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Sooners' football media days list tells you right where they are
Big 12 Football Media Days are less than two weeks away in Arlington, Texas, Oklahoma taking part on Day 2, July 13.
The Sooners will be joined by Central Florida, Cincinnati, Iowa State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State; Oklahoma State, Baylor, BYU, Houston, Kansas, TCU and Texas having gone the day before.
On the off chance you’ve been craving a singular snapshot depicting just how far OU finds itself from the top of the conference in which it remains as well as the one it will soon join, look no further than the Sooner guest list:
Head coach Brent Venables.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
Defensive lineman Jonah Laulu.
Receiver Drake Stoops.
Linebacker Danny Stutsman.
Nothing against the group, but the basic idea is to bring your headliners and Venables’ quartet depicts the Sooners right where they are and it’s not great.
Is it even good?
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Forever I’ve thought Stoops could be as terrific as any offensive coordinator/quarterback tandem wanted him to be, all it had to do was throw him the ball. And though he caught 39 passes a year ago, more than twice his previous 16, he’s still a reminder the last prolific pass catcher to return to Norman for another season was CeeDee Lamb after grabbing 65 in 2018.
Lamb’s also the last Sooner to catch at least 55, grabbing 62 in 2019. Charleston Rambo caught 43 that same season and, but for Marcus Mims’ 54 last year, nobody’s caught 40 since.
Gabriel may be OU’s most valuable player, yet only because he must be on his game for the Sooners to win and a year ago he batted around .500.
Of course, he’s no Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Sam Bradford or Jason White. Nor is he all-conference caliber. Perhaps a rung or two below that, which tends to be not good enough.
The last Sooner starting quarterback to suffer a passer rating as low as Gabriel’s 154.4 was Trevor Knight at 124.8 in 2014. Even Spencer Rattler carried a 155.5 in 2021, the season he lost the job to reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.
Laulu might be great and if he is it could be transformative, OU’s pass rush having been so abysmal last season. History, though, says “solid” is his likely ceiling.
He transferred to OU following his redshirt junior season at Hawaii, having recorded 34 tackles, eight for loss and four sacks in his last season against Mountain West foes. His first at OU, last year, he started the grand sum of three games, made 20 tackles, 5 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.
Stutsman is not like the others.
Though topping out at honorable mention all-conference accolades last season, many continue to view him as a superstar linebacker in the making.
His 125 tackles led the Big 12 last year. He made 10 1/2 stops for loss, three sacks, broke up five passes, picked off two and there were times in games he just seemed to be everywhere, making every play.
If OU’s to author a definitive defensive turnaround, Stutsman’s the most likely suspect to drive it.
So there you have it.
A quarterback who’s good sometimes; a receiver who’s never been thrown enough passes, even when Heisman candidates (and winners) were throwing them; a defensive lineman coming off being an occasional starter and, maybe, one defensive star.
Can a team led by that group win more than it loses, win 10 games, challenge for a conference crown?
Don’t forget Venables.
Though he’ll never not sound like a million bucks, just how difficulty head coaching came to him his first time in the role was plainly apparent all of last season.
Fantastic in the forest: culture, vision, recruiting; he was just plain bad in the trees: game day Saturdays. Caught between defensive coordinating and running the whole show, he was bad at both.
Many programs are bringing five players to Arlington. Safety Billy Bowman not being part of the Sooner group is a bit surprising, but after him who else might Venables bring?
Actually, there is one:
Defensive lineman Ethan Downs.
The Sooners placed six players on the coaches' All-Big 12 first and second teams last season.
Mims, offensive lineman Anton Harrison and punter Michael Turk on the first team; running back Eric Gray, tight end Brayden Willis and Downs on the second.
Of the group, only Downs returns.
Sooner fans are excited about the coming season because, even in the summer and fall, hope springs eternal and, for crying out loud, they’ve got to be better than last season.
Also, six weeks before it begins, when everybody gathers to talk about it, again it will be clear just how much ground OU must still make up.