There's a new coach, new staff, plenty of new players, and even a new preseason status for the Oklahoma Sooners but the same goals remain. Last season not only saw Oklahoma's six-year reign as Big 12 champions come to end, but head coach Lincoln Riley also sent shockwaves through the college football world when he announced he was leaving Norman to take over at USC. A wave of player departures followed, highlighted by the transfers of quarterbacks Caleb Williams (USC) and Spencer Rattler (South Carolina).
Riley's replacement is Brent Venables, Clemson's former defensive coordinator who was a part of Bob Stoops' staff for 13 years (1999-2011). The new quarterback is expected to be UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel, who has familiarity with new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who oversaw Ole Miss' explosive attack the past two seasons.
On top of all the changes, the Sooners enter this season in unfamiliar territory. For the first time since 2014, Oklahoma is not the reigning Big 12 champ. That honor goes to Baylor this year and it's something Venables and the new-look Sooners hope to change. To do so, they will have to navigate a schedule that features a return meeting with a former rival and trips to several of the toughest road environments in the Big 12. And don't forget about the annual showdown with Texas in Dallas. Or Bedlam. Or the aforementioned Bears.
Here's a look at what's on tap for Venables, his staff and the reshuffled roster as they inherit the usual lofty expectations that come with wearing an Oklahoma uniform.
Bye: Week 8
Week 1 – Sept. 3 vs. UTEP (Norman, Okla.)
The Brent Venables era gets started with what should be a comfortable win at home against the Miners from Conference USA. UTEP is coming off of its first winning season since 2014, going 7-6 last year but is 0-4 vs. Oklahoma, the most recent meeting a 56-7 rout in Norman in 2017.
Week 2 – Sept. 10 vs. Kent State (Norman, Okla.)
This will be the first-ever meeting between Oklahoma and the Golden Flashes from the MAC. Kent State played for a conference title last season and should contend again but the Sooners have a sizeable advantage when it comes to talent. Don't be surprised if the Flashes put some points on the board though.
Week 3 – Sept. 17 at Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
The Cornhuskers gave the Sooners all they could handle last season in Norman, needing a late touchdown to secure the hard-fought victory. It was one of eight one-score losses suffered by Nebraska last season, as Scott Frost's team didn't catch many breaks. Oklahoma better be ready when it makes the trip to Lincoln.
Week 4 – Sept. 24 vs. Kansas State (Norman, Okla.)
The Wildcats were a thorn in Lincoln Riley's side so will that continue under Venables? K-State won the last time the game was in Norman (38-35) and has former Nebraska starter Adrian Martinez, who almost led the Cornhuskers to an upset of the Sooners last season, at quarterback.
Week 5 – Oct. 1 at TCU (Fort Worth, Texas)
It's the start of a new era with Gary Patterson stepping down after 21 seasons leading the Horned Frogs with Sonny Dykes now in as head coach. Dykes has more experience as an HC than Venables but the Sooners may catch a break with TCU making so many changes. OU also has won eight in a row over TCU.
Week 6 – Oct. 8 vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl in Dallas)
Fair or not, this is one of the games that will define Venables' first season at the helm. Riley won his last four meetings with the archrival Longhorns, but the last three meetings were decided by no more than eight points and featured some fantastic finishes. It could be argued Texas and Steve Sarkisian need this one more than Venables and the Sooners, but don't bother telling them that.
Week 7 – Oct. 15 vs. Kansas (Norman, Okla.)
The Jayhawks put up a fight last season in Lawrence but the Sooners eventually pulled away for their 17th straight win over KU. Venables doesn't want to be responsible for seeing that streak come to an end, especially at home.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 at Iowa State (Ames, Iowa)
Ames is not a place you want to go play, especially on a Thursday night. The Cyclones beat the Sooners at home in 2020 but Oklahoma returned the favor a few months later in the Big 12 Championship Game. Last season, was another close one, a seven-point win at home for the Sooners. OU could be catching Iowa State at a good time with running back Breece Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy among the key Cyclones that have moved on.
Week 10 – Nov. 5 vs. Baylor (Norman, Okla.)
The defending Big 12 champions have lost some key pieces but return more than enough to mount a spirited title defense. The Bears kept the Sooners' offense in check in last season's win in Waco so Venables and coordinator Jeff Lebby better be wary of Dave Aranda's unit doing the same thing. This game happening in early November could benefit OU from an experience standpoint since it will be the ninth of the season.
Week 11 – Nov. 12 at West Virginia (Morgantown, W.Va.)
Morgantown is another tough place to play and Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown's seat is starting to get a little warm after posting a losing record in 2021. The Sooners have dominated the head-to-head series since West Virginia joined the Big 12 (9-0) but needed a last-second field goal to secure last season's win.
Week 12 – Nov. 19 vs. Oklahoma State (Norman, Okla.)
Venables doesn't need anyone to tell him what Bedlam means. Especially with the Cowboys putting an end to the Sooners' six-game winning streak in the rivalry series last season by outscoring OU 13-0 in the fourth quarter. Venables' first shot at Mike Gundy comes in Norman, a place where the OSU head coach has won just once during his 17-year tenure.
Week 13 – Nov. 26 at Texas Tech (Lubbock, Texas)
The Sooners have defeated the Red Raiders 10 straight times but will there be any sort of Bedlam hangover when they head to Lubbock? If things go according to plan, a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game could already be booked but it's also possible that this game could determine which teams play in Arlington, Texas, the following Saturday.
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