It’s a new day at Oklahoma, which is starting anew with Brent Venables at head coach after an active offseason that saw Lincoln Riley and a few starters leaving the program.
But the Sooners are still working from a firm foundation with Venables emerging as the most respected defensive mind in college football this generation.
While offensively, Jeff Lebby is set to call plays after coming over from Ole Miss, and he’ll have quarterback Dillon Gabriel in as a transfer at quarterback after the two worked in a top 10 offense at UCF a few years ago.
With that in mind, the ESPN power index prediction machine went to work crunching the numbers on what to expect for Oklahoma in each game of the coming season.
Sept. 3 vs. UTEP
This was a very average team a year ago, going 7-6 overall and 4-4 in Conference USA play behind an offense that ranked No. 70 overall.
Not much of a threat for the Sooners, who are 4-0 against the Miners all time, most recently a 56-7 result in the 2017 season, when OU went to the College Football Playoff.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 97.9%
Sept. 10 vs. Kent State
Kent State was the No. 5 total offense in college football last season, but the engine behind all that production — quarterback Dustin Crum — is out of the picture.
That should throw a dent into the Golden Flashes’ ability to move downfield, but this team still has enough speed on the outside to make things interesting.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 97.1%
Sept. 17 at Nebraska
OU’s old nemesis played this one close last season, losing by just seven. But then again, the Huskers played everybody close, losing all nine games by single digits.
Scott Frost is getting one more chance to make it right before getting the ax, and this offseason he got aggressive, bringing on two notable offensive pieces: Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson and former Pitt coordinator Mark Whipple.
But we’ll see if the Huskers have enough perimeter speed to make the most of those additions.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 60.5%
Sept. 24 vs. Kansas State
Chris Klieman went 2-1 against Lincoln Riley when he was at OU, and the loss was by just five points last season.
But the Sooners are under new management now and will face a Wildcat team that has to replace important starters on the offensive line and in the secondary. Adrian Martinez steps in at quarterback, and Deuce Vaughn is still a problem in the backfield.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 80.5%
Oct. 1 at TCU
For the first time since 2001, TCU will have a new coach. Sonny Dykes steps into the role with a mandate to get the most from what should be a half-dozen returning starters on offense.
A unit that had mixed results a year ago: it ranked second in the Big 12 in total production, but third-worst in scoring. Defensively, the Frogs were second-worst in the league in yards and points allowed, allowing around five TDs per game.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 68%
Oct. 8 vs. Texas
Texas was third-worst in the Big 12 in total defense and fourth-worst in allowing 31.1 points per game last season, a number that rose to 35 in conference games.
And despite the tired cliché that “stats don’t matter” in rivalry games, that is actually true for the Red River Shootout; you never quite know what you’re going to get.
History is a helpful guide, as OU has won the last four and all but three in the last decade. This could be one of the better QB matchups we’ve seen in a while, too, with Quinn Ewers the Longhorns’ projected starter against Dillon Gabriel.
– ESPN picks: Texas, 55.4%
Oct. 15 vs. Kansas
Likely not what the Sooners did in Lawrence last fall, getting shut out by the Jayhawks in the first half before having to mount a comeback.
Kansas is still worth watching out for in 2022 — second-year coach Lance Leipold gets his QB/RB duo back, not to mention most of last season’s defense.
KU isn’t exactly going to the College Football Playoff, but it could morph into a bowl team this year.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 96%
Oct. 29 at Iowa State
Last preseason, Iowa State owned a school-best No. 7 spot in the AP Top 25. A month later, it was 2-2 and out of the polls.
So much for that momentum Matt Campbell had going in with all that returning talent. Iowa State needs a new quarterback, tight end, running back, center, and most of a functioning defense. One exception: Big 12 sack leader Will McDonald is back.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 59.2%
Nov. 5 vs. Baylor
Dave Aranda brought Baylor from two wins to a Big 12 championship and a Sugar Bowl victory, and has a chance to build on that work in 2022.
He has two quarterbacks returning in addition to most of this offensive line, but has to find new inputs at receiver and running back.
This defense was one of two in the Big 12 to surrender fewer than 20 points per game, and brings back most of that production.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 69.5%
Nov. 12 at West Virginia
West Virginia beat a pair of ranked teams in Virginia Tech and Iowa State last season, in addition to a win over Texas, and while it lost quarterback Jarret Doege to the transfer portal, it just gained JT Daniels, who was undefeated in two stints at Georgia.
And while the Mountaineers bring back experience on the D-line, they’ll need to shore up the linebackers and secondary. Can they pressure Dillon Gabriel before he’s able to get a few balls downfield?
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 73%
Nov. 19 vs. Oklahoma State
The top defense in college football a year ago lost its coordinator after Jim Knowles took the Ohio State job, and three key pieces in the secondary.
Quarterback Spencer Sanders showed flashes last fall, throwing 20 TDs and over 2,800 yards, but had 12 picks and seven games when he threw one touchdown or none. And the Cowboys won’t have 1,200 yard rusher Jaylen Warren back, either.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 63.9%
Nov. 26 at Texas Tech
Last season was the Red Raiders’ first winning campaign since 2015 and their first bowl-eligible season since 2017, going on to beat former coach Mike Leach and Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.
Now first-year coach Joey Maguire gets quarterback Donovan Smith for 2022, but needs to find replacements at receiver and offensive line, and repair a defense that allowed 5 TDs per game in Big 12 play.
– ESPN picks: Oklahoma, 72%