2017 Big 12 Media Days notebook: Lincoln Riley accepts expectations for Oklahoma Sooners

By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange   |   July 17, 2017 at 10:13 PM
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FRISCO, Texas -- It has been about six weeks since Lincoln Riley was named coach for Oklahoma and the whirlwind of stepping into the driver's seat as the Big 12 Conference preseason favorite has been eye-opening and, he admits, a little bit daunting.

With the timing of former coach Bob Stoops' retirement, the transition has been less stressful for Riley, who addressed the media Monday. It marked the first of two 2017 Big 12 Football Media Days at Ford Center at The Star.

"It's such a unique situation," Riley said. "Normally, when there's a change in the head coaching position, so much else has changed as well as far as bringing in a new staff a lot of times, getting to know players, starting to develop those relationships.

"What made this so unique, I think, was the continuity that was kept with the decision. It's made it definitely a lot easier on me when I think about all I've done in the last month."

It certainly helps that the 33-year-old Riley, who was the Sooners' offensive coordinator, inherits a team that has won the past two Big 12 championships.

"We have a very, very strong team coming back with some new exciting young players to infuse our team with," Riley said. "Obviously, it's a very, very demanding schedule that you get every year in the Big 12, and another demanding nonconference schedule."

Oklahoma is led by a returning quarterback, senior Baker Mayfield, who set NCAA records a year ago and will work behind eight offensive linemen with starting experience.

"Baker has gotten more comfortable as a quarterback within our system and more comfortable as a quarterback with our current players," Riley said. "Obviously having great quarterback play in big-time games is always such a huge part of it. We're thrilled about his progress -- I think he really took some strides this spring."

Mayfield admits the aftermath of his February public intoxication arrest and the viral video of Fayetteville, Ark., police officers tackling him while trying to escape has humbled him and been the impetus for some lifestyle changes. Mayfield has refocused on being a role model and on doing the right things.

Oklahoma's team leaders and captains have formed a kangaroo court of sorts to help players toe the line.

"Accountability has been a huge thing we've been pushing," Mayfield said. "If you're not going to do it right off the field, who is to say we trust you on the field? The leaders had to set the tone, so we got together and set some standards, so there's been punishment that we've had to deal out for guys who have made mistakes."

Only one program in the Big 12 era -- the Sooners in 2006-08 -- has won three consecutive conference titles. Expectations are high for Oklahoma, which travels to Ohio State in Week 2 before heading into a league campaign that features five other teams that could be ranked in the top 25.

"The expectations are there to win, like they always are at Oklahoma, but that's something that I enjoy and something that our staff enjoys, and our players," Riley said. "You come to play and coach at Oklahoma to win and to win big. It's always been like that. If you don't enjoy that sense of pressure and those expectations, then it's probably not the place for you."

LONE STAR STATE SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED

TCU coach Gary Patterson said Monday that Texas should be embarrassed for its lack of a ranked team in last season's final Associated Press Top 25 poll.

No team from the Lone Star State was included in those rankings, which hadn't happened since 1967, when Patterson was a first-grader. At various points throughout the year, Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, Houston and Baylor had been ranked but all of them tumbled out in their own way.

"We should be embarrassed we don't have a team in the Top 25," Patterson said Monday. "There's a lot of good football players, even that come to our schools, that can play and play at a high level, and we need to play better. It's simple as that."

Patterson, the FBS' second-longest tenured coach in the nation, said an exodus of numerous in-state stars was part of reason for the state's poor showing in 2016.

NO DEFENSE FOR POOR DEFENSE

Texas Tech had the fifth-ranked scoring offense in college football last season, but it also ranked dead last in scoring defense. It's a situation that sent the Red Raiders to a 5-7 campaign and left them outside the bowl picture despite having a quarterback, Pat Mahomes III, who was drafted by the NFL in the first round.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury was taken to task about that situation by one reporter on Monday and he really had no defense for his poor defense.

"That's a great question -- I wish I had the answer," Kingsbury said with a bit of a smile and some laughter from media members. "Like I said, that's something we work on. We haven't been good enough defensively, and we'll continue to try and recruit the right players and develop them and get better.

"I expect to see us be improved. I like what I saw this spring. We played a lot of young players on defense last year, and I'm hoping those snaps pay dividends going into this year."

NIGHT MOVES

Iowa State will have two night home games this season at Jack Trice Stadium, including a Sept. 28 matchup with Texas. Cyclones coach Matt Campbell thinks his home field, and the hoopla around game night in Ames, can propel his players to greater heights.

"It's one of the most unique places in college football," Campbell said Monday about Jack Trice Stadium. "When you turn the lights on and you have a chance to go into that environment, it seems like it only continues to get our fan base going.

"I'll say this and continue to say this, we've got one of the most special fan bases in all of college football. So you give our great fans a whole day to get ready and revved up for a football game, it makes it pretty unique."

THE SECRET IS OUT

One of the Big 12's best football players calls the University of Kansas home.

Despite the program's long-standing residence in the conference's basement, knowledge and accolades for the talent of junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. is so great that media voted him the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12, the first time a Jayhawks player has garnered that honor.

Armstrong, who goes 6 feet 4 and 246 pounds, was the only unanimous selection to the media's preseason all-conference defensive team. He had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in 2016.

"The best thing I think about Dorance is that that award doesn't mean much to him," Kansas coach David Beaty said. "He knows that's just written and that the real award is given at the end of the year. He cares a lot more about his teammates and about winning. That's what makes him great."

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