SI Sooners Spring Game Wrapup

SI Sooners Spring Game Wrapup

PREMIUM: Yes, this Oklahoma team can contend ... but with a caveat

The breadth of talent on display in Saturday's Red/White Game, across the board on offense and hey, even on defense, hasn't been seen around here in a decade
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There’s something familiar about this Oklahoma football team.

A lot of that familiarity showed itself on Saturday in the Sooners’ annual Red/White Game — these players are really, really good.

I’ve been hesitant to commit to saying that up until now. Obviously, much of the talent returning this year was last on display in AT&T Stadium, and manifested itself in a 55-20 blowout of Florida. The hype is there for a reason.

But I’m saying it now: this team can win a national championship.

With one caveat. More on that in a bit.

We all know the offseason hype hovering over this team isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Not after the display they put on Saturday. The Red/White Game was competitive, played at a high level. Coach Lincoln Riley called it “really good, clean football.”

So why now? Why jump on the bandwagon after a spring scrimmage?

Easy. Some things were proven in the Red/White Game. I trust my eyes.

Defense, for one. Alex Grinch has set up the board. His pieces, so to speak, are in place.

That freshman class, for another. Remember, on a per-player ranking basis, the Sooners’ class of 2021 ranks as one of the top 3-5 groups in the nation. They finally got to show why in a nearly full-speed scrimmage against their older, supposedly wiser teammates. Expect all of the 10 we saw Saturday to contribute this fall.

Spencer Rattler, for another. Having that kind of talent at QB is one thing, but having the talent and then fortifying it with playmakers at every station and an experienced, hungry offensive line takes it to another level. Rattler is elite, and the talent around him will feed that.

Which brings me to the caveat.

If there’s a past parallel for this Oklahoma team, it’s one that OU fans just do not want to hear.

Anyone remember 2009?

I can hear you logging off already. Bear with me.

That Oklahoma team also was loaded with talent — certainly enough to win a national championship. Remember who won it that year? Yeah, Alabama started its run of excellence under Nick Saban. Remember who the Crimson Tide beat? Yeah, Texas — after Texas lost quarterback Colt McCoy in the national title game.

OU fans will recall that Sooner squad nearly beat those Longhorns, losing 16-13 despite battling through a ridiculous run of injuries.

Those injuries began in the preseason, when All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham was hurt, peaked in the season opener when quarterback Sam Bradford was hurt, and continued across the roster all season with maladies suffered by Brody Eldridge, Auston English, Tom Wort, DeMarco Murray, Trent Williams and others.

The Sooners, coming off an Orange Bowl loss to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game, had a dynamic young quarterback waiting in the wings (sound familiar?) but he wasn’t ready to win yet. OU dropped four of its five losses by a total of 12 points, including one-point losses to BYU and Miami and a three-point loss to Texas.

Here’s the good news: Even 12 years later, that kind of injury bug can’t possibly happen again. Can it?

Way back in 2009, injuries — the bad kind, and a lot of them — felt like the only thing that could derail another Bob Stoops run at a national championship.

That’s another thing that feels familiar about this 2021 team. There’s so much talent on the field — quarterback (Rattler can already book his trip to New York), running backs (Tennessee transfer Eric Gray is clearly ready to carry the rock), receiver (Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood and Mario Williams are capable of being stars), the offensive line (officially two deep everywhere and possibly loaded with All-Big 12 talent), the defensive line (surprisingly even stouter than we thought), the linebackers (there are future pros in that group) and the secondary (how many 6-footers are allowed to play defensive back?) — that only another injury grenade like the one in 2009 can stop this train.

There’s something familiar about this Oklahoma football team.

A lot of that familiarity showed itself on Saturday in the Sooners’ annual Red/White Game — these players are really, really good.

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