Oklahoma football: Sooners’ holiday season delivered a recruiting bonanza

Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners sooner schooner during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

For Brent Venables and the Oklahoma football program, December has lived up to its time-honored tradition as the most wonderful time of the year.

Following a very un-Oklahoma-like 6-6 regular season, the Sooners made a huge investment in and statement for the future the week before Christmas, signing the No. 5 recruiting class in the country and their best class in over a decade.

The last time Oklahoma had a recruiting class rated this high was 13 years ago, in 2010, midway through Bob Stoops 18-year reign. Interestingly, Brent Venables was part of that coaching staff.

The 2010 Sooner recruiting class also was a top-five class, checking in at No. 5, just like this year. There were no five-star recruits in that class, but it did include 17 players rated as four-star prospects. Some of the notables from the 2010 class were QB/TE Blake Bell, RBs Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, WR Kenny Stills, and FB Trey Millard.

On the defensive side in the 2010 class, there was S/NB Tony Jefferson, OT Tyrus Thompson, DE Geneo Grissom and CB Aaron Colvin. Oklahoma produced a 43-10 overall record during the four years this class was in school.

The high national ranking of the 2023 class is a grand tribute to its overall quality, but what makes this recruiting cycle especially noteworthy and exciting from an OU fan’s perspective is its relative balance of offensive and defensive talent and a distribution that cuts across every position group.

The 25-member Oklahoma 2023 class is made up of 10 offensive players and 15 defensive players and comes from 12 different states, demonstrating the Sooners ability to recruit all parts of the country. There are more signees in this class from the state of Florida (6), deep in SEC country, than from any other.

At least 15 of the recruits are expected to enroll early and participate in spring practice activities, including Jackson Arnold, the top recruit in OU’s class and the No. 5 quarterback in the 2023 class nationally.

Oklahoma’s 2023 class has a five- or four-star recruit at every position except tight end.

The Sooners already had a top defensive haul for 2023, with the signing of five-star safety prospect Peyton Bowen 24 hours after initially shunning Notre Dame for Oregon adding a giant bow on top of the package.

A victory over Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Thursday would easily make December the best month in what has been a rough and trying first year in Venables’ first season as head coach of what Barry Switzer called the monster that Bud Wilkinson created and the rest of us are tasked with keeping fed.

OU’s 2023 defensive recruits are the team’s best in well over a decade

Oklahoma’s biggest problem for close to a decade now has been on defense. Since Lincoln Riley joined the Sooner staff in 2015 as offensive coordinator, the emphasis has been heavily weighted toward offensive firepower, and the Sooners have consistently dominated on that side of the ball. OU could score with anybody and advance the ball at will. Unfortunately, while the offense has been a high-octane force during that span, the Sooner defense hasn’t been able to stop their opponents from doing the same.

The Sooners’ 2023 class may finally be the group that changes all that. I frankly can’t recall the last time Oklahoma had a five-star defensive recruit, and this class has two such prospects. Bowen and five-star edge rusher Adepoju Adebawore are joined by seven four-star-rated recruits.

Venables is especially high on the back seven on the defense in the 2023 class. Samuel Omosigho is ranked as the No. 6 linebacker in the class nationally by 247Sports and fellow LB recruit Lewis Carter is ranked No. 9 at the position.

Of the six players signed as defensive backs, Venables loves the versatility they bring. “I feel they can all play corner, safety, dime, six-pack nickel back, Cheetah,” the Sooner head coach said at his signing day press conference. “These guys are long, fast and instinctive,” traits that have stood out in successful Venables’ defenses of the past.

Also important to point out regarding the six defensive back recruits in this class, all but one is 6-feet or taller, signaling that Oklahoma is starting to address the height disadvantage that has existed in the Sooner secondary for some time.

Offensive members of the 2023 class don’t take a back seat, either

But Venables and the OU defensive coaches aren’t the only ones who are excited about the 2023 recruiting haul. The Sooners added some elite talent on the offensive side as well, headlined by quarterback Arnold, who was among offensive coordinator’s first commitments in this class and never wavered in his commitment.

The Sooners have added a pair of outstanding running backs, Daylan Smothers, out of Florida, and Kalib Hicks, who hails from Denton, Texas (also the home of Arnold and Peyton, Bowen). Running backs coach and former OU and NFL star DeMarco Murray say Smothers is a threat to score from anywhere on the field because of his great speed, while Hicks runs with more power and is a threat to break a big play.

Venables and Lebby also speak highly of the two signees at wide receiver, Jaquaize Pettaway and Keyon Brown. Pettaway’s speed makes him a legitimate deep threat that could potentially start right away. Brown’s 6-foot, 2-inch frame provides length that OU has been missing in recent years. Venables like the ability both have to take the top off of the defense.

The Sooners know how important the offensive and defensive lines are to their future success on both sides of the ball, and they have addressed both areas with the 2023 class.

Here is how Oklahoma’s 2023 class finished in four different national recruiting rankings:

ESPN:             4th

247Sports:   5th

On3:               6th

Rivals:           7th

Between graduation, the NFL Draft and our own guys who have entered the transfer portal, addressing every single position on the team was a need, Venables said.

“We met tremendous needs and have a foundational player in Jackson Arnold at quarterback,” the OU first-year head coach said.

“Addressed the lines of scrimmage with five defensive linemen and four offensive linemen. We’ve got length and speed on both sides of the ball, two terrific running backs and I love our receivers,” Venables said.

All in all, a pretty fantastic holiday present. Now, a win in the Cheez-It Bowl win would make the holiday absolutely perfect and wonderful momentum to begin a brand new year.