For the first half of Bob Stoops’ tenure at Oklahoma, the Sooners acquired talent at a level that rivaled the elite programs in the country. They fielded a team with enough top-tier players across the roster to put them in the rarified air of legitimate contenders for the national championship, a group that probably includes no more than 10 teams every year.
As time wore on, however, the Sooners’ recruiting gradually slid down the talent curve. The bottom never really fell out in Norman, but OU has probably had something closer to a top 15 or a top 20 roster in terms of pure talent for the better part of the last decade. For example, OU’s roster has ranked 16th nationally for each of the last three seasons, according to the 247Sports College Football Team Talent Composite index.
What caused that dip? Take a look at the defense.
To get a full picture of OU’s defensive recruiting, I used Rivals.com data dating back to 2002. I sorted all of the Sooners’ recruits in each class into three buckets: blue chips, three stars and others. The first group includes all four- and five-star recruits. The “others” category entails two-star players and below, including players who weren’t rated.
In the 2000s, OU was filling up on four- and five-star players on defense, garnishing its classes with three-star recruits and small handfuls of lower-rated prospects. Starting around 2010, the Sooners stopped landing blue chips on the defensive side of the ball at the same clip. The 2012 and 2014 classes were especially light on top defensive players, with just one four-star recruit in each class. (It’s also worth pointing out that of the five blue-chippers OU landed in 2013, one never made it to campus, one was dismissed from the program after one year and another was thrown off the team before his senior year.)
Based on four-year moving averages, three-star players transitioned into the majority of defensive players on the team for the five years from 2012 to 2016. As an illustration, OU signed a total of 11 blue chips on D in the 2011-2014 period versus 30 from 2015 to 2018. That trend didn’t truly reverse itself until the ink dried on the 2018 letters of intent.
Meanwhile, OU’s recruiting on offense has chugged along at a consistent pace since 2002.
Not surprisingly, the Sooners saw the performance of their defense fall off during the recruiting malaise. OU regressed dramatically after consistently finishing in the top 15 in the country in Defensive S&P+ from 2006 to 2012.
That brings us to Lincoln Riley’s post-Rose Bowl observation about the difference between the defensive personnel of Georgia and Oklahoma. The matchup was a microcosm of the Sooners’ roster shortcomings: The Bulldogs had 27 players on their defense who were blue chip recruits; OU had 16. Importantly, 11 of UGA’s blue-chip players were upperclassmen, while the Sooners had just three.
Irrespective of the hotly debated coaching acumen of OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Riley has a valid point about needing to upgrade the Sooners’ defensive talent. The 2018 class, which included nine blue-chippers out of 13 total recruits on D, kept the trend line pointing up. Meanwhile, with plenty of time left in the current recruiting cycle, five of OU’s eight defensive commitments for 2019 are ranked as four-star prospects.
In other words, OU appears well on its way to stocking its defense with enough overall talent to regain its spot among the nation's championship-caliber rosters.