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With an SEC move, Oklahoma needs to replace Lincoln Riley. Who steps up?

Lincoln Riley's abrupt departure leaves Oklahoma needing a new leader and fast.

The University of Oklahoma has been a breeding ground of both great coaches and national success, but the dynamics in Norman have been set to shift with the university's announcement this summer that it would join the Southeastern Conference, alongside rival Texas, no later than 2025.

So with Lincoln Riley bolting the Oklahoma program Sunday afternoon for Hollywood and the University of Southern California program, the Sooners' job is an attractive one – but definitely one with changing – and undeniably more difficult – future ramifications.

Still, Joe Castiglione is one of college athletics' steadiest hands and the Sooners have shown deep pockets – Riley's more than $7.6 salary ranked top-five nationally among college head coaches in 2021.

So here's some names to expect to see that could be an ideal fit for an OU program positioned for major transition:

MATT CAMPBELL, IOWA STATE HC: Already a proven force in the Big 12, Campbell has been a trendy candidate for a number of top jobs – he was, per sources, among the candidates vetted by USC – but remained loyal to Iowa State.

However, there is a sense in the industry that Campbell is more open to exploring a move as the Cyclones bid farewell to one of the program's all-time winningest groups of upperclassmen.

BRENT VENABLES, CLEMSON DC: A Midwest native from Salina, Kansas, who played at Kansas State and began his coaching career in Manhattan, Kansas, under Bill Snyder, Venables carved a reputation as perhaps the preeminent defensive play-caller in college football from his work at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. Like Campbell, Venables has remained loyal at Clemson in recent years, but he's a strong tactician who also has proved a deft recruiter.

LUKE FICKELL, CINCINNATI HC: Fickell has guided Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season, positioned the Bearcats for the American Athletic Conference championship game and either a first-ever Group of 5 team appearance in the College Football Playoff or a second-straight New Year's Six bowl.

Multiple sources indicate that Fickell, who like the aforementioned coaches has become known for his loyalty, likely would remain at Cincinnati unless one of the sport's iconic posts – think Ohio State, his alma mater, or Notre Dame – opened in the next few years.

But Fickell is a program-builder, and for as good as Oklahoma has been in its transition from Bob Stoops to Riley, there is again uncharted waters ahead for the Sooners.

MARK STOOPS, KENTUCKY HC: What Stoops has done at Kentucky – KENTUCKY – basically deserves annual consideration for SEC coach of the year honors.

No, Kentucky has not won an SEC Eastern Division crown, but it's positioned itself for another 10-win season this year if the Wildcats can win their bowl game.

The Stoops name already is synonymous with OU, and unless Bob Stoops wants to be back in the grind, Mark Stoops can make complete sense for the Sooners. Though an Ohio native, Stoops played at Iowa, and he's coached at Wyoming, Houston and Arizona.

JEFF LEBBY, OLE MISS OC: The Sooners have cultivated a formula for success by taking elite play-callers on either side of the ball and turning them into head coaches, as evidenced by both Riley the former offensive coordinator and Bob Stoops, Steve Spurrier's former defensive coordinator at Florida.

Lebby's got the play-calling chops and sees the game at such an advanced level on the offensive side of the ball, plus has been around some great minds, to be a natural fit if Oklahoma chooses that path. Oh, and did we mention he's an alum? Yeah, Lebby signed with OU out of high school. An injury ended his playing career but he remained a Sooners' student assistant through graduation. 

LANE KIFFIN, OLE MISS HC: Kiffin has revived his career with unprecedented success at Ole Miss – literally. The Rebels' win on Thanksgiving night against rival Mississippi State gave the program its first-ever 10-win regular season. Yes, the house that Archie and Eli Manning built never had a 10-win regular season before Kiffin, who's studied under Nick Saban at Alabama and then lifted first Florida Atlantic and now Ole Miss to new levels.

KENDAL BRILES, ARKANSAS OC: Like Lebby, Briles fits the mold of offensive wunderkind with deep experience in the region and roots in Texas – the state Oklahoma must most recruit in order to find success on the gridiron.

JOSH HEUPEL, TENNESSEE HC: Yes, the connections to Heupel are too obvious to ignore; he's a former Sooners star quarterback who helped Bob Stoops to the 2000 BCS national title. But Heupel's just finished his first season at the University of Tennessee, and he already had one nasty split from the Sooners.

Heupel is an absolutely brilliant offensive mind, and his work to get Tennessee this season to 7-5 likely would lend him stronger SEC top coach honors -- if not for Sam Pittman's work at Arkansas and Kiffin's work at Ole Miss.

But it's difficult, although not impossible, to see OU going this route because the next coach must prove absolutely strong in recruiting -- and that's a major area where Heupel needs to continue to prove himself.

And...well just for fun there's this; and this

Happy Sunday everybody!