Oklahoma officials are continuing their search for Lincoln Riley's replacement in light of Riley's abrupt departure last Sunday for USC, and multiple sources continue to tell FootballScoop that this is an opportunity to re-center the program around its defense.
Specifically, sources indicate that the frontrunners for the Sooners' vacancy remain Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Venables, per sources, already has had discussions with OU officials; Aranda and Lanning are expected to interview this weekend.
A key element, per a source with knowledge of the situation, remains how any of the candidates will fill out his coaching staff. Half of Riley's staff are former Sooners who would presumably be set to return had their boss not bolted for Los Angeles.
Oklahoma has a proven track record of finding national success with first-time coaches, which would be the case with either Venables or Lanning, but its leaders want to know a candidate chosen for the post is going to surround himself with the deepest pool of assistant coaches and support staff as possible.
While Luke Fickell's name has been somewhat loosely associated with the Sooners' search, a source on Saturday told FootballScoop he does not believe Fickell is seriously involved in the process.
Venables is a former beloved Oklahoma assistant coach, who helped the Sooners win a national title while working under legendary OU coach Bob Stoops – the school's current interim coach and the man who will lead Oklahoma in its postseason game.
While Venables is a former Broyles Award winner, Lanning likewise is a Broyles finalist this year for his work engineering top-ranked Georgia's defense.
Both coaches are Midwest natives, with Venables hailing from Salina, Kan., and Lanning a North Kansas City, Mo., native.
Aranda won a national championship as LSU's defensive coordinator and commanded respect with his defensive dismantling of Riley's offense in Baylor's 27-14 win over the Sooners on Nov. 13. Baylor, No. 9 entering the day, is a dark horse to reach the College Football Playoff following a 21-16 defeat of No. 5 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship, depending on how the rest of Saturday's games go. That would force Aranda to ditch the Bears or divert his attention to Baylor's out-of-nowhere national championship pursuit. (Reaching the Playoff from this spot would be unprecedented at this stage, but can't be ruled out. Either way, we'll know by lunch time on Sunday.)
As with all current openings throughout college football, timing remains a crucial component. The NCAA's three-day early signing period opens Dec. 15, and with postseason selections finalized Sunday afternoon, it's expected that even larger number of players are soon going to enter their names into the NCAA Transfer Portal.
Additionally, the NCAA's quiet and dead periods for recruiting also are approaching; the quiet period begins Dec. 12, dead period the next day and recruiting does not resume on the NCAA calendar until Jan. 14, 2022.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.