OU reaches midpoint of final Big 12 season with top coach and players in AP vote
The Associated Press - October 11, 2023 6:39 am
By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer
(AP) — Oklahoma is already piling up plenty of accolades in its final Big 12 season.
A year after their first losing season since 1998 and the week after a comeback Red River rivalry win over Texas, the fifth-ranked Sooners (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) are the league’s only undefeated team. Oklahoma also has the top coach, top offensive player, and best defensive player so far this season, according to a midseason vote of Associated Press writers who cover the league.
Second-year Sooners coach Brent Venables, quarterback Dillon Gabriel, and linebacker Danny Stutsman were top picks revealed Tuesday. Oklahoma also had the top first-year freshman with strong safety Peyton Bowen.
“I think it goes without saying … we’re better in every area. We’re not where want to be. But this is the next step,” Venables said after the 34-30 win over Texas. “This team is a very determined football team. There’s a lot of belief for having 63 new players on the squad, this is a team that’s close. There’s a lot of trust and respect. We have a very selfless football team.”
The Sooners already have a record 14 Big 12 championships, and this is their last season with an opportunity to add to that total before moving with the Longhorns to the Southeastern Conference next year.
The Sooners are 6-0 for the 10th time since 2000, when Venables was defensive coordinator for their last national championship. He was later part of two national titles with Clemson before returning to Norman last season. His 6-7 debut as Oklahoma’s head coach included a humiliating 49-0 loss to the rival Longhorns, but all four losses after that last season were by three points.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Gabriel was the only unanimous choice among the midseason picks. The left-handed thrower from Hawaii is the Big 12 leader completing 72% of his passes for 313 yards per game with 16 touchdowns. The UCF transfer in his second Sooners season has a team-high five rushing touchdowns and ranks fourth nationally with 347.7 total yards per game.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Stutsman, a 6-foot-4, 236-pounder from Florida, is the Big 12’s leading tackler with 9.7 per game, picking up where he left off last season when he topped the conference with 9.6. His 10 1/2 tackles for loss already match his 13-game total last year.
TOP FIRST-YEAR FRESHMAN
Bowen, a five-star recruit and early enrollee at Oklahoma last January, has 23 tackles and leads the Sooners with four pass breakups. He has blocked two punts this season, one for a safety, and forced a fumble.
TOP FIRST-YEAR TRANSFER
Houston dual-threat quarterback Donovan Smith is no stranger in the Big 12 after accounting for 29 touchdowns in 23 games the past two seasons at Texas Tech. In his first season for the Cougars, Smith is second in the Big 12 behind Gabriel with 302 total yards per game.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
West Virginia (4-1, 2-0) is the only team other than Oklahoma without a Big 12 loss. While that includes only two conference games, the Mountaineers have a four-game winning streak since a 38-15 loss at sixth-ranked Penn State to open the season.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Like his quarterback, Houston sophomore receiver Samuel Brown began his college career at another Big 12 school. The West Virginia transfer’s 34 catches match Texas’ Xavier Worthy for the most in the league, even though the Cougars have played one fewer game. Brown is the Big 12 leader with 6.8 catches and 103.6 yards receiving per game.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
TCU was the national runner-up last season, making the four-team College Football Playoff after an undefeated regular season in coach Sonny Dykes’ first year. The Frogs (3-3, 1-2) opened this season with a home loss to Colorado, then had a three-game winning streak before losing their last two games. And now quarterback Chandler Morris is injured.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown likely has to keep the momentum going. He is 26-26 overall in his fifth season. The Mountaineers play Thursday night at league newcomer Houston (2-3, 0-2) and Dana Holgorsen, the coach Brown replaced at West Virginia.
Kansas junior quarterback Jalon Daniels was the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, but has played in only three of six games for the No. 23 Jayhawks (5-1) because of back issues. He was also hurt last year, when Kansas was off to a 5-0 start and got in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009 before he missed four games with a shoulder injury. The Jayhawks face Oklahoma State this week before a bye and a home date against the Sooners.