If Oklahoma is to end its national title drought, which is approaching the legal drinking age, it won’t have the charm of coming out of nowhere to do so like it did last time ahead of the 2000 season.
ESPN.com released its post-spring top 25 power rankings on Tuesday and the Sooners are atop the list.
Coming off of its 9-2 campaign, OU is ESPN’s No. 1-ranked team, just ahead of defending champion Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Clemson and No. 5 Ohio State.
No pressure, right?
The reasons for the Sooners’ high expectations are justified.
The return of one of college football’s best — if not the best — quarterback, Spencer Rattler, and an array of weapons surrounding him, such as receiver Marvin Mims and tight end Austin Stogner, are major factors.
Rattler threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his debut season as OU’s starter.
He won’t have running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who was drafted by the New England Patriots this past weekend, by his side next season.
He will have to make due with Tennessee transfer Eric Gray, who drew rave reviews through spring practices, and OU’s leading 2018 rusher, Kennedy Brooks, who opted out of last season.
Perhaps Rattler will go to another level as former OU starting quarterbacks have. Whether or not he takes that step, he will be looked at as the face of the offense, just as any other national championship-contending quarterback would.
“He’s going to be one of the leaders of this team because he’s a quarterback at the University of Oklahoma,” OU co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy said. “There’s great responsibilities there. As a young guy, I can see those things, I can see some of the change in him from last fall to this spring where he’s trying to step up and take more responsibility.”
The Sooner defense, which brings back seven starters, is another reason for OU’s atop preseason lists.
The defensive front will feature outside linebacker Nik Bonitto, a second-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He will be joined by defensive linemen Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey, both of whom earned all-conference honors in 2020.
OU also returns defensive lineman Jalen Redmond, who sat out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
OU will need to continue its upward trajectory under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who will be in his third season trying to bring “Speed D” to the Sooners.
“We have lofty goals here,” Bonitto said, “especially on our defense, but [also] as a team. We want to get that last one. That’s really the goal going into this. Just getting better and try to get that last one.”
“That last one” being a national championship victory.
OU has an ideal non-conference schedule with Tulane, Nebraska and Western Carolina to get through September unscathed. The Sooners will eventually have to get by Iowa State, which ESPN ranks No. 6, and Texas, which checked in at No. 22.
OU might not be No. 1 when the AP and coaches release their preseason rankings come August, but figures to be near the top as one of 2021’s favorites to win it all.
Not that OU’s bothered any of it.
“We’re not worried about any type or hype, anything,” said Rattler following OU’s spring game on April 24. “We’re focused on us and what we control and that’s what we’ve gotta stick with.”