Oklahoma Sooners’ head coach Lincoln Riley has been named as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award.
Just two seasons into his first head coaching job, and Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley has certainly had an impressive run. And now, on the cusp of a back-to-back trip to the College Football Playoffs, Riley has been named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. The award is presented by the Football Writers Association of America in conjunction with the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Lincoln Riley was one of eight finalists announced on Wednesday. The entire list includes Josh Heupel (UCF), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Jeff Monken (Army), Nick Saban (Alabama), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), and Jeff Tedford (Fresno State). Brian Kelly and Nick Saban are the only finalists named to have won the award in previous seasons.
Riley has taken the Sooners to back-to-back 12-1 seasons with back-to-back Playoff berths. Oklahoma has one of the nation’s top offenses behind quarterback and Heisman hopeful, Kyler Murray. Finishing at No. 4 in the College Football Playoffs final rankings, the Sooners had been a fringe team throughout the second half of the season. With a Texas Longhorns team that had been improving throughout the season, Oklahoma’s playoff implications rode on the Big 12 Championship.
In the Red River Rivalry–the Sooners’ only loss on the season–Oklahoma didn’t play as physically on defense, which raised some red flags as to whether the second year of the Lincoln Riley era was about to unravel. With the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the defense was still an issue under interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. With the Longhorns on the schedule again for the Big 12 Championship, this was a must-win game for the Sooners for a Playoff berth, and the game to catapult Murray into the top of the Heisman discussion.
Not only did the Sooners, win, they became the first Power Five team to win four Conference Championships outright in a row for the first time since Florida in the mid-’90s. Moreover, the win showed that Oklahoma is capable of applying some defensive grit, as the Sooners shut UT out of the endzone throughout the entire fourth quarter.
Oklahoma is still 108th in the nation in total defense, but offensively, the Sooners are the No. 1 team in the country through 13 games. In 859 plays this season, Oklahoma has amassed 7,513 total yards of offense, averaging 8.75 yards-per-play. An even more impressive statistic is that the Sooners are averaging 577.9 yards-per-game. To draw contrast from other Eddie Robinson finalists, UCF is third in total offense, while Clemson is 5th, followed by Alabama at 7th, Notre Dame at 28th, Fresno State at 49th, and Army at 81st.
The No. 4 ranked Sooners will face Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Saturday, December 29th. With back-to-back seasons where Lincoln Riley’s quarterbacks are turning pro, it will be interesting to see how he develops the Sooners’ new gunslingers in the future, which have helped Riley create a fluid identity during his head coaching career.
The 2018 Eddie Robinson Award will be announced on Thursday, December, 13, with the official presentation reception on January 5, 2019, in San Jose, Calif.