🏈 One more sleep
We did it, y'all. Football is back.
✌🏽 Happy Friday, friends. There’s OU football tomorrow. Let’s ride.
🤔 Trivia: Who led OU in rushing yards when the Sooners played Tulane in 2017?[Answer in footnotes]
🏈 Big story: Gray primed for success
On Thursday, we dropped a story on OU running back Eric Gray, whose presence has become more paramount with the departure of Tre Bradford and Marcus Major’s academic issues.
The story is the first of many long-form features we plan to provide to paid subscribers on a weekly basis. But to celebrate the launch of the newsletter, we’ve made this first one free. If you’d like to subscribe, click here to ensure access to all premium content going forward.
🔎 Depth chart arrives
Lincoln Riley released the team’s first depth chart of the season late Wednesday. A few things that jump out:
Josh Ellison and Jalen Redmond’s competition at defensive tackle. While both should see the field, it feels significant the coaches view Ellison as a potential Week 1 starter next to Redmond, who has the talent to be one of the best defensive lineman in the conference if he can stay healthy.
Delarrin Turner-Yell and Pat Fields will reprise their roles as OU's starting safeties. Tennessee transfer Key Lawrence and veteran OU defensive back Justin Broiles are right behind them.
Riley didn’t list any definitive starters at receiver, which isn’t shocking. The Sooners are loaded at the position, meaning plenty of guys will see the field, regardless of whether they start or not. Feel free to discuss in the comments, but who is the receiver you’re most excited to watch this season?
Newcomer Michael Turk has unseated Reeves Mundschau as OU's starting punter. Turk was first-team All-Pac 12 in 2019 and ‘20. He’s also a budding YouTube star.
A new face will start at nickelback — true frosh Billy Bowman or third-year sophomore Jeremiah Criddell. Both are competing to assume former Sooner defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles’ role.
🤕 Wease out?
OU receiver Theo Wease will be out “at least a few weeks” after sustaining a “lower body injury” during fall camp, according to a report from SI Sooners.
Wease finished with 530 receiving yards on 37 catches last season. He also had four touchdown receptions.
Wease is a former five-star prospect and entering his third year in the program.
🔑 Keys to victory
OU is a heavy favorite this weekend, but let’s go over a few things that will make Saturday as easy on Oklahoma as possible:
OU must contain Michael Pratt. The Tulane quarterback threw for 1,806 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He can also run with the ball. A dual-threat quarterback in Week 1 will be a test OU’s defense has to pass, and if Alex Grinch’s group is as good as we think they are, they should do it with ease.
Spencer Rattler needs to continue making smart decisions. Simple enough, right? Rattler was great down the stretch for the Sooners after a rocky start to the 2020 season. Interceptions doomed OU in losses to Kansas State and Iowa State — games they had no business losing. Rattler seemed to move past his poor decisions but that has to continue for OU to avoid letting Tulane hang around.
Maintaining rhythm. Perhaps it was because of a weird year, sparked by COVID. Maybe it was just OU’s inexperience. But the Sooner offense wasn’t quite as potent as fans are accustomed to. Seeing the Sooners stay in rhythm, at least while the starters are on the field, would be a solid way to kick off the season.
🚨 Developing: Big 12’s expansion efforts
The Big 12 Conference appears closer to replacing the Sooners and Longhorns, as well as adding two more teams to make its name mathematically accurate again.
The Athletic’s Max Olson reports BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston are the frontrunners to join the Big 12.
Why this matters: The Big 12 wants to stay relevant as a Power 5 conference and taking the four schools listed above give the league its best chance to do so. Each school adds an attractive television market, as well as football programs that have been solid over the last decade. The league’s current member schools probably won’t mind recruiting those areas heavier either. How serious the College Football Playoff committee takes an OU and Texas-less Big 12, though, remains to be seen.
🤷🏽♂️ Pick six
Tulane (+31.5) at Oklahoma: OU’s defense makes a statement, while Spencer Rattler starts his Heisman Trophy campaign with a bang. Oklahoma 56, Tulane 10.
No. 23 Louisiana (+9.0) at No. 21 Texas: Hudson Card gets a tricky test to start his Texas career. Give me some Week 1 drama in Austin. Texas 38, Louisiana 34.
No. 5 Georgia (+3.0) vs. Clemson (in Charlotte, N.C.): A battle between juggernaut defenses but I think Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei does a little bit more than J.T. Daniels. Clemson 31, Georgia 30.
No. 1 Alabama (-19.5) vs. Miami (in Atlanta): I don't think Alabama wins the SEC this year but I think the Tide will blow the doors off of Miami. Alabama 45, Miami 21.
No. 16 LSU (-2.5) at UCLA: I'm a sucker for a good Week Zero performance, and UCLA certainly sent a message beating up on Hawaii. UCLA 34, LSU 27.
No. 19 Penn State (+5.5) at No. 12 Wisconsin: It doesn’t feel like we got to really see the Badgers last season but I’m big on Graham Mertz and I think a talented Wisconsin defense delivers. Wisconsin 28, Penn State 20.
⏰ On this day
29 years ago today, OU played Texas Tech for the first time in program history. The Sooners won 34-9 behind the arm of Cale Gundy, who completed 22-of-28 passing attempts for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
Abdul Adams. He rushed for 93 yards on eight carries. His longest run went for 49 yards.
I bring this up, because secondary is arguably the biggest question mark on the defense and it seems OU will, for now, roll with what they know. It shouldn’t take long for Key Lawrence to get on the field, and I’m curious to see if Justin Broiles can finally put it all together.