MIAMI — Let’s simply begin with the plain: Lincoln Riley’s thoughts operates on a special degree than the remainder of us.

When he seems at a protection, he doesn’t see 11 soccer gamers. He sees obligations and gaps and alternatives.

Xs and Os flit by means of his parietal lobe like moths, desperately attempting to land. Route ideas and blocking schemes and defensive coverages roil in his unconscious then bubble up out of nowhere, revealing themselves on Riley’s Eight half of x 11, twice-folded play sheet.

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Riley has elevated himself to the forefront of faculty soccer’s present era of offensive coaches. Whereas his counterparts are taking part in checkers, Riley is conceiving new types of three-dimensional chess.

Right here’s a greater recreation analogy:

“It’s like a Rubik’s Dice,” stated Union Excessive Faculty (Okla.) coach Kirk Fridrich. “The those who perceive it, it’s actual simple for them to resolve.”

Saturday’s 8 p.m. (ET) Orange Bowl showdown between No. 1 Alabama (13-0) and No. four Oklahoma (12-1) is a era hole of kinds within the teaching business: old-school Nick Saban versus the sport’s avant garde.

Saban, 67, is arguably the very best faculty soccer coach of all time. He’s at the very least essentially the most profitable, tying the file of Paul “Bear” Bryant with six profession nationwide championships between stops at LSU and Alabama.

Riley, in the meantime, all 35 years of him, is in his second 12 months as a head coach.

Seems like a mismatch.

Effectively, possibly it’s.

“I used to be speaking with Coach Saban yesterday concerning the offensive coaches he goes up in opposition to,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit instructed Sporting Information, “and he stated that is the very best man he’s confronted.”

“I’ve been very, very lucky to be round quite a lot of nice offensive coaches,” OU offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Invoice Bedenbaugh instructed SN this week. “(Mike) Leach, Dana (Holgorsen), Sonny (Dykes), Seth (Littrell), (Josh) Heupel — I’ve been round quite a lot of good dudes. And he’s nearly as good as I’ve been round, Lincoln.

“Some individuals, you simply see issues just a little bit totally different. You recognize what I imply?”

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Think about first that this Oklahoma workforce is simply the second ever within the 84-year historical past of the Heisman Trophy to provide totally different back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners (USC had consecutive winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, the latter of whom had his revoked). That’s nearly inconceivable. However to not Riley.

“He’s a kind of uncommon guys that may see all 22 gamers at one time,” Damaged Arrow Excessive Faculty (Okla.) coach David Alexander instructed SN. “Most place coaches, even a quarterback coach or most coordinators, they’re watching the protection or their quarterback, one thing. They’ll’t see every part that’s taking place. He can see every part that’s occurring.”

Merely put, Riley is a soccer savant.

However he’s additionally far more than that. He’s in some way in a position to impart his genius to his quarterbacks, and thus the remainder of his gamers. He’s a communicator. He’s a trainer.

Mayfield and Murray are gifted gamers, to make sure. Nobody doubts their bodily abilities or their psychological acumen.

However nobody noticed a two-time walk-on or a full-time baseball participant profitable faculty soccer’s biggest particular person prize, both. Nobody, that’s, however Riley.

At Murray’s Heisman banquet on Dec. 9, Riley recounted how, after watching movie of Murray whereas contemplating Oklahoma’s choices for touchdown a switch quarterback, he instructed former coach Bob Stoops that if Murray got here to OU, he would win the Heisman.

That was in 2015. That’s how Lincoln Riley sees the world.

Oklahoma has led the nation in whole offense in every of Riley’s two seasons as head coach. The Sooners ranked second in scoring final 12 months and first this 12 months.

Now, don’t misunderstand. This isn’t Boise State or Hawaii and even Texas Tech main the nation in offense. That is Oklahoma, one among faculty soccer’s bluest of blue bloods. Very like the 2008 OU workforce underneath Kevin Wilson that produced a Heisman winner and 4 first-round draft picks and set quite a few NCAA scoring information, Riley’s Sooners — offensively, at the very least — have been loaded with NFL expertise. From Mayfield and Murray to Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, from Orlando Brown and Mark Andrews to Dede Westbrook and Sterling Shepard, Riley’s schemes are executed by good gamers.

“Really, nice gamers,” Bedenbaugh stated.

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Fridrich owns 5 state championship trophies at Union in Oklahoma’s largest class of prep soccer. Alexander was an All-American on the College of Tulsa, performed 9 years within the NFL and simply received Damaged Arrow’s first ever state title in Class 6A-1. Fridrich and Alexander additionally frequently produce the type of expertise that Riley and different faculty coaches search.

Alexander recollects TCU’s Gary Patterson as soon as saying that, forward of final 12 months’s regular-season recreation at Oklahoma, he studied each recreation Riley had referred to as as an offensive coordinator at East Carolina and Oklahoma.

“Then he comes out the primary half and runs a bunch of performs that Gary Patterson has by no means seen,” Alexander stated. “He’s designed an offense that’s so versatile that he can change it on a Tuesday and it’s nonetheless efficient on a Saturday. Most of us, most coaches, you have to put a play in and work it for 2-Three weeks for it to be efficient the subsequent Saturday.”

The general scheme, some say, is definitely fairly easy: thus, Riley’s one-page play sheet. However just like the trunk of a tree, there are unseen roots, tangled and winding and not possible to anticipate.

“Lincoln … is progressive,” OU defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill stated. “New wrinkles every recreation. Off of every look that Lincoln reveals, there’s going to be three totally different, what I name, associate or sister performs that come off that one look.”

Fridrich says Mayfield and Murray might go to the road of scrimmage, take a fast take a look at the safeties, or the defensive ends, or each, and know precisely the place the smooth spot within the protection shall be earlier than the ball is ever snapped.

Wideout CeeDee Lamb stated after the Kansas State recreation this 12 months he knew he would rating a landing when he lined up earlier than a selected play. He ended up large open and untouched on an 81-yard romp. Towards man-to-man protection, crossing routes — whether or not deep, quick, or intermediate — could be a backbreaker.

“Loads of the fellows which can be actually good at it, the spread-type issues, they’re making you defend these 53 yards,” Fridrich instructed SN. “The horizontal spacing is an enormous deal to these varieties of offenses. Relying on what kind of security seems there are, that may let you know what zones are open beneath.

“And that enables them to function at a fast tempo as a result of they perceive, pre-snap, the place these areas are,” Fridrich stated. Then, laughing, “That sounds simple in layman’s phrases. However that’s not simple.”

HOOVER: Murray’s winding path to success at Oklahoma

Riley’s offense, in fact, has robust overtones to the place he performed and launched his teaching profession — Texas Tech, underneath Leach. However Riley’s offense additionally resembles what Artwork Briles did at Baylor, a ramification scheme with energy working ideas.

“The run recreation is analogous, and the passing ideas are the identical,” stated McNeill, who labored with Riley in Lubbock, employed him to name performs in Greenville after which was employed by Riley final 12 months. “I feel the play-caller is what makes it just a little bit totally different.”

Versatility is the important thing. Defenses can’t overload one factor or one other, and the Sooners’ offense is nice at every part.

“I don’t suppose one single factor can describe their success,” stated Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. “However I feel their versatility stands out. They’re so well-balanced … whether or not it’s the targets they’ve distributed across the discipline or other ways they will damage you within the run recreation, the go recreation, the run-pass choice recreation. They do a pleasant job spreading out the ball and inflicting you to defend a number of issues.”

Oklahoma this 12 months is one among two groups within the nation (Houston is the opposite) that ranks among the many prime 25 in each dashing offense (253.9 yards per recreation, 11th within the FBS) and passing offense (324.Zero yards per recreation, eighth within the nation).

OU final season set a faculty file with 8.Three yards per play (the outdated mark, set in 1971 by Barry Switzer’s inaugural wishbone workforce, was 7.6). This 12 months, the Sooners possible will set an all-time NCAA file for yards per play (the present commonplace is 8.6, set by Hawaii in 2006; Oklahoma averages 8.75), although Alabama can have one thing to say about that.

And this 12 months’s workforce is doing all this — Heisman, Joe Moore Award, All-American accolades at quarterback and receiver and offensive line, main the nation in yards and factors — with out probably its greatest offensive participant, working again Rodney Anderson, who suffered a knee damage within the second recreation of the 12 months.

Maybe the ultimate twist on Riley’s Rubik’s Dice has little to do with soccer itself: He’s a individuals individual, a participant’s coach, a cool man whom gamers love and like to struggle for.

“I feel it’s one thing he was born to do,” Murray stated. “Sure persons are born to do sure issues, and I simply really feel like he was born to be a coach. The best way he pertains to gamers, cares about you on and off the sphere. He’s going to shoot you straight, going to haven’t any arduous emotions, however on the identical time, he’s going to do what you need him to do. He’s going to be actual with you. That’s actually all you possibly can ask for. He’s going to educate you arduous.

“I feel the eye to element, the creativity in his head, he’s an offensive guru — for me, he’s accomplished wonders for me.”

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Saban is one thing of a defensive savant himself, however he lets his coordinators coach. From Will Muschamp to Kirby Good to Jeremy Pruitt, Saban’s defensive masterminds have put collectively schemes which have dominated faculty soccer for a decade.

However even Saban’s fiercest defenses have sometimes struggled to decelerate wide-open, high-tempo unfold offenses. That may very well be dangerous information for Lupoi as he places the ending touches on Saturday’s recreation plan.

“As a substitute of continually attempting to account for what they’re doing,” Lupoi instructed SN, “we’ve acquired to hone in on ourselves. Our guys want to grasp that we have to do our job.”

It is probably not sufficient. Oklahoma is aware of its solely lifelike likelihood to win this recreation is to attain a complete bunch of factors. And in that realm, it’s often Riley who dictates issues.

“What he’s doing,” Alexander stated, “he’s utilizing well-coached defenses in opposition to themselves. He is aware of, whoever they’re taking part in, particularly within the Large 12, what the linebacker is meant to do when Oklahoma’s on this formation they usually go in movement. He’s damaged down these defenses so properly, he is aware of what they’re alleged to do and what they’re coached to do. And he makes use of that in opposition to them.

“His offense is tremendous versatile, he clearly has a means of getting it throughout to his youngsters, after which he’s simply smarter than all people else.”

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