Could Oklahoma football be better than most people think in 2024?


It may seem a little strange and out of sorts for a while, as any major change would, but after 104 years of competing in virtually the same conference, the Oklahoma football program begins an all-new era this fall as a member of the Southeastern Conference, the most competitive conference in college football.

The idiom expression of going from "a big fish in a small pond to a smaller fish in a big pond" seems to aptly apply to Oklahoma's situation in moving over to the SEC after a century-long run in the Big 12 and all of its past iterations.

The Sooners have dominated the Big 12, winning 14 championships in the 28-year history. That's 10 more than the next closest team, Texas, which is also moving to the SEC this summer. Historically, Oklahoma has won 50 conference championships, more than any team at the FBS level.

Not only will the competition level be much greater in the SEC but also the recruiting battle for talent with which to sustain success in a very challenging league. Oklahoma was No. 12 in the final 2023 College Football Playoff rankings. Four SEC teams finished ahead of the Sooners, and it would have been five if you included Texas. The final Associated Press Top 25 rankings last season featured five SEC teams ranked higher than No. 15 Oklahoma, not counting No. 3 Texas.

The same comparison applies to the ongoing battle for high school recruiting and transfer talent. The Sooners ranked in the top 10 in most of the 2024 class rankings. That ranked No, 2 in the Big 12, but it would have been behind four SEC teams (Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Auburn) with two other SEC teams (Tennessee and Florida) sitting just outside the top 10.

Most college football analysts acknowledge that Oklahoma is getting better under under third-year head coach Brent Venables and should be competitive in its 2024 inaugural season in the SEC, but not yet at the level of a Georgia, LSU or even a Nick Saban-less Alabama. You could probably also put Tennessee and Ole Miss in that category until proven otherwise, which the Sooners will have the opportunity to do this fall. They face four of the five (only Georgia is excluded) in the 2024 schedule, and they get Alabama, Tennessee at home in Norman.

While most spring projections from Las Vegas oddsmakers have Oklahoma winning no more than seven or eight games in its first season in the SEC, there are some who feel the Sooners may be better than that and one of the more underrated teams going into the 2024 season.

In OU's Big 12 era, an eight-win season would be considered unsuccessful at the least and highly disappointing at best.

Oklahoma All-Big 12 First-Team linebacker Danny Stutsman, who decided to put off the NFL Draft for at least another year and return for the 2024 season says he has been asked a lot about the Sooners' future in the SEC. "You kind of get sick of it," he told reporters recently during spring practice,, "because the best is the standard at Oklahoma.

"Hearing from 'Schmitty' (OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt every day about the league we're going into gets us fired up."

-Β Danny Stutsman

The vast majority of college football experts believe that the Sooners will be more of a middle of the pack team in highly competitive SEC, especially in its debut season. You also must consider that Oklahoma has arguably one of the most difficult schedules of any team in the SEC, if not the country, next season.

Josh Pate, a college football analyst for 247Sports and CBS Sports has a contrarian view to most everyone else outside of the state of Oklahoma. He believes the Sooners are being overlooked. Pate says too much attention is paid to what is lost when evaluating a team's prospects from season to season and not enough on what is returning.

"Everyone pays attention to what you lose in college football, and they don't pay enough attention to what you have," Pate says.

"Oklahoma did lose a lot on the offensive line and did lose a starter at quarterback, but they also have the former Elite 11 MVP, Jackson Arnold, who is two years in...They recruited at what has them at a top-10 talent roster status. So it's not like their going to put potato sacks out there on the offensive line. You don't know their names so you automatically think they're going to be subpar."

Can the Sooners overachieve what everyone expects from them as a member of the SEC? Only time will tell, but it is food for thought in a world of Sooner doomsayers.