The 2021 Spring camp has concluded for Oklahoma. With that brings over 100 days of waiting until Fall camp begins. At Oklahoma, the pursuit of championships is a rite of passage. That’s the standard that Oklahoma football has built. However, in 2021, the standard and expectations meet where Oklahoma is a legitimate National Championship contender. The Sooners have been there. But, there has been a missing component. That is a championship-caliber defense. Optimism is at an all-time high for Sooner nation and much of that is centered around the development of the defense. But, is it good enough? Can the defense deliver Oklahoma a National Championship?
The National Perception
The Sooners badly need to be able to change the national perception of the big stage. On one hand, Oklahoma has won six straight Big 12 championships. However, they are 0-7 in the last seven National Championship or College Football Playoff games. The common denominator has been the defensive performance in those games. Oklahoma has averaged giving up 43 points per game in those seven outings. No matter how good the offense performs, the defense has to show up.
Oklahoma will likely have to face perennial powers such as Alabama, Ohio State, or Clemson in order to win a National Championship this season. There’s not an astronomical difference, but there is a defensive performance difference nonetheless. In the same time period, Ohio State has won three games while surrendering 33 points per game. Alabama has won five games and give up 26 points per game. Finally, Clemson has won four games and gives up 27 points a game. The fact of the matter is not only will the Sooners have to improve overall defense, but also when it matters by 10-14 points per game in the playoffs.
The Alex Grinch Effect
The last few years under Mike Stoops, the Oklahoma defense had reached a level not seen in many years. In 2017, Oklahoma ranked 82nd nationally in total defense and improved to 29th in 2021. Whether the problem was coaching, talent, or scheme the improvement cannot be understated. But, Grinch knows that they cannot be satisfied. For the first time in more than 15 years, there is more buzz around the defense than there is about the offense. Perhaps that is because fans know that Oklahoma is close. Grinch finally has his guys in Norman to run his defense.
The influx in talent and depth could be a reason why this team might be singing a different tune. The Sooners feel like they have championship and talent at all three levels of the defense. As was shown in the Spring Game, Oklahoma can comfortably go four deep on the defensive line. They also have star power with guys like Perrion Winfrey, Isaiah Thomas, and Jalen Redmond that are championship-level defensive linemen. However, when players like Jordan Kelley, Josh Ellison, Isaiah Coe, Laron Stokes, and Marcus Hicks give the Sooners depth that is capable of winning a title.
A similar statement could be made for the Linebackers and Secondary. Nik Bonitto, David Ugwoegbu, and Brian Asamoah are potential superstars for the linebacking corps. But, it’s not without quality depth at the Mike and Will positions with Shane Whitter, Caleb Kelly, and Dashuan White. Comparatively, the Jack linebacker has similar depth behind Bonitto with Marcus Stripling and true freshman Clayton Smith.
Depth in the Secondary
At the Cornerback position, the Sooners have similar depth with D.J. Graham and Woodi Washington penciled in as the projected starters. But, with guys like Latrell McCutchin, Jaden Davis, Josh Eaton, and Kendall Dennis the Sooners feel good about their quality depth at Cornerback. In the same fashion, at Safety and Nickleback position Oklahoma has the ability to three to four deep. Pat Fields, Delarrin Turner-Yell, Key Lawrence, Bryson Washington, and Jordan Mukes providing depth. Additionally, having the emergence of Billy Bowman alongside Justin Harrington, Jeremiah Criddell, and Justin Broiles gives the Sooners some much-needed versatility.
Oklahoma must deal with something that they haven’t had to factor in quite some time. That is expectations. Realistic or not, a top 15 defense nationally may be the expectation. The Sooners took the first step by performing very well in the Spring Game. However, the next step will be to consistently put that together each and every game in the regular season. Finally, can that carry over to a College Football Playoff win? But, the question throughout the off-season will remain as to whether Grinch can deliver Oklahoma a National Championship in 2021.