Oklahoma football: Is a 10-win season realistic for 2023 Sooners?

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 /

Can an Oklahoma football team that won just six games a season ago improve enough in less than a year to win 9 or 10 games this coming season?

Sooner fans will say, heck yeah, why not? An expected response, right? Well, Las Vegas oddsmakers are inclined to agree, projecting that a 9.5 win total for the 2023 edition of Oklahoma football is both reasonable and realistic.

A post by Eli Lederman in Wednesday’s online edition of the Tulsa World reports that DraftKings lists the over/under for Sooner wins at 9.5 in Brent Venables’ second season as the OU head coach. Caesar’s Sportsbook also forecasts the same win total for the Sooners in its recently released college football odds for the 2023 season.

By comparison, the initial ESPN College Football Power Index for 2023 projects OU at 9.7 wins, second-best to Texas (10.1) among Big 12 teams in what will be the final season for both the Sooners and Longhorns before moving to the SEC.

The folks at FanDuel are also optimistic about Oklahoma’s improvement prospects for 2023, but not so much that they are willing to go as high 9.5 wins. FanDuel gives OU and over/under of 8.5 wins for the coming season.

Big 12 partisans will not like hearing this, but DraftKings has Texas and Oklahoma as the two top contenders for the championship in 2023 in the newly expanded 14-team Big 12.

Here is how DraftKings sees the rest of the Big 12 in terms of win-total odds: Texas (9.5), Kansas State (8.5), TCU (7.5), Baylor (7.5), Texas Tech (7.5), Oklahoma State (6.5), Kansas (6.5), UCF (6.5), BYU (6.0), Iowa State (5.5), West Virginia (4.5), Cincinnati (4.5) and Houston (4.5)

A 9- or 10-win season for Oklahoma in the coming season, while not unreasonable, is based on several key assumptions:

  • OU’s 2023 schedule is not as difficult as in recent seasons and more favorable to a higher win total than in the 2022 season. As an example, OU will not play Kansas State, Baylor of Texas Tech in the 2023 season — three of the top-five Big 12 title contenders next season, according to preseason odds put out by DraftKings — given the league’s new unbalanced schedule with the addition of four new teams. ESPN’s Football Power Index ranks the Sooners’ 2023 schedule 48th among 133 FBS teams in the coming season.
  • QB Dillion Gabriel, who ranked second in the conference in passing efficiency in 2022, is back for a second season in coordinator Jeff Lebby’s offense. OU depth at the position is also greatly improved with the addition of five-start recruit and 2022 Gatorade National Player of the Year Jackson Arnold.
  • And perhaps most important, the degree to which Oklahoma could improve over last season’s highly disappointing six-win, seven-loss season is highly dependent on a better, more productive defensive performance. There is good reason to believe a second year in the new system by returning defensive starters and backups, plus the addition of several transfers expected to make an immediate impact will result in appreciably better defensive play than in recent seasons.

Let’s be clear, however, if the defense is only able to produce incremental improvement from a 2022 season in which the defense yielded 30 points a game to opponents and ranked second worst in the Big 12 in both rushing and passing yards allowed, the Sooners are not likely to reach nine wins and probably not as many as eight wins.

A three- or even four-win improvement over Oklahoma’s 2022 season is considerably optimistic. But, as recent history has shown, it is well within the realm of possibility.

Bob Stoops did it four times in his 18 seasons as head coach. His year two Sooner team actually improved by six wins year over year. Who’s to say Brent Venables, who was on the staff of three of those Stoops’ team, can’t do the same?