Oklahoma football: How could Danny Stutsman not be a Butkus Award semifinalist?

Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman (28) is pictured at OU media day in Norman, Okla., on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman (28) is pictured at OU media day in Norman, Okla., on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. /

A big reason for the 7-0 start to the 2023 Oklahoma football season was a much-improved defense led by junior linebacker Danny Stutsman.

Stutsman was on of 51 college players named to the preseason watch list for 2023 Butkus Award, which recognizes the most outstanding linebacker in college football.

The junior linebacker has 73 tackles this season and is among the national leaders in tackles for loss with 11.5. Stutsman has missed the last game and a half, though, with an ankle injury, and earlier this week his name was missing among the 12 semifinalists still being considered for this year’s Butkus Award.

The Oklahoma defensive leader had begun drawing national attention last season, and a number of college experts believed that with his play to start the 2023 season he could be in line for an All-American nod and a strong candidate for the prestigious Butkus honor. The Butkus selection committee, however, is of the opinion that at least dozen of Stutsman’s peers are more deserving.

You’ve got to ask, how could that be?

Brent Venables was asked during his weekly press conference on Tuesday about Stutsman not making the list:

"“I didn’t know that,” the OU head coach said. “Danny’s worked really hard. He’s an excellent player. One of the best players on our football team.“He’s deserved all the recognition that he’s gotten. He earned it all. His best football is still ahead of him. He has a chance to be as good as we’ve ever had.”"

That would certainly put the star Oklahoma linebacker among some serious company. The Sooners have had three Butkus Award winners: Brian Bosworth won the award twice (1985 and 1986), Rocky Calmus (2001) and Teddy Lehman (2003).

We’ll never know for sure why Stutsman didn’t make the semifinal cut. Hopefully, it was not because of his injury, which forced him out of the past two games, the Sooners’ only losses of the season. What we do know, though, is that Stutsman has more tackles for loss this season — and in fewer games — than any of the Butkus semifinalists and more tackles than seven of the 12.

Stutsman came to OU as a four-star prospect in the Sooners’ 2021 class. Ranked by Rivals as the No. 13 outside linebacker nationally in the 2021 class, the Florida native played in 10 of OU’s 13 games in the 2021 season and came into his own his sophomore year when he led the Big 12 with 125 tackles and ranked 18th nationally averaging 9.6 tackles per game.

As impressive as he was on a bad Oklahoma defense last season, he has only gotten better this season. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 236-pound Stutsman not only has been a one-man wrecking crew on defense for the Sooners this season but is undeniably the heart and soul and team leader of the defense. And his leadership has made a giant difference in OU’s defensive improvement.

Stutsman may not have made this year’s Butkus semifinalist list, but according to his head coach, he is close to returning to action and resuming his leadership role calling the signals for the Sooner defensive unit. Venables said the star linebacker has practiced this week and if it were up to Stutsman he would be back on the field, no questions asked, and taking no prisoners against West Virginia on Saturday.