Memo to media: Stop lamenting Oklahoma's readiness to play (and win) in almighty SEC

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

All we've been reading about the last few years regarding the transition of Oklahoma football to the big-boy league known as the SEC is how the Sooners will get to see how real college football is played and be humbled in the process.

I don't know about you, but I've grown really tired of all the media chatter and commentary maligning Oklahoma's readiness to compete at a high level in the conference widely recognized as the best there is in college football.

Most all of the win projections by Las Vegas oddsmakers and preseason previews by college football analysts and magazines for Oklahoma football in the 2024 season are under eight wins. While it may be true that the SEC in football is a comparatively stronger conference than the Big 12, it isn't as if he Sooners have been competing in a Group of Five or Division II league the past 28 seasons. Oklahoma has won fewer than eight wins just twice in the last 25 years.

The SEC does have an overwhelming advantage in the number of national championships teams since 1996, the first season of the Big 12. Six different SEC schools (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Auburn) have combined to win 16 national titles during that span to just three for the Big 12 (Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas). Alabama owns six of the SEC's 16 national championships in the last 28 seasons.

Granted, the Sooners probably aren't going to win the SEC in the coming season, let alone win an eighth national championship. But the newly expanded 12-team College Football Playoff isn't out of reach. Of course, for a CFP appearance to become a reality in 2024, Oklahoma is probably going to have to garner at least 10 wins. With one of the most difficult schedules in college football this coming season, nine wins might even do the trick.

To be fair, Oklahoma's readiness to play and win at the upper level of the SEC three years ago, when the move to the SEC by the Sooners first became something real, was somewhat laughable given a football team that was all offense and no defense. All one needs to do is look at OU's three consecutive opening-round losses to three SEC opponents in the College Football Playoff (to Georgia in 2017, Alabama in 2018 and LSU by 35 points in 2019) by the average score of 54-37 to come to that depressing conclusion.

It's taken a couple of season's -- and the best is clearly still ahead -- but the OU defense that takes the field this season is dramatically better than it was three years ago under Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

The Sooner defense in Year 2 of the Brent Venables era was markedly better than it was in Year 1, and the 2024 edition should be even better than last season. That fact alone should bode well for OU in its debut season in the SEC. But here's the kicker in this whole argument: I believe too much has been written questioning quarterback Jackson Arnold's readiness to live up to the high expectations of him when he signed with Oklahoma as a five star prospect and one of the top two or three QBs available in the 2023 class. Spoiler alert: He will and will open the eyes wide of all the critics.

The Oklahoma offense is loaded with playmakers, on the ground and especially through the air, and I'm going on record predicting that it will be the best Sooner offense of the Venables era and with Arnold directing the charge. Oh, and by the way, the 2023 Oklahoma offense ranked No. 3 nationally in total offense (507 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring offense (41.3 per game).

While the 2024 Oklahoma schedule is among the most difficult of any Power 4 team, the Sooners' nonconference slate is of the opposite variety, OU should prevail over its four nonconference foes (Temple, Houston, Tulane and Maine, all at home), but where could there be as many as five or six wins from eight SEC opponents?

The Sooners play Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama at home this season. I believe OU will win two of those three games. That leaves four SEC true road contests (Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU). Historically, Oklahoma has played well on the road. The crowds in the SEC are larger and more vocal than in the Big 12, but OU has played in big games in big stadiums and before big crowds before. I believe Venables and Co. will surprise some folks and win at Auburn, Ole Miss and against old conference foe Missouri.

That would total nine wins against likely five top-25 teams. And then there is the annual Red River Rivalry game with Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Oct. 12 this year. Texas most likely will be favored, but this is OU-Texas, one of the college football's biggest rivalries, and you can generally dismiss the rankings and records coming in. The Sooners are 7-3 in the last 10 games against the Longhorns. A win in this game could be the difference between nine and 10 wins for the season.

This is all hypothetical, of course, but not at all outside of the realm of possibility, The one thing we do know for sure is that in 53 days, the truth will begin to be revealed, and by the end of November we will have the view of the full picture

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