There’s no question that Oklahoma’s 2019 college football season ended in disappointment. A blowout loss to LSU marked the third consecutive year the Sooners were bounced in the first round of the College Football Playoff, and the fourth time in five years overall.
That said, the disappointment of losing shouldn’t take away from the excellence in coaching that Lincoln Riley and his staff did to get OU back to the playoff. If anything a lack of depth, particularly on the defensive side of the roster, was the primary culprit to the Sooners being dismantled in the Big Easy. That, and the fact that LSU was just dang good.
When it comes to the X’s and O’s coaching of 2019 though, you can’t help but show appreciation. If you’ve read this site for any length of time, or listened to our podcast, then you know that my feeling is that 2019 was Riley’s best coaching job at Oklahoma.
To win another Big 12 title and return to the College Football Playoff with the number of inexperienced players that the he used is almost miraculous. Remember, he didn’t just lose a Heisman winning quarterback and the most explosive receiver in college football. He lost four of five offensive linemen and key leadership on both sides of the ball.
On paper this team wasn’t supposed to be able to keep pace with what Riley’s teams accomplished in 2016, 17, and 18. Yet they did exactly that.
However, if you need more prove of how thin the roster was with experienced talent then consider this. Oklahoma only had four players invited to the NFL Combine. Now, to be fair, they should have had five but Parnell Motley got snubbed.
The NFL Combine is typically for guys that the league collectively feels could be drafted in the first four rounds. That’s where players earn decent to great guaranteed money and scouts want to take a closer look as they prepare for the draft in April.
What this means is that the guys who earn their living evaluating professional football talent took a look at Oklahoma’s draft eligible players and only found four guys they believe are worthy to be taken in the first four rounds of this year’s draft. Only four!
You probably know who those four players are by now. Neville Gallimore, Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb, and Kenneth Murray are Oklahoma’s top prospects with Gallimore, Lamb, and Murray predicted to go in the first round.
Let’s put some perspective on this. Baylor had six guys invited to the combine and Texas had four. Riley went a combined 3-0 against those two programs in 2019, and when you compare what Oklahoma did compared to Texas then you see just how far a drop in experienced talent can take a team.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that of the four teams in the playoff Oklahoma also had the least amount of combine invites. Clemson had seven invited, Ohio State eleven, and LSU had sixteen. Did you catch that? Sixteen guys the NFL wanted to take a closer look at compared to four!!! No wonder things went so bad so fast in New Orleans.
Now, we can twist this and say that Riley has to get better at recruiting but that is a gross misinterpretation of the situation here. Recruiting has to get better on the defensive side of the ball but that wasn’t the primary issue. The issue was youth and inexperience and with that considered this was a heck of a coaching job.
You know how they say, “the proof is in the pudding”? Well there it is. This is the evidence to back the claim of an outstanding coaching job. Its the smoking gun, if you will.
Oklahoma lost one regular season game in 2019. The Sooners won a fifth consecutive Big 12 Championship and made a third consecutive playoff appearance. While the Longhorns are bragging about a third consecutive Big 12 recruiting title there are guys who closed their locker for the very last time in Norman, Oklahoma with five conference championship rings.
That fifth ring came with a team that the NFL deemed to only have four players worth taking a closer look at. That’s not a bad coaching job. Not bad at all.
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