Lincoln Riley looks to hit the ground running with the Sooners
It was just your typical offseason around the Oklahoma football program.
The Sooners were coming off a Big 12 title, their second in a row. A highly touted group of freshmen had just hit campus. Columnists were stretching to find new angles for think pieces about Bob Stoops' Sisyphean pursuit of a second national title.
But what happened on June 7 was far from typical. Stoops shocked the college football world and turned over the keys to the program to hotshot offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. In the span of a few hours, OU's aura of stability died.
Can Riley lay the foundation in year one for his own reign in Norman? We asked Athlon writers for their take on the Sooners’ realistic win/loss projection for 2017.
Oklahoma Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
Lincoln Riley is taking over a team ready to compete for a conference crown yet again. Even with some major losses at the skill positions, quarterback Baker Mayfield and a loaded offensive line will keep OU among the elite offenses in the country.
Even if opponents poke holes all over Oklahoma's defense like a year ago, the Sooners could ride their jet-powered offense back to the top of the Big 12. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has to get his side of the ball together for OU to have any chance of going farther than that. A solid secondary and a veteran defensive line make for a good starting point, though Stoops will need to figure out a way to address concerns at inside linebacker.
OU's season might hinge on back-to-back games in October. There's the annual rivalry game with Texas, but Bill Snyder and his Wildcats are waiting to spring a trap on the Sooners the next week. Even if OU gets through that stretch, another undefeated sprint through conference play just doesn’t look like it’s in the cards in what should be a strong edition of the Big 12.
Maybe Riley will get a chance to help add to OU’s stellar record in Big 12 title games. He likely won’t get a shot at the College Football Playoff, however.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Bob Stoops retired, don’t expect much in the way of changes for Oklahoma in 2017 – especially in the win column. New coach Lincoln Riley inherits a team capable of winning the Big 12 title and claiming a spot in the College Football Playoff. A dynamic offense that averaged 43.9 points a game last fall returns senior quarterback Baker Mayfield and the nation’s best line. However, there are holes to fill in the backfield after the departure of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to the NFL, and the receiving corps needs more weapons to emerge outside of tight end Mark Andrews after Dede Westbrook expired his eligibility. The defense is transitioning to a 4-3 look, but this unit played better over the final month of 2016 and returns rising star Caleb Kelly at linebacker. If Oklahoma stumbles against Ohio State in Week 2, can this team run the table the rest of the way? My guess is the Sooners finish 10-2 in the regular season and clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game – but fall short of the playoff.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The Sooners are 22-4 with back-to-back Big 12 titles and even with the youthful Lincoln Riley taking over as head coach from Bob Stoops, Oklahoma shows no signs of slowing down off that pace. A big piece of that is having a Heisman candidate running the offense and I’m not sure there is a more fun player to watch in all of college football than QB Baker Mayfield. He’ll shoulder more of the load this year without as strong of a run game to lean on and that might be a good thing for a team that looks like the best in the conference by a decent margin. Bedlam will prove tricky and the Texas game is always a toss-up in Dallas but this is a team that should firmly be in the mix for a playoff bid all the way through title game weekend.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Lincoln Riley takes the helm of the Big 12’s best roster, but don’t be shocked if the rookie head coach comes up short in some key spots. As I see things happening, Riley’s biggest shortcomings will pop up in the biggest games away from home. An early road test against a powerful Ohio State and Urban Meyer will be a rough welcome to the head coaching gig in Week 2, and Oklahoma could stumble against the Longhorns in a big statement opportunity for Tom Herman. And a road trip to Stillwater in early November feels like a tough spot as the Big 12 race takes form. The Sooners have the best roster in the Big 12, but Riley will have his work cut out for him in his coaching debut.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
I don't expect Bob Stoops' departure to have that much of a negative impact on the 2017 Oklahoma season. This is a talented enough squad on both sides of the ball to roll through a relatively easy Big 12 slate. The early-season matchup with the Buckeyes will set the tone for the season, and the Sooners will be the better team when the two meet. Look for another Heisman run from Baker Mayfield as he keeps Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff conversation for most of the year. The Big 12 regular season title and a ticket to the playoff could all come down "Bedlam" against Oklahoma State.
(Lincoln Riley photo courtesy of www.soonersports.com)