NORMAN, Okla. -- Lincoln Riley completely transformed Oklahoma's offense during his first season in charge.
The second-year offensive coordinator turned the Sooners into a balanced, explosive attack that had the ability to exploit any weakness in opposing defenses. Quarterback Baker Mayfield became the Big 12's most feared trigger man, often keeping plays and drives alive with his feet, while running back Samaje Perine continued to be the punishing force that made defensive backs quiver when he broke into the secondary.
All told, Oklahoma finished in the top 10 among Power 5 teams in points per drive (2.95, sixth), yards per play (6.8, eighth), and percentage of possible yards gained (54.7, eighth) in Riley's exceptional debut season. The Sooners' offense returned to its explosive ways and, not surprisingly, Oklahoma returned to the top of the Big 12, winning its ninth conference title under Bob Stoops.
Year 2 under Riley could be even better with all the ingredients in place to go to a different level. The entire roster has a full year in Riley's system, several key playmakers return and, most important, Mayfield, a Heisman candidate, is back to provide the improvisational element to Riley's system that no defensive coordinator can prepare for.
Yet, Riley hopes to use this spring to figure out what the 2016 version of the offense will look like, not simply try to mimic the same attack that led to success and a College Football Playoff berth in 2015. All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard must be replaced, but it's unlikely to be a like-for-like scenario with bigger receivers like Mark Andrews poised to get additional opportunities. But the added experience in the system will make things much easier on the entire group compared to a year ago when a quarterback battle was in full flight during the preseason.
"You have to be careful about that," Riley said of relying on a year's worth of experience in the system to cement future success. "You've got to reinvent yourself at these times, you have to get back to the basics. We're really trying to fight against complacency."
The biggest jump could be seen in the performance of the offensive line. Veteran center Ty Darlington and guard Nila Kasitati have to be replaced, but the offensive front could see a natural progression in Riley's system that could pay off after giving up 41 sacks, which ranked ninth in the Big 12 and No. 120 among FBS teams. In the past, it has been the offensive line where Riley has seen the most significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.
"Up front, the speed and things we're doing I feel like we've always seen a big jump," Riley said. "And I think we will again this year."
An improved offensive line could mean a return to the College Football Playoff, but that won't happen without a quick start, especially with Houston and Ohio State on the Sooners' schedule before the end of September.
"I think maybe the overall consistency [will improve] and maybe [we will be] playing better early on in the season," Riley said.
Last season Oklahoma averaged 2.76 points per drive and 6.72 yards per play during September as Mayfield and the rest of the offense familiarized themselves with the system. During the remainder of the season, the Sooners averaged 3.01 points per drive and 6.83 yards per play.
"Hopefully our starting point is a little further ahead than it was last year," Riley said.