For the first time since 2016, the Oklahoma Sooners will head into the offseason on a winning note. After the decisive victory over Florida in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners will bring in a huge amount of momentum into the season. The 2020 season has been similar to the 2016 season in many ways. That 2016 season began with two early losses just as this year did for Oklahoma. However, that created the momentum for Oklahoma to make the College Football Playoffs in 2017. Could that mean the same thing in 2021 for Oklahoma? Today, we look back at how the Oklahoma Sooners end 2020 and then look ahead to the 2021 season.
Oklahoma Sooners End 2020 Looking Like a Champion
Lincoln Riley may have done his best coaching in 2020 amid the most difficult year he has faced. He was trying to develop a young team on the heels of starting 0-2 in conference play and losing back to back games for the first time since 1999. But, the turning point was against Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Spencer Rattler was benched and the rest of the team rallied around that, found a way to win, and kickstarted eight consecutive wins. Individually, Rattler responded well with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions after that point. In fact, taking into account that he threw for 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions was a very successful freshman season.
Comparatively, you could make an argument that Oklahoma had its best defensive team since 2003. Oklahoma landed in the top 10 nationally in several defensive categories such as rushing defense, 3rd down percentage defense, Sacks, and Interceptions. Again, the Texas game seemed to be the turning point. After four games, Oklahoma was giving up an average of 30 points per game. However, over the last seven games, they gave up 17 points per contest. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s staple in his career is forcing turnovers. Oklahoma forced 19 turnovers this season including three interceptions of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.
To say that the future looks bright for this Oklahoma team is an understatement. Of the 22 starters in the Cotton Bowl, only three are seniors. In fact, looking at the two-deep on both sides on the ball the Sooners have four seniors out of 44 overall players. That is the very reason that many national experts believed that 2020 would be the season that Oklahoma could get back to the College Football Playoffs. Additionally, Oklahoma could welcome back three key players that could contribute in 2021. Caleb Kelly will be returning from an ACL injury at linebacker, Kennedy Brooks will be back at running back after opting out as well as Jalen Redmond on the defensive line. There are a couple of key decisions on both sides of the ball that could also impact the trajectory of next season.
For the purpose of this discussion, we’re going to assume a normal schedule in 2021. The Sooners do not have a daunting non-conference schedule as they host Western Carolina and Nebraska and travel to Tulane. Additionally, Oklahoma will get Iowa State, TCU, and West Virginia at home. However, road games against Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State and the annual tilt with Texas in the Cotton Bowl will loom large. Having said that, Oklahoma has the schedule set up for a deep run.
Can Oklahoma make an argument to be Preseason number one in 2021?
At an initial glance, that seems to be a bit of a stretch. However, how Oklahoma finished the season, coupled with the returning two deep on both sides of the ball it may not be so far-fetched. But, a couple of key decisions could impact that. On offense, Rhamondre Stevenson is a senior but could choose to come back. A full season could be enticing to climb up the draft board. Comparatively, Ronnie Perkins is a junior and draft-eligible but could also return. Most see Perkins as a potential late 2nd round, but more likely a 3rd round pick. Another full season could elevate him to a late 1st round selection.
Conventional wisdom would have Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State as challengers to that preseason number one spot. However, all three will be breaking in new quarterbacks with Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, and Justin Fields likely on NFL rosters next season. It’s difficult to gauge in this season which players might test the NFL waters and what Seniors may elect to return for an additional season. But, whether the Sooners come in as the top-ranked team or a top-five team the 2021 version has the opportunity to be the most complete team in nearly 20 years.