Sunday, November 26th 2023, 7:46 pm
A lot happened on the field Friday in Norman, Okla., and so much has happened since the Sooners' 69-45 win over TCU.
Let's cover the off-the-field happenings first.
Oklahoma State pulled out an impressive comeback in crummy weather to earn its spot in the Big 12 championship game next Saturday against Texas. Down 24-6 at the half, Oklahoma State sure looked like it was ready to gift-wrap a trip to Texas to their Bedlam rivals. The Cowboys came back, and while BYU forced overtime, Mike Gundy's bunch found a way to win.
Oh, and some breaking news from Sunday. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby has accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State. Will any coaches or players follow? As long as quarterback phenom Jackson Arnold stays in Norman, will it cause any angst among Sooner Nation?
On the field against last season's national runners-up, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
The Oklahoma offense was amazing.
The defense at times was, to quote head coach Brent Venables, "an abomination."
However, now is the time for Sooner Nation to step back and reflect on what Team 129 achieved.
Where will the Sooners end up come bowl season? It appears the Alamo Bowl is all but a lock with OU likely playing Arizona, according to CBS Sports. For any of you wondering whether Oklahoma has played the Wildcats before, they have. Twice.
In 1988, Oklahoma defeated Arizona 28-10 at home. And then in 1989, the Sooners traveled to Tucson and played in one of the most offensively futile games in Oklahoma history, a 6-3 loss to the Wildcats -- a game that was 3-3 until the final gun when Arizona won it with a kick.
Only the Iowa Hawkeyes play games like that these days.
OK, on to takeaways from the game against TCU:
OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel passed for 400 yards against TCU, moving him into seventh place all-time in career passing yards. Even though Friday was Senior Day at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and even though Gabriel is a senior, he could still return to Norman for another year of football.
Or he could follow Jeff Lebby to Starkville, Mississippi.
Or he could go pro, an option that would have been a no-brainer in the pre-NIL era. These days, playing college ball can be lucrative.
Regardless of his choice, Gabriel was fantastic again for the Crimson and Cream, throwing for 400 yards on 24 of 38 completions. Aside from the Kansas game, Gabriel's number of pass attempts has hovered in the mid-to-high 30s each game this season. It was the fourth time Oklahoma scored 50 points in a game this season.
For sure, Oklahoma's offense wasn't perfect in 2023. There were lots of inconsistencies in terms of the Sooners running game and, many fans would argue, in terms of play calling.
But really, there has been nothing but admiration for No. 8. Dillon Gabriel has been a dynamo for the Sooners, the right quarterback to carry OU from the Mayfield-Murray-Hurts era to the Jackson Arnold era, which could start as early as next fall.
Or even in the bowl game depending on what Gabriel decides to do.
It's not like Oklahoma is headed to the Big Ten, where 13-10 games happen pretty regularly it seems. However, giving up 45 to anybody in the SEC is a guaranteed loss in almost every instance because the odds of scoring 69 ever will be so low in the land where 'it means more.'
The bad news is that Oklahoma gave up 45 points on 520 yards.
The good news is that Friday's performance was the worst all year. Ever the optimist, here's the way I see it: for the most part, Oklahoma's defense in 2023 was significantly improved as Brent Venables puts his imprint on the squad.
However, even the most casual of Sooners fans understands the amount of improvement still needed going into the SEC come Fall 2024. That conference is built different. Defenses hit a little harder. Defensive lines wear down opponents.
If Venables and his defensive coordinator Ted Roof can improve as much between 2023 and 2024 as it did between 2022 and 2023, it will an exciting crew to watch.
Oh, and not to downplay it, but it sure would help if Danny Stutsman and Billy Bowman Jr. return to Norman.
Texas Christian made it to the national title game last season only to finish 5-7 a year later. Sonny Dykes' Frogs went from the biggest bowl of them all to no bowl at all.
While there's no evidence that this volatility has found its way to Athens, Tuscaloosa, Columbus or Ann Arbor, the transfer portal and NIL era (together) are likely going to produce more wild swings in team results, probably in all sports, than the average fan is accustomed to.
For the record, Dykes is a supporter of the NIL, and was quoted in the NY Post earlier this year as saying it was a long time coming and that athletes needed more rights. But that doesn't mean that every coach and every school has been quick to adapt.
In a statement issued after he was fired, former Indiana coach Tom Allen challenged Hoosiers supporters to get with the times in getting behind NIL:
"College football has changed dramatically over the past several years. Some of those changes have been a shock to the conscience of those who support IU football. The time has come to fully embrace those changes and I pray that IU does just that," Allen said.
There is no question that moving to the SEC is a step up for the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns. With that upgrade in overall football competition, there will also have to be upgrades in how the schools (and fans) embrace and manage both the portal and NIL.
This isn't unique to OU or Texas, nor is that suggesting a problem exists.
Nor is it a suggestion that TCU did something wrong in managing either.
But it is also likely highly unfair in this era to get too low about any one season -- last season for the Sooners or this season for the Horned Frogs. I would wager that this will eventually happen to all teams, at least periodically, much more often than we've seen in the past.
Volatility could be here to stay.
And with that is the exciting opportunity: a successful offseason in the portal and with NIL could be just the ticket teams like Oklahoma need to make that jump to the SEC seamless.
November 26th, 2023
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