Oklahoma football: Lincoln Riley says inferior football still would be good
When college football returns – some say if it returns, but I’m in the when camp – it will look different.
With little or no spring practice for most teams, with lessened off-season conditioning, with likely limited or no summer drills coordinated by quarterbacks or leaders, with perhaps even abbreviated preseason practice in August or whatever month precedes the season, no way will the product be the same.
But there’s good news. Lincoln Riley says we won’t be able to tell the difference.
I asked Lincoln Riley that question the other day. What would inferior football look like? Riley chuckled, which I took as a compliment, not an insult.
“Shoot, probably what we’d see about halfway through fall camp or halfway through spring practice, that you guys don’t get to see a lot of,” Riley said. “To a fan’s eye, I think the game will still be fantastic.
“Now, to a coach’s eye, to a very experienced eye, may they be able to pick out a thing or two here or there? Yes. I don’t think it will hurt the quality of the fan experience … the experience and excitement, I don’t think it will have any effect at all.”
Football teams over the decades are practicing less and conditioning more. In the old days, there were far fewer restrictions on spring and August practices. But during much of that era, players were not on campus during the summer. Nowadays, organized conditioning is mandatory in the winter and quite compulsory in the summer, though it’s labeled voluntary.
So players are better conditioned than ever before but not as well drilled as in previous times. Some coaches bemoan that change, and they no doubt spot all kinds of substandard technique and play undetectable by us civilians.
Still, we don’t care. To us, the football looks the same or better than ever. First, inside football isn’t as accessible to us as other sports. We know what happens, but we rarely know why something happens. We need it explained to us, which coaches are loathe to do. So even if football turns inferior, we’re not likely to even know it beyond horrid quarterbacking and poor tackling.
“First thing is going to be getting the players back on campus,” Riley said. “Assessing where they’re at from a physical conditioning standpoint. Then I think you map it out from there. Then you’re going to have to build in time to get to the point physically to be able to practice, then build in enough practice time to be able to play.
“I think once that’s done, in my opinion, you could be ready to play in 15 to 20 practices. We’d all like to have more, but to be able to go out and play…”
Riley says teams will improve, and while he didn’t say the improvement could be even more dramatic than usual, that seems plausible.
And Riley pointed out that teams in transition – with coaching, with rosters, with quarterbacking – will be at a disadvantage.
“So it’ll be interesting,” Riley said. “I know this, not that it’s ever easy. But I’m sure glad it’s not last year. Brand new quarterback in the competition, brand new O-line and a brand new defense.”
Of course, Riley still has a new quarterback in the competition. Last season, Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts had an OU spring practice heading into the summer. This season, Spencer Rattler has had a fall practice as he goes into the summer, with contending with Tanner Mordecai for the quarterback job. But OU’s offensive line now is back to veteran status, and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is approaching his second season, not his first.
“Not that I’m sleeping great,” Riley said, “but I would have been sleeping a little bit worse last year.”