ARLINGTON, Texas — Head coach Lincoln Riley fielded questions from reporters at Big 12 Media Days on Wednesday.
Riley’s Sooners were selected as the favorite to win the Big 12 in a media poll on July 8. Oklahoma is also projected among preseason favorites to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2021.
With OU looking to win a seventh consecutive conference title this season, here’s what Riley had to say at the podium in AT&T Stadium.
Spencer Rattler handling preseason hype
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler’s preseason hype is second to none. The Phoenix native has BetOnline’s best odds to be the first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and is among college football’s favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
Compiled with the NCAA’s NIL ruling that allows college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, Rattler — who’s signed deals with Raising Canes and has his own merchandise website — has garnered a lot of attention this offseason. Riley isn’t worried about Rattler becoming too focused on that, however.
“Spencer's a team first guy, he has been his entire time here,” Riley said. “We have visited about it, because it can be a factor if you let it. (You) certainly can't ignore it. You got to have a philosophy in place for the player, and then personally, and make some new decisions on maybe what he may (be) made (to) do or not do. We’ve got to be on the same page — and we certainly are.”
OU’s six-straight Big 12 titles
During his opening remarks at the podium, Riley said it felt good to be back in the Sooners’ “second home,” referring to the recent success Oklahoma’s had in Arlington, Texas. When asked if he wants his players to feel like they run the conference, Riley said he wants them to approach each year as its own.
Riley believes the Sooners’ ability to win the conference championship in 2020 after starting the year 0-2 in Big 12 play shows “the championship DNA” of OU.
“(We’re) not going to accept mediocrity,” Riley said. “We have a lot of respect for this league. A lot of respect for what it takes to win this league. I think a lot of times, on the outside, people just think it's a given. And anybody that thinks that doesn’t know the culture. … It takes so much (to win). Everybody's a good coach, everybody has good players. Each year is so different, each game is so different. We're excited about some of the success we’ve had, but we know that’s not going to make a lot of difference in this coming year.”
Addition of Eric Gray
The Sooners’ 2021 running back room took a hit with the dismissals of Seth McGowan and Mikey Henderson this offseason. Yet, Riley believes that group is still in good shape with the addition of Tennessee transfer running back Eric Gray.
“I can’t say enough about the kid,” Riley said of Gray. “He's a true professional... feels like he's been programmed for months or years already. It felt like that the day he walked in the door. (He has) a very businesslike attitude. He learned offense quickly, he really got acclimated with his teammates and university quickly. He does everything right. … We're thrilled to have him. I think regardless of who's in our running back room, he's gonna be a big factor.”
Return of Kennedy Brooks
Oklahoma’s running back group also benefits from the return of Kennedy Brooks, who opted out of the 2020 season. Brooks ran for 1,056 yards in 2018 and 1,011 in 2019, and tallied 18 touchdowns in that timespan.
“It's great to have Kennedy back,” Riley said. As was to be expected, he was rusty early on in the spring… you just can’t miss a year of football and come back right away. But I give him credit, he worked hard. Coach (DeMarco) Murray's been really good for him. It's been great seeing those two getting to work together. And now he finished the spring very strong, and the guy’s had so much production for us is known in big games. In big moments. He knows our system inside and out. (He’s) really pushing himself to try to be the best version that he can be here.”
Proposed expansion of the College Football Playoff
In June, a College Football Playoff management committee sub-group proposed expanding the four-team playoff to 12 teams. Though no decision has been made on the matter, key figures throughout college football have voiced support on the matter. Riley wants the playoff to expand in a way that benefits every program.
“I think the expansion that's been proposed is a great start,” Riley said. “I commend the committee that put it together because you have to put yourself out there, and you gotta start somewhere. … I still think there's work to be done, questions to be answered. The obvious ones: How many games do you want to play in a season? Is 12 (games) too many? Certain things are up for debate. I think it's more important to break the puzzle (and make) something we can all work off to make the system better.”