The 3 best defenses the Oklahoma Sooners will face in 2024

Jackson Arnold will be forced to navigate an SEC gauntlet in his first year as Oklahoma's starting quarterback and these three games will be the toughest challenges.
Tennessee defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. (27)
Tennessee defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. (27) / Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA

The Big 12 conference has never been known for physical defense, so while the SEC has changed into a pass-first high-scoring league along with the rest of college football, it will still be a difficult transition for the Oklahoma Sooners. 

Brent Venables is a defense-first head coach who still needs to add a few pieces to get his defense to a championship level, so right now, his team’s strength is on the other side of the ball. New OC Seth Littrell will lead Jackson Arnold through his first season as a starting quarterback against a loaded SEC schedule, but three matchups stand out as particularly difficult for the sophomore five-star. 

The Sooners did catch a break, missing Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs and entering the league in the first year after Nick Saban’s retirement, so the matchup with Kalen DeBoer’s Crimson Tide won’t feel so daunting. Instead, these three opponents look like the toughest to score on in 2024. 

. 532. 3. . . . Ole Miss. . .

Last season was one of the best in Ole Miss history and ended with a dominant Peach Bowl win over Penn State. Yet, that wasn’t enough for Lane Kiffin, who not only brought back his starting quarterback for his third year as the starter but added the most talent in the country through the transfer portal. 

The Rebels finished 6th in the SEC with 22.5 points allowed a game and were 10th in total defense, but a lot of those issues were along the defensive line. So, Kiffin landed Walter Nolen and Princely Umanmielen along with 22 other transfer portal additions. That influx of talent will turn Ole Miss into a College Football Playoff-caliber team on both sides of the ball. 

. . . . Tennessee. . . 2. 534. team

While Josh Heupel revitalized the Tennessee football program with his aggressive downfield passing attack two years ago, last season with Joe Milton at quarterback, Tennessee became about running the ball and playing defense. The Vols allowed just 20.3 points a game and while they lost Tyler Baron to the transfer portal and Miami, they still have one of the best pass-rushers in the country. 

James Pearce Jr. racked up 52 pressures last season with 13 sacks. As long as the Vols establish somebody as his running-mate on the defensive line, he’ll likely put up the type of production to be considered the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. 

. 531. . . . Missouri. . 1. .

Missouri’s magical run in 2023 was punctuated by a dominant defensive performance against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes were without Kyle McCord at quarterback and backup Devin Brown suffered an injury, but allowing 203 total yards and three points was remarkable. The Tigers finished last season fifth in the SEC in total defense and 4th in points per game. 

Eli Drinkwitz will expect his team to be in CFP contention this year, especially with Brady Cook and Luther Burden III back on offense. However, after losing Darius Robinson and Kris Abrams-Draine to the NFL, Drinkwitz had to reconfigure his defense. So, he went to the portal and added 10 defensive players including Corey Flagg, Toriano Pride Jr., and Zion Young to complement returning starters like Daylan Carnell and Johnny Walker Jr.

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