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Can Lincoln Riley get Oklahoma back to recruiting like a national champ?

Oklahoma has not consistently recruited like a national title contender in recent years.

Oklahoma State v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Bob Stoops stepped down Wednesday as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Stoops is one of the best college football coaches of all time. He had more conference titles (10) than home losses (9) in his 18 years at Oklahoma, and won 65 percent of his “big games.” And Stoops had a winning record against every head coach against whom he faced three times. And he adapted well to the changes in college football over two decades.

But winning the Big 12 is a far cry from winning the national title, because the conference is the least talented in the Power 5, and has not produced a champion in over a decade.

Oklahoma has not recruited like a national champ for a while

Stoops’ Sooners have not sustained recruiting at a national championship level for quite some time. To do so, history suggests a school needs to sign more four and five-star recruits than two and three-stars over a four-year period. From 2011-14, the Sooners signed 41 percent blue chips. From 2012-15, 38 percent. And from 2013-16, 36 percent.

Oklahoma’s 2017 class did see a considerable uptick, signing 18 four-star recruits and nine three-stars, bringing its four-year rolling average to 46 percent. That’s close to the magic 50-percent mark, but it’s not quite there. And it came with the unique circumstance of Oklahoma being able to capitalize on a rare scenario in which the head coaches of both Texas and Texas A&M saw their job security in peril. Oklahoma pounced on that uncertainty, taking advantage in its most important recruiting territory.

But given that Texas recruiting is now rolling under new coach Tom Herman, a prolific pitchman, Oklahoma’s recruiting landscape has become more difficult. Texas recently flipped Oklahoma’s QB commitment, Cam Rising. And as of this writing, the Sooners do not hold a commitment from any of the top 50 players in the state of Texas.

Whether Stoops and his staff could get Oklahoma’s recruiting back to the level of the truly elite is an open question. In only one of the previous six classes has Oklahoma signed more elite prospects than non-elite.

Can Lincoln Riley take Oklahoma back to the top?

Oklahoma has promoted Lincoln Riley, its 33-year-old offensive coordinator to the position of head coach. On it’s face, Riley seems unqualified for such a position, having no head coach experience.

But Oklahoma has had some unique success with very young head coaches.

Oklahoma has a history of hiring young coaches like Riley and letting them ride for a long time. Stoops was still months shy of 40 when he took the job before the 1999 season. Barry Switzer, Chuck Fairbanks, and Bud Wilkinson were all in their 30s, too, at the time of their hirings. Those three are, with Stoops, among the greatest four or five coaches in Oklahoma’s history.

And both Stoops, and FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, have had great success at major programs despite not having previous head coaching experience at the FBS level.

It’s almost impossible to know what Riley will be like as a head coach. But it is known that he was a hot candidate to become a head coach at other programs, so much so that Oklahoma rewarded him with a contract extension of $1.3M annually through 2019.

Riley is also known as a high-energy recruiter, and under his watch Oklahoma will continue to play an exciting brand of football that should attract top recruits.

And the timing of Stoops’ retirement if fortuitous for Riley, as he will get to take over the defending Big 12 champion, which returns much of its talent including star QB Baker Mayfield.

It’s also worth noting that Oklahoma is not that far away from having a roster capable of winning a national title. It only needs to sign a few more elite players per year.

But it’s too early to say whether Riley can bring in more talent then Bob Stoops did. The state Oklahoma is not a powerhouse producer of high school talent, but winning at OU has always been about winning in Texas, and cherry-picking in California and the Midwest.