Was the 2020 season a success for the Sooners? Definitely yes By Eric Bailey
Oklahoma hoisted the Big 12 Championship trophy for the sixth consecutive season. In early October, that seemed improbable after the Sooners lost their first two conference games. But as the season continued, OU got stronger. Oklahoma won their final eight games, taking victories in the Big 12 title game against Iowa State and the Cotton Bowl against Florida. OU ended No. 6 in the final Associated Press and Coaches Top 25 polls released on Tuesday. What’s next for OU? Expectations are already cresting. Many much-too-early Top 25 polls already released have the Sooners as a College Football Playoff team in 2021.
A review of the Sooners’ 2020 season:
CAN THE 2020 SEASON BE CONSIDERED A SUCCESS?: Yes. Even though there were two early losses, the team strengthened each week starting with the four-overtime victory over Texas. It was difficult battling COVID-19 issues in the preseason. There was no promise of a season and then taking three tests in a week could bring anxiety. Coach Lincoln Riley and his players navigated difficult terrain on and off the field to win a league championship and first bowl game since 2016.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Spencer Rattler. The redshirt freshman quarterback got used to the college game after a rocky start and developed into one of the nation’s best at the end. He’s already drawing strong Heisman Trophy odds for next season.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Isaiah Thomas. The Memorial High School graduate didn’t see much action in his first two seasons but exploded during his junior campaign. He led the team with 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: Calvin Thibodeaux and Jamar Cain. Thibodeaux (defensive line) and Cain (defensive ends, outside linebackers) guided position groups that set the tone. Nik Bonitto, Ronnie Perkins, Jon-Michael Terry and Perrion Winfrey pestered opposing quarterbacks all season.
OFFENSE GRADE: B, Oklahoma’s production was outstanding, but it wasn’t the elite offense that fans have grown accustomed to under Riley. The run game didn’t get started until Rhamondre Stevenson’s return in game six and OU only averaged 4.7 yards per rush, the lowest under Riley.
DEFENSE GRADE: A-minus, The Sooners held opponents to 21 points or less in seven of the team’s 10 games. That hasn’t happened since the 2013 season. OU finished in the top 10 nationally in interceptions (3), team sacks (6), rushing defense (9), pass efficiency defense (9), third-down conversion defense (4). The defense also forced 19 takeaways, including 16 interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: B-, Gabe Brkic had a solid season making 20-of-26 field goals, but the punt game struggled under Reeves Mundschau (39.1 yards). Marvin Mims proved to be a threat on punt returns, but there were no returns for a touchdown this season.
TOP 3 WINS
1. Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 21, (Dec. 19, 2020): The Sooners won their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship by avenging a regular-season loss against the Cyclones. Tre Brown’s interception in the final moments secured the victory.
2. Oklahoma 53, Texas 45, 4 OT, (Oct. 10, 2020): OU needed this victory to avoid a three-game losing streak. The Sooners lost a 14-point lead in the final five minutes of regulation, but reset in the extra periods. It was the longest game in Oklahoma history.
3. Oklahoma 55, Florida 20, (Dec. 30, 2020): The Cotton Bowl triumph mattered to the Sooners. It’s the first time since 2016 that OU ended the season with a victory. Oklahoma was never threatened by the SEC school.
WORST 3 MOMENTS
1. September misery: Oklahoma dropped a 38-35 decision against Kansas State in Norman. It was a fourth-quarter collapse (KSU outscored OU 17-0 in the final period) and the second straight time that OU fell to the Wildcats.
2. Cyclone warning: For the second week in a row, OU suffered a meltdown. Iowa State scored 14 points in the final eight minutes to score the upset. It was the first time since 1999 that Oklahoma has lost back-to-back games.
3. Stogner's injury: Austin Stogner suffered an injury in a Nov. 7 game against Kansas and then had to battle a staph infection that took about 35 pounds from him, according to Riley. Stogner did return in the Cotton Bowl.
3 QUESTIONS ENTERING THE 2020 SEASON (and what the answers turned out to be):
1. How could the Sooners handle COVID-19?
Oklahoma was one of the last schools to return to campus for fall camp, taking a cautious approach. While many players were out for the opener against Missouri State, the numbers got better. The only major disruption was a Nov. 28 game at West Virginia which was eventually canceled.
2. How would Spencer Rattler do at quarterback?
The Sooners introduced a new starting quarterback for the fourth consecutive year on opening day. Following Heisman Trophy winners and a runner-up was going to be difficult, but Rattler matured as the season rolled on. Rattler threw 28 touchdown passes against seven interceptions, with only two interceptions in the final seven games.
3. Would the defense take a year two jump under Alex Grinch?
While the number of takeaways (19) and sacks (37) were extremely impressive, one little-known statistic stands out the most. Oklahoma only allowed 20 first-quarter points in 11 games. The defense kept opponents off the board, which set the tone for games. The defense is expected to only continue its evolution in 2021.
TOP QUESTION ENTERING THE 2021 SEASON
1. Can Oklahoma win its first national championship since the 2000 season?
Plenty of the tools are in place for the Sooners to make their fifth College Football Playoff appearance in seven seasons. The key will be for the offensive line to continue to progress and the run game must reach levels met during 2017-19. The defense was playing its best during the latter part of the season with several young players making key contributions. OU will be a popular pick in 2021 and for good reason.