Oklahoma football: What we’re thankful for this unusual season

The sticker that was placed on each of the Thanksgiving turkey dinners that the Palm Beach Synagogue purchased from the Palm Beach Publix and donated to TrueFast Ministries Tuesday November 22, 2022. The Synagogue will be donating approximately 1000 Thanksgiving dinners as part of its Project Connect outreach program this season.
The sticker that was placed on each of the Thanksgiving turkey dinners that the Palm Beach Synagogue purchased from the Palm Beach Publix and donated to TrueFast Ministries Tuesday November 22, 2022. The Synagogue will be donating approximately 1000 Thanksgiving dinners as part of its Project Connect outreach program this season. /

Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, and even in a disappointing Oklahoma football season there are things to be thankful for.

I think we can all agree that this has been one of the most difficult and distressful Sooner seasons of recent memory. To start with we can be thankful that seasons like this one have been few and far between in the storied history of Oklahoma football.

Even when the Sooners were doing well, making College Football Playoff appearances and winning a string of Big 12 championships in recent years, they certainly weren’t flawless. It’s just that the flaws were much more magnified and impactful in this transitional season.

In truth, things could have been much worse this season than they are. OU opened with three straight wins and everything was looking very promising in Brent Venables’ first season as the Sooners’ head coach. That’s when the celebration balloon burst, and the bottom fell out.

Oklahoma followed the great start to the season with three consecutive losses, the last two of which were of historic proportions. Venables and Co. managed to right the ship after that, capturing back-to-back wins over Kansas and Iowa State, but then suffered back-to-back losses in games the Sooners could and probably should have won.

OU closed out the home season last weekend with a rivalry win over Oklahoma State. With that win, which was far from pretty — also indicative of how the entire season has gone — the Sooners became bowl eligible and assured themselves of no worse than six losses and a breakeven regular-season record.

Believe me, after consecutive 55-24 and 49-0 losses to TCU and Texas, respectively, things could have gotten so much worse. The fact that they did not is definitely something to be thankful for, despite the disappointment of a six- or seven-win season, which admittedly is below Oklahoma standards.

Dillon Gabriel’s decision to transfer to Oklahoma is something else to be thankful for. Before all you Sooner fans go off on me, claiming that the UCF transfer is no Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts or Caleb Williams — something that OU fans have grown accustomed to at the quarterback spot — consider that Gabriel literally came within a few hours of not being a Sooner at all.

We all saw the brutal consequences of Oklahoma’s lack of depth at quarterback in the two games Gabriel missed this season while he was in the concussion protocol. Now think what would have happened had he not been here at all this season. The day offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby convinced Gabriel to come to Oklahoma, Gabriel was planning to enroll at UCLA. Gabriel had originally committed to transfer to UCLA after the 2021 season. Had he formally enrolled at UCLA, he would not have been allowed to transfer to OU for the 2022 season.

Gabriel has completed 62 percent of his pass attempts this season for 2,476 yards and 18 touchdowns. He ranks second in the Big 12 and 36th nationally in passing efficiency rating (147.0) and 24th in yards per completion (13.2).

Given the underlying circumstances, all Sooner fans should be thankful that Gabriel is an Oklahoma Sooner, and he’ll probably be back for the 2023 season, when the OU quarterback room should be much better off.

The fact that Oklahoma is eligible for a postseason bowl assignment for the 24th consecutive season is another thing to be thankful for this holiday season. Sooner fans have taken this for granted for many years. The Sooners’ 55 bowl appearances since 1939 ranks them fourth all-time among major college teams. They have 31 bowl wins, including wins at all six venues that are part of the New Year’s Six bowl rotation.

OU will not be going to a major bowl this season, but the Sooners will be participating in postseason play to the delight of the players who earned that opportunity and the benefit of Sooner fans who would much rather see OU play in a bowl game of any kind than not. Trust me.

When Kennedy Brooks departed for the NFL after last season, there was concern whether the Sooners would be able to replace his production in the 2022 season.

Eric Gray, a senior running back in his second season at Oklahoma after transferring from Tennessee, was designated as the heir apparent. Gray had only 423 rushing yards in 2021, but he has more than filled the No, 1 running back role for the Sooners this season.

In his three full seasons at Oklahoma, Kennedy eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground every season and finished with 3,320 for his career. His final season at OU, he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. He also caught nine passes out of the backfield for 74 yards.

With two more games remaining this season, Gray has accumulated 1,203 yards rushing, an average of 120.3 yards per game, and 11 touchdowns. His 6.5 yards per carry average ranks second in the Big 12 and 14th nationally. And that’s not all. He’s also caught 31 passes this season.

Finally, all of us are thankful for Oklahoma football each and every season, regardless of what the record is. This would have been one of those seasons when fan interest and support could have taken a back seat to other things going on Saturdays. But that didn’t happen. Sooner fans filled Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to capacity for all six home games this season.

The sellout crowd of 84.132 was the 146th consecutive sellout at an Oklahoma home game since the beginning of the 1999 season. It is the country’s second-longest current streak. That is something else to be thankful for this and every season. It is a compelling demonstration of the tremendous pride and support Sooner fans everywhere have for Oklahoma football.

I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons to be thankful for Sooner football this season. This is just a small sample. It’s good to remember that even when the clouds seem the darkest, there is always a silver lining.

Happy Thanksgiving to Sooner fans everywhere, and here’s hoping that Oklahoma feasts on the Red Raiders to cap off a great holiday weekend and another winning season.