Lincoln Riley’s development of elite QBs

In recent years, Oklahoma has become the most explosive offense in the Big 12 and arguably in Division I college football. However, playing for the Crimson and Cream is not the only draw for recruits these days. For quarterbacks, the chance to play and develop under Lincoln Riley is the chance of a lifetime. Riley optimizes the talent of the leadership position and builds a game plan to fit the strengths of the QB.

Every quarterback he has coached since becoming OU’s offensive coordinator in 2015, has either won the coveted Heisman Trophy or been a finalist for the prestigious award. The exception being current QB, Spencer Rattler who is certainly on pace to be on stage at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

Here is a journey through the elite quarterbacks that have been pupils under offensive innovator, Lincoln Riley. This is the excellence movies are made about.

Baker Mayfield, 2015-17

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2015 SO 13 269 395 3700 36 7 173.3
2016 JR 13 254 358 3965 40 8 196.4
2017 SR 14 285 404 4627 43 6 198.9



3X first-team All-Big 12 (2015-17)
2X first-team All-American (2015, 2017)
2X Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2015, 2017)
Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player (2017)
AP Player of the Year (2017)
Davey O’Brian Award (2017)
Walter Camp Award (2017)
Maxwell Award (2017)
Heisman Trophy Winner (2017)
2X Burlsworth Trophy (2015, 2016)

As one of the most decorated quarterback’s in Oklahoma history, Mayfield led the Sooners to three straight Big 12 Championships. The QB’s production was nothing short of extraordinary. His timing, placement, and accuracy were as good as you can get at the collegiate level.

Most notably in big games when the stakes were higher, he rose to the occasion. His spot on quick delivery made it almost impossible for defensive backs to intercept. Mayfield had an innate ability of sensing where his blocks would be, assessing coverages, and knowing where his receivers were as plays were broken down. Riley relied on his arm-talent, but Mayfield also had solid mobility when needed.

The transfer became a Heisman winner and he has Lincoln Riley to thank. Mayfield was a perfect fit for Riley’s offensive spread formation that led to career-high numbers and successful career path to the pros.

Kyler Murray, 2017-18

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports


2017 SO 7 18 21 359 3 0 276.5
2018 JR 14 260 377 4361 42 7 199.2


First-team All-Big 12 (2018)
Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2018)
AP College Football Player of the Year (2018)
Davey O’Brian Award (2018)
Heisman Trophy Winner (2018)

In 2017, Murray served as the backup to Baker Mayfield and saw limited playing time as a replacement to Mayfield. He was chosen to be the starter in 2018 for the Sooners. Murray led Oklahoma to a Big 12 Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. He gave OU back-to-back Heisman winners after receiving the Award following his prolific 2018 campaign.

He possessed rare escapability as a quarterback, extending plays on scrambles and design runs. An extremely athletic QB that could push the ball downfield. Riley relied on Murray’s legs to open up the passing game and play-action/run-pass option. Sure, Mayfield had the better arm, but Murray had the elusiveness with his feet to exploit open rushing lanes through the tackles or out of the flat down the perimeter.

Two different types of quarterbacks but the same elite result due to Riley.

Jalen Hurts, 2019

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports


2019 SR 14 237 340 3851 32 8 191.2


First-team All-Big 12 (2019)
Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year (2019)

After transferring from Alabama after losing his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, Hurts shattered Oklahoma’s single-game yardage (508) in his debut. He guided OU to a Big 12 Championship and spot in the College Football Playoff, losing to LSU in the Peach Bowl.

Hurts finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to Joe Burrow. Unlike his predesessors at Oklahoma, Hurts had success early in his career with the Crimson Tide. Riley came calling and the rest is history. The decision clearly paid off.

Hurts had a breakout year and ran for nearly 1,300 yards with 20 touchdowns on the ground. The dynamic quarterback put up crazy numbers, especially against Big 12 defenses that had no answers for his dual-threat ability. Hurts had insane improvisation instincts in the pocket and when pressure came, he used his legs to avoid sacks and extend plays.

Hurts had a single year to improve his draft stock and in Riley’s spread/RPO system, he did just that. His accuracy through the air improved under the leadership of the offensive guru.

Spencer Rattler, 2020-Present

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports


2019 FR 3 7 11 81 1 0 155.5
2020 FR 11 214 317 3031 28 7 172.6


First-team All-Big 12 (2020)
2X Big 12 Champion (2019, 2020)
Big 12 Championship MVP (2020)

Many are comparing Rattler to a young Patrick Mahomes and with good reason. He is the first quarterback that has been completely developed by Lincoln Riley (redshirt freshman, 2020) and he may have the greatest arm-talent of the bunch.

Riley named Rattler the starter over Tanner Mordecai prior to the 2020 season. In his second game of the year, Rattler tied the OU record for most touchdown passes through two weeks with 8 (Sam Bradford, 2008). The 2020 season got off to a rocky start with a young roster, but Rattler led the Sooners to a sixth consecutive Big 12 Championship, with a 27-21 win over Iowa State.

The former Pinnacle High five-star recruit is named PFF’s top returning quarterback for the 2021 season after a breakout 2020 year under Riley’s tutelage.

He had a learning curve as expected and at times made errors on reads which led to an interception or missed wide open weapon, but showcased a complete skillset. Rattler is a jack of all trades with arm strength, accuracy, and mobility. He displayed the uncanny ability to make unconventional throws while scrambling with ease and the willingness to take hits to gain additional yards. He is a true competitor and in a limited starting sample size, wowed with his craft. Rattler is a natural passer with accurate ball placement. Possibly most importantly, he possesses the confidence to lead that contrasts from an ego.

Rattler is already a projected Heisman finalist and he will only improve at Oklahoma with mastermind-Lincoln Riley.

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