Brent Venables feels last two recruiting classes are huge step toward SEC readiness


For the past two seasons, or since Brent Venables arrived back in Norman as the new head man of Oklahoma football, the Sooners have been gearing their recruiting effort not just as a member of the Big 12 but even more so in preparation for their move to the SEC.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma signed all 27 of its 2024 commitments to date, a class that ranks in the top-10 nationally for a second straight year and includes 14 elite recruits (five or four-star rated).

When the 2024 college football season kicks off next fall, Oklahoma will be a full-fledged member of the Southeastern Conference. The competition for the Sooners will ramp up considerably going up every week against the teams in the SEC, who represent some of the very best in the college game.

Venables was able to settle in quickly and comfortably into his new role at OU, having served 13 seasons as an assistant and defensive coordinator under Bob Stoops. His first order of business was to rebuild a Sooner defense that had become one of the worst in Division I college football.

Venables took a lot of heat during his first season as head coach when the Sooners finished a disappointing 6-7 with a defense that appeared to digress further rather than show any marked improvement. There was definite defensive improvement this season, however, as Oklahoma began to reap the rewards from its focus in the 2023 recruiting class in bringing in some top defensive talent. Before Venables arrived, elite defensive prospects wouldn't even consider coming to Oklahoma.

When you look at the makeup of OU's 2023 and 2024 recruiting classes, two things immediately stand out. First of all, the quality of elite defensive recruits (five- and four-star prospects) is at a level that it hasn't been for well over a decade) and second, the Sooners still have been able to sign top talent on the offensive side of the ball with former five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold a prime example.

Oklahoma football has been a national powerhouse brand for three quarters of a century. It takes a continual infusion of elite talent to sustain that level of success. Over the past two decades alone, the Sooners have won 14 conference championships, a national championship and made 24 consecutive postseason bowl appearances, including nine BCS bowls (what is now referred to as New Year's Six bowls), four BCS championship games and four College Football Playoff appearances.

During the past 20-plus seasons, OU has perennially been a top-15 team nationally in recruiting and many of those years finished among the top-10 teams. But the Sooners primarily have been built as a high-scoring, high-powered offensive machine.

Although that structural makeup enabled OU to score plenty of points, is an exciting brand of football to watch and allowed the Sooners to win a lot of games and command a high national ranking, it has been a continuing problem whenever Oklahoma was matched up in the postseason against good defensive teams, the likes of which have been a hallmark of the top teams in the SEC.

Oklahoma's ineptness on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the College Football Playoff era, cost them at least one and possibly two national championships.

Having spent 10 seasons at Clemson as defensive coordinator (2012-2021), Venables is extremely familiar with what SEC defenses look like and what makes them so good. He knows that the best SEC defenses and the best defenses in any circumstance start with the big guys up front on the defensive line. While at Clemson, Venables had a number of top-10 defensive lines with NFL-quality talent. And that is precisely his approach at Oklahoma.

The problem is, everyone is after the best of the best as far as elite defensive lineman are concerned, and the demand far outstrips the supply. "There's just not that many of them," Venables said in his early signing day press conference on Wednesday. "It's been that way since football became a sport. Rushing the passer, stopping the run -- the lines of scrimmage is always where the game has been won or lost."

""There's just not as many of them (elite defensive linemen) that are able to play at a really, really high level.""

OU head coach Brent Venables

Venables called OU's 2024 class "our best one up to this point in time" and marked another huge step in getting ready for the move to the SEC. The class includes five defensive linemen, five offensive linemen and seven defensive backs. The Sooner head coach was particularly excited about the incoming class of defensive linemen, headed by five-star recruit David Stone, the No. 2 player at his position nationally. The other four are all rated as four-star prospects.

The five defensive line signees represents the best D-line class the Sooners have assembled in many years. Venables knows that everything starts at the point of attack, but you have to have and be able to develop top talent at all levels of the defense. A positional breakdown of Oklahoma's last two recruiting classes shows that is what is happening. And you can't overlook the large talent pool that is available every year in the transfer portal.

"We're always working to get better," Venables said. "We certainly are competitive. We want more and we're going to need more.

"Recruiting always been competitive. But you're going to a conference that the resources are very real everywhere you go -- that are every bit as good or better than what you have. You've got to be resourceful and committed to our philosophy.