Lincoln Riley could sign a $100 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys after the 2019 NFL season.
Brock Vandagriff could change his mind and sign with Georgia instead of Oklahoma in December 2020.
Vandagriff could report to OU in the spring of ’21, decide it’s not for him and do what so many other quarterbacks are doing — transfer somewhere else.
This could still go sideways, theoretically.
Practically? The way it appears right now, with Vandagriff tweeting his commitment to Riley’s Sooners on Thursday morning, the only direction Riley’s offense is headed is forward. At warp speed.
Right now, it is easy to imagine this timeline for that offense:
Jalen Hurts quarterbacks OU this fall, with four-star redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai backing up or five-star freshman Spencer Rattler backing up or, at the very least, absorbing Riley’s system while redshirting.
Rattler succeeds Hurts as the starter in 2020, with good soldier Mordecai staying on for insurance. Riley adds a transfer or a Class of ’20 freshman — he hasn’t signed a quarterback in that class yet — to bolster the depth chart.
Rattler returns to start in ’21. Mordecai leaves as a grad transfer a la Austin Kendall, but now Riley has the Class of ’20 freshman/transfer for insurance, plus the option of giving the newly arriving Vandagriff snaps as he did Rattler two years previously.
Rattler turns pro in ’22. Vandagriff takes his turn at the rocket’s controls. And now Riley grooms the five-star he signed from the Class of ’22 to succeed Vandagriff after the ’23 season.
It is easy to imagine a succession, Hurts to Rattler to Vandagriff, as auspicious as the one from Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray. If Hurts, Rattler and Vandagriff all respond to Riley’s offense as maturely and dynamically as Mayfield and Murray, it is easy to imagine the Sooners soaring to offensive heights through at least 2023.
So much has to break right, of course.
The “mature” part cannot be understated. Mayfield played on OU’s scout team in 2014. Murray watched Mayfield from the sideline in ’17. Neither quarterback groused. Both responded superbly when it finally became their time.
Rattler and Vandagriff must be just as poised playing the waiting game, something that is never easy for teenagers arriving from high school.
Mordecai must continue to be poised and selfless. Kendall was willing to do so despite Mayfield’s and Murray’s excellence. He was willing to pack the depth chart until he had earned his degree and could transfer to West Virginia in clear conscience.
The transfer portal is a powerful lure, a reasonable option for quarterbacks so used to having a ball, not a clipboard, in their hands.
Here Riley must trust his relationship with his quarterbacks. He must sell previous results. “Put enough faith in me, and in what Mayfield and Murray did, and it’ll pay off eventually.” He might have to re-recruit these guys a few more times.
That’s no different than any other coach in the portal era, though. What Riley has going for him when it comes to quarterbacks are those results. It’s why Rattler signed and Vandagriff committed. It’s why both should be expected to stick it out.
From there it’s a matter of keeping everyone healthy. Riley has less control over that.
It’s a matter of filling in the ’21 recruiting class around Vandagriff. That shouldn’t be an issue with the quarterback in place. Expect Vandagriff to tractor-beam four- and five-star skill talent with him to Norman, similar to what Rattler did two years ago.
It’s a matter of keeping offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, Riley’s most valuable position assistant, on staff. That way, nobody should ever have to worry about pass protection and run lanes for those four- and five-star skill guys.
There is keeping Riley. As long as he stays, his offense just about recruits itself. Quarterbacks recruit him as much as vice versa. Where else would you go if you were an 18-year-old kid with a 20-gauge arm?
Vandagriff answered that question Thursday morning. Expect to see him in Norman, provided Riley stays in Norman, to pick up where Rattler left off and keep the Sooners’ offense rocketing into the mid-2020s.