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Tramel's ScissorTales: Losing Lincoln Riley & maybe Caleb Williams humbling for Sooner football

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

OU football’s ability to land on its feet is impressive. 

Lincoln Riley bolted for Southern Cal, and exactly one week later the Sooners had a coach, Brent Venables, they claim is better and they might be right.  

Caleb Williams entered the transfer portal, and less than four hours later, the previous-best quarterback on the market, Central Florida’s Dillon Gabriel, had pledged to the Sooners. 

Who knows how the Venables and Gabriel stories end? But there’s reason to bet on happily ever after. 

Venables certainly fits the Sooner model. He’s Bob Stoops circa 1998, only more experienced. Nothing to not like there. 

And should Williams indeed leave the Sooners, Gabriel seems like a fine consolation prize. An excellent quarterback at UCF, with perhaps three years eligibility remaining, despite having already spent three years in Orlando. 

'It can be very stressful':OU's Cale Gundy relishes Alamo Bowl play-calling duties but ready to return to role

Then-OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with quarterback Caleb Williams (13) during a 37-33 loss at OSU on Nov. 27.

Tramel's ScissorTales:Big 12 football goes 5-2 in bowls, best among Power 5 conferences

If the worst thing that happens to a football program in the course of a year is Venables coaching and Gabriel quarterbacking, your troubles are few. 

But still, the events of late November and early January have had a sobering effect on Oklahoma football. 

The Sooners are not accustomed to being jilted.  

Norman is a place where gridiron greats scramble to reach, not flee. A place where a lot more people want to enter than exit. 

Then Riley went to Lala Land and Williams places one foot out the door, with bags packed. OU’s superiority complex has taken a hit. 

Coaches don’t leave OU. Not for another campus.  

I mean, Barry Switzer quit amid scandal pressure and Bob Stoops retired because he was ready to own his own days, and most everyone understood both decisions. It was time. 

Bud Wilkinson left for politics and Chuck Fairbanks left for the Patriots, and both were understandable moves. 

Gomer Jones, Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake were fired, and few protested. 

Heck, even when Jim Tatum left for Maryland in 1947 after only one year coaching the Sooners, the university already was so mesmerized by Wilkinson that Tatum’s departure was considered a blessing. 

So this is new territory for OU football. Riley went from hero to bum between sunrise and sunset. From prince to carpetbagger. From Land of Lincoln to Stinkin’ Riley. 

Riley now is billed in OU minds as an ungrateful opportunist who will sting USC the same way. Sooners sing along with Crystal Gayle. “Have you left the one you left me for?” 

Carlson:Transfer QBs Caleb Williams & Dillon Gabriel aren't a sign of end times, rather a sign of the times

Tramel:Don't be angry with OU quarterback Caleb Williams for entering the transfer portal

And now not just the head coach, but the prized quarterback, could be hitting the road. Williams, like Riley, is going against history. 

Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts. Heck, Josh Heupel, Nate Hybl, Darrell Shepard and Jack Mitchell in previous generations. Careers are made by donning the crimson, not shedding it. 

When a Troy Aikman or Trevor Knight or Spencer Rattler left, it was because a new messiah had arrived. No hard feelings. 

But Williams is the messiah.  

And the message that Williams would send with a departure is the same message Riley sent. Something else is bigger and better and brighter. 

That’s a slap in the face in Norman. That’s Jennifer Lopez getting left at the altar. 

It hurts. Hurts like hell. But such desertion can be quite instructive.  

It can be a reminder that not everyone sees the Sooners the way OU football sees itself. It can cause a self-reflection phase. Figure out what needs to be done to make OU football better. The Sooners have been great, but it’s been a long time since they’ve been the greatest. 

Again, it’s not like the Sooners had an overly-inflated opinion of themselves. OU football indeed is something special and tradition-rich. Venables and Gabriel prove that. They are quite the catches. 

You can make a long list of the reasons why OU football is better off long-term with Venables than with Riley. And while Williams is more likely to win a Heisman Trophy than is Gabriel, with the Sooners or anyone else, Gabriel in 2½ seasons at Central Florida was as good as Williams in his freshman OU season, if less spectacular. 

So Sooner football remains in fine shape. At best, a slight stumble just for recalibrating purposes with a new coach and possibly new quarterback. 

But the departure of Riley and likely departure of Williams is a sobering reminder that not everyone sees OU as that shining city on the hill, even if they are part of the shine. 

Carlson:Why we won't soon forget the 2021 college football season, even if we want to

NFL predictions: Last-week drama lacking 

The National Football League’s new 17-game schedule has not produced the final-week drama that was anticipated. 

Eleven of the 14 playoff berths are accounted for. 

Seven of the eight division titles have been secured. 

One of the two No. 1 seeds is set (Green Bay), and the other can be secured by a total mismatch (Tennessee-Houston). 

Most of the final-week drama concerns playoff seedings. Is a wild-card team No. 6 or No. 7? Is a division winner No. 3 or No. 4? 

It’s not what the networks hoped for, but it’s what we’ve got. Let’s get to the predictions and the playoff scenarios: 

Chiefs at Broncos: Kansas City 24-7. Denver is eliminated from the playoffs. The Chiefs can be the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a victory and a Tennessee loss to Houston. 

Cowboys at Eagles: Dallas 26-20. The game doesn’t mean much to Philadelphia, which is either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NFC, and this game won’t determine which. Dallas probably is headed for the No. 4 seed in the NFC. The Cowboys can be No. 2 with a win, a 49er win over the Rams, a Seattle upset of Arizona and a Carolina upset of Tampa Bay. Dallas can be No. 3 with the same scenario, except the Buccaneers win. 

Bengals at Browns: Cleveland 17-14. Quarterbacks Joe Burrow (Cincinnati) and Baker Mayfield (Cleveland) will sit this one out. Burrow to rest, Mayfield because he needs surgery. Cleveland is eliminated from playoff consideration. The Bengals have secured the AFC North and could even be the No. 1 seed in the conference, but Cincinnati would need to win and get losses by Tennessee, Kansas City and New England, or a win and a Buffalo win coupled with losses by Tennessee and Kansas City. 

Packers at Lions: Green Bay 23-21. The Packers are the NFC’s No. 1 seed no matter what, but Aaron Rodgers still is expected to start at quarterback, though it’s unlikely he’ll play the entire game.   

Bears at Vikings: Chicago 27-20. The game means nothing, but the Bears have playing been playing meaningless games for several weeks, and doing it quite well. 

Washingtons at Giants: Admirals 17-16. Will Washington really adopt the Admirals nickname? What’s going to be the logo? The Spurs’ David Robinson? 

Colts at Jaguars: Indianapolis 41-7. Indy makes the playoffs with a win. If the Colts somehow lose, they still get in with a Chargers loss to Las Vegas and a Ravens-Steelers tie, or losses by the Chargers, Steelers and Dolphins (to New England). 

Steelers at Ravens: Baltimore 18-15. No team has fought harder than has the Ravens. Through injuries and Covid, Baltimore has scratched, and despite a five-game losing streak, the Ravens remain in the playoff hunt. For the Steelers to make the playoffs, they need to win while also needing Jacksonville to beat Indianapolis and the Raiders-Chargers game to not end in a tie. Meanwhile, Baltimore needs to win and get lots of help – Jags over Colts, Bengals over Browns, Raiders over Chargers and Patriots over Dolphins. 

Titans at Texans: Tennessee 31-10. With a win, the Titans get the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Mike Vrabel has done a fabulous job coaching Tennessee. 

Saints at Falcons: Atlanta 25-20. Upset special. The Falcons have nothing to play for, while beleaguered New Orleans still can make the playoffs by winning and getting a 49er loss to the Rams. 

Jetropolitans at Bills: Buffalo 38-6. The Bills win the AFC East with a win. Buffalo also would win the division if New England loses to Miami. 

49ers at Rams: Los Angeles 28-20. The Rams win the NFC West unless they lose and Arizona beats Seattle. San Francisco makes the playoffs with a victory, or a New Orleans loss to Atlanta. 

Patriots at Dolphins: New England 21-12. To win the AFC East, the Patriots need a win coupled with a Buffalo loss to the Jets. 

Seahawks at Cardinals: Arizona 38-12. The Cardinals got back on track with a victory at Dallas last week. Now they can win the NFC West with a win and a Rams loss to the 49ers. 

Panthers at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay 30-13. With a win and a Rams loss to the 49ers, the Buccaneers are the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Tampa Bay could fall to No. 4 with a loss and losses by the Rams and Cardinals, coupled with a Dallas win. 

Chargers at Raiders: Las Vegas 27-24. The winner makes the playoffs. The Chargers are out of the playoffs with a loss, and the Raiders will be out unless Jacksonville upsets Indianapolis. 

Last week: 11-5. Season: 161-91-1. 

More:Get to know The Oklahoman's 2021 All-City high school football team

The List: Mike Gundy defensive coordinators 

OSU football under Mike Gundy has been known for offense. But Gundy actually has been quite adept at hiring defensive coordinators. And now Gundy must hire another one. 

Here are Gundy’s five d-coordinators, ranked by their success: 

1. Jim Knowles, 2018-21: Resigned a few weeks ago to become the d-coordinator at Ohio State. Knowles methodically built up the Cowboy defense to where it was one of America’s best in 2021. 

2. Bill Young, 2009-12: An OSU graduate, Young was a college football lifer. He served as defensive coordinator at Tulsa, Ohio State, OU, Southern Cal, Kansas (on KU’s 2007 Orange Bowl team), Miami and OSU. That’s a heck of a career. Young’s 2011 defense was first-rate, and the Cowboys won the Big 12. Gundy fired Young after the 2012 season, ostensibly for recruiting purposes. 

3. Glenn Spencer, 2013-17: Gundy promoted Spencer and it worked well. The Cowboys had the Big 12’s best defense in 2013, and his next four OSU defenses ranked seventh, sixth, fourth and fourth in Big 12 defensive efficiency. Not bad. But Gundy fired Spencer to bring in Knowles. 

4. Tim Beckman, 2007-08: Beckman’s defenses were middle-of-the-road in the Big 12, in the days when Big 12 quarterbacking was at its zenith – Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Graham Harrel, Zac Robinson, Todd Reesing, Josh Freeman. Beckman left to become head coach at Toledo, which catapulted him to the Illinois job. 

5. Vance Bedford, 2005-06: Bedford had coached with Gundy on Pat Jones’ OSU staffs of 1993-94. When hired by Gundy, Bedford had spent six years as the Chicago Bears defensive back coach. But his two years back in Stillwater did not go well. Bedford referred to some OSU fans as “cockroaches” and was fired after the 2006 season. 

'Business in front of feelings':Jayden Jernigan details his decision to leave OSU football for Missouri

Explaining the transfer portal 

The NCAA’s transfer portal has such a mysterious name. It sounds like something out of Star Trek. Like the transporter. 

Dr Pepper’s Fansville played on that imagery, with the beloved “Rico” entering the portal, an ivy-covered, brick arch that goes all psychedelic when Rico jumps through. 

And with college football and college basketball players taking that same jump by the thousands, the portal remains a mystical organism to the average fan. Especially now in Oklahoma, since OU quarterback Caleb Williams has entered the portal. 

But a reader called Thursday and asked a simple question. What exactly is the portal? How does it work? 

Alas, it’s not nearly as exotic as Star Trek or that Fansville garden. 

The NCAA transfer portal at its core is a database. A simple list of athletes who either want to transfer or are considering transferring. 

Here are a few things to know about the portal: 

What it is: The portal was created in October 2018, essentially as a clearinghouse for transfers. It’s a list of athletes, for all sports, considering transferring, with contact information, if the athlete desires. 

How it works: Athletes ask the compliance administrator at their school to put their name in the portal (on the list), and the school has two business days to publicize the information. Most players publicize the information themselves, via social media, and most schools have coaches or administrators dedicated to checking the portal, to see if any potential recruit is on the list. 

Why it was created: According to the NCAA, the portal is a “compliance tool to systematically manage the transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process among schools and empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.” 

What is the portal’s impact? It has made transfers more rampant, because it’s easier for schools and transfers to connect. But the portal’s impact is not nearly as big as the impact of immediately eligibility. The NCAA instituted a new rule a year ago that allows all athletes to transfer one time and be eligible without sitting out a season. The immediate-eligibility rule, not the portal, has caused the biggest flood of transfers. And the rule’s implementation is not connected to the implementation of the portal. 

What are athletes’ options in the portal? Players can transfer with or without a scholarship. Players also can withdraw from the portal at any time. However, the original school is not required to take them back or keep them on scholarship. 

Who has access to the portal? By rule, a school's compliance department and one coach from each sport's staff. Typically, someone for each program checks the portal regularly, as a potential recruiting tool. The list is sortable by sport, name, conference, division, school, date (of entry). 

Here’s the bottom line. The transfer portal’s intent was to make it easier for an athlete to get out the word that they are available. And that has happened. 

Caleb Williams doesn’t need the transfer portal. Everyone in America knows he’s considering a transfer. A softball player at Illinois-Chicago or a linebacker at Southern Utah or a sprinter at Virginia Union doesn’t have that luxury. The portal helps them spread the word. 

More:Here are the OU football players in the transfer portal & those declared for the 2022 NFL Draft

Mailbag: Conference realignment 

The excitement over OU’s move to the Southeastern Conference seems to be subsiding. At least for some. 

Rex: “As hard as it’s been to watch the portal with OU lately, it is nice to see the Big 12 go 11-2 in Bowls in the last two years, easily the best of all leagues. The league is showing power over other leagues and brands, look no further than the Pokes and Baylor wins. Those were defining wins. I’m just happy as a clam with the league right now in both sports.  Basketball is hands down the best league of the last couple years, and only will continue for years ahead. We’re finally getting to where we need to be again, and adding four great brands for both major sports. This is why I’m very against the SEC move for OU. We have a good thing, and with the four new teams, it’s going to be as good as any other league. My hope is Peacock or Amazon Prime or even CBS (now losing the SEC) throw OU and Texas a ton of money. The SEC move is not what either need. In fact, it’s cancerous. In 5-10 years, there will be regrets. Just like NU. Colorado and Mizzou will never recover, and Texas A&M is only ... an 8-4 program and always will be an 8-4 program. Something needs to be done, because I feel like the canary in the coal mine telling everyone to 180 this SEC thing.” 

Tramel: Uh, sorry, Rex, but the SEC thing is a done deal. The Sooners are going. The money crunch is worse, not better, which means the riches of the SEC makes the move even more enticing. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.