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OU football: Lincoln Riley, Sooners unsatisfied with spring hype; preparing for normalcy in anticipated 2021 season

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Lincoln Riley

OU football head coach Lincoln Riley during practice March 24.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said wide receiver Trejan Bridges and running back Seth McGowan are no longer part of Oklahoma’s program in a Thursday press conference.

Riley also talked about the preseason hype his team has garnered this spring and discussed a pair of personnel moves related to his wide receiver room. Entering his fifth year as the Sooners’ head coach, he also expressed confidence that the 2021 season will be more normal than 2020 as COVID-19 declines.

Here are three takeaways from what’s likely Riley’s last media appearance until summer Big 12 Media Days:

ESPN Power Rankings

Despite the Sooners coming in at No. 1 in ESPN’s Top 25 post-spring power rankings on May 4, Riley believes his 2021 team still has a long way to go.

As spring practice comes to a close and summer nears, Riley said there’s still a lot of questions that surround Oklahoma. He wants to see his group grow more consistent to ensure it can reach its full potential. Being ESPN’s top-ranked team is a reflection of such potential, but Riley said the Sooners still aren’t satisfied.

“Preseason rankings are completely meaningless,” Riley said. “It’s about the work that you do. Appreciate that some people out there have respect for our team and the guys coming back. But, we have pretty high expectations within these walls, and we got a lot of work to do to be able to have a chance to meet them.”

Riley doesn’t think he’s had a deeper roster at OU than the one he has now. Every position seems to have a player or two with big game experience, Riley said, and the team isn’t lacking strong leaders. More than anything, Riley’s ready to get this season underway.

“A lot of guys here just want to find any and every way that they can to contribute,” Riley said. “That’s a great start, and they do seem to really enjoy working together, kind of pushing each other. So, there's a good vibe about the bunch right now. … We've challenged them and not every moment’s been perfect by any stretch, but they've been a fun group to coach so far.”

Roster Changes

Even after its April 24 spring game, Oklahoma’s roster continues to evolve.

Prior to the contest, sixth-year senior receiver Obi Obialo disappeared from OU’s online roster. Obialo played in just two games during the 2020 season due to undisclosed injury and didn’t register any catches after transferring from Marshall. Riley confirmed Thursday that Obialo has decided to retire from football.

“Obi came to us maybe midway through the spring semester and told us that his career may be coming to a close, and made the decision to leave the program," Riley said. "My understanding at that point, and I don’t believe anything has changed, is that he was ready to hang up his cleats and move on to the next phase of his life.

“(I) hate that things didn’t work out better for him. It’s one of those things that, especially with the injuries, never really timed out, but he was a really good kid here. I wish him the best as he jumps into the next chapter of his life.”

Riley also announced Thursday that redshirt senior walk-on wide receiver Colt Atkinson has been placed on scholarship. Atkinson has appeared in just one game for the Sooners in two seasons since transferring from Trinity Valley Community College. The Denton, Texas, native made one catch for nine yards in OU’s spring game.

Returning to normalcy

Riley believes 2021 will be a far cry from a strange 2020 season amid COVID-19. 

The Sooners travel Sept. 4 to play Tulane (6-6 in 2020) in their 2021 season opener. Tulane, based in New Orleans, would likely present a tough task for OU to schedule during the 2020 football season, as it only played one non-conference game and canceled or postponed the other two.

“Very confident we’ll be able to travel and play that game,” Riley said. “I think with where we’re headed in this pandemic and our players and staff getting back are either already vaccinated or in the process of doing that, so that number will continue to climb.”

Riley said maneuvering through last season with travel procedures was a good learning experience to build upon for this season, although it wasn’t always fun.

“Things are a lot closer to normal,” Riley said. “Certainly anytime we’re outside, they’re virtually normal. … We still don’t have position groups back in our meeting rooms, they’re still spread out all throughout this entire facility to still promote as much social distancing as we possibly can. But we’re closer, we definitely are.

“And our goal is, hopefully that we can get to herd immunity within our football program sooner rather than later and then potentially, it’s not done, but potentially with that would come some loosening of the restrictions within our program.”

Sports Editor

Mason Young is the OU Daily's sports editor and covers OU football. He was previously assistant sports editor and has been a beat writer covering OU women's gym, OU wrestling and former Sooners in the NFL.

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and the Daily's assistant sports editor. He currently covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, volleyball and men's gymnastics.

Austin Curtright is a journalism sophomore and The Daily's senior sports reporter. He covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, softball and soccer.

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