Lincoln Riley could turn to his latest top-15 recruiting class to help keep the Sooners atop the Big 12
The Oklahoma Sooners have bullied the Big 12 for six consecutive years, winning every conference title since 2015. However, Oklahoma lost two conference games for the first time since 2014 and should face increased pressure from top contender Iowa State, archrivals Texas and Oklahoma State, always dangerous TCU, and recent thorn-in-the-side Kansas State. The Sooners must also replace several key players from last year's squad, including six players who left for the 2021 NFL Draft and more than a dozen who entered the transfer portal.
To fill those spots and keep the championship streak alive, Oklahoma will rely on the top-ranked recruiting class in the Big 12, plus a few hand-picked players from the portal. Head coach Lincoln Riley brought in a trio of Tennessee transfers in running back Eric Gray, offensive tackle Wanya Morris, and defensive back Key Lawrence, who could all start for the Sooners in 2021. However, because none are graduate transfers and because the NCAA has yet to officially sign off on the one-year transfer rule, there's a (small) chance they all may have to wait a year to make an on-field impact (especially because of the alleged recruiting violations at Tennessee could make it easier to receive a waiver). Therefore, with exception of one grad transfer, our five newcomers to watch for the Sooners next season will focus on the high school signees in the 2021 Oklahoma recruiting class.
Billy Bowman, ATH
Marvin Mims led the Sooners with 610 receiving yards and nine touchdowns as a true freshman and tied Theo Wease for the team lead with 37 receptions. Both return, as does starter Drake Stoops, but Riley won't hesitate to insert a true freshman into the mix for a spark. And though Mario Williams is the highest-rated receiver recruit in the Oklahoma class, and fellow four-star Cody Jackson has a bright future as well, Bowman is the most intriguing prospect available because of his elite speed and agility. Capable of competing for playing time as a defensive back, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Bowman could also make an impact as an every-down slot receiver, gadget-play running back, or kick returner — or perhaps a combination of all — in 2021.
Robert Congel, OL
Oklahoma lost tackle Adrian Ealy and center Creed Humphrey early to the NFL draft, making the offensive line one of the most discussed position groups for the team this offseason. Former Texas A&M and Arizona lineman Robert Congel walked on with the Aggies and eventually found a spot starting at guard for the Wildcats in 2019 and '20. He's not a former top prospect like Morris, but Congel is expected to compete with Ian McIver for the right to replace Humphrey at center.
Latrell McCutchin, CB
Cornerbacks Tre Norwood and Tre Brown left Norman for the NFL Draft, and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles made the surprising decision to enter the transfer portal last month, making corner arguably the biggest position of need for the Sooners in 2021. Oklahoma went into enemy territory to sign McCutchin, the 17th ranked corner prospect and a top-250 player overall, out of Austin. McCutchin has good size (6-1, 176) for the position, a versatile skill set that might eventually allow him to move to safety if necessary, and the football IQ needed to play right away.
Clayton Smith, EDGE
The loss of pass rusher Ronnie Perkins could be the most important for the Sooners ahead of the 2021 season, but Smith has the talent to help offset the 10.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks Perkins racked up in just six games last year. Smith may not be big enough (6-4, 220) to play every down on the edge as a true freshman, but with the athleticism of a former high school receiver and explosive burst off the line of scrimmage, he could excel in obvious pass-rushing situations. The No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 weak-side defensive end in the class, Smith has the potential to develop into a star later in his career as well.
Caleb Williams, QB
Spencer Rattler is the quarterback of the present for the Sooners, but Williams is the future. Ranked No. 6 overall and first among dual-threat signal-callers in the 247Sports Composite, Williams was the only five-star recruit in the class to sign with Oklahoma. He's also likely to be the team's top backup in 2020 following the transfers of Tanner Mordecai and Chandler Morris, though the Sooners also brought in Micah Bowens from Penn State. Should the opportunity present itself, Williams' elite passing potential and excellent athleticism make him one of the most prepared quarterback recruits in the country to play as a true freshman.