Oklahoma football: Be careful of over/underrating 2024 Sooners based on Alamo Bowl

Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Danny Stutsman participates in a football practice in Norman, Oklahoma, in preparation for the Sooners' Alamo Bowl game against Arizona.
Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Danny Stutsman participates in a football practice in Norman, Oklahoma, in preparation for the Sooners' Alamo Bowl game against Arizona. / BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

When the Oklahoma football team takes the field at the Alamodome in San Antionio, Texas, on Dec. 28 against No. 14 Arizona, it will have been over a month since both teams last played.

That length of time off always makes for some uncertainty not knowing what impact the long layoff might have on the play of either team. You can't simulate game speed and action in practice, and with that much time off since the last game, you would logically expect the timing and execution not to be quite as sharp as it was at the end of the regular season.

Compounding that situation is the modern-day problem of not having your full roster available for the bowl game -- not just due to injury but because of opting out to avoid an injury that could affect NFL Draft status or, even more so in this day and age, because of the decision to transfer.

With the plethora of bowl games that exist today (43 including the national championship game), the vast majority are relatively meaningless from a national point of view. They do have value, of course, to the schools that have been rewarded with an extra game over the holidays, but it is difficult to predict how a team might perform next season based on the outcome of the of a bowl game, especially one outside of the teams still in the hunt for a national title.

Oklahoma is the second-ranked team in the Big 12 as well as in the final Big 12 standings. But the Sooners have been relegated to the Alamo Bowl, which is a bowl at least a level below a New Year's Six bowl assignment. OU will not have a full complement of players, including starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who entered the transfer portal and has committed to the Oregon Ducks for a sixth season.

The Sooners will be without several other players who have opted for the transfer portal, while 14th-ranked Arizona is expected to be at virtually full strength for the Alamo Bowl matchup with OU. As a result, the Sooners are a 3.5 underdog to Arizona, which finished the regular season with six straight wins.

Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold, the OU quarterback of the future, will be getting the start against Arizona, his first career start. If the Sooners don't win the game, there will be widespread speculation their immediate future is not as bright as some experts would lead you to believe.

Oklahoma can be expected to play hard and play to win in its Alamo Bowl matchup. The problem is the Sooners will be going up against one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of the regular season. If Arizona were to win, however, as the Big 12-bound Wildcats are favored to do so, some will immediately jump to the conclusion that the Sooners are not as good as their 10-2 record indicates and are in for a big shock next season in their inaugural year in the talent-loaded SEC.

One or both of those deductions might be true, but the reality is the outcome of the Alamo Bowl game -- and any postseason bowl game, for that matter -- has absolutely no bearing on past success or what is to come in the season ahead in 2024, though some will surely want to make it so.

Although on the rise and measurably better than a year ago, the Sooners are nowhere near where they want or need to be to seriously compete with the best teams in the SEC. On the backbone of two consecutive highly ranked recruiting classes, head coach Brent Venables and his staff appear to have OU back on track and headed for future success.

The Alamo Bowl and an opponent like Arizona is a reward for the Sooners 2023 success but is not a valid predictor of what can or will be achieved -- or not -- in the future.