Oklahoma football: The case for No. 1 overall recruit Will Nwaneri picking Mizzou over OU

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 10: The lights are turned off after a touchdown by the Oklahoma Sooners against the Kent State Golden Flashes as fans hold up their phones in the third quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma won 33-3. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 10: The lights are turned off after a touchdown by the Oklahoma Sooners against the Kent State Golden Flashes as fans hold up their phones in the third quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma won 33-3. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

It’s never over till it’s actually over, but as of right now, Oklahoma football has lost the battle, if not the war, in its serious quest for the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2024 class nationally.

On Monday, five-star defensive end Williams Nwaneri, a top recruiting target for the Oklahoma football program for the entire 2023 recruiting cycle and the No. 1 player in the 2024 class nationally turned the other cheek and committed to former Big 12 and future SEC foe Missouri.

The 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound Nwaneri, out of Lee’s Summit North High School in the Greater Kansas City area, announced his commitment in a brief public ceremony at the high school. Although the standout defensive prospect drew wide interest from a wide range of major college programs, the real recruiting battle for Nwaneri ultimately boiled down to a choice between Oklahoma and Missouri.

Is this a devastating loss to Oklahoma recruiting? As much as it feels like in the moment, the answer is no. Like legendary Sooner head coach Barry Switzer liked to say, “We’ll win with you or without you.” And that’s probably true.

Sooner fans obviously don’t want to hear this, but while Nwaneri would have been a prime addition for any program in the country, the reality of the matter is Missouri probably needs him more than Oklahoma does, looking at the decision from a wider lens.

In his comments following the announcement, Nwaneri may have surprised everyone when he indicated that Oklahoma was in the lead for the longest, then it was Georgia for a while, and he almost committed to Georgia in the June time frame, he said, but the home-state team Missouri stayed consistent throughout. Tennessee was also in the hunt for a while.

In the end, though, he said, it was Missouri over Georgia. That comes as a huge surprise to almost anyone who has been following his developing story leading up to Monday’s commitment announcement. Even as late as Sunday, local and national media were reporting that the final choice would be between OU and Missouri, with the momentum gaining and trending favorably for the latter.

What were the deciding factors that led to Nwaneri’s choice of Missouri?

The biggest factor in Nwaneri’s commitment is believed to be the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) money that was tied to Missouri’s scholarship offer. A new state law in Missouri allows a student-athlete to begin receiving payments as early as Aug. 28. You can bet that the Sooners offered a sweet NIL deal as well, but it probably wasn’t as lucrative nor as timely as Missouri’s.

The other big factor was the opportunity to play close to home. It’s roughly 120 miles from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and Columbia, Missouri, where MU is located. Contrast that with a 370-mile trip to Norman or 850 miles to Athens, Georgia.

One recruiting analyst reported he had been told by sources close to the situation that if the decision had been left entirely up to Nwaneri, he would have picked Oklahoma based on where he truly wanted to play and the relationships he had developed with Venables and the OU coaching staff. But he was not the only person involved in the decision, and it is believed there was disagreement between his parents over which school would be in the best short- and long-term interest of their son.

While Oklahoma and Georgia both have impressive records of developing and getting players to the NFL, Missouri can also effectively play that card.

It is also likely that part of Missouri’s recruiting pitch to Nwaneri was the opportunity to come to Missouri and be the star of the defense, if not the entire team. While at Oklahoma or Georgia, he might be one of a number of star players.

Oklahoma was hopeful that offensive guard Cayden Green, a member of the Sooners 2023 class, 2024 defensive line commitment Ka’Mori Moore and 2025 WR target Isaiah Mozee, all of whom were teammates of Nwaneri at Lee’s Summit North, would be an added incentive to commit to the Sooners. Also of note, Mozee’s father, Jamar, played football at OU and is the head coach at Lee’s Summit North.

Is there a good chance OU could flip Nwaneri ahead of signing day in December?

There is always the chance that Nwaneri could end up a Sooner, or even a Georgia Bulldog, before he formally signs a letter of intent in December, but I wouldn’t look for this to happen. Nothing is official until he places his signature on the LOI.

Just ask Notre Dame and Oregon, who lost out to OU on Peyton Bowen, who decommitted from Notre Dame. He was thought to be headed to Oklahoma, but on signing day he committed to Oregon. Twenty-four hours after committing to Oregon, however, he still hadn’t signed with the Ducks. Instead, he opted out of his one-day commitment to Oregon and flipped to Oklahoma.

Strange things of this nature have happened prior to actual signing day, and you can be assured that OU will not give up the ghost in an attempt to get Nwaneri to Oklahoma in a uniform other than that of the Missouri Tigers.

Nwaneri is the second five-star defensive lineman that Oklahoma has lost out on in the 2024 class after numerous projections had been in the Sooners favor for an extended period. D.J. Hicks was thought to be headed to Oklahoma when he surprisingly announced earlier this summer that he was going to be a Texas Longhorn.

Does this mean that Brent Venables and Company aren’t able to persuade elite recruiting talent to come to Norman? No, not at all. OU’s 2023 class contained two five-star defensive players (edge rusher P.J. Adebawore and safety Peyton Bowen), and the Sooners remain the favorite, according to both 247Sports and Rivals, to land five-star defensive lineman David Stone and four-star DL Nigel Smith in this recruiting cycle. Both of those announcements are expected over the next three weeks.

At the beginning of the year, Oklahoma was heavily targeting four five-star defensive linemen, including Nwaneri and Hicks. The Sooner brass was hoping to win the battle for as many as three of the five, despite the fact that Oklahoma has never signed more than two five-star defensive players in any class in its history. High expectations for sure, but from a competitive standpoint, it’s got to be pretty difficult to convince as many as three players of that caliber in the same class to commit and sign with the same team.

Oklahoma has had some big wins in the 2024 recruiting cycle, and there will be more coming up over the next several weeks. Chalk up the Nwaneri recruitment to Missouri — at least for now — but there is still a long way still to go before December. OU may have lost this battle, but the 2024 recruiting cycle and the war for future talent is far from finished.

Oklahoma football is what it’s historical record says it is: One of college football’s premier programs.