Quality over quantity was the mantra the Oklahoma staff preached during the 2021 recruiting cycle.
Only signing 16 players, Lincoln Riley and his Sooners were very selective with the guys they brought in, while also leaving plenty of room to dive into the transfer portal.
As much credit as OU deserves for filling their needs in the portal, it wasn’t necessarily Plan A.
Had Oklahoma not missed out on four other members of Sports Illustrated All-American’s SI99 in wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, offensive tackle Tristan Leigh, guard Bryce Foster and running back Camar Wheaton, the Sooners wouldn’t have had to bring so many players out of the portal.
To get over the hump and climb back atop college football, Oklahoma will have to be able to close with the top talent in the country more consistently.
Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson all currently recruit at a higher level than the Sooners, and they are OU’s primary rivals to bring home an eighth national title.
“Those schools, what do they all do well? It’s recruit nationally,” SIAA recruiting director John Garcia Jr. said. “Oklahoma has to recruit nationally because of its location. These schools do it better today, and we saw Oklahoma fight to sort of compete with them, but there’s no doubt they missed some pretty big fish.”
Though Oklahoma was able to paper over the holes in the portal this year, it’s not a healthy long-term solution, Garcia said.
“You can’t keep losing those battle or relying on the portal to get those guys,” he said. “You’ve got to win those recruiting battles organically, like OU did with Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams.”
The path forward starts on the field every Saturday, Garcia said.
“There’s certainly a stigma that they can’t get over the hump,” Garcia said. “Winning those organic battles starts there, and [Oklahoma] certainly has the staff in place to do it.
“Nationally and perceptually, they need to do it from a national and College Football Playoff perspective.”
One thing Oklahoma can do outside of winning a College Football Playoff game to turn the tide with the upper echelon of recruits is to continue to produce NFL talent on both sides of the ball, Garcia said.
“Obviously compared to Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, OU was a bit behind from a defensive perspective,” Garcia said.
The Sooners could have a big year defensively in the NFL Draft, with Ronnie Perkins expected to go early on and both Tre Brown and Tre Norwood having a chance to hear their name called. Alex Grinch needs to keep putting players into the NFL and the defensive stigma will fade with recruits, Garcia said.
“I think more of that will certainly help just as much as getting over that beyond-the-Big 12 hump would on Saturdays.”
The good news for the Sooners is they could chip away at both problems in 2021. Returning plenty of production on both sides of the ball, Riley is primed to have his team at the forefront of the National Championship conversation.
Additionally, the potential of Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas, and Perrion Winfrey alone getting their name called in the 2022 NFL Draft will help OU’s cause on the recruiting trail.
While the Sooners are on the cusp of championship caliber football, the final step is often one of the hardest to take.