Big 12 SPOTLIGHT: Results show what 3 new coaches inherited
The situations inherited by the Big 12’s three new head coaches are reflected in the results.
Matt Rhule never expected his job at Baylor to be easy. It’s not. Tom Herman took over a Texas program with plenty of ups and downs since winning the league’s last national title 12 seasons ago. Young Lincoln Riley suddenly found himself leading 10-time Big 12 champion Oklahoma with a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback.
The Sooners (2-0) already have a signature victory and a No. 2 national ranking, the Longhorns (1-1) gave up 51 points in an opening loss before a shutout victory and the Bears (0-2) have lost twice to teams that never before had beaten a Power Five team.
”I didn’t come here because I thought it was going to be a really easy job. I didn’t come here saying to myself, `Boy, this will be fun. This will be easy,”’ Rhule said. ”I came here saying, this is going to be epic. This is going to be awesome. This is going to be a process.”
Rhule, coming off consecutive 10-win seasons and an American Athletic Conference title at Temple, also had a job offer from another Power Five school (Oregon) when he instead chose to go to a Bears program dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal.
When he got to Waco last December, Baylor had only one committed recruit and had lost most of its previous signing class after coach Art Briles was fired in May 2016.
Still, not even Rhule really anticipated Baylor losing its first two games – 48-45 to a Liberty team just starting the transition from FCS to the upper-level FBS, and 17-10 to UTSA .
”I think they feel a lot of pressure to win,” Rhule said. ”I think that’s a mixture of not having won enough and then also some of the off-field things. I just think you see a group that’s a little bit tight out there. So, we’re trying to get them to, `Let it go, man, let it rip.”’
The Bears, whose only win in their last nine games came in the Cactus Bowl, play at Duke on Saturday. They then start Big 12 play at home against Oklahoma before going to No. 18 Kansas State and No. 9 Oklahoma State.
Baylor has already used an FBS-high 18 first-time starters, including five of the 15 true freshman who have played.
Oklahoma also had some new starters after its two top running backs and leading receiver went to the NFL. But the Sooners still have a championship tradition and quarterback Baker Mayfield, a top-four finisher in the Heisman voting each of the past two seasons.
”We felt confident about the group we took over,” Riley said. ”The success that coach (Bob Stoops) had here over the last several years, really the success that’s happened here for a long, long time. … It’s just a very, very stable place.”
The two-time defending Big 12 champions have a 12-game winning streak after their 33-16 victory at then-No. 2 Ohio State. That win, just days after Riley’s 34th birthday, avenged a three-touchdown home loss to the Buckeyes last September.
Riley became a first-time head coach in June after Stoops unexpectedly resigned after 18 seasons with the Sooners that included the 2000 national championship and those 10 conference titles. Riley was his offensive coordinator the past two seasons. Stoops, an Ohio native, was at the Horseshoe on his 57th birthday to share in the Sooners’ big victory with his successor.
”Very, very special,” Riley said ”That will be part of it that I remember the most.”
The Longhorns were a preseason Top 25 team despite three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1930s. They then lost 51-41 to Maryland in their opener at home.
But with a freshman quarterback making his first college start because of Shane Buechele’s banged-up shoulder, Texas beat San Jose State 56-0 in Week 2.
”They could have been very distracted by all of the noise following that performance in game one, and rather than wallow in self-pity or listen to all the naysayers, we kind of took a bunker mentality,” Herman said.
Texas now goes to fourth-ranked Southern California for the first matchup of those teams since their classic Rose Bowl at the end of the 2005 season. The Vince Young-led Longhorns pulled off a 41-38 upset victory for the national title.
”We are nowhere near a finished product,” Herman said. ”We won that (San Jose State) game because we played so hard and we’ve got really good players. So I think that’s a start. When you have got good players that play hard, you’ve got a chance.”
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