Oklahoma football: Will Sooners rise with the Tide or be relegated to SEC also-ran?

Jul 10, 2017; Hoover, AL, USA; The Southeastern Conference logo is shown on the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Winfrey Hotel during SEC media days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Winfrey Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 10, 2017; Hoover, AL, USA; The Southeastern Conference logo is shown on the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Winfrey Hotel during SEC media days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Winfrey Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

The future can be a scary thing, but if you’re an Oklahoma football fan, it can mean even higher prestige for a program that knows how to compete and has had its share of time in the national spotlight.

Now that we have an official stake in the ground on when the Sooners will pack up and move on to a new partnership and a new set of neighbors in the exclusive gridiron community known as the SEC, the question becomes what will life be like for the Sooners in their new home?

Fan sentiment is divided on how successful the historically fruitful Oklahoma football program will be in a conference chalk full of elite teams with championship pedigree. Some are excited for the move to the SEC, recognizing that the adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” will naturally spur the competitive nature of the beast and bring out the best of Oklahoma football and its rich tradition.

Then there is the other side of the argument. Many experts believe the Big 12 is no better than the third and possibly the fourth best conference in college football. Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 in football — as the Sooners and Nebraska did in its predecessor, the Big Eight — winning 14 conference championships in the 27 seasons the Big 12 has been in existence. That includes six consecutive conference titles between 2015 and 2020.

That same level of domination will not exist for Oklahoma in the SEC, they say, referencing the fact that the last four national champions have come from the SEC and 13 of the last 17. In three of Oklahoma’s four College Football Playoff appearances, the Sooners lost to Georgia, Alabama and LSU, and the latter of those two teams were clearly the superior team against the Sooners.

One thing is certain: Things will be very different for the Sooners in the SEC

At the present time, Alabama and Georgia are clearly a cut above everybody else in college football, and it doesn’t appear that is going to change anytime soon. LSU, Florida and Auburn have been hit and miss in recent years but are formidable opponents for any team in any season and also have national championships to their credit.

Overall, Oklahoma has a record of 110-49-8 against teams from the SEC, but that record is greatly inflated because of former Big 12 schools Missouri and Texas A&M. The Sooners are 67-24-5 in games against Missouri and 19-12 all-time versus Texas A&M. OU and Arkansas were also in the same conference for a brief while in the early part of the last century as members of the old Southwest Conference. The Sooners have an overall record of 10-4-1 against Arkansas.

The Sooners have winning records overall against Alabama (3-2-1), Florida (2-1), Auburn (2-0), Tennessee (3-1), Vanderbilt (2-0-1) and Kentucky (2-1) but losing records against LSU (1-2), Georgia (0-1) and Ole Miss (0-1). Interestingly, Oklahoma has never played South Carolina or Mississippi State.

Oklahoma football fans, as well as the college football world, will be looking to see how OU and Brent Venables will respond from a very un-Oklahoma-like 2022 season in which the Sooners posted their first losing record in over two decades.

Transformation to SEC style of football is underway

Through the transfer portal and a top-five recruiting class, Oklahoma has added 37 newcomers to the 2023 roster, with a heavy infusion of elite defensive talent. On paper, the Sooners are loaded again with talent on both sides of the ball. How Venables and the OU coaching staff utilize and develop that talent and how it translates to on-field performance will determine how much of a rebound we will see from the Sooners next season.

Here’s the problem, though: The top SEC teams get the pick of the litter every recruiting cycle. While Texas and Oklahoma both brought in top-five 2023 classes, Alabama and Georgia had the No. 1 and 2 recruiting classes for the coming season.

While Oklahoma will probably be chasing Georgia and Alabama for the foreseeable future, the Sooners should match up well and be a formidable opponent for the rest of the teams in the SEC. This, of course, assumes that OU finds more consistency on offense and, most important, gets bigger, stronger and deeper on defense, which you would expect them to do under one of the best defensive coaches in college football.

Former OU head coach Bob Stoops always advocated the while the SEC may be the strongest league at the top of the conference, the Big 12 was stronger top to bottom, implying that the bottom half of the Big 12 was stronger than the lower half of the SEC. The Sooners and Longhorns are going to soon find out how true that is.

With the College Football Playoff format expanding from four to 12 teams in the 2024 season that will help strong conferences like the SEC get more than one team into the playoff, which could also play in Oklahoma’s favor long term.

The coming 2023 season will be the final season for both Oklahoma and Texas. Aside from it being the final season for the Sooners and Longhorns, it will be a much different landscape in the Big 12 with four new teams — Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU — joining the conference. For the two Red River rivals, the 2023 season will be as much about getting things in order so they’ll be ready to hit the ground running in SEC country.