Last week’s shellacking from Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl has sent Sooner fans into a tizzy wondering how Oklahoma can get back on track. Fresh off of taking the OU coaching staff to task for poor preparation in bowl games, Tulsa World columnist John Hoover has further cemented his reputation as Bob Stoops’ chief watchdog with another scathing column. This one takes aim at the program’s offense.
Hoover's long-winded critique raises plenty of solid points about the diminishing returns from OU’s no-huddle spread* scheme. While the blog post hits on a host of tangential issues, the thrust of his argument is that the Sooners’ reliance on the spread is driving elite players away from Norman.
(*This is where I insert my normal caveat about my frustrations with the ubiquitous application of the term “spread offense.” In this context, I’m using spread to refer to OU’s version of the Air Raid.)
I have given this issue plenty of thought, even before Hoover raised it. I read the recruiting chess board a little differently.
OU hasn’t really been competing for recruits against programs that run the “pro-style” offenses that have dominated the SEC as of late. While SEC programs typically stock their rosters with players from the Sun Belt region – Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and the like – OU has traditionally pulled recruits from Texas. The Sooners’ primary competition in the Lone Star State? Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, etc.
UT has made a move towards more of a pro-style attack, but the rest remain as spread-happy as ever. That includes the current “It” program on the national scene, Texas A&M, which is making some serious noise in the SEC.
If you’re looking for the missing talented players who were once on the Sooners’ roster, chances are you’ll find them wasting away down in Austin. Mack Brown has always had a knack for reeling in talent in his home state, but he has truly locked it down in the last four years. The Longhorns have finished no lower than fifth overall in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings since 2009. Considering the past few seasons in Austin, it’s a pretty remarkable feat.
OU’s rankings in those four years: 13, 7, 14, 11.
Whereas Stoops once had a shot to win some recruiting battles south of the Red River, Mack has made it no contest. Texas' offensive transition may have had an effect in that regard, but a number of the players on the roster last season became Longhorns while watching Colt McCoy work his magic out of the spread.
At the same time, spread teams like Baylor, TCU and, now more than ever, A&M are raising their recruiting profiles, too. It stands to reason that if players are eschewing OU because of the spread, they wouldn't want to play for Art Briles or Kevin Sumlin, either.
In fact, with competition intensifying in the state of Texas for recruits, Stoops has taken a more national approach to recruiting. OU is now chasing more players from places like California and Ohio. Is it possible that the Sooner offense is dissuading talented recruits from those locales from picking OU? Maybe, although historical data suggests that distance from home seems like the far more likely factor.
As I mentioned, Hoover raises a number of objections to Oklahoma’s style of play, all of which deserve some consideration. There are good arguments to be made for dumping the spread. The idea that OU’s offense is hurting the Sooners’ ability to lure top talent to Norman, however, doesn’t hold up.