Legendary former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer has delivered countless one-liners, but perhaps none more insightful than the one he wrote in a 2003 Sports Illustrated piece, versions of which he’s repeated several times through the years.
“I didn’t create the monster. (President) George Cross and (coach) Bud Wilkinson did. My job was to feed the monster.”
The monster, of course, is the Oklahoma football machine, now fifth-year coach Lincoln Riley’s responsibility, with its seven national championships, 50 conference titles, hundreds of NFL Draft selections and dozens of national award winners. The Sooners have won six consecutive Big 12 championships and appeared in three of the past four College Football Playoffs.
“I want people to be proud of our program,” Riley said. “We’re gonna try like hell to win every single game for as long as we’re here. I think we’re gonna win most of ’em, and we have, but we may not win all of them every single time. I get that.
“For me, having a program that the people of Oklahoma, the former players, coaches — everybody — takes pride in is very important to me.”
A quick drive around almost any part of Oklahoma would show — through flags, T-shirts and other prominently displayed OU regalia — that the state remains mighty proud of its Sooners. But a two-decade national championship drought has left some fans restless.
This could finally be the year.
Oklahoma returns quarterback Spencer Rattler, a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, as well as dynamic playmakers such as running back Kennedy Brooks and wide receiver Marvin Mims. OU raided the transfer portal, pulling out key players — including three former Tennessee Vols in running back Eric Gray, left tackle Wanya Morris and safety Key Lawrence — who might take the Sooners from good to great.
Then there’s the defense. Entering defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s third season, Oklahoma returns 11 players with starting experience, its deepest unit in years. With improved talent, scheme and — most importantly, according to Riley — culture, Oklahoma ranked 26th in the FBS last season in average yards per play allowed. Two years ago, OU ranked 102nd in that metric.