfer Davis Beville has taken any meaningful snaps at the FBS level. If this happens, OU will be lucky even to get to the Big 12 Championship game let along a CFP appearance.
  • Beyond Gabriel, Oklahoma is young with a lot of new faces. The Sooners can’t afford a lot of injuries, especially on the defensive side.
  • If the Sooners don’t win the Big 12, there will be no chance of making it into the College Football Playoff. Best to hope for is a runner-up finish and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.
  • Oklahoma must be able to run the ball as effectively as it has been able to do in the most recent seasons under Lincoln Riley. If not, a one-dimensional offense will doom the Sooners.