No. 12: Oklahoma

Is Lincoln Riley an amazing young genius who’s ready to accomplish things that will place him among the greatest college coaches of this generation?


Or did having Baker Mayfield directing his offense give an enhanced view of Riley, who crashed his way into the College Football Playoff party as a first-year head coach?

We already know Riley, who turns 35 on Sept. 5, is awfully good. He showed a lot last fall, when he took over seamlessly after the surprise retirement of Bob Stoops. But it didn’t hurt that Riley, who was Stoops’ offensive coordinator for two years, got 117 touchdown passes from Mayfield in his first three years in Norman.

Now comes a different kind of proving ground.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Experienced but still learning dual-threat Kyler Murray is the favorite to take over at quarterback. Murray not only played in seven games last year, including one start when Mayfield was being disciplined. He also saw a lot of action as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2015. A gifted shortstop/second baseman, he also was a top baseball prospect at one time.

Riley also has a fine pocket-passer prospect, Austin Kendall, who could challenge Murray for the starting job.

Whoever is taking the snaps will have one of the nation’s best receiving corps to throw to. The running-back tandem of Rodney and Trey Sermon also returns. But left tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews are gone from an offense that returns six starters.

The defense, which also returns six starters, continues to be a concern, especially with the loss of Obo Okoronkwo, a gifted DE/OLB hybrid. If the defense doesn’t improve, the Sooners again will have to outscore opponents with their high-octane offense, which is not supposed to be the way to win championships.

In addition, the Sooners will need to be ready for their second game, against wily miracle worker Chip Kelly and UCLA. Improving Texas—under another accomplished second-year coach, Tom Herman—is a threat. And trips to TCU and West Virginia look ominous on a road schedule that’s filled with upset potential.

If Riley weathers all of that, he’ll answer any lingering questions about how good Mayfield made him look.[/membership]