The first eye emoji dropped from Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s Twitter account at 1:09 p.m. CT on Friday. Two hours later, there was a second. And then a third. No. 4 came later that night. Oklahoma fans could barely handle the excitement.
When the dust settled, the Sooners reeled in five commitments from high school players over the spring game weekend. Another came from Notre Dame graduate transfer Jay Hayes. Linebacker Jonathan Perkins joined them on Wednesday. Five of the six high school prospects were blue-chip recruits. The other, defensive tackle Derek Green, already has offers from Georgia and Tennessee.
Now, Oklahoma has the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. It’s the first time the Sooners have a No. 1 recruiting class since Barry Switzer was roaming the Sooners sidelines.
Things are a little different in Norman these days.
Having fun yet?
— Lincoln Riley (@LincolnRiley) April 13, 2018
The University of Oklahoma was in a great spot when coach Bob Stoops unexpectedly retired last summer. Oklahoma was fresh off its sixth 10-win season in seven years. Future Heisman quarterback Baker Mayfield remained on the roster, and Stoops’ coaching staff stayed intact.
Stoops is a Hall of Fame coach, and easily one of the best to ever walk the hallowed halls of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. However, Riley has added something special to this program since taking over last June.
In a short period, Riley has already proven to be one of the great marketers in college football. He showed it on National Signing Day, when Oklahoma asked several former players – including Adrian Peterson, Mayfield and Eric Striker – to help reveal the signees. The football program also signed with Jordan Brand, which proved to be a massive marketing win.
Oklahoma is one of the elite programs in the history of college football as seven national championships, six Heisman winners and 47 conference titles attest. Riley shows no hesitancy in building on that remarkable previous history.
The spring game weekend was Riley’s masterpiece.
Almost all of Oklahoma’s top recruits were in Norman on Saturday. In all, 18 recruits held their official visit over the weekend. Riley convinced dozens of Oklahoma legends to come home and participate in the day. He got former players involved, as Peterson, Lane Johnson, Trent Williams and Tony Jefferson all helped coach the two teams.
There was plenty for the fans, too. Oklahoma brought in country singer Trace Adkins for pregame entertainment. One lucky student got to run a 50-yard dash against speedy wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Oklahoma’s spring game was competitive, entertaining
Riley opened up the game and allowed one half of live competition. Starting quarterback contenders Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall each got plenty of opportunities to show their mettle against balanced opponents.
Fans responded to Riley’s gamble. More than 52,000 made it to Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The mark will likely rank top-5 in the nation, despite chilly conditions. Without a doubt, the fan engagement helped spur the Sooners’ huge recruiting day.
Stoops took over the program in 1999. Things have changed dramatically since then. Stoops was always happy to recruit by the book, and for good reason. Oklahoma doesn’t need gimmicks and flash to sell recruits – Norman has plenty of attraction on its own. However, Riley has struck a nice balance to succeed in football’s new social media-heavy landscape.
Riley is unafraid to harness the power of the University of Oklahoma. Thirty-five alumni are in the NFL right now, and six are Pro Bowlers. Sam Bradford, Peterson and Gerald McCoy are among the most iconic college football players ever. It doesn’t hurt to hit people over the head with that information, like Billy Sims does each time the Heisman is presented.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. Stoops understood that to an extent, but felt more comfortable relying on the prestige of playing at Oklahoma to reel in prospects.
The University of Oklahoma doesn’t need the bells and whistles to be an elite college football program. Luckily, the substance that Riley is building backs it up.
Oklahoma’s spring game event was Riley’s first gamble. It paid off in a major way. Now, the college football world will be watching to see what he comes up with next.
A dynamic recruiting strategy mixed with Riley’s elite coaching acumen makes for a deadly combination.