Oklahoma football: Not everyone is buying Brent Venables’ 2023 optimism

Players sing the school song during a spring scrimmage game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman Okla., on Saturday, April 22, 2023.Ou Spring
Players sing the school song during a spring scrimmage game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman Okla., on Saturday, April 22, 2023.Ou Spring /

Even before the spring game last weekend, there has been growing optimism about the 2023 Oklahoma football season. otherwise known as Year 2 of the Brent Venables coaching era at OU.

Recognizing Oklahoma’s long-standing record of success in college football, it’s not surprising that the glass-half-full members of the wide-serving Sooner fan club would find something good out of an uncharacteristically bummer of a 2022 season.

It’s true that the Sooners were pathetically bad in losing two Big 12 games by an average of 40 points, but they also lost four games — four of their last five of the season, by the way —  by no more than a field goal. And the competitive fight OU displayed against 13th-ranked Florida State — the latter playing at virtually full strength while the Sooners were without their best running back and several key players on defense — losing on a game-winning field goal with under a minute remaining in the game provided a ton of positive momentum to carry over into the next season.

“We feel extremely short of our standards and expectations,” Venables announced to fans attending the Oklahoma spring game on Saturday as well as the media in an interview session afterward.”

Related Story. Key takeaways from the Oklahoma Red-White spring game. light

The OU head coach readily acknowledged “there’s no excuses that’s going to justify the kind of season that we did. Internally, we know we came up short in a lot of different places.

"“A course of a season will really tell the story,” Venables said, “but were making the improvement we need to make, and there’s still a lot we’ve got to continue to develop and improve at for sure. This was the step (the growing pains of last season) that was necessary to do so, though.”"

So what have the Sooners done to get better? To begin with, Venables and his staff signed an incoming recruiting class that was one of the best OU class in recent memory and ranked No. 4 nationally, according to both ESPN and 247Sports. That’s in addition to a top-10 class out of the transfer portal, as well.

Much of that incoming talent was on display at the annual Oklahoma Red-White spring game this past Saturday. Joined with returning players on the roster, who now have a year of experience in a new system under their belts, there was a lot to like about what we saw coming out of the spring game, especially on the defensive side. (You can check out the article earlier this week by Brandon Self for deeper insights and observations from the OU spring game.)

You can also add a 2023 schedule (ranked 48th most difficult by the ESPN College Football Power Index) that appears to be very favorable to the Sooners for next season. OU will not play Baylor, Kansas State, for example, two teams that have been veritable thorns in Oklahoma’s side in recent seasons.

“We’re evaluating (all of this) every step of the way,” Venables said last Saturday. “Up through this, you feel, all right, mission accomplished. We improved, we got better.

There’s definitely reason to “feel better,” he said.

While many college football pundits and analysts are saying similar things about Oklahoma’s rebound prospects this fall, not everyone is buying in, not yet, anyway.

Count ESPN analyst and self-proclaimed SEC homie Paul Finebaum among those who are skeptical about Oklahoma’s improvement prospects in the coming season.

“I have deep concerns for the trajectory of Oklahoma,” Finebaum said Tuesday on the “McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning” national radio program. I talked to a local columnist, and I did not get a good vibe from that program.

"“There just seems to be a concern that, in the aftermath of Lincoln Riley, they can put the pieces back together quickly. That did tremendous damage.“No one is convinced that the Brent Venables hire is going to work.”"

It is worth pointing out that Finebaum has had a notorious bias against Oklahoma football for some time. He was an outspoken critic of the Sooners and Bob Stoops, especially after the time that Stoops said the SEC wasn’t that much better than the Big 12 when you look beyond the Alabamas, Georgias and LSUs of the world and consider the entirety of both leagues, top to bottom.

Finebaum also has been cynical about how successful Oklahoma and Texas would be once they become full-fledged members of the SEC beginning in the 2024 season.

Whether you are a fan of Oklahoma football or not, there is an argument certainly to be made on both sides, and you will see that debate played out into the summer months as the countdown continues toward the kickoff of a new college football season.

But until the Sooners show on the field when the games are for real that the issues have been addressed and the ship, indeed, has been righted and again headed in the right direction, the critics will persist.