Oklahoma football: More reason for fans to get excited for an OU turnaround in 2023

NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Quarterback Baker Mayfield
NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Quarterback Baker Mayfield /

Spring practice is underway for Oklahoma football, but this time of year basketball is at the pinacle of its season and takes center stage in the college sports world.

Tonight tips off the Sweet 16 round of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. That got two college football writers for The Athletic to think about a 16-team playoff, but with the best programs in college football, five months shy of the new 2023 season.

In going about this timely but off-brand exercise, Andy Staples and Ari Wasserman of The Athletic openly acknowledged that because of the unpredictability and randomness of the 64-team basketball format, the 16 teams that make it through the opening weekend and advance to the round of 16 don’t necessarily represent the best 16 teams in the sport.

College football is expanding its playoff format beginning in the 2024 season, going from four teams to 12, but with the Sweet 16 in progress the next two days, when the tournament field will be slashed to eight teams and then down to four by Sunday night. With that in mind, it seemed both timely and fun to identify and rank the 16 college football teams the two Athletic writers consider to be the current best 16 football programs based on recent and current success.

By now, you probably have a good idea of where we’re going with this and how it relates to Oklahoma football circa 2023. We’ll end your suspense and peak your curiosity by revealing that the Sooners did make the cut.

The real question and debate between Staples and Wasserman was where OU should rank, especially given how far the fell off in finishing 2022 with a losing record, the program’s first since the 1998 season.

Here is how the two Athletic writers described the issue surrounding the OU football program:

“How high should an Oklahoma program now coached by Brent Venables rank when the best of the Sooners’ recent success was led by Lincoln Riley, who now coaches USC? In most cases, we favored the programs whose arrows seemed to point up recently.”

Staples and Wasserman both agreed that the top two teams were Georgia and Alabama, although Staples had Georgia No. 1 and Wasserman placed Georgia in the top spot. Staples’ top four were Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State. Wasserman’s top four were Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and LSU.

The next four (5 through 8) is where it gets interesting.

Staples                                               Wasserman

5. LSU Tigers                                    5. Michigan Wolverines

6. Clemson Tigers                           6. Oklahoma Sooners

7. Penn State Nittany Lions        7. Clemson Tigers

8. Utah Utes                                    8. USC Trojans

Staples had the Sooners in the next group of four at No. 10. Here was his explanation:

"“I probably ticked off Oklahoma fans by putting the Sooners below the Trojans [You think?], but I need to see that Venables can be the on-field CEO required to compete for national titles. I actually trust him more than Riley to build a roster capable of competing where the Sooners are headed.”"

The second year of the Venables era at Oklahoma are again carrying high expectations. Some of the national experts who cover college football are willing to give the Sooner head coach a conditional pass. But they won’t be so forgiving — nor probably will the Sooner fans — if Oklahoma doesn’t show appreciable improvement in Year 2.