NORMAN — Friday is Senior Day at OU.
The Sooners have 27 players on the roster who are seniors of some ilk. There are fourth-, fifth- and even sixth-year seniors, and because of COVID eligibility rules, some may have additional years of eligibility. All that to say, we don’t know exactly who will be playing their final home game as a Sooner.
But here’s something we do know: 12 of those seniors stayed through the coaching change.
We’re talking about guys like Drake Stoops and Andrew Raym, Woodi Washington and Jordan Kelley, Key Lawrence and Isaiah Coe. Guys who signed on to be Sooners when Lincoln Riley and Co. were in charge, but who decided to stay when Brent Venables and his crew came in two years ago.
Guys who have helped the Sooners get where they are today heading into a Friday morning game against TCU with a chance to win 10 games and an outside chance to make the Big 12 title game only a year after finishing with a losing record.
“They are the foundation for the success that we’ve experienced this year,” Venables said. “I’m incredibly thankful for them — the leadership, the belief, all the work that they’ve put in and all the sacrifice.”
There are other players who’ve obviously had a huge hand in the Sooners’ rebuild. Some stayed through the coaching change but aren’t yet seniors, guys like Danny Stutsman, Jalil Farooq, Ethan Downs and Billy Bowman. Others have come to Norman since Venables arrived, a list topped by Dillon Gabriel.
Still, these seniors were some of the most veteran players when Riley shocked the college football world by leaving for Southern Cal. As shocked as all of us were, you can only imagine how it rocked the players’ worlds.
But this subsection of the Senior Day honorees chose to stay. With so many players moving around nowadays, it would’ve been easy for them to hop into the portal. Get a fresh start. Do something different.
They decided to do something different without leaving Norman.
“That’s a group of guys who are incredibly, heavily invested in this program,” Venables said. “I got a … tremendous amount of thankfulness for them. It will be an emotional week for several of them on Senior Day.”
Frankly, Sooner fans should be emotional about them, too. Give them their flowers on Senior Day.
Here are some other nuggets to chew on before OU-TCU gets under way at 11 a.m. Friday in Norman:
Sooner to watch: Whoever plays quarterback for OU. Dillon Gabriel’s status is up in the air after being injured at BYU, though Brent Venables said Monday he expected Gabriel to play if he continued to progress as he had been. If he plays, it will be interesting to see if Gabriel can pick up where he left off. If he doesn’t play, it will be interesting to see how Jackson Arnold fares after a week of prep. He was put in a tough situation at BYU, entering a road game in a hostile environment under not-great weather conditions, having not played since the Iowa State blowout. Arnold did well all things considered, but how might he do if he was given starter reps this week in practice?
Sooner newcomer to watch: True freshman Peyton Bowen has had several big moments this season, but Venables revealed Monday that Bowen has been hampered by injury. “He’s at safety, and we worked him at cheetah,” Venables said of the Sooners’ hybrid linebacker position. “But it’s hard when you’re not practicing as much.” Knowing that Bowen has been limited makes his performance even more impressive. Even though he played on 17 snaps at BYU, Pro Football Focus gave him the fourth-best overall grade on the OU defense.
Horned Frog to watch: Josh Hoover is likely to make his sixth start at quarterback, and while he’s had bumps along the way — a 41-3 loss to Kansas State has been the worst — the redshirt freshman is only the second Power Five quarterback to have two 400-yard passing games in his first five career starts. Former Ohio State quarterback turned Houston Texans sensation C.J. Stroud is the other.
A familiar face in Norman: Former OU quarterback Chandler Morris would likely be leading the TCU offense if not for a knee injury that sidelined him earlier this season. But you will see former OSU receiver John Paul Richardson (he now goes by JP) and Plainview High product Blake Nowell at receiver, and Broken Arrow High product Zach Marcheselli at linebacker.
Cool stat going into TCU: An OU win would be the program’s 700th in the modern era (since the end of World War II). The program already has the most victories in major college football since the start of the 1946 season. Alabama is second with 667 wins.
Something to watch in Norman: Of the six Big 12 teams that beat OU last season, the Sooners have three on the schedule again this season. They’ve already beaten two of them, Texas and West Virginia. The third? TCU.
Did you know?: OU is 59-19-2 all-time in games played on Fridays, but the Sooners have only played 15 such games since World War II. OU has gone 9-6 in those Friday games, and all six of the losses came against Nebraska. (Four of the wins, by the way, came against the Huskers, too.) Another notable Friday game: a 1947 win against Detroit was Bud Wilkinson’s first game as OU head coach.
If you go to Norman …: Enjoy one last 11 a.m. kickoff against a Big 12 opponent. Yep, this is OU’s final Big 12 game unless the Sooners make the conference championship game. That game, of course, kicks off at 11 a.m.
If you don’t go …: Enjoy some Thanksgiving leftovers while you watch the game. I love the traditional Thanksgiving fare, but a sandwich made with leftover turkey? It doesn’t get much better.
If I could be in two places: Texas Tech at Texas. Like Bedlam, this series is tilted heavily in one direction — Texas leads 54-18 — but six of the past eight games between the Horns and Red Raiders were one-score games. And with Texas playing for a spot in the Big 12 title game, this game just feels primed for drama.
Playing favorites: Former Sooner and Tulsa native Spencer Tillman is on the Fox broadcast with Tim Brando. There may be analysts who are better than Tillman, but there are none who are nicer. What a gem.