FRISCO, Texas – Lincoln Riley is going into his fourth season at Oklahoma, but he’s only been the head coach for 13 months. In his first season, he guided the Sooners to their third consecutive Big 12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
He was the fifth of five coaches to take the podium Monday on Day One of Big 12 football media days. And it didn’t take him long to shoulder a load of pressure.
“I think it’s got a chance to be maybe the most talented team that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said.
Bold talk for a second-year coach replacing a Heisman Trophy quarterback, an award-winning tight end and five starters on defense. And, yes, the media poll has the Sooners finishing on top again in 2018.
Kyler Murray, who next summer will be toiling in the Oakland A’s organization, is expected to replace Mayfield but the fourth-year junior has played in just 16 games.
And Lincoln Riley was quick to point out that the starting quarterback has not been named.
“Kyler’s not the (starting) quarterback yet,” he said. “He’ll have to fight like crazy. There’s a good competition right now (with Austin Kendall).”
Lincoln Riley followed his statement about talent by pointing out that the Sooners also might be the most inexperienced they’ve been in four seasons. Only two seniors are projected starters on offense and just one on defense.
“Our leadership is going to be a very, very key part of how this team progresses,” Riley said. “I do think the talent is there and I do think our leadership is going to be so critical. Our leaders have to step up, and our young, talented players have to grow up in a hurry, maybe even fair to say, ahead of schedule on both accounts. I think that will be the key.”
Oklahoma has won five of the last 10 Big 12 titles. The Sooners received 46 of the 52 first-place votes in the preseason media poll. West Virginia, Texas, TCU and Kansas State topped the ballots that didn’t have OU on top. The depth of the conference, the round-robin schedule and the one vs. two championship game are all potential roadblocks.
“I do think we have that capability,” Riley said when asked about returning to the CFP. “Now, having that capability and getting there are two different things.”
Shake it off
A notable incident from last season occurred before a game. When Oklahoma played at Kansas on Nov. 13, the Jayhawks’ captains decided to not shake hands with the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield. He sarcastically applauded and during the second half as OU was rolling to a 41-3 blowout, he grabbed his crotch in full view of the KU sideline.
In other words, a sportsmanship loss for both teams.
“We learned a lot from that … we as a team believe that there is no place for that in college athletics,” Kansas coach David Beaty said of his team firing the opening salvo with the refusal to shake hands.
“It was Baker, he was gonna win the Heisman. It got a lot of media coverage and I was Twitter famous there for a little while,” said Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr., one of the captains who froze out the OU quarterback. “It was a bad representation all the way around. It was bad for me, for our university. It was a mistake and I learned from it.”
The lesson was that the Jayhawks, the Big 12’s cellar dwellers, have to play with a chip on their shoulders but they can’t incite the other team – especially one with a decided talent advantage.
“We were trying to put our foot in the ground to make a stand,” Dineen said. “The way we did it was wrong. We can’t back down but we can’t be jerks about it.”
No brag, just fact
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby started the interview session with “state of the conference” remarks. The Big 12 “had a very good year” in 2017-18.
The Big 12 was the only conference to place a team in the College Football Playoff (Oklahoma), the Final Four (Kansas), the College World Series (Texas Tech and Texas) and the Softball World Series (Oklahoma). Quick aside – none of those appearances produced a national championship. To reiterate, we aspire to win national championships and we’ll keep working at it until we do that.
Texas had all 20 varsity sports make the NCAA postseason. “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of that,” Bowlsby said.
Looking ahead to the upcoming football season, the Big 12 is playing the toughest non-conference schedule with 37 percent of the games against Power Five opponents. The ACC is at 34 percent, the Big Ten is at 33, the SEC is at 23 and the Pac-12 is at 22 percent.
Quotes to note
Oklahoma senior offensive lineman Ben Powers:
“A lot of people ask what motivates me. What motivates me is I love taking a grown man’s dream and crushing it.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson on Oklahoma’s offense last season:
“That was probably the second-best offense I’ve seen in college football. The best was that one (in 2008) when Oklahoma had Sam Bradford and all those guys.”
Kansas coach David Beaty, 3-33 in three seasons, on how many games the Jayhawks need to win for him to keep his job:
“When it comes to a win total, I don’t have that answer. But I bet around Christmas time we’ll know.”
Iowa State running back David Montgomery on if the Cyclones have gained respect:
“Not at all. Not even a little bit. If anything, we’re more disrespected. We take it with a grain of salt. We’ll just keep working harder to be what we wanna be.”
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the Big 12’s championship game:
“Much has been made about the issues pertaining to the guaranteed rematch that we have. On 41 occasions we have had rematches in the championship game, including seven of nine last year. So the regular season rematch is not particularly unusual, and I think we will end up with great games on all occasions, because we’re always going to have one versus two.”