In a short-lived stint that began as a walk-on at Oklahoma State, Marshall wideout Obi Obialo’s transfer commitment to Lincoln Riley and the rival Sooners on Sunday serves as a double-edged sword for both the Bedlam Series and the Thundering Herd.
Obi Obialo was a guy that entered 2019 as Marshall’s returning second leading receiver in all major categories. Logging 505 yards and four touchdowns in 2018, his size and presence as a physical receiver made him an anticipated go-to target for quarterback Isaiah Green entering last season.
Before the season opener against VMI, Obialo went down with a serious foot injury that even according to Obialo himself, would keep him out the entire campaign. With the Herd sitting at 6-3 overall riding a four-game win streak last season, Marshall’s staff made the move to let Obialo utilize the NCAA’s redshirt rule, allowing him to appear in four games while still preserving the ability to redshirt.
When he was finally able to make his debut in November’s scrap with Louisiana Tech, the 6’3”, 215-pound Coppell, Texas native made an introductory splash with eight catches for 146 yards. Largely untargeted in the final stages of the season and the bowl game, Obialo made the decision to leave the program on January 17th, leaving a gap in a receiving group that also loses tight end and 2019 yards leader Armani Levias.
After dislocating his ankle in the senior year of high school, major scholarship offers vanished, and Obi found himself packing his bags for Stillwater as a walk-on for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. Swallowed behind an array of depth at the position which included current NFL pass catchers James Washington and Marcell Ateman, he was limited to just two receptions in four appearances before the opportunity at Marshall presented itself after the 2016 season.
Obialo’s transfer destination certainly ruffles some feathers in the realm of college football rivalry. That other team from Oklahoma has not only won five consecutive Big 12 Championships and become a College Football Playoff mainstay, but they have also managed victories over Oklahoma State in each of the past five seasons, dominating the all-time series with a 78% win percentage.
Obialo’s new position coach Dennis Simmons is one of two coaches all-time to mentor two separate Biletnikoff Award winners, being Dede Westbrook in 2016 and two-time winner at Texas Tech, Michael Crabtree. Obialo spurned the Virginia Tech Hokies, whom he visited in Blacksburg over the weekend, and also turned down reported interest from Scott Frost at Nebraska.
Just who will step up into bigger roles for Marshall in 2020 is up for debate throughout the winter months and spring camp. Willie Johnson, Broc Thompson, and Xavier Gaines return as three of the top four leading receivers off last year’s squad, with sophomores Corey Gammage and Talik Keaton returning as guys who didn’t post high reception numbers, but made plays in stride, with Keaton making huge splashes as a special teams contributor as well.
Both programs kick off their 2020 campaign on Saturday, September 5th, with the Thundering Herd traveling to rival East Carolina, and the Sooners hosting Bobby Petrino in his coaching debut at Missouri State.