National championship aspirations are on the back burner for the Oklahoma Sooners at the moment.
In the here and now, OU is merely vying to get back into Big 12 title contention. An unceremonious 1-2 start all but foreclosed the Sooners' path to a fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.
But here's a bit of good news: Oklahoma's heretofore mediocre 2020 campaign comes with the silverest of linings. This year may go down in Sooner lore as a disappointment on the field, but it may also be remembered as the year that catalyzed a future national championship run for the program.
Because barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Lincoln Riley is well on his way to assembling one of the most unstoppable offensive units that college football has ever witnessed.
Riley's calling card is the aerial attack, and few would dispute that. To dial up brilliant passing plays is second nature to him. His offenses will start and stop with his quarterback and receiving weapons.
That's why any Big 12 defensive coordinator should be violently shuddering at the prospect of facing Riley and the Sooners in the year 2022. After Oklahoma picked up a verbal pledge from Talyn Shettron on Saturday, their haul of pass-catching recruits officially crossed the line from elite to staggering.
Consider that the Sooners had three of the top 12 wideouts in the class of 2019 (Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, Trejan Bridges), plus the nation's top tight end in Austin Stogner. They only brought in one top-100 receiver in the class of 2020, though. A swing and a miss for Riley and Oklahoma, right? Well, that one receiver was Marvin Mims, who may very well be the best true freshman in the nation as of right now. They also brought in a top-5 tight end recruit in Jalin Conyers, and turned ATH Mikey Henderson into a viable H-back who has already seen playing time as a freshman.
Now look to the future: the Sooners have verbal pledges from three of the top 25 receivers in the class of 2021 (Mario Williams, Cody Jackson and Jalil Farooq), and it appears a foregone conclusion that they'll soon add a fourth in Billy Bowman. And with Shettron, Luther Burden and Jordan Hudson, Oklahoma has already snagged three of the top 15 wideouts in the class of 2022. They could very well add another in Caleb Burton, widely regarded as the best receiver in that cycle.
If you're lost, let's simplify the picture. Operating under the assumption that none of these individuals transfer or enter the NFL draft early, here's what the Oklahoma depth chart could look like at the pass-catching positions in 2022. Keep in mind that the 2020 season does not count towards the eligibility of current FBS players; individuals subject to the 2020 eligibility freeze are denoted with an asterisk.
X - Wease (JR*), Bridges (JR*), Burden (FR), Shettron (FR), Brian Darby (SO*)
Y - Haselwood (JR*), Drake Stoops (rJR*), Farooq (SO), Hudson (FR), Burton (FR)
Z (slot) - Mims (SO*), Williams (SO), Jackson (SO), Bowman (SO), Trevon West (SO*)
TE - Stogner (JR*), Conyers (SO*), Henderson (SO*)
Oh, and the likely trigger man in that hypothetical offense? That'd be Caleb Williams, the No. 1 overall prospect in SI All-American's 2021 class rankings.
Obviously, the odds are slim that all 18 of those pass-catchers will be in uniform for the Sooners in 2022. But it's not implausible that at least a dozen of them could be. And it certainly helps that they'll have a generational talent slinging the rock.
As a member of the SI All-American staff remarked at the Elite11 in July, "He [Williams] could win two Heismans at Oklahoma."
Give him anything resembling the depth chart above, and Williams might do one better. The Sooners could be in position to win a couple of national championships with that kind of offensive firepower at their disposal.
Does this kind of prognostication constitute putting the cart before the horse? Perhaps. But it doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to figure that Oklahoma's brightest days under the Lincoln Riley regime are yet to come.
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