- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Even Lincoln Riley isn't sure what Oklahoma's offense will look like when the Sooners new offensive coordinator debuts his system against Akron on Saturday.
"Every year you sit around and try to guess what you are," he said. "And I don't know."
But he knows what he wants it to be.
A balanced, explosive attack is the goal. An offense that can exploit any weakness on a defense, while consistently getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers who can turn his vision into reality. It doesn't really matter if that playmaker is Samaje Perine, Sterling Shepard, Baker Mayfield or even Joe Mixon.
A year ago the Sooners leaned on Perine and the running game riding the true freshman's 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to a 8-5 season. This year, they aren't hoping to lean on any one playmaker to get it done.
"This is an unselfish offense," Riley said. "Everyone will get involved, not necessarily every game, but throughout the year a lot of people will get involved so if they stay unselfish and play hard we'll be alright."
Yet that balance won't come without playmakers emerging at receiver. Perine, a sophomore running back, and Shepard, a senior receiver, have proven to be among the nation's best at their positions. After that duo, outside of a few outliers, the rest of the offense is unproven, as talented as they may be.
The running back position is in great shape with Perine, another proven big-play guy in Alex Ross and the star of preseason camp, Joe Mixon. With true freshman Rodney Anderson waiting in the wings, OU's running backs give Riley options with their versatility and overall talent.
The receiver spot is another story. And it's a story that let down the 2014 version of the Sooners. Simply put, the passing offense fell apart after Shepard was injured a year ago and offensive balance went with him.
Riley is confident that won't be the case this season. The Sooners have a lengthy list of receivers set to wet their feet on Saturday with Dede Westbrook, Mark Andrews and Jeffery Mead among the guys sitting atop the list of receivers who could emerge to become primary options in the offense alongside Shepard.
"These guys have come a long ways," Riley said. "There have been times in the spring and fall when Sterling has been nicked up or we rested him a little bit and we haven't had much of a drop off. That was one of the big goals to get more weapons out there and not be a one-man show. If you don't have that we'd be in trouble. But we have it."
If they do have it -- and only seeing guys make plays on Saturdays will cement that belief -- Riley could have a arsenal of weapons on his hands. After spending the spring getting familiar with the personnel on the squad, the former East Carolina offensive coordinator spent part of the summer molding his offense with the talent at his disposal.
"We look quite a bit different now than we did at the end of spring," Riley said. "There are a lot of guys that are going to play in spots that maybe we haven't shown."
What does that mean exactly? Only time will tell, but the option of two or three running backs on the field together, four tall receivers in the red zone or a big body package built around Perine are all in play if Riley gets his creative juices flowing.
"When you have a bunch of guys that are able to make plays, you aren't able to double team them," Mayfield said. "If they give us a one-on-one matchup, we're going to take advantage of it. If they cover, we're going to run the ball."
Yet, ultimately, it will come down to how well the quarterback triggers the offense. Mayfield gets the first shot but the Sooners were very clear in saying it was a close competition before they named Mayfield the starter over Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas last week.
"This is just a point in the road," Riley said shortly after the announcement. "It's not a stopping point, it's not a end point. I made that clear with all of them."
With Mayfield under center, the offense will look different than it would have with Knight or Thomas at the helm. The Sooners hope you'll never have to see the other versions. But if you do, one thing is for certain, Riley's offense is always evolving. And that's how he wants it.
"As we game plan, as we start to evolve throughout the year, I think you'll see it go in the direction of whoever is playing quarterback for us," Riley said.
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