The Arizona Wildcats plan to prepare for the Alamo Bowl as if it’s a championship game. It helps to have a championship-caliber opponent on the other side.
The crimson and cream Oklahoma Sooners are among the blue bloods of college football, having claimed seven national championships and 50 conference championships. Only Ohio State and Michigan have spent more weeks in the Associated Press poll.
The OU team that Arizona will face on Dec. 28 in San Antonio isn’t at the same level as some of the great Sooners squads of the past, but second-year head coach Brent Venables has plenty of talent at his disposal.
Venables led OU to a 10-2 record in 2023 after going a disappointing 6-7 in his first year in Norman. The Sooners’ two losses this year came to Kansas and Oklahoma State by a combined eight points. OU has won its last three games, including a 69-45 beatdown of TCU to end the regular season.
Like Arizona, the Sooners are transitioning conferences. Whereas Arizona is leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 12, OU is departing the Big 12 for the SEC.
OU is also in a transition at the quarterback position. That’s because QB Dillon Gabriel announced Monday he is entering the transfer portal with one year of eligibility remaining.
Gabriel spent the last two seasons as the Sooners’ gunslinger after beginning his career at UCF. The Hawaii native threw for 3,660 yards this season with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Why would Gabriel, a soon-to-be sixth-year senior, transfer out of Norman? One reason could be that his offensive coordinator just left to become the head coach at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs hired Jeff Lebby away from Oklahoma last week. In his place, OU promoted Seth Littrell to offensive coordinator and named Joe Jon Finely co-coordinator. Littrell previously served as offensive coordinator at Arizona under Mike Stoops.
The Sooners will enter the Alamo Bowl with a new offensive coordinator and a fresh face at quarterback.
Jackson Arnold, a true freshman from Denton, Texas, is expected to take snaps for OU. A former 5-star recruit, Arnold was the National Gatorade Player of the Year following his senior season of high school.
Arnold has appeared in five games this season, competing 18 of 24 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He went a perfect 11 for 11 in the air in OU’s 73-0 win over Arkansas State, throwing for 114 yards and a touchdown.
OU’s top receiving threat is none other than Drake Stoops, son of legendary Sooners coach Bob Stoops and nephew of Mike Stoops.
Drake Stoops put on a route running clinic against West Virginia. pic.twitter.com/pxnkNYBZzM— Matt Blackwell (@Cap_405) November 16, 2023
Drake Stoops, a senior, has 78 catches for 880 yards and 10 touchdowns. OU also likes to throw the ball to redshirt freshman Nic Anderson, who has 725 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Oklahoma boasts a pass-first offense but the Sooners can run the ball too, averaging 322 yards in the air and 180 yards on the ground. Similar to Arizona, OU splits carries between several running backs. Redshirt freshman Gavin Sawchuk leads the team with 610 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively, OU allows 22.3 points per game, which ranks 41st nationally.
Junior linebacker Danny Stutsman leads the team with 99 tackles, while junior defensive lineman Ethan Downs has a team-high 4.5 sacks.
Junior defensive back Billy Bowman Jr.’s six interceptions are second-most in the country. He has four picks in the Sooners’ last five games.
One key defensive player OU will be without is defensive back Key Lawrence, who entered the transfer portal Monday. Lawrence, a senior, had 149 tackles over three seasons in Norman.
While OU has a talented roster, the turnover at the quarterback position and offensive coordinator makes this Sooners team less attractive than the one that won 10 games in the regular season.
Arizona opened as a 1-point favorite on DraftKings and the line has since shifted further in the Wildcats’ direction, with the UA 4-point favorites as of Tuesday morning.