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The Brent Venables Era – A Performance Perspective

Just how is Brent Venables doing against his recently hired peers?

A lot can be said about the first two seasons of the Brent Venables era, perhaps starting and ending with the results on the field. But how does Venables stack up from a recruiting perspective?

I’ve chosen three of his peers hired during the 2021-2022 timeframe to use as comparison. All Power 5 coaches across three different conferences and varied levels of program success historically and in recent times. 

So that matchup is BV vs the other “three” in Dan Lanning, Mario Cristobal, and Billy Napier.

I’m going to use 247 Roster Talent Rankings, 247 Composite Recruiting Rankings, and SP+ as relatively objective data points.

Roster Talent

Let’s start with roster talent. What did they inherit? How are they doing in terms of roster maintenance, stability and rebuilding the roster?

This is the Fall 2021 Rankings/Scores before they were hired, and the talent numbers for the next two falls:

247 Talent CompositeFall 2021Fall 2022Fall 2023Change
Oklahoma 891.09 / 6th868.81 / 8th884.97 / 9th-3
Oregon885.75 / 9th875.90 / 7th874.74 / 10th-1
Florida890.50 / 7th842.54 / 14th844.17 / 15th-8
Miami848.88 / 13th857.08 / 12th860.27 / 12th+1

On the surface, BV inherited the best roster with Napier running 2nd. Of the four, OU absorbed the second biggest drops in raw talent year-over-year, with OU in particular losing four Five Stars from their roster with both scholarship QBs leaving (Caleb Williams, Mario Williams, Jadon Haselwood, and Spencer Rattler). BV in year two is almost back to the same talent level and has absorbed the majority of the high talent low performer defections. OU effectively used the portal to improve talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball for the 2023 season. Recently, OU did suffer a big hit with the transfer of freshman OL Cayden Green

UF took a big hit as well, but so far Bill Napier is not having the same success in rebuilding that base. UF’s portal losses in both years have been heavy, and have not been offset by additions. Although, it does look like QB Graham Mertz has exceeded expectations. The portal talent exodus continued in December 2023/January 2024. UF by the time fall of 2024 calculations are completed could be even lower on the talent rankings.

Oregon has stayed about the same. Oregon has definitely won the portal addition game with big time additions like QB Bo Nix and DE Jordan Burch from South Carolina. For the most part, other than OT Kingsley Suamataia, Oregon has also avoided high value portal attrition. The data supports the overall stable roster situation. Oregon’s biggest future swing at the portal fences appears to be going with Dillon Gabriel in 2024 versus an incumbent QB (Ty Thompson for instance was highly rated coming out of HS), and also spending big NIL dollars to bring in former Five Star QB Dante Moore from UCLA, where he did not look good at all. 

Miami has moved up somewhat in the roster rankings, but has also seen quite a lot of talent defections which has offset their upgraded HS recruiting (see below). In rebuilding, Miami often has been a big spender in portal NIL. Biggest additions to date have been offensive linemen Matt Lee from UCF and Javion Cohen from Alabama. Miami probably spent a large amount of NIL cash to secure the services of QB Cam Ward, which was huge for the Canes to be able to compete for an ACC title next year.

High School Recruiting

A big piece of that roster talent situation is high school recruiting, and we now have three classes worth of date to review for all four coaches. 

247 Recruiting RankingsClass of 2022Class of 2023Class of 2024Average Class
Oklahoma266.73 / 8th289.03 / 5th276.39 / 9th277.38 / 7th
Oregon243.73 / 13th278.44 / 9th288.04 / 6th270.07 / 9th
Florida232.99 / 18th271.43 / 13th258.37 / 16th254.26 / 16th
Miami239.25 / 16th284.64 / 7th289.44 / 4th271.11 / 9th

BV in 2022 signed and salvaged the largest/best class of the group. OU also lost the best group of players due to the coaching change (Raleek Brown, Gabe Dindy-Brinlow, Derrick Moore, and maybe Marvin Jones, Jr). And the 2023 class as it was at the time took a huge hit with defections from a number of five star talents including WR Makai Lemon and QB Malachi Nelson. For 2023, OU finished with the best class and added back three Five Stars (Peyton Bowen, Jackson Arnold, and PJ Adebawore) to their roster including a Five Star QB. In 2024, OU followed that up with another top ten class adding more defensive stars (Five Star David Stone, Danny Okoye, and Nigel Smith) and offensive skill folks (Zion Kearney, Five Star Taylor Tatum, and Davon Mitchell). Maybe the most impressive feature of the HS recruiting under BV has been the ability to attract elite HS QB recruits with OU adding Five Star Jackson Arnold to replace Nelson. QB recruiting post-Lincoln Riley looked like a potential weak spot, but has proven to not be an issue. OU has nine verbals for 2025 already, including their next QB in Kevin Sperry, and are well on their way to a 3rd Top Ten class. HS recruiting is not an issue in Norman. 

Cristobal continued his rep as a top recruiter in 2023, taking Miami back into Top Ten territory. Miami has started to flash some serious NIL recruiting game. With 2024 mostly done, Miami has had back-to-back top ten classes, including some huge Five Star additions in OT Francis Mauigoa from California via IMG Academy in 2023, and recently in 2024 Miami was able to flip and sign DT Justin Scott from his Ohio State commitment, as well as DE Armando Blount from Florida State. The classes are very talented overall, but the lack of an elite QB in both the 2023 and 2024 classes is a glaring hole, especially factoring in the poor QB on the field for the Canes. In addition, you have to wonder if the top rated classes are simply creating more pressure on Cristobal. 

Lanning kept Oregon’s recruiting momentum going in his full first year in 2023 with some big names, including Matayo Uiagalelei and Jurrion Dickey. Lanning has delivered, in rankings terms, a breakthrough year in 2024 with Oregon’s best class in maybe 20 years. Oregon added elite defenders in Elijah Rushing, Ayedin Breland, and Aaron Flowers. Lanning even managed to flip an elite WR from tOSU (Jeremiah McClellan) and from USC (Ryan Pellum). If we are looking for a negative recruiting issue, Oregon walked away from a top HS QB in Michael Van Buren, who ended up at Mississippi State, due to their portal QB additions. 

Billy Napier “struggled” with the 13th class (ranked 5th in the SEC) in his debut, and sadly for Napier, the most notable recruiting story was the whole NIL Jaden Rashada fiasco robbing the Gators of a big time QB. Gator fans would like to say that the 2024 rebounded from that recruiting debacle, but the UF meltdown the final 30 days of recruiting was… pretty epic. In that span, UF went from a top five, elite class to the number 16th class in the country, going from 3rd in the SEC all the way down to 8th. UF lost an elite LB, CB, DE, and safety in the process, and came very close to losing Five Star QB DJ Lagway to USC on signing day. It’s going to be hard for Lanier to truly break through in recruiting without a corresponding breakthrough season on the field in 2024.

Coaching Records

While the roster talent and HS recruiting numbers are interesting, the real data point is their performance on Saturdays.

Season Record/ Final SP+ Ranking2021 Season2022 Season2023 Season
Oklahoma11-2 / 13th6-7 / 20th10-3 / 17th
Oregon10-4 / 38th10-3 / 11th12-2 / 3rd
Miami7-5 / 32nd5-7 / 74th7-6 / 28th
Florida6-7 / 30th6-7 / 34th5-7 / 41st

Lanning is the big winner on the field after two years. He has done a great job improving the defense, as his background at UGA would have suggested. Oregon took a gamble on Bo Nix, and props to 2022 offensive coordinator Ken Dillingham, who made Nix look like a completely different QB than the ineffective player from Auburn. Even without Dillingham, Nix had a great 2nd year, and Oregon came very close to reaching the CFP. I’d say that Lanning has maintained and improved the program momentum since Cristobal left, and despite some questionable calls in game 1 versus Washington, he seems to be an in-game manager upgrade over Mario. Going into the Big Ten, Lanning seems to have Oregon ready to compete with tOSU and Michigan. 

BV is easily in second place, having rebounded from the 6-7 2022 season, OU’s worst season since 1998. Without an elite QB like Caleb Williams, and no QB depth behind Dillon Gabriel, the gaps in the OU roster, both talent and depth, became more apparent. In addition, BV went through varied game management growing pains as a first-year head coach. BV tried to make things work with the LR roster, but after the 2022 season, he had no other choice but to engage in a massive roster overhaul. So far, the results on the field showed marked improvement, even accounting for an easier schedule. The defensive improvement year-over-year (70th in 2022, 36th in 2023) is the most encouraging sign for Sooner fans, as real defensive play seems to be taking hold in Norman again. Game management overall was improved, but the Sooners are still suffering from road game “brain” management on the field. OU will be going through a DC, OC, and QB transition in year one in the SEC, and the schedule is pretty daunting with surprise 2023 teams Missouri and Ole Miss added to the mix with Texas, LSU, and Alabama. Still, OU will likely have the 3rd or 4th most talented roster in the SEC using the 247 numbers and are returning their best set of defensive playmakers in almost a decade. And some could argue that the chances at both coordinator positions could be for the best. Perhaps those moves could be bookmarked for next offseason’s review, whether or not the decisions (Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley at OC, and firing Roof for the hire of Zac Alley at DC) were good head coaching moves.

If you listen to our 360 Recruiting Podcast, then you know that my affinity for the in-game genius of Mario Cristobal is unparalleled (is the sarcasm coming through?). To date, Cristobal has continued his awful in-game coaching strategy and management that was problematic at Oregon. In fact, his inability to learn from past mistakes makes the biggest coaching error of 2023 even worse. We won’t recap the whole Georgia Tech snatching defeat from the jaws of victory debacle except to say he did something similar at Oregon. And in Miami’s bowl game, they lost to Rutgers when they ran out of time on a game tying drive with two timeouts left. 2023 was an improvement overall – considering in 2022, Miami got blown out by Middle Tennessee State at home – but ended the year with 20 point losses to Clemson and Pittsburgh. Cristobal’s recruiting is keeping him off the hot seat while also raising the expectations – and temperature.  The biggest concern for Miami fans has to be the terrible QB development and management by Cristobal to date. Only what appears to be a huge bag to Cam Ward has salvaged the QB situation for 2024. 

In 2022, UF, despite an early win over Pac 12 Champ Utah and having an NFL 1st round pick in Anthony Richardson at QB, went 6-7 with a terrible loss to Vandy at the end of the SEC regular season. For 2023, as mentioned previously, the transfer addition of Graham Mertz went better than expected, but overall the roster looked slow and unathletic in their opener with Utah, a theme that continued throughout against top opponents like Georgia. And the team completely cratered at the end of the season, finishing with five straight losses, including losing to a horrible Arkansas team in OT and non competitive games with LSU and UGA. Of the four coaches, Napier is on the hottest of hot seats going into a 2024 schedule that features a five-game ending lineup of Georgia, Texas, LSU, Ole Miss, and FSU. And there’s no gimmes out of conference with Cristobal’s Miami and Big 12 upstart UCF on the schedule as well.

Final Grades 

Dan Lanning: A 

As evidenced by his very public denial of being interested in the Alabama job, Lanning, in just two years, has turned himself into the hottest young coach in CFB. He does not have a conference title or CFP appearance yet, but he was very close to both this year. Recruiting is going very well, and NIKE money means that Oregon’s NIL game is always going to be top notch. 

Brent Venables: B+

Recruiting wise, the grade is A. On the field, things improved greatly but postseason most Sooner fans are having a case of the “What If’s” over the Kansas and Oklahoma State games. Overall program direction seems strong. The next big tests are whether the Littrell/JJF call was correct, and if the new DC dynamics can help free up BV to improve his in-game management as well as to be more of a factor across the roster in HS recruiting and roster maintenance.

Mario Cristobal: C

Recruiting is going great, but if anything it only highlights how awful the on the field product has been at times in the last two years. We are pretty much looking at Cam Ward saving Cristobal’s job if I am truly frank. Because if Cristobal stumbles to another 6-6 type season, someone at Miami is going to wonder if a real coach can take that talent to another level. 

Billy Napier: D

Is this too harsh? Is Florida fundamentally broken in this era of UGA and Bama dominance? While all this could be true, e’s not recruiting at a level to be truly competitive in the SEC. His team does not look like UF teams of old in terms of speed/athleticism. He’s not showing to be some kind of game day X’s & O’s savant. And UF is throwing around NIL money like crazy for little result. He seems to stuck in a circular paradox. If only UF could recruit better players, then UF would be better on gameday. But until UF plays better on gameday, they are going to struggle recruiting better players. Napier barely saved his job this year and barring some kind of on the field miracle he’s fired a good week before anyone enjoys Thanksgiving turkey. 

Image courtesy of Olivia Lauter/OU Daily

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