For the first time in 2020, it’s game week in Norman, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters in a Zoom conference on Tuesday that his team is “thrilled” to finally begin its 2020 campaign.
“(It’s) a game week that we didn’t even know would happen,” Riley said of the Sooners’ Sept. 12 matchup against Missouri State.
Oklahoma’s game against the Bears was originally scheduled to be played on Sept. 5, and then after being rescheduled to Aug. 29 due to COVID-19, it was moved for a third time after the Big 12 shifted its entire conference schedule on Aug. 12.
The rescheduling of OU’s season opener could be viewed as a testament to how confusing the past offseason has been — and not just for the Sooners. The college football world is still reeling from the Big Ten and Pac-12’s decisions to postpone their seasons amid COVID-19 concerns.
“We’re thankful that we’re one of the leagues that’s still taking a crack at the season right now,” Riley said.
From preparing for Petrino to on-going position battles, here’s what Riley said about the Sooners going into their first game of the season:
On facing ‘big name’ coaches
Prior to taking over as the Bears’ head coach on Jan. 16, Bobby Petrino served as the head coach at Arkansas and for two stints at Louisville. In 2016, quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy under Petrino’s tutelage.
Still, playing against veteran coaches is nothing new for Riley, who’s entering his fourth year as head coach with the Sooners.
“We certainly have a ton of respect for any football team that Bobby Petrino is a coach of,” Riley said. “We know he's gonna do some great things at Missouri State.
“You have to play well to win against well-coached teams. Teams like that aren’t going to beat themselves. They're going to have good players and they're going to be coached very well. It's always fun having matchups against guys that are as accomplished as a guy like coach Petrino. It’s (a game that) we all look forward to.”
On keeping his team focused amid postponements
Oklahoma State and TCU announced both schools would be postponing their season openers last week after being set to play on Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, respectively.
Postponements are almost expected to become a regular occurrence as the 2020 season rages on, but Riley doesn’t think his players should lose focus because of that.
“We understand that this season is going to provide some different challenges, some challenges that none of us have ever faced before ... but the standard here remains the same,” Riley said. “We expect to be the best football team we can be. We expect to win and compete for championships. And that's just who we are.
“We know it's going to require some different guys stepping up this year. We understand it’s going to require a team that’s ready to face some different adversities. That’s why championships are so fun in the end ... because it’s hard to do. And this year is going to maybe be harder than most.”
On facing concerns of traveling during a global pandemic
Though OU can control its social distancing measures at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, less can be done as the team travels to play road games. With the Sooners’ first road trip of the season less than a month away, Riley says his team will find a way to stay safe.
“(Traveling) is something you can’t really practice,” Riley said. (Social distancing) on a bus or a plane is not the easiest thing in the world to do. ... We've got a great team that's been working on that from day one (and) for many months here. So, I'm confident that we'll have a great plan. I think every team in the country will be antsy and anxious to see how that travel goes, and how we'll have to ultimately adjust throughout the year with it.”
On competition within the wide receiver room
CeeDee Lamb’s departure for the NFL left big shoes to fill for the Sooners’ wide receiver group.
The first round selection was perhaps Oklahoma’s biggest playmaker last season. The question of who will replace him in that role is still unanswered. However, Riley says that answer could come in the form of multiple players.
“I anticipate a lot of guys (will) step up and have really good years,” Riley said. “It's been good competition, (and I’ve) been excited about some of the additions there.
“I really do think we have some guys that have really improved ... We need to stay healthy there. We’re a few numbers short as far as where we’d like to be, which we knew coming into this year. So, staying healthy there is going to be a key. But, we've got some talented guys, some good competition and a lot of guys that can go out there and make plays for us right now.”