9:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Oklahoma -4.5, Over/Under: 60.5
As we roll on closer to the New Year, the bowls keep coming with the Alamo Bowl is up next featuring the (No. 14) Oregon Ducks battling the (No. 16) Oklahoma Sooners in a matchup featuring two programs that ultimately fell short of expectations and are now bracing themselves for sizable change. All year long it felt that if the Pac-12 were to produce a participant in the College Football Playoff for just the second time since its inception, then it would indeed be Oregon (10-3, 7-3 in Pac-12), who for much of 2021 appeared to be the class of the conference. Fresh off their second consecutive league championship, the Ducks staked their claim early with a stunning 35-28 upset of (No. 3) Ohio State in Columbus no less, vaulting themselves into the top-four of the AP Poll, where they would reside until suffering a narrow 31-24 loss at Stanford three weeks later. However, that loss didn’t appear to be too damaging for they would rebound to win five straight games en route to climbing back into fourth in CFP Rankings. And then came a fateful November 20th trip to Utah, where (Head Coach) Mario Cristobal’s charges were utterly curb stomped in a 38-7 blowout loss in which they were relegated to season-lows in points (7), total yards (294), and rushing yards (63), effectively shattering their hopes of advancing to the Playoff. With that said, they would receive an opportunity for redemption, for after outlasting bitter rival, Oregon State (38-29) in their latest entry in the Civil War they set up a rematch with the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for Oregon, this redux wouldn’t feature a different outcome as they were once again embarrassed in a 38-10 defeat. For the second time in three weeks the South Division Champions started swiftly, scoring twenty-three unanswered points in the first half with the Ducks unable to get on the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter by which it was far too late. In both games they were overwhelmed early, for they were outscored 51-0 in the first half alone. After mustering just 294 total yards in the first meeting, the North Division Champions were limited to a scant 221 this time around, managing to rush for only seventy-four yards on twenty-nine carries. (Senior Quarterback) Anthony Brown (63.8%, 2,692 YDS, 7.7 Y/A, 16 TD, 6 INT) failed to put so much as a dent in Utah’s rugged defense, completing a miserable 13-of-24 passes for 147 yards and two interceptions, while suffering four sacks along the way leading to a negative-five rushing yards despite ten carries. Balance has been a major component of the Ducks’ success this season, with much of their passing game building off run where they’ve churned out an average of 202.5 yards on a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. However, in two encounters with the Utes they could muster only 68.5 yards on a dismal 2.6 yards per carry, with seven sacks of Brown leaving a mark as well. (Junior Tailback) Travis Dye (193 CAR, 1,118 YDS, 5.8 Y/A, 15 TD) picked up the slack after (fellow Junior) C.J. Verdell (77 CAR, 397 YDS, 5.2 Y/A, 5 TD) was lost for the season with a knee injury, leading the team with 1,118 yards and fifteen touchdowns, while Brown also played a large role in the ground game adding another 637 yards and nine scores. Against Utah, the tandem was relegated to 114 yards on forty attempts (2.8 Y/C), causing the offense to collapse altogether. With all that said, the biggest news was yet to come as Cristobal was immediately pressured into answering questions about a potential move to his alma mater, Miami, who had expressed interest in bringing the 2019 Pac-12 Coach of the year home to Coral Gables. Though he initially denied talks with the Hurricanes taking place, the 51-year-old would swiftly pack his bags and take his talents to South Beach, leaving the Ducks to scramble for a replacement. Not only did Oregon lose Cristobal, but (Offensive Coordinator) Joe Moorehead accepted the head coaching job at Akron, while (Co-Defensive Coordinators) Tim DeRuyter and Ken Wilson left in favor of becoming Texas Tech’s new DC and Nevada’s Head Coach respectively. Indeed, it was nothing short of a mass exodus from Eugene, which (Athletic Director) Rob Mullens quickly interviewing a number of candidates, even kicking the tires on a potential return of Chip Kelly, though that track never managed to build momentum. In the end, Mullens hired Georgia Defensive Coordinator, Dan Lanning, who presided over the nation’s top defense this season. With Lanning preoccupied with the Bulldogs’ participation in the Playoff, (Passing Game Coordinator) Bryan McClendon will be the team’s interim coach for tonight’s affair in the Alamo Bowl, which marks a fifth consecutive bowl for the Ducks, and their twenty-third in the last twenty-five years. All-time, Oregon has appeared in thirty-four bowls in which they’ve amassed a 15-19 record with this being their third trip to the Alamodome since 2013 splitting those two prior appearances. Tonight’s contest also marks the first time that these two programs have met since 2006, which is coincidentally the only time that the Ducks have beaten the Sooners, snapping a six-game losing streak dating back to 1958. Heading into this postseason matchup, McClendon will be without a number of key contributors on defense, headlined by (All-American Edge-Rusher) Kayvon Thibodeaux (49 TKL, 12 TFL, 7.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 PD), who has decided to opt out of tonight’s Alamo Bowl in preparation for the NFL Draft, where he is expected to be a top-five selection, while (Sophomore Cornerback) Mykael Wright (65 TKL, 4 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 4 PD) also opted out, with both (Sophomore Receiver) Devon Williams (35 REC, 557 YDS, 15.9 Y/R, 4 TD) and (Sophomore Cornerback) DJ James (46 TKL, 0.5 TFL, 4 PD) entering the Transfer Portal. Cheer up, Oregon fans, for it’s not all doom and gloom in Eugene, as Lanning made his first big acquisition in the form of (Junior Quarterback) Bo Nix (61.0%, 2,294 YDS, 7.1 Y/A, 11 TD, 3 INT), who announced his transfer from Auburn last week.
Meanwhile, Oregon isn’t the only school dealing with massive upheaval on the sidelines and the gridiron, for Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 in Big XII) suffered arguably the most high-profile of exits as Lincoln Riley departed Norman in favor of heading west to USC. Needless to say, this move shocked the college football world for a variety of reasons. In five seasons as their Head Coach, Riley led the Sooners to a stellar 55-10 record, including four consecutive Big XII titles, and three appearances in the College Football Playoff, while also proving to be masterful on the recruiting front with a number of superstars coming through the program, including Heisman-winning Quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, who went no. one overall in the NFL Draft in successive years, along with other prized recruits such as (Five-Star Quarterbacks) Spencer Rattler (74.9%, 1,483 YDS, 7.9 Y/A, 11 TD, 5 INT) and Caleb Williams (62.7%, 1,674 YDS, 9.0 Y/A, 18 TD, 4 INT). Remarkably just thirty-eight years old, Oklahoma expected to have Riley in place for a LONG time, only to be stunned by his decision to take his talents to Southern California. Geographically, the transition makes all kinds of sense, but anyone who has paid attention over the last decade and some change will tell you that the Sooners have been competing in another stratosphere altogether apart from the Trojans, who have been mired in mediocrity since Pete Carroll departed the program back in 2010. However, Riley was not overly enthusiastic about Oklahoma’s looming move to the SEC in two years’ time, likely viewing the Pac-12 as a much more generous conference to compete within along with one of the most fertile recruiting regions in the country serving as his own backyard. So, with that said, where does his departure leave the Sooners? First and foremost, Riley’s exit has created a MASSIVE domino effect on the recruiting trail, with a new Five-Star flipping their allegiance by the day. The aforementioned Rattler decided to leave Norman too, with the Redshirt Sophomore opting to transfer to South Carolina after being benched on multiple occasions in each of the last two seasons, eventually giving way to Williams, who immediately took command of the offense and hasn’t looked back. Replacing Riley will be a familiar face in the form of Brent Venables, who finally makes the leap to Head Coach after being one of the most sought-after and highest paid Defensive Coordinators in the country for over a decade. Venables served as the Sooners’ Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach from 1999 to 2011, winning a National Championship in 2000 and seven conference titles during that span, before heading to Clemson where he served in that same capacity, winning another two National Championships along the way. The 2016 Broyles Award winner (which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach) has been tasked with stopping the bleeding on the recruiting trail, which he appears to be doing a good job in keeping Williams in Norman and signing (former Ohio State Five-Star) Nick Evers via the Transfer Portal. However, coaching the Sooners in tonight’s Alamo Bowl will not be Venables, but rather another very familiar face, as (former Head Coach) Bob Stoops will handle head coaching duties and bowl preparation in lieu of this meeting with Oregon. Stoops, who spent last season briefly coaching the XFL’s Dallas Renegades, returns to Norman where he enjoyed tremendous success from 1999 to 2016, winning that National Championship in 2000 (along with two other appearances in the National Title Game) and leading the school to ten Big XII titles en route to amassing a 190-48 record. The 61-year-old hired both Venables and Riley, with the latter serving as his Offensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach for two years before naming him as his successor in 2017. “Big Game Bob” as he’s referred to in that region of the country, Stoops is 9-9 all-time in bowls, besting Auburn in the 2016 Sugar Bowl (35-19) in what was initially his final game with the program. Stoops has also led Oklahoma to two victories in three encounters with Oregon, blasting them 31-7 in a 2004 meeting in Norman, before edging them in a narrow 17-14 victory in the 2015 Holiday Bowl. Though he won’t have the services of defensive stars such as Perion Winfrey (23 TKL, 11 TFL, 5.5 SK, 1 FF) and Nik Bonitto (39 TKL, 15 TFL, 7.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 PD), with both opting out of tonight’s affair, he will be able to count on the services of the aforementioned Williams, who has continued to ascend since wresting the starting gig away from Rattler back in early October. The Freshman wrote his name in the Oklahoma history books as he engineered a 21-point comeback victory over bitter rival, Texas, eventually toppling them in dramatic fashion in the latest installment of the Red River Rivalry. Williams amassed 300 total yards and three touchdowns in that furious rally and has been as advertised as the Sooners Starting Quarterback in completing 62.7% of his passes for 1,674 yards on a healthy 9.0 yards per attempt with eighteen touchdowns opposed to just four interceptions, while proving to be a threat with his legs in rushing for another 408 yards six scores to boot. When we last saw him, he and the Sooners were ultimately denied of competing for what would have been a seventh consecutive Big XII title, falling to instate rival, Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 37-33. With the latest chapter in Bedlam tied 24-24 at halftime, Oklahoma’s defense regained the lead via a safety and a fumble returned for a touchdown but couldn’t manage to produce at al offensively in the second half, with their final assault coming up short in the red zone as time expired. Despite being sacked six times and hit on countless others, Williams kept the visitors alive with 252 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-39 passing, while rushing for another thirty-six yards on nineteen carries.