Brady Manek: The Sooners' other prize freshman

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Jan. 26, 2018

    Well into Big 12 play, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and forward Brady Manek have proven they're one of the nation's most prolific freshman tandems. Trouble is, so far the duo has widely been portrayed as a one-man show.

    A pair of in-state recruits who excelled just 39 miles apart, Young was a 5-star gem out of Norman North while Manek was a 4-star prize from Harrah. Both wanted to have an immediate impact on the Sooners and such certainly has been the case.

    Young and Manek simultaneously arrived at a program that had followed its 2016 Final Four appearance with a demoralizing 11-20 record last season.

    Halfway through their 30-game schedule, the Sooners have risen from the ashes with a 15-4 record, own four victories over Top-10 opponents and are ranked No. 12 heading into Saturday's 1:15 p.m. contest against Alabama.

    With a combined scoring average of 41.6 points per game, Young (30.3) and Manek (11.3) comprise the highest-scoring freshman tandem in the country. They own a comfortable margin over the runner-up freshman duo of Duke's Marvin Bagley III (21.6) and Gary Trent Jr. (14.7).

    Only three freshmen in the country are averaging more than 20 points and Young owns a comfortable lead over Howard's RJ Cole (23.4) and Bagley.

    Young also leads the nation in assists at 9.6 per game. The next highest freshman is Murray State's Ja Morant with a 6.4 average.

    As he continues his assault on Division I all-time freshman scoring and assist records, Young understandably has been bombarded with interview requests. Meanwhile, quietly complementing the cause has been Manek, who is due some attention himself.

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    Oklahoma has Georgia on the mind

    Georgia senior running back Nick Chubb. (Photo by Sports Illustrated)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 18 2017

    One mind-blowing moment in particular stood out to Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield during his awards circuit earlier this month.

    It came when he met 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Atlanta.

    "He looks like he could still play right now," Mayfield said of the 55-year-old Walker. "That's just impressive. You meet so many special guys, but a guy like that is a once-in-a-century type of athlete. That's pretty neat."

    Two nights later in New York City, Mayfield would win a Heisman of his own, becoming the sixth Sooner to capture college football's most prestigious award.

    Mayfield wasn't alone while gathering his impressive collection of hardware.

    Mayfield's first major national postseason honor arrived Dec. 6 when he was announced as AP Player of the Year. That same day, redshirt junior Mark Andrews became the first OU player to win the John Mackey Award as the nation's most outstanding tight end.

    The following night at the awards show in Atlanta, Mayfield was presented the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Maxwell Award, both given to the nation's top player, and also won the Davey O' Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback. Prior to the show, Andrews was formally presented his John Mackey Award on The Red Carpet Special.

    Redshirt junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman, accompanied Mayfield and Andrews in Atlanta.

    Mayfield, Andrews and Brown were named first-team All-Americans by the AFCA, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation, making them the 33rd, 34th and 35th Sooners to earn unanimous first-team All-America status. Redshirt senior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo joined them as a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation.

    At 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 1, the No. 2-seeded Sooners will face the No. 3-seeded Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in the first national semifinal of this year's College Football Playoff. The winner will play for the national title at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against the Sugar Bowl semifinal winner between defending champion and No. 1 seed Clemson and No. 4 seed Alabama.

    Three of OU's premier players and first-year head coach Lincoln Riley were physically in Georgia the second week of December, but they weren't focused solely on Georgia. Coincidentally, Mayfield's awe-inspiring player played for Georgia.

    "That's OK," Mayfield said with a smile. "It's Herschel Walker. Luckily, I don't have to play him, so that's all right."

    Andrews joined Mayfield for the entire trip. "You've got to take everything in," Andrews said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting to do all that, then getting to go to New York with Baker. It was a special moment and a special week... I was able to enjoy it, but obviously our end goal is to win the national championship and Georgia's in the way of that, so it was in the back of our mind."

    Asked if he was awed by anyone he saw on the awards tour, Andrews mentioned 1995 Heisman winner Eddie George of Ohio State. "He's a massive human being, especially being a running back," the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Andrews said of the 6-foot-3 George, who played at 235 pounds. "It's incredible. Just ridiculous how big he is."

    An exhausted OU travel party was ready to return home, just in time for final exams.

    "It felt good to be back, good to be back with my teammates," Mayfield said. "I wish all of them could have been up there with me to enjoy it. Getting back out there on the practice field was something I was itching to do. The first time we were around each other was on the practice field."

    Now the Bulldogs (12-1) are foremost in the thoughts of OU players, and with good reason. The Rose Bowl Game is a classic match-up between the nation's best offense and one of the best defenses.

    Georgia's defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in multiple categories, including No. 2 in passing yards allowed (158.3), No. 4 in total defense (270.9 yards) and scoring defense (13.2), tied for No. 4 in fourth-down conversion percentage defense (.250), No. 8 in team passing efficiency defense (108.07) and No. 10 in total first downs allowed (190).

    Mayfield: "They're the best defense, so you can't compare them to anybody. They're in a league of their own. You can't compare them to people because they're so talented and they play so well together. To say they're like somebody else would be downplaying how good they are."

    Brown: "I've actually watched a lot of film (of Georgia). They're great, man. They've got a great front seven. They've got a bunch of big names, a bunch of guys that are making consistent plays for them."

    Andrews: "They're going to be a fast and physical defense. They're going to fly around."

    Riley: "You turn on the film (and) you knew the guys who were going to be good. They have very few weaknesses as a football team, and that's why they're in this game."

    The Sooners counter with the nation's most explosive offense, which ranks No. 1 in total offense (583.3 yards) and team passing efficiency (206.90), No. 3 in passing offense (367.4) and total first downs (337), and No. 4 in scoring (44.9).

    Even though the game will be in California, facing the Bulldogs will be a homecoming of sorts for the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown. A huge, but raw, Brown essentially learned how to play football at Peachtree High School in Duluth, Ga., and took only one unofficial recruiting visit to Georgia when Mark Richt was the coach.

    "A lot of those guys in high school tore me up," Brown said. "I'm not the same player that I was then. I'm just ready."

    In addition to the awards circuit, Riley also has juggled recruiting and studying tape of the Bulldogs. "I enjoy balancing the different parts of it," Riley said of his hectic schedule. "You go to high schools during the day and visit some homes at night. When you get on the plane or in the hotel, you start watching film."

    Wednesday marks Division I's first early signing period, which previously was reserved for the first Wednesday each February. "This is going to become in a lot of ways the new national signing day," Riley said. "I think the one in February will kind of become secondary a little bit. And I think it will be more and more as the years go on."

    Riley said he expects OU's 2018 commitments to sign on that day. "We think if guys are committed then they do need to sign," Riley said. "Our guys, this group, have been great. We've had very little resistance. A lot of guys are excited about getting it done... It was good to go out and see those recruits. It's gone really well. I feel a lot of momentum with the program right now and I think you can sense that, getting out on the road and getting into these homes and these high schools. A lot of people are excited about Oklahoma right now."

    OU will depart for Pasadena on Dec. 26.

    Asked if he has had that "sink-in moment" yet, Mayfield immediately answered, "No, and I think that's a good thing for me knowing our goals are still in front of us. That's the thing that I've been able to do is never have that moment of where I'm like, 'Oh, I've made it.' That's good for us as a team moving forward."

    For Mayfield and the Sooners, there's still one more trophy to win.

    "I haven't won the biggest prize yet," Mayfield said. "The biggest prize is (winning the national title game) in Atlanta. I've always been a team guy and that's right there in front of us."

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    Streaking Sooners shock the Shockers

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 17, 2017

    Amazingly enough, Saturday’s 91-83 victory over No. 3 Wichita State is the highest-ranked non-conference team Oklahoma has ever beaten on the road in men’s basketball.

    Paired with their 85-83 victory over No. 25 USC at Staples Center eight days earlier, it also marked the Sooners’ second straight “road” victory over a ranked opponent (the USC game was technically neutral site, despite being played two miles from the Trojans’ campus).

    How did the victors celebrate their shocking triumph over the Shockers? By renting a movie from Redbox for the bus ride back to Norman.

    From the sound of things, it was a pretty mellow 177-mile trek back to Norman. The team maintained its composure, just as it did in front of a crazed gathering of 15,004 fans at INTRUST Bank Arena, an off-campus arena in downtown Wichita.

    Once again, OU was led by true freshman point guard Trae Young, who was joined by fellow true freshman forward Brady Manek. The prize rookies combined for 50 points (37 in the first half) and nine 3-pointers.

    A five-star recruit out of Norman North High School, Young is the nation’s leading scorer (28.8) and ranks third nationally in assists (8.9). He finished with 29 points and 10 assists and has now scored at least 28 points in seven straight games. Young erupted for 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first nine minutes of the contest.

    Saturday was simply more of the same from the 19-year-old Young, the early frontrunner for national freshman of the year and potentially player of the year.

    “Statistically, it’s really off the charts, given what anybody else has ever done – especially through their first nine games,” Sooners head coach Lon Kruger said of Young. “I think he’ll keep getting better, though, making better decisions and even better plays. It’s hard to say whether he’ll improve on the numbers. He’s just done a remarkable job given how many times he has the ball in his hands. … The biggest thing is he lets everyone else do what they’re most comfortable doing.”

    Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall heaped praise on Young. “I haven’t coached against a freshman that plays the game at that level,” Marshall said afterward. “Hedging, switching. We tried everything against him. Trae Young is not going to get rattled. He is too good.”

    Young’s continued excellence comes as no surprise to teammates.

    “It took me a couple of games, but I realize I’m witnessing one of the greatest Oklahoma basketball players of all-time (in Young),” said OU sophomore guard Kameron McGusty, who poured in 13 points and three 3-pointers in just 16 minutes Saturday. “The way he shoots it, the way he gets to the cup, the way he passes it and blows by everybody, it’s just crazy. He’s going to go down as a legend here. It’s a blessing to play with him and to witness it with my own two eyes.”

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    Mayfield and the Sooners aren't done yet

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 2, 2017

    Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said the reason he chose to return for his redshirt senior season was to win the national championship, not to win the Heisman Trophy.

    Mayfield took a significant step toward winning both with Saturday's methodical 41-17 victory over TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game before a crowd of 64,104 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    The triumph advances the No. 3-ranked Sooners (12-1 overall) into the College Football Playoff for the second time in the last three seasons.

    Their national semifinal opponent will be revealed Sunday at 11 a.m. and the game will be played Jan. 1 at either the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.The College Football Playoff National Championship Game will be staged a week later on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

    Next Saturday night in New York City, Mayfield is expected to be a landslide winner of this year's Heisman and become the sixth recipient in OU history, joining Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008).

    It will be Mayfield's second straight invitation to the Heisman ceremony. He finished fourth for the award in 2015, third last year and will become the fifth player to finish in the top four in voting for three straight seasons. The other four to have done it are Army's Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard (both in 1944-46), SMU's Doak Walker (1947-49) and Georgia's Herschel Walker (1980-82).

    "Obviously, I'm not going to downplay that," Mayfield said of potentially winning the Heisman. "That would be something very special. Getting to go (to the ceremony) is special enough. ... I'm going to enjoy this next week, traveling, going on the road for some of this stuff (various award ceremonies). The good thing is I'll be getting to go with some teammates as well."

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    Freshman Trae Young off to an historic start

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 28, 2017

    During the first week of practice in early October, Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger admitted his team would lean heavily on true freshman point guard Trae Young.

    “He’s going to be the center of a lot of what’s going on,” Kruger said at the time. “He’s good with the ball, he keeps pressure on the defense all the time and he likes distributing the ball. He’s got a good feel for the game. Add all that together, he’s a guy who make others around him better.”

    The 6-2, 180-pound Young welcomed the responsibility.

    “No, I don’t mind at all,” Young said. “I’ve always grown up being the leader on my team. I think that’s definitely put me in a position to be ready for moments like this, being able to come in right away and be leaned on a little bit more than a lot of freshmen.”

    Young certainly was ready for the moment on Sunday morning against Oregon at the PK80 Invitational at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore.

    The most heralded recruit in Kruger’s seven seasons at OU, Young erupted for 43 points – 30 in the second half – as the Sooners posted a 90-80 victory in a contest played roughly 112 miles north of the Oregon campus.

    OU indeed leaned heavily on its prize rookie.

    “We wore him out today, that’s for sure,” Kruger said with a chuckle Sunday night as his team was about to fly back to Oklahoma.

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    Goodbye Baker; hello Kyler

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 25, 2017

    Oklahoma's home finale on Saturday gave its fans a unique opportunity to say goodbye to maybe the program's greatest quarterback ever while also getting a sneak peek at the future.

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield's final appearance at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium resulted in a 59-31 domination of West Virginia and kept alive the Sooners' hopes for a College Football Playoff berth.

    An already emotional setting intensified when Mayfield was removed from the starting lineup and stripped of his captaincy by head coach Lincoln Riley as punishment for making gestures and remarks during last week's game at Kansas.

    It was the first time in his three-year career at OU that Mayfield did not start. In his stead, redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray was given the reins for the opening drive.

    On the first play from scrimmage, the speedy Murray gutted the middle of the Mountaineers' defense and sprinted for a 66-yard gain to the WVU 4-yard line. The sellout crowd of 86,117 erupted and the Sooners literally were off and running — even with their beloved Heisman hopeful on the sideline.

    Mayfield being Mayfield, he playfully gave Murray grief for getting caught by a defender. "He got caught from behind," said a smiling Mayfield. "That's something I would not have guessed." (Murray, who is one of the fastest players on the roster, countered that the defender had the angle.)

    Riley said he had predetermined Mayfield would be inserted on OU's second possession, no matter what transpired on the opening drive. "I said, 'Hey, I'm going to make a decision. I'm going to stick with it no matter what happens,'" Riley said. "That first series went a little bit quicker than I thought (70 yards in just two plays), but I wasn't complaining."

    Murray said, "I knew going into the game I only had one drive, so I was going to try and make the most of it."

    Even with all the emotion of being disciplined and playing his final home game, Mayfield calmly completed 14-of-17 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an astronomical quarterback rating of 279.4, strengthening his grip toward becoming OU's sixth Heisman Trophy winner.

    Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in a Big 12-record 38 consecutive games (every contest of his OU career) and also holds the Big 12 record with 25 consecutive games of at least two TD passes (77 TDs to 13 interceptions during the stretch). That is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history (Boise State's Kellen Moore had a streak of 26 games in 2010 and 2011).

    The Sooners scored touchdowns on all six possessions Mayfield played before he was pulled with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 52-24.

    Mayfield left to a thunderous ovation and was replaced by Murray, who finished with 80 yards rushing on just three carries (26.7-yard average) while also completing 2-of-2 passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. "Having the support of them, it's pretty special to me knowing how loud they got," Mayfield said of OU's fans.

    After completing an ESPN postgame interview on the field, Mayfield trotted along the front row of the entire stands, slapping hands with fans leaning over the wall. "I try to give back, as much as they support me," Mayfield explained of his stadium exit. "It's not equal, but I try to do as much as I can after everything they supported me through."

    The OU offense rolled up 646 total yards in just 54 plays, setting a school record of 12.0 yards per play. The Sooners' balanced attack amassed 333 yards passing and 313 rushing, marking just the sixth time since 1996 they have surpassed 300 yards in both categories.

    Mayfield and Murray took similar paths to OU. Both started some games as true freshmen — Mayfield at Texas Tech and Murray at Texas A&M — before transferring to OU, and both were required to sit the first season after switching schools.

    "I can relate to Kyler, where he's at right now mentally," Mayfield said.

    Including Mayfield, Saturday was the home finale for 18 seniors. "Our guys were very emotional coming into this game, for a lot of reasons," Riley said.

    Oklahoma is the only program West Virginia has not defeated since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season. The Sooners are 6-0 against the Mountaineers during that span and have scored at least 44 points in five of those contests.

    OU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) will play in its ninth Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday, facing TCU (10-2, 7-2) at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners are 7-1 in the Big 12 title game, which hasn't been held since the 2010 season.

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    Grant 'Boomer' Calcaterra was born to be a Sooner

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 18, 2017

    Last weekend was the first time the entire Calcaterra family had been together since June, and their timing couldn't possibly have been better.

    They gathered at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the showdown between No. 5-ranked Oklahoma and No. 6-ranked TCU and were part of the largest crowd (88,308) ever to witness any event in Oklahoma.

    On hand were the mother (Diane) and father (Chris), their eldest son (Nick) and the triplets (Andrew, Claire and Grant).

    "It was the perfect weekend," Grant said. "You couldn't have done it any better."

    The Sooners (9-1 overall, 6-1 Big 12) kept their College Football Playoff hopes alive with a convincing 38-20 victory over the Horned Frogs. With the clock ticking inside the 4:00 mark in the first quarter, Grant entered the game. Never before had starting tight end Mark Andrews and Grant been on the field together.

    There's a good chance they'll play together again because Grant made a dazzling 13-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone from quarterback Baker Mayfield to give OU a 17-7 lead. "I was shocked when I saw Grant run on (the field) and I didn't see Mark run off," Chris said. "And who was the first one to congratulate him after the touchdown? Mark Andrews."

    Grant said, "It was just a good play for the defense they were in. Hopefully, we'll keep on doing it."

    Since joining the Sooners, Grant has created another set of triplets. His best friends on the team happen to be the aforementioned Mayfield and Andrews. That's pretty heady company for a true freshman out of Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High School.

    Grant left high school last December to enroll early at OU. Three months later, a budding friendship grew during spring break at Cabo San Lucas, where Grant joined Mayfield, Andrews, plus a slew of other teammates and OU students. Andrew and Claire also were on hand.

    During the Sooners' open date in late September, Mayfield went to California and stayed with the Calcaterras. "He was such the gentleman," Diane said of Mayfield, who is anything but when battling an opponent on the football field. "(Mayfield's mother) Gina was like, 'Are you sure this is OK?' I told her, 'I'll treat him like one of mine.'"

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    'There's no place like road' for Sooners and Mayfield

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 18, 2017

    Perhaps no football player feels more at home while playing on the road than Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield. Teams hoping to beat the Heisman Trophy favorite on their home field are now all out of chances.

    A 41-3 victory at Kansas on Saturday not only clinched a spot for the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it also meant Mayfield finished his OU career with a 14-0 mark in true road games and a 12-0 record in Big 12 road contests.

    First-year head coach Lincoln Riley became the Sooners' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2015, the same year Mayfield returned to the field after transferring from Texas Tech. This means Riley also is 14-0 in true road games and 12-0 in Big 12 road games at OU, as is every third-year player on the roster.

    Odd as it sounds, playing on the road fit perfectly into Mayfield's wheelhouse. His attitude, confidence and determination seemed equally as heightened on the road as they are inside the friendly confines of Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    "I've had a mindset that's perfect for going on the road and I think I've been able to kind of help out other guys on the team," Mayfield said prior to his final conference road game. "When those fans start chirping, you want to shut them up or come right back and talk to them."

    Every time they hit the road in conference play, Mayfield and Sooners extend their historical success in the Big 12.

    Against the Jayhawks, Mayfield completed 20 of 30 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, marking the 15th time he has thrown at least three TD passes without a pickoff. Mayfield set a Big 12 record with his 37th straight game (every game of his OU career) with at least one touchdown pass. He also extended his record of at least two touchdown passes to 24 straight games, which is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history.

    "It's about bragging rights on the road," Mayfield said. "It's about going into someone else's house and winning. It really is just you and your team on the sidelines."

    The more hostile the crowd, the more Mayfield embraces the atmosphere.

    "When you go on the road, there's always people who buy seats behind the visitors' bench for certain reasons," Mayfield said. "They want to chatter back and forth. I love that. They take it personal and try and get under our skin."

    Asked which Big 12 road trips ranked as his favorites, Mayfield smiled and said, "Whenever you go to Stillwater there's always someone there chirping. West Virginia's always a fun place to go play. They always bring their 'A' game there."

    Riley said preparation during the week of a road game doesn't seem particularly more focused or intense than it is for a home game, and he credits his team's pre-existing mentality under coach Bob Stoops.

    "I don't really feel anything different during the week, but I always feel we have always embraced playing on the road," Riley said. "Going on the road is something you just have to handle as something you're up against. I've always been wired that way and I know he (Mayfield) certainly is."

    Riley chuckled at the notion it appears Mayfield was born to play in hostile territory. "The more they yell, the better it is for us, honestly," Riley said. "He feeds off that stuff. He really does. (Mayfield embraces) the challenge of going into someone else's place and playing as well as you can."

    Saying you love to play on the road is one thing, but the proof is in the performance.

    "We talk beforehand about the mentality we want going into those environments," Riley said. "You can talk about it all you want, but it's still about the guys believing. And when your leaders feel that way, the rest of the team tends to follow suit."

    The Sooners have now won 16 straight true road games, the nation's longest active streak and the second-longest in OU history. The Sooners' 14 straight Big 12 road wins also is a conference record. OU's last true road loss came more than three years ago with a 37-33 setback at TCU on Oct. 4, 2014.

    During the 16-game streak, the Sooners have outscored opponents 784-436 (49-27 average) and outgained them 8,798 total yards to 6,456 (579-413 average). Seven of the 16 wins have come against AP Top 25 teams.

    OU has won 23 of its last 24 conference games dating back to the 2015 season. Its lone loss came Oct. 7 at home against Iowa State this season.

    The Sooners also have now won 13 straight against the Jayhawks, including seven straight in Lawrence. Each of those 13 victories have been by at least 15 points. OU's last loss at KU came in 1997 in the Big 12's second year of existence.

    The Sooners are finished playing true road games this season. They close the regular season at home Saturday against West Virginia. Then come neutral site contests at the Big 12 title game and potentially two postseason games in the College Football Playoff with a shot at the program's eighth national title.

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    Caitlin Riley has two girls ... and roughly 115 boys

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 27, 2017

    Lincoln and Caitlin Riley have two daughters, but you'll frequently hear Caitlin refer to “the boys.” In her eyes, her husband doesn't coach the Oklahoma Sooners. He coaches the boys. And Caitlin considers them family.

    "That's the truth," OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield confirmed with a chuckle. "She has two daughters, but she also has about 115 boys."

    Having always been a football wife, Caitlin said there were no major adjustments when Lincoln was promoted from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach to replace Bob Stoops as the Sooners' head coach on June 7 of this year.

    "It's been good, exciting, never a dull moment," Caitlin said. "It's what I had anticipated — having the desire to win, to feel strongly involved and invested, that didn't really change. I felt that way when Lincoln was offensive coordinator."

    Caitlin already is reaping high praise from OU players.

    Senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: "She's really one of the nicest humans I've ever met."

    All-American junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown: "Great, great woman."

    Mayfield: "She is one of the sweetest ladies."

    At age 34, Lincoln Riley is the youngest FBS head coach, but Caitlin said a lot of work went into her husband's rapid ascent.

    "Him coaching football started fresh out of high school, so it's all I know," she explained. "I thought he'd be a high school coach when we started dating in high school. It's seems like a long time ago. We left (Texas) Tech eight years ago, four years as a coach and as a student before that. So it seems like a lot of work has gone into it. He is very young, but he has put a lot of time in."

    Lincoln attended Muleshoe (Texas) High School, about 70 miles northwest of Lubbock, and rival Dimmit High School was located roughly 45 miles northeast of Muleshoe. The Rileys started dating in 2002 when Lincoln was a freshman at Texas Tech and Caitlin was a senior at Dimmit. Lincoln graduated in December of 2005, Caitlin graduated in May of 2006 and they got married July 14, 2007.

    Every Monday and Wednesday, Caitlin brings Sloan, who will be 5 in December, and Stella, 1, to practice. "We go to see dad," Caitlin said. "Those are two of his later nights, so he's generally not home to put the girls to bed. So we run around and see the boys. We take dinner out there and have practice picnics."

    Caitlin, who was a kindergarten teacher before starting a family, said she particularly enjoys having the boys over to their house for functions. "I love to be involved in the middle of it, get to know the boys as people and learn about their families and what they love," Caitlin said.

    Lincoln and Caitlin used to host players on offense, but now it's the entire team, plus recruits. "We just needed a little more space to have them all over," she said. "We get to have everybody. We get a lot more hugs now. We have our two girls and we have all our boys. That's who we know and love and that grows."

    Mayfield laughed at the sheer magnitude of hosting an entire football team at the house. "It's kind of like a herd of animals coming in and out of the house," Mayfield said of the occasions. "They always do a great job caring for us. It's not under their contract or job description to truly care for us, but that's what makes it so special about them."

    The Rileys' mutual admiration is easily evident, and they don't mind sharing that bond with the entire program.

    "The family atmosphere has always been here," Mayfield said. "With Carol Stoops, the special thing about her is she would write hand-written letters to the guys. She would always do stuff like that. Now you have Caitlin. For kids who come a long way from home, it's important to see Coach Riley and his wife really hold together the family and the unity. They truly care about everybody around here and that's important."

    In just her first five games, Caitlin already had experienced the highest highs (a 31-16 victory at No. 2-ranked Ohio State) and the lowest lows (a 38-31 loss at home to then-unranked Iowa State) of being the First Lady of Oklahoma Football.

    "The hardest part about losing a game is I know what they all put into it, how hard they've worked and how badly they want it more than anybody else could ever want it," Caitlin said of those within the OU program. "Their heart is totally in it."

    Caitlin is so invested in her husband's duties, she asked permission to attend his often-tedious weekly media luncheon every Monday. Lincoln initially balked at the idea, until Caitlin explained why she wanted to do it. "I've always felt it's important to be by his side in the good and the bad, so I want to be there every week no matter what," Caitlin said. "Honestly, it's a good 10-minute walk (from his office) that we get to see each other and visit alone. It's some time we get to catch up during the day."

    Lincoln smiled and said, "She's got some good points. This time of year, finding 10 minutes just to talk or spend some time together, you don't get much of it right now."

    Caitlin said she's impressed with how her husband handles the media demands. "He makes it seem like he's done it forever and gives honest, thoughtful answers. It's also a good way for me to get information on the team without him having to repeat it at home, so I can stay in the loop."

    Brown said he believes Caitlin is partly responsible for her husband's calm demeanor. "I think she really understands everything that he (Lincoln) goes through," Brown said. "For the most part, I think the reason he's able to be so calm and be there for us is because of her and all the pressure she takes off of him."

    Whenever Lincoln seeks some head coaching counsel, he can easily chat with former bosses in Stoops and Ruffin McNeill, whom Riley served with at Texas Tech (2003-09) and at East Carolina (2010-14). After becoming OU's head coach, Riley quickly hired McNeill as the Sooners' assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach.

    Turns out, Caitlin looks in the same direction when she seeks insight. "I talk to Carol Stoops a lot and to Erlene McNeill also," Caitlin admitted. "They're both very dear to my heart. I trust them and know they will always have great advice, plus I got to see first-hand how they handled things."

    At 7 p.m. Saturday, the No. 10-ranked Sooners host Texas Tech, the Rileys' alma mater. Caitlin and Lincoln may have experienced some unpleasant flashbacks this week.

    Caitlin's first-ever experience at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was the 2008 contest when the No. 5 Sooners hosted the No. 2-ranked and 10-0 Red Raiders. It's affectionately referred to as the "Jump Around" game, with OU fans incessantly bobbing up and down to House of Pain's rhythmic rap blasting full volume through the loud speakers. The Sooners dominated with a 65-21 victory.

    "Oh my goodness, I've never seen anything like it," Caitlin recalled.

    The game remains fresh in the mind of Lincoln, who was Texas Tech's inside receivers coach at the time. "Ooh, a nightmare," Lincoln said Monday, with a nodding Caitlin watching roughly 25 feet away to his left. "That was still to this day probably the best atmosphere I've ever played or coached or been a part of. That's one of my lasting memories of it. Those who think a crowd or a great atmosphere can't have an effect on the game, they weren't at that game that night. I mean it was just unbelievable. It was a tough game, man. Oklahoma got the momentum and took it away from us and we could never get it back. It felt like we were just going head-first into a buzzsaw. It was amazing. It was a great atmosphere. It was a great team. It was a long night for us."

    Fully aware that being a football wife is no easy gig, Lincoln said he knew he found a special match in Caitlin.

    "It's a hard life for them, but she's been nothing but incredibly supportive and unselfish," Lincoln said of his better half. "You hear about it a lot, but it really is a hard life for them. It's lonely a lot, and all that goes along with it, especially if something doesn't go well. It's hard, but she's been great. She keeps me going, there's no doubt. She inspires me to keep things rolling because she certainly does. She's always been supportive and she's always been a person to put others in front of herself and she's certainly done that with me and my family."

    And what does Caitlin admire most about her husband? "His honesty. His integrity. His heart," she said. "This (coaching) is really what he loves. The boys are what he loves. Well, they're not boys. They're big, but they're boys."

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    Oklahoma-Texas rewind: Jump in front, fall behind, and win

    Baker Mayfield dons the victorious Golden Hat Trophy following Oklahoma's 29-24 win over Texas in Dallas on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special for SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 14, 2017

    For the third straight game, the Oklahoma football team pounced early on its opponent for an early lead, only to eventually end up trailing.

    This Saturday was the same, yet different, because it meant so much more. The opponent was Red River rival Texas and the Sooners needed a victory to keep alive their chance at making this year's College Football Playoff.

    • Against Baylor on Sept. 23, the Sooners led 28-10 and then fell behind 31-28 before managing to pull out a 49-41 victory in Waco.
    • Last week at home against Iowa State, OU led 24-10 before the 30½-point underdog Cyclones closed with a 28-7 run to post a stunning 38-31 victory that sent the Sooners plummeting from No. 3 in the polls to No. 12.

    On this overheated Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl, OU jumped out to a 20-0 advantage against the unranked but surging Longhorns late in the second quarter, and once again surrendered the lead.

    Trailing 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter, the Sooners immediately responded with a 78-yard drive that required just three plays and 68 seconds and eventually resulted in a 29-24 victory before a sellout crowd of 93,552 in the 112th meeting of the series.

    The game-winner came on a 59-yard touchdown pass from OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield to wide open junior tight end Mark Andrews down the right sideline with 6:53 remaining.

    "We felt like at that moment we needed a little bit of a spark," first-year Sooners coach Lincoln Riley explained afterward. "We took a chance and the guys executed it to perfection."

    Mayfield described the play succinctly: "Great protection. Great play call. It makes my job easy. He (Andrews) was wide open," he said.

    The victory keeps playoff hopes alive for the Sooners (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) after last week's stunning defeat, which snapped their nation-leading 14-game winning streak that dated back 385 days and their 17-game Big 12 winning streak that lasted 728 days.

    Mayfield said he was not focused on any potential CFP scenarios during the game-winning sequence, however. "It's a single focus," Mayfield said. "The thought of a college football playoff is not running through your head right there. It's about doing your job, winning that game and beating Texas. There was no other motivation besides doing our job in that moment."

    And for the first time in three games, credit finally was bestowed upon the OU defense afterward.

    With several players exhausted and frequently battling cramps, the Sooners defense sealed the win by stopping the Longhorns' final two drives. Temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees, the highest for an OU-Texas game since 1991 (93 degrees).

    "That was a hard-fought game," said Sooners senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who finished with five quarterback hurries, one sack, one pass breakup and five tackles. "We swung until the very last second."

    The overriding theme for OU remains figuring out how to protect and extend its early leads.

     

    "There's going to be a lot of things that we can do better to continue to push those leads," Riley said. "We've been in that situation there for a few games in a row, but I loved our guys' fight. We fought all day, even when we didn't play our best ball, even when we had things go against us. I think we really took some steps forward as a team. We're going to play a lot better as this thing goes on. We're going to get a lot better as a team, but anytime you come out of here with a win, it's a special moment."

    Despite frequently being pressured by the Texas defense, Mayfield still completed 17 of 27 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown at least two touchdown passes in 19 consecutive games, extending his own Big 12 record.

    However, Mayfield's streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception ended at 200, breaking the previous school record of 198 set by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White in 2004. Saturday marked Mayfield's first interception since playing at West Virginia in the third-to-last game of the 2016 season.

    Mayfield, who grew up as a Sooners fan living in Austin, beat his hometown team for the second straight year, but nearly was knocked out of the game in the third quarter favoring his right arm after being hit hard on an incompletion.

    "You definitely don't want to come out," Mayfield said of leaving the game due to injury. "You'll fight through a little extra pain for this one. It was a mental decision for all of us. When you play Texas, it always takes it all out of you. You have to expect that in games like this. We talked about it as a team and made the decision last night how we were going to handle adversity and toughness like that."

    When the OU offense stepped onto the field after the team fell behind, its impact was instantaneous.

    "We approach every drive with the mentality to score," said Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "Being in that situation, we understand the meaning of that drive for the game. We just approached it with the mentality we had to score. We've got a bunch of playmakers."

    Despite running 15 fewer plays, the Sooners outgained the Longhorns 518-428 in total yardage, averaging 7.7 yards per play to UT's 5.2.

    Andrews finished with four receptions for 104 yards. Sophomore receiver Marquise Brown added four catches for 73 yards and freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb had three receptions for 74 yards. Freshman running back Trey Sermon rushed 20 times for 96 yards and sophomore running back  Rodney Anderson carried 10 times for 48 yards, including a 15-yard rush in the second quarter that put OU ahead 17-0.

    Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal led OU with seven tackles, while Okoronkwo, senior end D.J. Ward and sophomore lineman Amani Bledsoe all registered a sack. Okoronkwo has at least a half-sack in all six games and at least one full sack in five contests (6.0 on the year).

    The Sooners play at Kansas State next Saturday. Kickoff time and TV information will be announced Sunday.

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    Baker Mayfield was Texas-born, but Sooner-bred

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 12, 2017

    Deep in the heart of Texas, in the same town where locals worship burnt orange, Baker Mayfield's bedroom was drenched in crimson and cream and the interlocking OU.

    "We certainly had plenty of it," Mayfield's mother, Gina, said of collecting Oklahoma Sooners paraphernalia in the family's hometown of Austin, which is the home of the University of Texas. "Baker's room in particular was decked out in OU pillow cases, chairs, blankets and jerseys." There also was a football sent by former Sooners receiver Tinker Owens.

    Not surprisingly, the same brash quarterback who confidently has led the Sooners the past three seasons walked fearlessly among Texas Longhorns supporters as a youngster while boldly draped in an OU T-shirt, shorts, sweatshirt, jersey or cap.

    Older brother Matt recalled him and his little brother wearing Sooners gear while posing for their elementary class pictures. "I always seemed to have something OU on," Baker recalled. "It was something fun to talk about with my friends."

    Baker would flash the upside-down Hook 'em Horns sign, even when he was too young to understand what the hand gesture meant. "Not the true meaning of it anyway," Baker said with a smile. "I thought it was all fun and games, but it means so much more than that."

    Stunned classmates would ask Baker how he possibly could side with the hometown's Red River rival. "They just wouldn't understand the reasons why," Baker said, shaking his head.

    "The local kids would always make comments," Gina said. "Baker and Matt endured that for quite a while."

    The Mayfield cars were adorned with OU window flags. Many who surrounded the family wearing burnt orange actually were friends. Chris Petrucelli, the husband of one of Gina's closest friends, used to be UT's soccer coach.

    "Our neighbors don't go out to the mailbox without wearing their orange," Gina said. "They bleed orange. They have boys Baker's age. That just fueled all of it."

    Baker got into arguments with schoolmates about the OU-Texas rivalry. "Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Baker explained. "Just little kids being stupid, bickering back and forth. It was about bragging rights for the whole year until the next rematch."

    "We always, always loved OU," said Matt, who is five years older than Baker. "Even more so now with Baker there."

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    It's Iowa State week, time for Dimitri Flowers to bloom

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 5, 2017

    In a routine game, Oklahoma senior fullback Dimitri Flowers continually will block opposing players and create opportunities for teammates. He also might catch an occasional pass or two. Whatever his duty, Flowers' effectiveness and timeliness are habitually impeccable.

    There has been nothing routine about Flowers whenever the Sooners face Iowa State, however.

    During his freshman season three years ago, Flowers gained all 14 of his career rushing yards to that point on an option pitch past the line of scrimmage from quarterback Trevor Knight at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Despite the gain, Flowers was not credited with an official carry due to the nature of the play.

    On OU's first play from scrimmage against the Cyclones two years ago in Norman, Flowers hauled in a 75-yard touchdown on a reverse pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield. Flowers caught the ball near midfield and sprinted into the end zone untouched.

    In the Sooners' 34-24 victory at Iowa State last season, Flowers rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries (5.2-yard average) and added four receptions for 34 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown catch. His 22 rushes were the first of his career.

    Last year's stunning performance was particularly timely given OU was without starting running back Samaje Perine (injury) and leading rusher Joe Mixon (one-game suspension). Adding to the challenge was it came during a short week of preparation for a nationally televised Thursday night game on ESPN.

    "We didn't have a ton of prep time," recalled first-year OU head coach Lincoln Riley, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last two seasons. "We knew about Samaje's injury. We didn't find out we were not going to have Joe until maybe the day before the game. We really just pieced it together, honestly. I remember it was challenging just because taking Dimitri out of his normal world changes a lot of other parts, too. ... We had to push it together. Had we not had the experience that we've had together as a staff, it would have been a nightmare."

    Asked if there was any playful banter inside the huddle when he continued to grind out yardage (his longest rush was 13 yards) against the Cyclones, Flowers said, "No, but a lot of people didn't think I could do it. They were like, 'Wow, I didn't know you could do that.' Of course, I just had that smirk on my face."

    One of those non-believers was his own quarterback, who didn't think Flowers could do what he did with such little preparation at a different position.

    "I never would have imagined it going that smoothly," Mayfield admitted. "He's done a lot of things for us being able to react and he's such a smart player. I probably should have realized that could happen. He really took over the game. ... That's a lot of stuff to learn, but I think he already had a good idea just because of how smart he was."

    In three career games against the Cyclones, Flowers has 129 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In his 40 other career games, he has 8 rushing yards, 481 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

    "It's crazy to think about because it's not like it was planned like that," Flowers said of consistently making his mark against Iowa State. "It's just something that kind of happens. It's pretty cool."

    Flowers' final showdown against the Cyclones (2-2, 0-1) comes Saturday at 11 a.m. when the No. 3-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0) welcome ISU to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Though his contributions rarely draw the spotlight because of the position Flowers plays, his value is undeniable. Flowers frequently is referred to as the team's "Swiss army knife," a moniker he cherishes.

    "I'm not just a fullback," Flowers said. "I feel I'm more of a hybrid, H-back type of guy. It kind of goes hand-in-hand. Technically, am I a fullback? Yes, but I think I can do a lot more than be just a fullback."

    When it comes to his competitiveness and determination, Flowers attributes these traits to his father, Erik, an Arizona State defensive end/linebacker and a first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the Buffalo Bills in 2000 who played five seasons in the NFL.

    Throw in Flowers' sense of humor and unselfishness and it's darn near impossible to not like the kid. These traits come from Flowers himself. "That's just how I am as a person," Flowers explained. "It just translates to everyone."

    Flowers no doubt has confidence in his abilities. The manner in which he playfully expresses this often leaves teammates and coaches laughing.

    In August, Flowers proudly proclaimed himself OU's second-best quarterback, just a skosh behind Mayfield, a three-time Heisman Trophy contender. If Flowers wasn't already busy starting at fullback, he said he'd like to be the Sooners' starting quarterback.

    Informed of this revelation during this week's media luncheon, a stunned Mayfield couldn't suppress his laughter.

    "Did he actually say that? He'd have to stop eating cake and desserts if he wanted to do that," Mayfield said of the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Flowers. "I'm not one who lacks confidence, but Dimitri is definitely not one who lacks that either."

    Mayfield said he heard stories of Flowers' athleticism from former OU teammates Trevor and Connor Knight, who played high school baseball against Flowers in San Antonio. "He's a good athlete, don't get me wrong," Mayfield said of Flowers. "I'm sure if he spent time and effort into playing quarterback, he would actually be pretty good, which is the sad part about that and I might actually have to worry about my job. Luckily, we have a place for him and he's catching the ball and on the receiving end of that."

    Would Flowers rather have 10 carries in a game or 10 catches?

    "Oooh, can I go five and five?" asked Flowers, who eventually chose having 10 catches.

    "He'll take just 10 touches with the ball," Mayfield said. "He loves to have the ball in his hands, which I can't blame him. He's good with it."

    This being Iowa State week, perhaps Flowers can continue to show his versatility with an opportunity to throw the rarely executed fullback option pass.

    Flowers smiled and said, "Hey, can't give away any of our secrets."

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    Is bringing Melo off the bench such a crazy idea?

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Sept. 26, 2017

    Financially speaking, it would be crazy to trade for a 10-time NBA All-Star, pay him $26,243,760 this season and not even start him.

    Strategically speaking, however, bringing 33-year-old veteran forward Carmelo Anthony off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder might not be all that crazy.

    The most critical aspect to this upcoming season is how Thunder coach Billy Donovan will stagger substitutions using various combinations of reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, four-time All-Star Paul George (acquired July 6) and Anthony, who was acquired last weekend.

    Anthony could come off the bench quickly, of course, after the first five or six minutes or so.

    If the Thunder’s opponent happens to take an early lead, they’ll look to the scorer’s table and think, “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.” If the opponent falls behind early, it would draw the same reaction. “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.”

    Besides, it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes.

    Through the years, the Thunder has had some lethal weaponry come off the bench, players who were non-starters for the betterment of the team. James Harden. Kevin Martin. Reggie Jackson. Dion Waiters. Enes Kanter.

    However, such scenarios only work when everyone is on-board, and Melo most definitely is not.

    During Media Day on Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman asked Anthony what he thought of starting at the 4 position or possibly coming off the bench for the Thunder rather than starting.

    Horne hadn’t even finished asking his question when Anthony interrupted.

    “Who me?” a stunned Anthony asked. “I mean I don’t know where that started, where that came from.”

    After a few more chuckles, Anthony spotted George, who was standing in the back of the interview room. A still laughing Anthony shouted at George, “Hey, P. They say I gotta come off the bench.’ [More laughter] … No, I’m sorry. Go ahead (with your questioning).”

    The Thunder practiced for the first time on Tuesday. After being reminded Anthony laughed at the thought of not starting, Donovan was asked if the plausibility of Anthony coming off the bench was a laughable notion.

    “We’re going to probably maybe bring him in the start of the fourth quarter,” Donovan joked. “Nah, he’s going to start at the power forward spot for us. That’s what we’re going to do. He’s obviously been in this league for a long time. I think he’s a total pro. … Certainly, I think having a guy with that kind of veteran experience and leadership on the court and in the locker room is important. Yeah, I think that’s the best thing for our team.”

    So, there you go. Asked and answered. From both sides.

    In 14 seasons, Anthony has played 976 regular-season games and 66 postseason games, and has started every one. Based on his Media Day response, he has no intention of ending the string now.

    No one knows exactly how well, or how quickly, the Thunder’s three-headed monster of Westbrook, George and Anthony is going to mesh.

    There’s a chance OKC’s starting lineup of Westbrook, George, Anthony, center Steve Adams and off-guard Andre Roberson will demoralize opponents from the opening jump. Then again, perhaps not.

    With a shortened preseason (only four exhibition games rather than the usual six or seven) and the regular season starting two weeks earlier than usual, it’s ludicrous to expect the Thunder’s Big 3 to be in synch from the get-go. That could take weeks or months. Heck, it possibly might never happen.

    If the trio meshes quickly, a Western Conference Finals showdown with Golden State likely awaits.

    But if the Thunder offense is slow to gain traction with Anthony in the starting lineup, who would supply a lift off the bench?

    In terms of NBA career scoring averages, 33-year-old guard Raymond Felton is the only Thunder reserve averaging double figures (11.9 ppg), but the last time he averaged double-digits in scoring was the 2012-13 season. Besides, Felton is backing up Mr. Triple-Double, and exactly how many minutes do you envision Westbrook sitting?

    This is why bringing Anthony and his career 24.8-point scoring average off the bench – at least initially before easing him into the starting lineup – doesn’t sound so crazy.

    Again, Melo must be on-board with the idea and right now he’s not about to step on the vessel SS Substitute. Then again, Donovan is not asking him to.

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    Sooners survive Bear attack to keep winning streaks alive

    Oklahoma sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly puts the clamps on Baylor in the Sooners' 49-41 victory over the Bears on Saturday night.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 24, 2017

    Oklahoma's collection of various winning streaks remained intact Saturday night. “Bearly.”

    The winless Baylor Bears were four-touchdown underdogs at home, but continually clawed at the No. 3-ranked Sooners before eventually succumbing 49-41 at McLane Stadium.

    Throughout the week, OU head coach Lincoln Riley warned that Baylor was “getting better and better” and had key players returning, which might help explain why the Bears' had 523 yards of total offense while running 26 more plays than the Sooners.

    When his team was sluggish in the first half of the previous week's home victory over Tulane, Riley delivered a succinct post-game message: “All wins are hard.”

    Riley repeated the refrain after Saturday night's survival in Waco.

    “We're very, very excited about the win,” Riley said after becoming only the third OU head football coach (out of 22) to start his career 4-0. “That was probably the biggest message to our guys in the locker room. Winning's hard. You can't take it for granted. And we're damn sure not too good to appreciate it. We've got to do a lot of things better. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better on all three sides of the ball. We had some critical mistakes tonight that let that game get close. So we've got to do a lot better, but we will.”

    After going winless in non-conference play, and despite trailing 28-10 early in the second quarter, the determined Bears (0-4, 0-1) fought back to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. The Sooners responded with a 21-0 run of their own to take a 49-31 advantage and eventually sealed the win by forcing a turnover on an Ogbo Okoronkwo sack with 1:24 remaining.

    “We hit a lot of big plays in the first quarter,” Riley explained of the Sooners needing just seven total plays to score their first three touchdowns while building a 21-7 lead. “I didn't do a very good job in the second quarter. I got a little impatient. Didn't put our guys in a great position. They made some adjustments defensively and it took me too long to catch up.”

    Several OU drives stalled with untimely penalties (10 for 105 yards), plus a fumble. “You've got to have perseverance,” Riley said. “You can't expect that every one is going to be a blowout. You're going to have tight games like that. This is a good conference.”

    The victory allowed the Sooners to keep several streaks alive:

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    Oklahoma struggles, then scores 49 straight against Tulane

    Sophomore cornerback Parnell Motley, left, and linebacker Caleb Kelly celebrate a defensive stop in Saturday's 56-14 win over Tulane.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 16, 2007

    NORMAN – In the post-game huddle after last Saturday night's 31-16 triumph at No. 2-ranked Ohio State, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley instructed his team to put the historic victory behind them because there was much more work to do this season.

    Riley feared his team might battle a football hangover while preparing for its upcoming contest against Tulane, and he was right.

    Overcoming a sluggish start to the week and an even more sluggish start to the game, the No. 2-ranked Sooners (3-0) eventually regained their focus and posted a 56-14 victory over the Green Wave (1-2) on Saturday night at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The victory stretched the nation's longest active winning streak to 13 games, which is OU's longest since winning 14 straight in 2002-03.

    "Sure, you're concerned about a letdown," Riley said afterward. "You're concerned about how they'll approach the week. I thought, for the most part, our mentality was good. We weren't at our best early in the week and I thought we started to respond a little bit as the week went on as we continued to challenge them as coaches. So I think we're growing, but we've got to understand that you've got to put together complete weeks if you want to play complete games."

    At the outset, Tulane's option offense had its way with the Sooners defense, rolling up 151 yards rushing in its first 24 attempts (6.3 yards per carry). In the pass-crazed landscape of college football, preparing for a run-oriented attack in a one-week span presents some defensive challenges.

    "They do it 365 days a year," Riley said of the Green Wave running their option attack. "Our scout team does it for four days a year. It's hard, just the speed of it initially on the first series. When you don't stop it the first time, sometimes you start trying to do things on your own and that's when you really, really get in trouble and there was some of that certainly on the second drive."

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    Ohio State win was fun, but Sooners still have work to do

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 11, 2017

    Oklahoma's 31-16 victory at No. 2-ranked Ohio State last Saturday figures to resonate throughout the rest of this season and beyond.

    Many of the Sooners' achievements were historic. There was a mile of milestones:

    • The largest crowd over to witness an OU football game (109,088) watched the Sooners erupt for 21 straight points in a span of less than eight minutes to hand Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer only his third home loss in his six seasons at the school.
    • It marked just the second time in school history OU beat a non-conference team ranked No. 1 or 2 in the Associated Press poll on the road. The previous time was in 1963 when the No. 3 Sooners beat No. 1 USC 17-12 in Bud Wilkinson's last year as head coach.
    • Quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation's premier defenses and is a Heisman Trophy contender for the third straight season. "We got beat by a good team, a very good team, and a quarterback that was dynamic," Meyer said afterward. "I thought our defense hung in there against, like I said, a very good player."
    • The Sooners were named the Football Writers Association of America's National Team of the Week and rolled up 490 total yards of offense (most by an Ohio State opponent in Columbus in five years) while handing the Buckeyes their largest margin of defeat at home since 1999. OU's 386 passing yards were the most by an OSU opponent at Ohio Stadium in 32 years.
    • The last time OU gave up fewer than 13 points to a Top-5 AP opponent was in 2004 in a 12-0 shutout over No. 5 Texas.
    • Lincoln Riley became the first Sooners head coach to defeat a Top-5 opponent in his debut season since Chuck Fairbanks beat No. 2 Tennessee at the Orange Bowl in 1970.
    • It was the Sooners' 12th straight true road win, tied for the third-longest streak in school history. OU also won 12 in a row on the road from Oct. 23, 1948 to Dec. 2, 1950.
    • The Sooners were able to avenge last year's 45-21 home loss to the Buckeyes on Sept. 17. OU hasn't lost since and owns the longest active FBS winning streak at 12 straight. The Sooners improved to 15-2 since 2009 against teams they lost to the previous season.

     

    Impressive as last Saturday night's grudge match victory was, Riley quickly turned the page. In fact, he did so immediately afterward inside his jubilant locker room.

    "I told them in there, 'We'll be disappointed if this is the highlight of our season,'" Riley said during his post-game interview session in the bowels of Ohio Stadium. "We've still got a long ways to go ... We've got to get a lot better. We've taken some positive steps. One of our early season goals was playing better early, period. But now our challenge will be to improve as we have the past two years here. Everybody's going to keep getting better and we've got to do the same."

    Riley reiterated this same attitude two days later at his weekly media luncheon as the now No. 2-ranked Sooners (2-0) prepare for Saturday's 5 p.m. home contest against Tulane (1-1).

    "We've won two games," Riley said with a shrug. "We appreciate it. We're happy about it, but there's so much more to go. We certainly didn't play perfect, by any stretch. We found a lot of things that we have to do better at as a team, but our mentality really was at a high level the whole night. We're happy that we won it, but now we've got to all move on. We've got a lot of ball left here."

    First-year OU assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill, who served as Riley's boss at Texas Tech and East Carolina, has been in college coaching since 1985 and constantly is tapping into the minds of players.

    McNeill frequently calls out "FIDO," which stands for "Forget It and Drive On."

    "Something tough happens, forget it, play (the) next play," McNeill explained last month. "Something good happens, forget it, play (the) next play. Yesterday's history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Make today a masterpiece. Once they grasp that, they'll be ready."

    The Sooners seem to have grasped McNeill's credo quite well. Riley agrees.

    Asked if he will continue to stress the importance of his players not dwelling on Saturday's unforgettable triumph, OU's head coach said, "If we're going to be the team we hope that we can be, it shouldn't be something I should have to address over and over. Our mindset should already be there. You have to be all-in each week. We were all-in as far as winning that game. Our guys really put it on the line all night, but you're only as good as your next performance."

    That next performance will come against the Green Wave, an American Athletic Conference program Riley faced as an assistant at East Carolina.

    The Sooners started last season 1-2 against non-conference opponents with a season-opening loss at Houston, a home victory over ULM and the home loss to Ohio State. This led to Riley stressing the importance of getting off to a good start this season.

    "This is still the start," Riley said of Saturday's game against Tulane. "The start for me is until we get to Big 12 play."

    That comes next Saturday at Baylor. This week, the focus is on Tulane.

    Drive on.

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    BILL SELF: From ORU, to Tulsa, to Illinois, to Kansas, to Springfield

    Okmulgee native Bill Self delivers his induction speech at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    (Reprinted from 2017 Commemorative Yearbook & Enshrinement Program)

    Sept. 8, 2017

    Bill Self was asked if he remembered what happened when his Oral Roberts team played on Dec. 2, 1994. Self paused briefly, then asked for the opponent.

    Informed it was Texas A&M, Self answered instantaneously. “It was a home game against (coach) Tony Barone and we lost on a late tip-in,” Self said, and he was correct. Hosting the Bank IV Classic at the Mabee Center, ORU overcame a 15-point deficit, but missed two attempts in the closing seconds and lost 60-58 on a tip-in with 25 seconds left.

    Asked if he recalled the significance of that game, Self deadpanned, “You mean other than losing?”

    Self’s team indeed had lost. Again. For the 18th straight time. It was a losing streak that stretched nearly 11 months, spanning the last 15 games of Self’s first season as a Division I head coach and the first three games of his second season.

    The skid mercilessly came to a halt with a victory against Appalachian State the night after losing to Texas A&M. Self’s team promptly lost four of the next five, closed out the season by losing five straight, then started his third season with a two-game losing streak.

    At this point, Self’s career record stood at 16-40 (.286). Though he was employed at a parochial institution, Self’s immediate future as a coach didn’t appear to have much of a prayer.

    Early struggles were anticipated, however. ORU had just completed a two-year process of dropping its brief NAIA status to re-qualify for its previous NCAA Division I standing as an independent.

    Self had spent the seven previous seasons serving as an assistant coach at his alma mater of Oklahoma State, roughly 70 miles west. His first four seasons (two as a part-time assistant) came under Leonard Hamilton and the last three were full-time stints for Eddie Sutton, whose powerful influence essentially clinched a 30-year-old Self getting hired at Oral Roberts.

    Back then, painted across each baseline on the court inside the Mabee Center was the message “Expect a Miracle.” It was Sutton who playfully suggested to Self that the court’s baseline message be changed to “It’s Going to Take a Miracle.”

    With such a precarious start, there was no telling where Self’s fledgling career was headed. He certainly didn’t seem destined for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., but here he is at the tender age of 54.

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    No longer boxed in, Emmanuel Beal returns to Columbus

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Sept. 7, 2017

    A pint-sized Emmanuel Beal thought boxing might be his destiny while growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Beal was determined, energetic, tough and athletic, but he also was on the small side. Boxing was the best opportunity to hit somebody his own size, plus Beal could reap the tutelage of his uncle and older cousin, who both competed in Golden Gloves.

    Beal recalled he had to cut his workout short in the gym because he had a football scrimmage that same day. A fifth-grader at the time, Beal knew he had to choose between boxing and football. The fact Beal, OU's starting weakside linebacker, returned as the Sooners' leading tackler from last season proves he chose wisely.

    There have been a lifetime of decisions for Beal since his retirement from the sweet science, however.

    In the middle of seventh grade, though none of Beal’s siblings wanted to do so, his family moved from Michigan to Ohio. “That’s a point where you start building relationships with friends and people, then you just up and move,” Beal said. “None of my brothers and sisters wanted to leave, but it literally was for our best interests.”

    Beal’s first year of varsity football was his sophomore season in high school. “Physically, my coaches saw something there,” Beal said. “I guess I was good. Looking back, I guess I could say I was all right at it. I guess it was my way of seeing the ball. I just see the ball and go get it.”

    Beal’s performance in the classroom was not all right, however. Michigan State ended its recruitment of Beal when they looked at his grades. Torn what to do next, Beal decided to leave football and wound up working at a gas station and in a factory. “I spent a year outside of football,” Beal said. “Then I was like, ‘I don’t like working.’”

    Beal looked for a junior college located close to home. With no NJCAA programs in Ohio, Beal said his closest option was Lackawanna College, located 475 miles away in Scranton, Pa. “When I got accepted (as a student), I was there the next day as a walk-on (for football),” Beal said. “I just felt if you really want something, nobody can stop you from getting to where you need to go.”

    Beal didn’t physically work out during his one-year retirement, but his love of football never waned. “I thought about football every day,” Beal said. “I literally watched every game of college football and I was like, ‘Man, I can do that.’ It just drove me even more to get back into football.”

    Though he weighed shy of 200 pounds, Beal played defensive end his first season at Lackawanna and switched to outside linebacker the following year. Beal said the move “wasn’t that tough a change,” the primary difference being whether he took his stance with a hand in the dirt.

    Beal’s first major-college scholarship offer out of junior college came from Akron in Ohio. His first offer from a Power Five conference came from OU, although Beal admitted he was naïve about the Sooners. “I just knew they were good at football. That’s all I knew,” Beal said. “And when you’re in juco, whatever school you think you could play at – or whatever school that offers you – you just take it.”

    Thing is, OU initially didn’t have Beal in mind when studying players from Lackawanna. Sooners offensive lineman Ashton Julious and running back Marcelias Sutton also played for the Falcons.

    “We were actually looking at some other players on his team when he showed up on film,” OU inside linebacker coach Tim Kish said of Beal. “Very athletic, great speed off the edge. He was really more of an outside linebacker than he was a true inside linebacker. (We) couldn’t pass up that athleticism. On film, he showed us great instincts for playing on the defensive side of the ball. It was a no-brainer to us at that time to get involved with him, and thank goodness we did.”

    Beal played in all 13 games last season and started the final 10 after replacing injured Tay Evans. Beal finished with 81 total tackles, second only to fellow linebacker Jordan Evans, who is now with the NFL Cincinnati Bengals.

    Just like in his youth, Beal remains determined, energetic, tough and athletic. He also remains on the small side for the position he plays. Listed at 6-foot, 218 pounds, he has gained roughly 15 pounds since arriving at OU.

    “I’ve been hearing that my whole life,” Beal said of being undersized. “It’s like, ‘OK, so what’s new?’ I’m accustomed to playing against bigger people. It really wasn’t a problem to me. It was something I was used to. It just goes in one ear and out the other, honestly … I don’t care what people say. At the end of the day it’s football. Size really doesn’t matter in football. If you worry about size, then you’ve already lost.”

    Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who goes 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, often collides with Beal in practice and there’s much respect on both sides. “The impact he made was immediate,” Brown said of Beal. “I think our coaches trust him a lot. The energy level and emotion that he plays with gets everybody going around him from a defensive standpoint or even an offensive standpoint. He’s really physical. He’s a lot stronger than he looks. He has a really good understanding for the game, too. He’s really quick, he’s really fast, which I think is really important. If you’re going to be an undersized guy, you’re going to have to be overly fast. As far as I know, he’s pretty much in the top tier in speed and athleticism for his position.”

    Beal said playing smart is his equalizer. He might have struggled in the classroom earlier in life, but being a student of football hasn’t been a problem. “I became smarter than what most people think,” Beal said. “When you are undersized, you’ve got to be smarter than a lot of other people. You’ve got to study two times harder than other people. You have to know where you have to be when the ball is snapped. I think that’s what got me here. I studied a lot. When I look back, it’s just amazing to me how everything has happened.”

    Kish has become close to Beal and respects the path he took before coming to Norman. “It’s to his credit to have that character and that drive and that willpower to want to do something really positive with his life and for his family,” Kish said of Beal. “He chose to go back to school, which we’re certainly glad he did.”

    How has Beal endured? “To me, it’s pretty simple,” Kish said. “It’s his drive. It’s his motivation. He’s been a team guy since he’s been here. He’s not real talkative at times, but when he does speak, people listen. When he first got here, the enthusiasm when he went out there had was second to none. He might as well have been a freshman coming in. He just tried to fit in and be a part of the team and help out any way he could. His drive was there. His motivation was there. It is an amazing journey.”

    Although this is Beal’s second and final season with the Sooners, he quickly became close to his new teammates. These benefits have been evident all week as the No. 5-ranked Sooners prepare for their showdown against No. 2-ranked Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday back in Beal’s hometown of Columbus.

    “Because he’s going home, we’re all going to play that much harder because that’s my brother and I want him to get a win in Columbus,” senior defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said.

    In addition to Beal, junior offensive lineman Alex Dalton, freshman long snapper Kasey Kelleher, defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Mike Stoops and Kish all hail from the Buckeye State. “I tell you, from our leaders to our scout team, everyone is dialed in on this game,” Beal said. “Not only are they doing it for me, they’re doing it for themselves, their families, the good of the program, the coaches and the staff.”

    “We always talk about those type of things,” OU senior strong safety Steven Parker said of teammates returning to their home areas. “We chat about it throughout the week, but there’s going to be a lot more chatter this week because of all those guys going back to Ohio.”

    Interestingly, Beal never cared about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry while growing up in Grand Rapids. All that changed when he relocated to Columbus, but it was never Beal’s dream to play for the Buckeyes. His family’s allegiance instead was for their old home state, not their new one.

    “I wouldn’t say ‘hate,’ but that’s when the dislike really came (toward Ohio State). That’s literally what happened,” Beal said with a chuckle. “An Ohio State fan will argue with you all day long.”

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    Baker Mayfield spreads the wealth in season-opening rout

    Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 19 of 20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 56-7 season-opening win over UTEP.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Sept. 2, 2017

    Last month, Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield tweeted the following: "Y'all are going to have to show some respect for my receivers. People saying I don't have help, say what you want about me. Not my guys."

    Mayfield sent the tweet on Aug. 9. He delivered the message with conviction — and with a lot of help from those same receivers — during a scintillating first-half performance in Saturday's season-opening 56-7 rout of UTEP at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Mayfield completed 19 of 20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns before intermission. He completed his first 16 pass attempts, which is the best start to a game in school history. Throw in his final five attempts in last year's Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn and Mayfield completed 21 straight passes, which fell one shy of a school record.

    Mayfield showcased his surrounding talent by spreading the wealth. His first 14 completions went to 10 different receivers. "There's a reason I spoke out and took up for them because I know what they're capable of," Mayfield said of this year's lesser-known teammates. "They're great players."

    The Sooners' offensive debut under new head coach Lincoln Riley was remarkable considering OU's offense lost three standout players who combined for a staggering 2,435 rushing yards, 2,168 receiving yards, 844 kick return yards and 47 touchdowns last season.

    Gone are the school's all-time rushing leader in Samaje Perine (4,122 career yards), the school's single-season all-purpose yardage record holder in Joe Mixon (1,274 rushing yards; 538 receiving yards; 519 return yards; 2,331 total yards; 194.2 per-game average) and Dede Westbrook (80 receptions; 1,524 yards; 19.0 per-catch average; 17 touchdowns), who was selected as the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's outstanding receiver.

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    The Sooners' Life of Riley is upon us

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 31, 2017

    Bob Stoops said he felt prepared going into his first game as Oklahoma's head football coach in September 1999, but he still had some anxiety.

    “I was always anxious before games,” Stoops admitted. “Not so much nervous, but it's hard to pace yourself. You just want to get out there and play the game. You want it to begin. It was kind of always that way. You get up in the morning and it's hard to pace yourself so you're not worn out by the time the game gets here.”

    Meanwhile, Barry Switzer was his usual confident self before his debut as the Sooners' head coach 44 years ago, even though media had picked his team to finish fourth in the 1973 Big Eight Conference preseason poll behind Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri. Switzer didn't see it that way and made his point with a simple roll call inside the OU locker room after practice.

    “I told our guys, ‘Whoever is going to be Big Eight champion is going to be the second-best team in this league because we're going to kick their (tails),'” Switzer recalled. “Hey, I want to know something. Lee Roy Selmon, are you in here? Dewey Selmon, you here? Rod Shoate? Jimbo Elrod? Randy Hughes? I started calling out all these names and they all said, ‘Yeah, coach. I'm here.' I said, ‘OK, just checking. I read where we weren't going to be worth a damn. Heck, (previous coach) Chuck Fairbanks is the only one who's left.' They all died laughing.”

    Lincoln Riley's first game as the Sooners' head coach arrives Saturday when OU hosts UTEP at 2:30 at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    The most impactful ingredient for any new head coach is what he inherits. In this regard, Stoops' transition at OU was vastly different than what transpired with Switzer and Riley.

    Already on staff, Switzer and Riley simply had to change offices when they became the head man. Switzer was the Sooners' assistant head coach/offensive coordinator under Fairbanks, who left for the NFL's New England Patriots. Riley was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach before moving into Stoops' freshly completed office that was part of the $160-million renovation project in the south end zone.

    “You realize the magnitude of the job the second they say. ‘It's you,'” Stoops said of the day he was tabbed by OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. “I realized I had to get to work immediately.”

    Wife Carol Stoops returned to Florida after her husband's introductory news conference while Stoops remained in Norman with no change of clothes. He quickly gathered a new wardrobe at Harold's. When it came to recruiting, Stoops already knew of Tuttle High School standout quarterback Jason White, who became his first visit. Stoops didn't return home to Gainesville until Christmas break when the recruiting period went dead.

    “Those first few weeks were like a blur to me between recruiting, hiring a staff, yada yada, yada,” Stoops explained.

    A far more pressing issue for Stoops was inheriting a downtrodden team coming off the worst four-year span in school history. One of college football's premier programs had gone a combined 17-27-1 (.389) with no bowl appearances the previous four seasons under Howard Schnellenberger (5-5-1) and John Blake (12-22-0). A massive overhaul was required.

    “The biggest adjustment for me was the amount of decisions,” Stoops said. “It was a hundred decisions a day. Sometimes it felt like a decision a minute. ‘How are we going to do this; how are we going to do that; how are we getting to the game; where are we going to stay; what's the schedule for game day; where are we practicing; how do we take the field; how do we stretch; when do we hold meetings?' What I couldn't believe was how many decisions need to be made in a day.”

    At the other end of the spectrum, Switzer took over a program that had gone 22-2 the previous two seasons and had finished No. 2 each year in the Associated Press polls.

    “My situation was totally different than Bob because I was inheriting a great football team,” said Switzer, who doubled his salary from $12,000 to $24,000 when he became head coach. “I had been with these players, had coached these players. I was so ingrained, so attuned with everyone. I knew we were going to kick the hell out of everybody. I knew we were good. I was never concerned. Bob and I were two different scenarios completely. Lincoln steps into a better situation than Bob did. Lincoln and I both stepped into great situations.”

    Not only were Switzer, Stoops and Riley hired as first-time head coaches, each was young at the time.

    Stoops was 37 years, 83 days old when he was introduced on Dec. 1, 1998. His first game was a 49-0 victory at home against Indiana State on Sept. 11, 1999.

    Switzer was 35 years, 116 days old when he replaced Fairbanks on Jan. 29, 1973. His first game was a 42-14 victory at Baylor on Sept. 15, 1973.

    Riley was 33 years, 275 days old when he was appointed as Stoops' successor on June 7, 2017. Saturday's debut comes three days before Riley's 34th birthday.

    Curiosity might have been Stoops' most prominent emotion entering his first game as head coach. “I was very curious,” Stoops said. “I felt good, but you still have to see it.” As for the anxiety, Stoops said he felt that every season opener. “I'm always the most anxious in the first game because it's always a new team, but this (1999) was really a new team,” Stoops said. “I had never been on the field with them. You didn't know if practices and scrimmages were going to carry onto the field. You still have to see it happen. There's always new pieces. Anxious to see what are we really going to be like.”

    What did Stoops feel most secure about? “It was pretty much the same thing we emphasized over 18 years,” Stoops said. “There's no substitute for it. You have to play hard, play smart and above all else, you've got to be tough and physical. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, ‘It takes no talent to be those three things.' You'll win a helluva lot more than you'll lose if you're those three things. To be honest with you, I started with that and I don't ever remember not emphasizing it.”

    Stoops' first team went 7-5, capped with a 27-25 loss to Mississippi on a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the Independence Bowl in what would be his worst record as the Sooners' head coach. Stoops said he didn't have a certain won-loss record in mind prior to his first season at OU. “But I had a bowl game in mind, for sure,” he said. “Can't remember when I hadn't been (in a bowl game) at that point. A bowl game was, for sure, a must in my eyes.”

    Stoops retired having advanced to 24 consecutive bowl games as an assistant with Kansas State (1993-95) and Florida (1996-98) and his entire tenure leading the Sooners (1999-2016).

    “The whole year, we were learning,” Stoops said of the 1999 season. “We had some games we were ahead, but didn't know how to finish. In the middle part of the year, we really had to emphasize how to handle a lead. These guys hadn't been in the lead a bunch lately. That was another wake-up call for coaches, another point we really had to hammer home and not take it for granted that they understand it. We were up 16 at Notre Dame. Up 17 against Texas. Guys were smiling and giggling and we still had three more quarters to go. Then we started to close games out.”

    In Stoops' second season, OU began No. 19 in the preseason poll, had risen to No. 1 by the Oct. 29 poll and captured the school's seventh national crown with a 13-0 season and a 13-2 victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Stoops followed with a combined 47-7 record the next four seasons and reached the national title game two more times.

    “It was the coaching that made the difference,” Switzer said of Stoops' immediate impact. “As soon as I saw them play, I knew they had it all in place. I thought, ‘These guys know what they're doing. This is different than what I've seen before.' ”

    As impressive as Stoops' start was with the Sooners, Switzer's was even more astonishing.

    His first team, picked fourth in that 1973 preseason Big Eight poll, wound up finishing 10-0-1 overall and 7-0 in conference play and dominated preseason conference favorites Nebraska (27-0), Colorado (34-7) and Missouri (31-3).

    After his debut victory at Baylor, Switzer then played top-ranked and defending national champion USC to a 7-7 tie at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Switzer went 29-0-1 before suffering his first loss and was 37-1-2 with back-to-back national championships before suffering his second loss.

    Again, none of this came as a surprise to Switzer. “You know what you are,” said Switzer, who would win a third national championship in 1985. “Coaches more than anybody know what their team's abilities are, what their talents are, the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent. It comes down to you playing better than they do. If you do, you have a chance to win. Coaches know that better than anybody. I knew going in if somebody was better than we were. Most of the time we were better than they were. After the game, it was time to get on to the next one. Coaches and players approach games totally different than fans.”

    With his 157-29-4 overall record, Switzer retains the highest winning percentage (.837) of any OU football coach and now laughs that he and Stoops are “about to be in the stands to do ‘Friday Night Lights' together.” Stoops' twin sons, seniors, and Switzer's grandson, a sophomore, are on the same high school team this season.

    When Stoops retired almost three months ago, he left as the program's winningest coach with a 190-48 (.798) overall record, 10 Big 12 Conference championships and 14 10-win seasons. Much like when Switzer took the reins, Riley appears to have inherited a thoroughbred.

    When his first game as a head coach approached, did Stoops telephone Switzer or former Florida boss Steve Spurrier for some calming last-minute advice? “Nah,” Stoops said. “At that point, none of those guys can help you. You're ready. I was ready for it. I had been in a lot of big games before that, just like Lincoln has. It doesn't change. Lincoln knows what to do. He's ready for it.”

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    BOB TWAY: Out of the bunker and into the Hall of Fame

    Bob Tway holed this bunker shot to win the 1986 PGA Championship. Now he's headed into the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Golf Oklahoma Magazine

    Aug. 18, 2017

    On the 72nd hole of the 1986 PGA Championship at the Inverness Club in Akron, Ohio, Bob Tway pulled out his sand wedge and promptly used it to harpoon the “Great White Shark.”

    In one of the most magical moments in golf history, Tway holed out for birdie from a greenside bunker and slayed Australian shark enthusiast Greg Norman, who would go on to be inflicted with multiple scars while battling to win major championships throughout his Hall of Fame career.

    For Tway, the sequence was part of a magnificent season during which he posted four victories, 13 Top-10 and 21 Top-25 finishes that resulted in his peers selecting him PGA Tour Player of the Year.

    The PGA wasn’t the only major championship where Tway excelled in 1986. He tied for eighth in that year’s Masters, five strokes behind 46-year-old legend Jack Nicklaus, who captured his sixth Green Jacket. In that year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills (N.Y.) Golf Club, Tway was the first-round leader and trailed by two strokes entering the final round. He double-bogeyed the par-5 16th and bogeyed the 17th to again tie for eighth, five strokes behind winner Raymond Floyd.

    In just his second full season on the PGA Tour, the 27-year-old Tway already had accomplished more than most pro golfers achieve in a lifetime. These achievements helped make Tway an obvious choice for the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame. Oddly enough, as these prolific performances accumulated 31 years ago, Tway said he didn’t fully comprehend what he had accomplished.

    “At the time, you don’t realize it all, to tell you the truth,” Tway admitted. “I knew it was great to win a major and I was playing against all these great players, but I was still so young and naïve. I guess I didn’t know any better.”

    Astonishingly, Tway remains the only OSU golfer ever to win a major championship on the PGA Tour, this despite the Cowboys having 10 national championships (eight under longtime coach Mike Holder) and 55 more All-American selections than any other Division I program all-time.

    Asked what the key is to excelling in major championships, Tway chuckled and said, “Oh, who knows, really. It’s funny, the reason I changed my swing so much is because I never thought I drove the ball well enough to win a U.S. Open. And looking over my career, I finished in the Top 10 in the U.S. Open more than any other major (four times). It doesn’t make any sense. I thought the Masters would be great for me, but I finished Top 10 one time. I thought the British Open would be fantastic for me. Again, I finished in the Top 10 one time. My only Top 10 in the PGA Championship was the year I won it. It just doesn’t make sense. It just shows you what golf is. It’s kind of strange.”

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    Role has changed, but Lincoln Riley remains the same

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 7, 2017

    It's hard to fathom how a 33-year-old could remain unchanged after being handed the reins to one of the nation's premier college football programs, but such appears to be the case with new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley.

    "He hasn't changed at all," said senior quarterback and two-time top-four Heisman Trophy vote-getter Baker Mayfield, who has spent more time with Riley than any OU player since Riley arrived in January 2015 as the Sooners' new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He's the same guy. He's a humble guy. He's knows exactly why he's here and how he got here. He's worked very, very hard. He's paid attention to people around him."

    Mayfield smiled and shared the following example of how Riley has remained unchanged: "I think it took (senior wide receiver) Jeffery Mead razzing him for three weeks for him (Riley) to finally get a new car," Mayfield said.

    Mead confirmed the story, saying he prodded Riley every three or four days about getting a new set of wheels. Mead said he didn't specify which car Riley should get, but did tell his new head coach, "'You're our boss, so I want you to drive something nice.' Coach Riley does not care (about material things)."

    Riley finally caved and swapped his Toyota 4Runner for a new Cadillac Escalade. "That's nice," Mead said approvingly.

    Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal nodded his approval and said, "Oh, yeah. That's a big-boy truck."

    Affable senior fullback Dimitri Flowers is on a first-name basis with his new head coach. Actually, he's on a half-first-name basis, playfully referring to Riley as "Linc" while simultaneously propping himself up as "probably the second-best quarterback on the team." Riley's reaction to Flowers' quarterback proclamation? "He really didn't acknowledge it," Flowers admitted quietly.

    Though there is an undeniable comfort zone that surrounds Riley, other players aren't quite as bold as Flowers — no matter how physically intimidating they are. "I call him 'Coach Riley,'" 6-foot-8, 345-pound junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I am not going to call him 'Linc.'"

    Senior defensive end D.J. Ward said, "Maybe down the line I'll call him 'Linc,' or come up with another nickname. But for now, I'm sticking with 'Coach Riley.'"

    Riley became the nation's youngest FBS head coach on June 7 and the 22nd head coach in OU history following the sudden retirement of 18-year coach Bob Stoops. Riley will follow in the massive footsteps of Stoops (190-48 overall record; .798 winning percentage), who captured a national championship in just his second season with the Sooners (2000). The Stoops era also produced 10 Big 12 Conference crowns, 14 seasons of 10-plus victories and a bowl appearance every year.

    The Riley regime is fresh off its first week of practice, which consisted of six sessions from Monday through Saturday. Though it's a small sample size, players said Riley already has set an overriding tone of physicality and intensity.

    "He's a fiery guy and he's always been a fiery guy," junior tight end Mark Andrews said, "but now we're seeing him instill that into everybody. He's a competitor and he wants us to be competitors and he doesn't expect anything less than that. Every day, we have to come out and compete. And if we don't, we know we're not going to play. That's just how it is now."

    Riley was weaned on the opposite side of the ball as Stoops. Since his days as Texas Tech student assistant in 2003, Riley has served as an offensive assistant while Stoops remained on the defensive side from 1983-1998 at Iowa, Kent State, Kansas State and Florida before taking over at OU in December 1998.

    "That's the thing," senior defensive back Steven Parker said of the seemingly unflappable Riley. "He's so cool, he's getting along with both sides of the ball. Everyone respects him as a coach and as a person. Coach Riley, he brings that intensity that we need to get off to a fast start. Just throughout camp, we've had so much competition. I can definitely say this is one of the most intense and most fun fall camps I've been a part of."

    Flowers joked offensive players are somewhat jealous they now must share Riley with the rest of the team. "It's actually kind of cool (to see him yelling at other people), but at the same time, he's cheering on the defense when they make a good play," Flowers said. "We're like, 'No, you can't do that. You were here (with the offense) first. Remember that.' It's great to see him do all those things and it's really cool to see him taking on that different role."

    Junior offensive lineman Dru Samia: "It kind of feels weird when Coach Riley tells the defense, 'Good job getting a pick or getting a fumble.' But it's cool. I'm glad that he's in the position that he's in. I think he's handled it super well."

    Senior offensive lineman Erick Wren: "Yeah, we are jealous. He's our coach, but that just lets you know what type of guy he is. He's a stand-up guy. In my eyes, this is one of the best head coaches I've ever played for."

    Mayfield joked of Riley, "He forgets about us (offensive players). We're the little people now." Mayfield immediately pleaded for reporters not to mention what he had just said. "Nah, just kidding," he said. "Don't actually put that in there."

    Mayfield admitted sharing Riley with the entire team is a bit of an adjustment for offensive players. "It's a little different," Mayfield said. "We just have to be a little more responsible."

    The Sooners' current level of talent, experience and leadership are among the many reasons Stoops felt this was an opportune time for Riley to drive an Escalade.

    Riley said he now works "all three sides of the ball. If there's a special-teams period, I'm going to be there. Defensively, I'll pick my spots. It varies each day."

    "He kind of stays in his lane when it comes to the defense," Parker said of Riley. "He checks in that we're doing our job."

    Riley has retained his role as quarterbacks coach while adding his new responsibilities of overseeing the defense, special teams, coaching staff, managers and office personnel. Riley has gone from managing roughly 50 people to approximately three times that many. "There's certainly more to keep track of," Riley admitted. "There's more things running through your head."

    Has Riley been overwhelmed by it all? Certainly doesn't seem like it.

    "Same guy. Same guy, for sure," senior linebacker/defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. "We know everything he says is for a reason."

    Riley passes credit unto others while explaining his velvet transition to head coach. "The people around me in the program have handled it so well," Riley said. "That's made it smooth on me. I've enjoyed kind of diving into the different parts of it. I love the Xs and Os and coaching in the field, but I enjoy all the other parts of it, too."

    Riley assumed control of a national powerhouse without the benefit of running his own spring practice.

    He has been submerged in work since replacing Stoops. In addition to acquainting himself with an entire roster rather than just leading offensive players, Riley also dove head-first into recruiting, hired new assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill (his former boss at Texas Tech and East Carolina), granted a slew of media requests (which included Big 12 Media Days last month in Frisco, Texas), partook in Meet the Sooners Day with fans on Saturday at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which was followed by the team's annual media day in the stadium.

    Riley said his winning expectations remain unchanged as head coach. "I feel the same amount that I did as the OC," Riley said. "You feel that at this place. It's not really anything that needs to be said. As a coach, I felt it the first time I walked in the door. I felt it when I came to interview here."

    Perhaps most impressive, players agree the attributes they appreciated about Riley as an assistant have remained unchanged as head coach.

    Mayfield said he has kept the same sales pitch whenever discussing Riley. "That's the thing I've always said to recruits and to anybody else. 'The person you meet is the person you're going to get as a coach,'" Mayfield said. "That's the most special thing you can get because you can build a relationship with him and it will be there throughout all phases of life."

    Flowers said, "He's absolutely the same (person), and that's one of the things that I appreciate about him. He's stayed true. Whether we've had success after the game, whether we lost the game, he's been the same person."

    "I don't think anything's changed about him, but I think his greatest attribute is relating to the players," Samia said. "He's a young guy, but he's also one of the smartest people I've been around. He's able to relate to the players and still get the job done."

    Ward describes Riley as "a great listener. Most people think you probably can't talk to your head coach, but you can say anything to Coach Riley. He'll hear you out."

    Okoronkwo echoed Ward and particularly appreciates Riley's open-door policy. "He's ready to listen to you anytime, any problem you have," Okoronkwo said. "Even if there's not a problem, he's ready just to talk. His door is open."

    "I like his swagger," Beal said. "That's his swag and no one's going to change it for him. He can take this step on his own. In the back of my mind, I always thought he would make a good head coach."

    Parker said of Riley, "What I appreciate most is just the way he handles things. Basically, it's the same as Coach Stoops, but it's a little bit more hands-on."

    Meanwhile, Wren's admiration for his new head coach is multi-faceted. "The way he goes about things is a great example of how to be a man in life," Wren said.

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    Looking for an early season lift, OU hoops team heads Down Under

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 4, 2017

    When the Oklahoma men's basketball team heads Down Under on a 12-day, four-game venture, the trip will offer many benefits. The most beneficial aspect came before the Sooners even boarded the plane.

    Teams are permitted 10 practices in preparation for overseas trips. Under normal circumstances, a team is not allowed to commence formal practices until 42 days prior to its first competition, which meant OU would have waited until Oct. 1 this season. Thanks to this trip to New Zealand and Australia, the Sooners opted to spread practice sessions from July 9 through last Wednesday.

    This is particularly beneficial when your roster features just one senior and four newcomers. It's also incredibly handy when a team can't wait to turn the page after an indescribably frustrating 2016-17 season (11-20 overall; 5-13 in Big 12 Conference) that featured nine losses of two possessions (six points) or less.

    “Last year was an eye-opener,” OU seventh-year coach Lon Kruger said. “It was kind of humbling from the standpoint we have to do things different, we have to do more, we have to invest. When you lose a lot of close games, you realize, ‘Hey, we've got to do more in preparation.' And that's healthy for all of us.”

    Rather than having to wallow two extra months, the Sooners were able to hit the reset button by practicing in July rather than October.

    “It certainly benefits the players,” Kruger said. “The timing for this group is especially good with new guys coming in and guys returning who will have enhanced roles over a year ago. These (pre-trip) practices have been pretty similar to what we do in October. They're much different than what we would be doing during the summer if not going on a trip when you're only allowed two hours a week with players.”

    One player expected to have an increased role will be sophomore guard Kameron McGusty, who started 17 of 31 games as a true freshman last season, averaging 24.9 minutes, 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range. In conference play, McGusty led the Sooners in scoring with 14.4-point average, shot 38.0 percent on 3-pointers and was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team.

    “We'd like to forget about last season, but at the same time, that motivates us,” McGusty said. “Nobody on our team wants to go through something like that ever again. It's what keeps us in the gym. It's what keeps us working hard. It keeps us focused in workouts and going hard in the weight room and at practice. It (stinks) that it happened, but at the same time, it's a motivator. We really can't complain. We have to live with it. You can't look at the past.”

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    MARK HAYES: No hiding his Hall-of-Fame success

    Mark Hayes won a 10-year tour exemption for his victory at the 1977 Tournament Players' Championship. (PGA Tour images)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor

    June 22, 2017

    After hiding himself underneath the familiar Amana “bucket” hat that became his signature, Mark Hayes no longer can avoid the acknowledgement he richly deserves.

    One of the greatest junior players in state history, who went on to notable collegiate, amateur, and the PGA Tour accomplishments, Hayes will become a member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame during the Oct. 1 induction ceremony at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.

    Hayes came from an athletic lineage. His father, Larry Sr., was a gifted athlete and played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Henry P. Iba at Oklahoma A&M (1945-46; 1947-49). Larry was a member of the 1946 NCAA championship team and the national runner-up team in 1949, which is the same year Mark was born.

    Larry taught all four of his sons – Larry Jr., Mark, Jim and Dan – how to play golf. Mark and Larry Jr. started at age 6 and 7, respectively. Hayes’ parents were both educators who received their doctorates from OSU so the family moved between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. In Stillwater, Mark started competing in tournaments against older kids at age 10. He remained unbeaten until age 12 when he finally experienced defeat, though only occasionally.

    For the better part of a decade, Hayes essentially served as the measuring stick for other in-state junior golfers.

    It was about age 12 when Hayes came under the tutelage of Oklahoma State golf coach and 2016 HOF inductee Labron Harris Sr. Around this same time, Hayes convinced another 12-year-old from Stillwater to take up golf. That kid was Doug Tewell, a fellow 2017 Oklahoma Golf HOF inductee who was born just 47 days after Hayes arrived on July 12, 1949. Hayes and Tewell quickly became lifelong friends/rivals.

    Tewell said he measured himself as a golfer by how well he fared against Hayes. “I think playing against Mark meant everything for my career,” Tewell said with sincerity. “We all need somebody like that who we chase, so to speak. It’s kind of like two quarterbacks – the starter and the guy who wants to start. Mark set the bar. He was so much better than the rest of us. I wanted to beat him worse than anybody, yet we were friends. I’m not sure we really knew we were rivals.”

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    DOUG TEWELL: Finds his sport, then finds the Hall of Fame

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor

    June 21, 2017

    Doug Tewell freely admits “golf just wasn’t on my radar” when he was 12 years old. He was far too busy playing football, baseball and basketball in his hometown of Stillwater in those days.

    Tewell played center in football, was a first baseman in baseball and a “benchwarmer” in basketball. “I thought my future might be in baseball,” Tewell said. “I could hit.”

    However, Tewell’s athletic journey took an entirely new path when he suffered a concussion at age 12 while playing football on Lewis Field. “My parents said, ‘That’s it for you. No more football,’ ” Tewell said. “Dad said, ‘You ought to start playing golf with me.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it and see.’ It was hard to quit all those other sports because in those days there was a lot of peer pressure to play football, basketball and baseball. Here I was joining the minor sports brigade.”

    Tewell wasn’t a complete stranger to golf, having already served as his father’s caddie. Turns out Tewell also could swing the clubs rather than just carry them. He played the game well, and it didn’t take long to discover this. “I got pretty good at it quickly because on my 13th birthday I went and played my first ever golf tournament in Okmulgee,” Tewell recalled. “I tied for second with a guy named Mark Hayes. I won the playoff.”

    Born in Baton Rouge, La., Tewell moved to Stillwater at age 11. While Tewell dove head-first into mainstream sports, Hayes began playing golf at age 6 and had become somewhat of a prodigy by the time he was 12, frequently beating older players.

    A fellow member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame class, Hayes was born roughly seven weeks before Tewell in the summer of 1949. They were in the same class while attending school, and they’ll be in the same class as HOF inductees on Oct. 1 at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.

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    Those closest to Bob Stoops share their keen insight

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 12, 2017

    Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.

    Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.

    A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.

    "It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."

    The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.

    "We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."

    Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.

    "Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."

    A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.

    “By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”

    Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.

    "Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"

    Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.

    "I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."

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    OU's deep pitching staff clinches another NCAA crown

    Junior lefthander Paige Lowary (14) helped give Patty Gasso her deepest pitching staff in 23 seasons as OU's softball coach.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 7, 2017

    Before her team began its quest to defend its 2016 NCAA crown, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew she potentially had the deepest pitching staff in her 23 seasons at OU.

    Final proof came Tuesday night when the Sooners edged Florida, 5-4, to sweep the best-of-three Championship Series at the Women's College World Series, capturing their second straight national title and their third crown in the last five seasons.

    OU's Hall of Fame coach began smiling last summer when left-handed flame-thrower Paige Lowary decided to transfer from Missouri and would have two years of eligibility with the powerhouse Sooners.

    Also arriving at OU for the 2017 season were freshmen pitchers Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and Melanie Olmos. With the arrival of this foursome, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker, who worked 59.0 percent (252.1) of her team's total innings in 2016, instantaneously had some teammates to lean on, which explains why her workload this season dipped to 43.6 percent (210.1 of 482.2 total innings).

    How apropos the Sooners claimed their fourth NCAA title under Gasso by outdueling a Gators pitching staff that led the nation with a miniscule team ERA of 0.74 this season and featured the national player of the year in Kelly Barnhill.

    Both pitching staffs were thinned out considerably the previous night in Game One, a 7-5 Sooners victory that required 17 innings, five hours and 28 minutes and 495 total pitches.

    Under these trying circumstances, Gasso knew there was a good chance her team might be able to clinch the title pitching by committee, and that's precisely what happened.

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    Sooners turn the Paige (twice) in epic WCWS Game 1

    OU pitcher Paige Lowary (middle) celebrates her team's 7-5 victory in 17 innings over Florida in Game 1 of the WCWS.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 5, 2017

    In an effort to win the longest Women's College World Series game in history, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso chose to turn the Paige not once, but twice.

    After five hours, 28 minutes, 495 pitches (333 strikes), 122 at-bats, 40 strikeouts, 31 players and 17 innings, the Sooners managed to outlast Florida with a 7-5 victory in Game One on Monday night before an appreciative crowd of 8,337 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

    Gasso threw a curve before the first pitch was even thrown by opting to start Paige Lowary rather than two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker. Lowary pitched the first five innings before being relieved by Parker. Fellow left-handed junior, Parker went 6.2 innings before being relieved by a re-entering Lowary, who wound up getting the victory after throwing 10.1 total innings.

    "Epic, epic battle," Gasso said at the outset of her team's midnight postgame interview session. "It was like two heavyweight fighters throwing punch after punch. I will never forget the pitching duo here (Lowary and Parker) and how they tag-teamed. It was an emotional, emotional rollercoaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget."

    Though the contest was nearly the equivalent of 2½ seven-inning games, the Sooners only lead the best-of-three championship series 1-0 heading into Game Two on Tuesday night at 7.

    With one more victory, OU Athletics will claim its fourth national title in the last eight weeks, joining the school's NCAA championship teams in women's gymnastics, men's gymnastics and men's golf. Oklahoma has never won four national crowns in the same semester.

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    Oklahoma softball maintains its championship mindset

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 1, 2017

    Featuring a roster with eight freshmen and four sophomores, the 2016 Oklahoma softball team won the NCAA championship much earlier than anticipated. With an apparent dynasty looming, the 2017 Sooners became just the fourth team in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll to ever be selected as a unanimous preseason No. 1.

    Oddly enough, this year's OU team is even younger overall than last year's champs. The 2016 Sooners had five seniors, but this year's squad has only one in utility fielder Macey Hatfield, who is joined by six juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.

    With softball being among the most superstitious of all sports, team members understandably hoped to re-trace their steps to a second straight national championship.

    En route to winning last year's title, the Sooners wore crimson-colored rubber bracelets emblazoned with capital white letters “CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSET.” This year's players looked forward to wearing that same lucky charm while defending the crown.

    OU Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso initially banned the bracelet, however. The woman respectfully dubbed “Three Natty Patty” for her three national crowns (2000, 2013, 2016) also took away another cherished piece of equipment when she didn't permit her players to wear their white cleats.

    In Gasso's eyes, her team didn't deserve such comforts because of their early season struggles.

    “I said, ‘We're going to keep working until we figure this out,' ” Gasso explained. “And they wanted those bracelets desperately, so it kind of forced them to let go of some of the stuff they were hanging onto. The whole ‘defend the title' thing kind of got in the way a little bit.”

    As is her way, Gasso once again had lined up a formidable early schedule. Even though five of OU's nine losses this season have come against teams in this week's Women's College World Series (Washington and Baylor) and last weekend's Super Regionals (Arizona, Tennessee and Auburn), Gasso didn't like what she was seeing from her potential powerhouse.

    “Honestly, it did surprise me some,” Gasso said of the slow start, “but then I started to see what our returners were trying to do. They were trying to match their numbers from the year before, do those kind of things, and that doesn't work.”

    Last year's championship run is eerily similar to what has transpired so far this season.

    The 2016 Sooners began with a 2-2 record through four games and were 9-4 through 13 games. Those are the exact same marks as this year's team.

    The 2016 Sooners started out 25-7 and fell to No. 14 after losing at home to Kansas in what would be their lone loss in a 17-1 Big 12 season. The 2017 Sooners started out 23-7, slipped to No. 13 in the polls also finished with a 17-1 conference mark.

    And, just like last season, OU finished with a flourish to qualify for its sixth WCWS appearance in the last seven years and its 11th trip overall.

    The 2016 Sooners entered the World Series riding a 27-game winning streak and had won 34 of their last 35. The 2017 Sooners enter this week's WCWS having won 33 of their last 35.

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    Never too late: Quentin Griffin finishes his quest for a diploma

    Former running back Quentin Griffin stands alongside OU athletic director Joe Castiglione at the student-athlete graduation banquet.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 16, 2017

    When diminutive Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, he left as the school's fourth-leading rusher with 3,938 career yards. Griffin only trailed two Heisman Trophy winners in Billy Sims (4,118) at No. 1 and Steve Owens (4,041) at No. 3, plus silver-shoed great Joe Washington (4,071) at No. 2.

    A chance to play in the NFL put Griffin's academic progress on hold. In his second season with the Denver Broncos, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Griffin set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season opener with a career-high 156 on 23 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs. A budding NFL career abruptly was cut short when Griffin tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in Week 7. He would never play another regular-season game again for the Broncos.

    In 2005, Griffin had dropped to No. 4 on Denver's depth chart and was released. He was brought back a few weeks later, then released again. In 2006, Griffin was signed by the Chiefs and later cut. In 2007, the Hamburg Sea Devils made Griffin the second overall pick in the NFL Europa Free Agent Draft. In 2008, he signed the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL and was cut after the team's final preseason game. In July 2013, Griffin signed with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in Germany (GFL1).

    When Griffin's football odyssey finally came to an end, a daunting task awaited if he was going to finish what he started academically at OU.

    When he left the Sooners, Griffin was 33 credit hours short of earning his undergraduate degree. "My mother, she planted the seed (to graduate) and kept watering it," Griffin said with a smile. "It was in the back of my mind, but once I got it to the front of my mind, that's the push I needed."

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    Renae Martinez takes road less traveled to find OU

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 10, 2017

    In 2014, Renae Martinez was a redshirt freshman catcher for UC Irvine, which ended its season playing at the College World Series in Omaha.

    Three months later, Martinez had relocated to the not-so-friendly confines of El Camino College just west of Compton, Calif.

    Could there possibly be a more precipitous drop in collegiate baseball status than going from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to Warriors Field at a community college located on Crenshaw Boulevard?

    Choosing to make the 35-mile transfer from UC Irvine to El Camino was anything but easy. “It was a tough decision to make,” Martinez explained. “I loved Irvine, but I lacked opportunity.”

    Martinez could have remained with the Anteaters, who stunned top-seeded Oregon State to advance from the NCAA Corvallis Regional, then swept No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Super Regional to advance to the 2014 CWS, where they defeated No. 6-seeded Texas in the first round before getting eliminated after falling to No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt and in a rematch against Texas.

    At UC Irvine, Martinez was a backup to redshirt junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, a second-team All-Big West Conference selection who hit .304 in 65 games. McClanahan was expected to leave college after getting selected in the 2014 amateur baseball draft, but instead he returned for his senior season and was drafted in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015.

    Martinez played in just 23 games (five starts), had 33 at-bats and hit .152 in 2014. When it became known McClanahan would return for his senior season, Martinez approached his UC Irvine coaches, who informed him the 2015 season would pretty much play out in the same manner with limited playing time as a backup.

    Martinez chose El Camino because it was close to his hometown of San Pedro, where he was named the Marine League's Most Outstanding Player and also earned First Team All-CIF and all-city honors in high school.

    Though he knew nothing of El Camino College itself, Martinez was no stranger to the area. He grew up playing baseball at the Urban Youth Academy in neighboring Compton and knew several coaches there. “They've always given me a place to play,” Martinez said of the academy. “They're really special people who go out of their way to help kids get to the next level.”

    Martinez indeed returned to the next level after one season at El Camino and transferred to Oklahoma in hopes of someday reaching the sport's pinnacle again.

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    Jim Mackenzie: The OU football coach you barely got to know

    Although Jim Mackenzie served as OU's football coach for just 15 months, he left an indelible mark on the storied program with his no-nonsense, disciplined approach and the remarkable staff of assistants he hired. Mackenzie coached the 1966 season before dying of a heart attack at age 37 the following April.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 28, 2017

    The first college football coach Steve Owens ever met was Arkansas assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Jim Mackenzie in the summer of 1964. At the time, Owens was a junior running back/roving linebacker for the Miami (Okla.) High School Wardogs. Mackenzie was friends with Wardogs head coach Bill Watkins, who hoped to implement the same "Monster" defense that had helped the Razorbacks become a national power.

    "I'll never forget it," Owens recalled of Mackenzie. "He pulled up in a car and had his suit on. Of course, it was hot. He took his jacket off, took his tie off and walked onto the practice field. He spent two hours with us, going over this new defense, man. He was sweating like you wouldn't believe. And just like a coach, he installed the Monster defense for our team."

    That same year, Arkansas finished as the nation's only unbeaten team, defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and was ranked No. 1 by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

    Miami's Monster defense made a defensive monster out of Owens, who also happened to be a pretty decent running back, averaging 7.2 yards-per-carry and rushing for more than 4,000 career yards for the Wardogs. Owens also found time to become a high school state champion hurdler, long and high jumper.

    The recruiting process began for Owens during his senior year in 1965 and Mackenzie had both eyes riveted on a kid born in Gore, who grew up in awe of his beloved Sooners, particularly during their 47-game winning streak from 1953-57 under coach Bud Wilkinson.

    "I kept telling him (Mackenzie), ‘Hey, I'm an Oklahoma kid. My dream is to go to OU,'" Owens recalled. "Trouble was, OU went 3-7 in 1965, the year after Arkansas had won the national championship. Coach Mackenzie told me it was going to take three or four years to build the (OU) program back up. Well, guess what happened."

    Sooners' coach Gomer Jones resigned after going 9-11-1 in two seasons and, at the suggestion of legendary head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Mackenzie was selected as OU's next head coach after former Sooners standout (1946-49) and Texas coach Darrell Royal turned down an offer to coach his alma mater.

    Upon getting the OU job, Mackenzie promptly reversed field on his recruiting approach with Owens.

    "He called me and said, 'Forget all that stuff I've been telling you about Arkansas. You need to follow your dreams, son, and come to Oklahoma,'" Owens said, unable to suppress his laughter. "True story."

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    OU women's gymnastics seeks third title in four years

    The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team tied for the 2014 NCAA crown with Florida and won the national title outright last season.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 13, 2017

    Oklahoma women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said she could feel the crowd pulling for her team to win at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

    At that time, only five schools had won national titles since the NCAA first sanctioned the sport in 1982 – Georgia (10), Utah (9), Alabama (6), UCLA (6) and defending champion Florida (1). The up-and-coming Sooners were the team of the moment.

    For the first and only time in NCAA women’s gymnastics, there wound up being national co-champions as OU and Florida finished with identical scores of 198.175 three years ago. The Sooners happily embraced their role as co-champions after the Gators had edged OU for the 2013 NCAA crown by a margin of 0.200 (197.575-197.375).

    Well, times have changed.

    The Sooners were the 2016 national champs all by themselves and will seek back-to-back crowns when the NCAA Championships are held Friday and Saturday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. OU will compete in Semifinal I at noon Friday against No. 4 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Denver and No. 13 Washington. The top three finishers from Semifinal I and Semifinal II advance to the NCAA “Super Six” on Saturday night to compete for the national title.

    Fresh off their fifth undefeated regular season under Kindler, the defending champs are this weekend’s No. 1 seed for a multitude of reasons, the most recent of which came April 1 at the NCAA Seattle Regional, where the Sooners posted a nation-high 198.075 in regional competition. OU entered the meet with a program record with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 198.010.

    OU’s overall excellence this season frequently has been perfection with four gymnasts combining for nine perfect 10.0s. Though only a freshman, Maggie Nichols already owns the school career record with six and scored at least one 10.0 in every event, becoming just the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever do so. Senior McKenzie Wofford and sophomore Nicole Lehrmann each earned a 10.0 on the uneven bars and senior Chayse Capps scored a 10.0 on the balance beam. Six OU gymnasts earned a nation-best 14 regular-season All-America honors this season, with junior AJ Jackson and sophomore Brenna Dowell joining the aforementioned perfectionists. (Dowell scored a 10.0 in 2015 on uneven bars.)

    Seventeen of OU’s scores this season rank in the top 10 in program history.

    Suffice to say, the Sooners no longer are up-and-coming. They have reached the summit and have no intention of descending anytime soon.

    “They have a target on their back,” Kindler said of her team. “People are gunning for them. Everyone roots for the underdog, and that’s not us. Now there’s that expectation and pressure knowing people are gunning for you. We just need to focus on ourselves and not on that.”

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    Gone too soon: Saying goodbye to an All-Star father

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    (Published April 15, 1992, The Oklahoman)

    TUCSON, Ariz. - You would have loved my father. Everybody did.

    Particularly me.

    My father died Monday afternoon at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson.

    Never have I cried so hard, so often, for so long.

    Dad was 63, which is far too young to die. Then again, Dad could have died from old age and he still would have been too young.

    His name was Richard Stanley Rohde, but he answered to just about anything - Richard, Dick, Skip, Dad, Pops, even "Disco Dick" during that incredibly nauseating music fad in the late 1970s.

    How do you possibly say good-bye to the world's best father?

    I don't know a single person -- and I'm being absolutely honest here -- who did not adore my father.

    Everyone who met him fell in love with him.

    He took bits and pieces of his own life and gave them to others to make their's better.

    Now's the time for Dad to think of himself and not everyone else.

    I'm the youngest of five children. Four boys. One girl. My sister, Gerry, is the oldest, followed by Mike, Jeff, Marty and myself.

    We all were in Tucson to be with Dad.

    Each of us adored him. Each of us was smart enough to tell him.

    I never minded being the youngest . . . until Monday. In the end, it simply meant my sister and brothers had an opportunity to spend more time with Dad than I did.

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    After dismal season, Kruger hopes youth will soon be served

    A slew of young returnees who keep improving, plus a superb recruiting class, give the Sooners hope for the future.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 12, 2017

    In his 31 seasons as a collegiate men’s basketball coach, Lon Kruger never has had one season be so contrary to the next.

    His 2015-16 Oklahoma team went 29-8 overall, advanced to the Final Four in Houston and completed its season April 2 – just two days shy of the latest date possible.

    His 2016-17 Sooners went 11-20 overall, were eliminated in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament and completed their season March 8 – the earliest date possible.

    The 18-win, 25-day discrepancy is by far the most significant one-year differential in Kruger’s career – good or bad.

    “Sure, there were disappointing results,” Kruger said. “It was difficult from the standpoint of not getting results, for sure. And yet the challenge with this group was to keep their enthusiasm level up. When you’re not winning games, you still have a different type challenge, you still have objectives. You can go on, keep getting better individually and play better as a group. The good feeling, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, is I thought they were playing their best basketball in the last three weeks. Individually, several were playing better and with more confidence.”

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    OU Spring Game: 80 degrees and clear (of injuries)

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 8, 2017

    NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he was "really pleased" with the overall play during Saturday's annual Spring Game, but what pleased him most was his team's overall health.

    "Nobody's seriously hurt whatsoever," Stoops said afterward. "I thought there was good execution and we met all assignments. Guys played hard, played well. I'm just really pleased. We got (in) right what we'd hoped for ... right around 90 (plays) pretty close, and that's what we were shooting for."

    The White team edged the Red team 14-13 on an 80-degree afternoon before an announced crowd of 43,723 at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, while redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray completed 9-of-13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown — a 70-yard connection with senior wide receiver Jeffery Mead in the second quarter — and had another potential touchdown pass was dropped.

    Freshman quarterback Chris Robison completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards while sophomore Austin Kendall completed 2-of-4 passes for 47 yards. Running back Abdul Adams had the catch of the day with a 34-yard reception.

    Passing was hampered by steady gusts of 20 mile-per-hour winds throughout the game.

    "By position, I liked what the quarterbacks did, overall," Stoops said. "(They) had smart play, took care of the ball, good throws. It was a windy day. It's tough to get the receivers a little bit of a break because the ball's getting blown all over on a few occasions."

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    For OU men's gymnastics, there is power in numbers

    The top-ranked Oklahoma men's gymnastics team is going for its third straight NCAA title and 11th overall.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 7, 2017

    You would think a men's gymnastics program would be satisfied having already won 10 NCAA championships. Not so with Oklahoma.

    Seven of those national crowns have come under the guidance of coach Mark Williams, but in his constant quest for more championships, Williams wanted more depth and more opportunities for more gymnasts. As a result, this would bring more titles.

    Williams got his wish.

    Since Williams arrived in 2000, the OU men have never placed lower than fourth at the NCAA Championships and claimed national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. In that six-year gap between championships (2009-14), Williams had to settle for two third-place finishes, followed by four straight runner-up finishes. Even though the NCAA increased the number of participating athletes per team from 12 to 15, Williams was seeking an even bigger talent pool.

    Williams approached Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and was granted permission to add a club team, where walk-ons could hone their skills to perhaps someday be good enough to join the school’s NCAA squad. “I had to tell him we were getting beat by sheer numbers,” Williams recalled of his meeting with Castiglione. “My 14 guys couldn’t hold up to other team’s 22 guys."

    Since Williams was granted a feeder program, the Sooners have continued to feast on collecting crowns.

    Not only will OU seek its third straight NCAA championship later this month, the school’s club team is seeking a three-peat at this week’s National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship, which is being held Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

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    The many magical moments for 'Coach Merv'

    Merv Johnson served as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator when Joe Montana was quarterback.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com

    April 6, 2017

    Merv Johnson's 60 years in college football included some of the sport's most significant moments:

    • Born in King City, Mo., Johnson was recruited by and played for one of the sport's greatest innovators in Missouri coach Don Faurot, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who is credited for inventing the Split-T formation in 1941. "That was pretty special," Johnson said of being recruited by the legendary Faurot.

    •  As a Missouri senior in 1957, Johnson was selected as an All-Big Seven Conference offensive tackle for the Tigers under first-year coach Frank Broyles, who had replaced Faurot.

    •  On Nov. 9, 1957, OU beat Missouri 39-14 in Columbia. The following week, the Sooners' streak of 47 straight victories came to an end with a 7-0 loss at home to unranked Notre Dame. Yup, Johnson played for the last team OU defeated in its record-setting run.

    •  Johnson followed Broyles to Arkansas in 1958 and was an assistant there for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant under coach Dan Devine, who had replaced Broyles at Missouri. While with the Razorbacks, Johnson served as a "dorm coach" and had to keep an eye on a player named Barry Switzer, who served as team captain his senior year in 1959. Broyles convinced Switzer to put his plans to attend law school on hold and instead go into coaching. After Johnson returned to Missouri, Switzer replaced him as dorm coach.

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    Merv Johnson: The 'Aristotle' of OU football

    Merv Johnson, who joined the Oklahoma football program in 1979, has formally retired as a staff member.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 5, 2017

    Bennie, Bud, Barry and Bob all made their indelible mark as Oklahoma football head coaches, but historic contributions also have come from a man endearingly referred to as "Coach Merv."

    Mervin Lewis Johnson spent more years inside the Sooners' football program than Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops.

    After 38 years as an assistant coach (1979-97) and director of football operations (1998-2017), Johnson formally has retired from the university. "At 80 years old, I figured it'd probably be a good time to do that," Johnson said of retirement.

    Johnson will continue his role as the team's radio analyst during games, however. "I said, 'Merv, you may be retiring in employment terms, but we're not going to let you get away that easily. We still want you and need you around here,'" OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said of Johnson, who will turn 81 on May 16.

    From 1958-2016, Johnson was a football staff member for 59 consecutive college seasons and 703 total games. He served under seven head coaches and those teams combined for an all-time record of 516-175-12 (.743).

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    Joe Castiglione Jr.: Living up to his name

    Joe Castiglione Jr. on the sidelines with coach Bob Stoops in 2015.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    March 30, 2017

    Joe Castiglione Jr. was 2 years old when his father selected Bob Stoops to become Oklahoma's new football coach on Dec. 1, 1998. Now Stoops has agreed to allow that same kid to join the Sooners as a walk-on player.

    The son of OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spent the previous two seasons as a student manager with the Sooners. Joe Jr. would hold up huge flashcards on the sideline during games. At practice, he assisted linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Joe Jr. would attend meetings involving coaching activities and analyze film, and would chart opponent tendencies and what plays they would run according to down and distance and field position. He would also perform traditional managerial duties, and also served as a gofer for coaches and players.

    Joe Jr. would perform these duties in addition to being a full-time student, and he still managed to carry a 3.5 grade point average. Each August, he logged an estimated 70-plus hours per week with school and football. During the season, that number would dip to 50-55 hours.

    No stranger to long hours and hard work, Joe Jr. will now get to spend some time on the field. How much time? Probably not much, if any. But that's not the point here.

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    Kansas and Self advance to another regional final

    Kansas coach Bill Self after Thursday's 98-66 romp over Purdue.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 23, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

    Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.

    “Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”

    With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.

    This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.

    He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.

    He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.

    Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.

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    Fabulous freshmen take the stage in Tulsa

     

    Kansas freshman Josh Jackson (Photo by The Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    TULSA -- Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges grew up roughly an hour apart in Michigan, but they will showcase their talents at the BOK Center in Tulsa at 4:15 p.m. CT on Sunday when Kansas (29-4) and Michigan State (20-14) meet in a Midwest Regional second-round game.

    Jackson and Bridges nearly wound up as teammates in East Lansing, Mich. Kansas won last year's recruiting battle for Jackson, but Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game will determine who won the war to advance to this year's Sweet 16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    MSU coach Tom Izzo and KU coach Bill Self have crossed paths on the recruiting trail multiple times through the years. They co-existed in the Big Ten Conference for three seasons when Self coached at Illinois (2000-03) before heading to Kansas.

    Izzo recalled how he made his sales pitch to Jackson, deemed the country’s No. 1 college prospect last year according to Rivals.com.

    “I just got on my hands and knees and begged him. That’s what I did, and that wasn’t as good as Bill’s,” Izzo said.

    Self’s secret to winning the recruiting battle? “Well, it’s just so much warmer in Kansas than Michigan, I guess,” Self said with a laugh. “I don’t know. He would have been an unbelievable impact player wherever he went, and I do know that it was not an easy decision for him. But hey, we’ve lost enough guys to Michigan State, we should win one every now and then.”

    The reason Jackson chose KU? “I grew up a State fan,” Jackson explained, “but I believed I had a better chance of winning a national championship at Kansas.”

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    Is this the NCAA basketball tournament or gymnastics?

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

    There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.

    Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.

    According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.

    If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)

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    Is Friday the day a No. 16 seed finally slays a No. 1?

    UC Davis coach Jim Les (photo by Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 16, 2017

    TULSA -- In the last 11 seasons, Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, which is more than any other program and that same span.

    The Jayhawks’ impressive run of top seeds began in 2007 and they faced the winner of a play-in game between Niagara and Florida A&M. Niagara won to advance into the 64-team bracket, and three days later summarily got thrashed 107-67 by KU.

    In those days, there was only one play-in game with the last two No. 16 seeds battling to become a sacrificial lamb as the No. 64 seed in the bracket.

    In these days, there are four “First Four” play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The last four No. 16 seeds battle for two spots, as do the last four at-large berths.

    When the “First Four” made its debut in 2011, No. 11-seeded play-in winner VCU went 5-0 rather than the normally required 4-0 to advance to the Final Four, where it lost to Butler in a national semifinal at Houston.

    In 2012, South Florida won its play-in game as a No. 12 seed, then posted an opening-round upset over No. 5-seeded Temple.

    In 2013, La Salle won a play-in game as a No. 13 seed and upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State in the opening round, then got to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Mississippi.

    In 2014, No. 11 play-in winner Tennessee destroyed No. 6 UMass 86-67, while fellow No. 11 play-in winner North Carolina State nearly won, losing to No. 6 Saint Louis in overtime.

    In 2015, No. 11 Dayton survived a play-in game on its home court against Boise State 56-55 and then eliminated No. 6 Providence in the opening round before losing to Oklahoma.

    In 2016, No. 11 seed Wichita State won its play-in game and promptly eliminated No. 6 Arizona.

    A team that gets to face a play-in winner initially was portrayed as a huge break for whoever awaited the victor, but VCU obliterated that theory the first time the “First Four” was ever staged. Since then, a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed has been victimized every year.

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    NCAA Tournament to begin with No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset

    John Rohde's NCAA Tournament bracket
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 15, 2017

    From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.

    The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament's most magnetic opening-round game, and we won't have to wait long for an upset.

    The first two games in this year's tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.

    Here are the all-time records since the tournament's 16-seed format began in 1985:

    History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.

    It's also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.

    The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as "when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.")

    As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.

    This year could bring the tournament's first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

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    Best NCAA Tournament information is found here

     

     

    So many websites. So many games. So many decisions to make while filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket.

    Feeling a little water-logged from hours of swimming on the web since this year's 68-team field was announced Sunday?

    Looking for a site with all the NCAA Tournament information you need? The absolute necessities and the simple basics -- a printable bracket with the sites, dates, starting times, TV networks, plus quality insight on every opening-round game?

    Tired of being lured in to all those "click bait" sites that require hitting "NEXT" page after page after page, which definitely is no fun when 68 teams are involved?

    CBS Sports, USA Today, Yahoo! and ESPN are all terrific sites for the tournament. But when it comes to March Madness, I've found it best to go directly to the source.

    That source is the NCAA.

    So, look no further. The best website for NCAA Tournament nuts and bolts is ...

     

     

    Click Here

     

     

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    Top 10 mistakes made by the NCAA Tournament committee

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 12, 2017

    As a point of reference, here is the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s official seeding list No. 1 through No. 68 for this year's field:

     

     

    Top 10 mistakes made by this year's tournament selection committee:

    10. Syracuse deserved a bid … Nah, just kidding. The top team to not get an at-large bid was Illinois State (27-6), which was No. 69 in the committee’s overall seeding for the 68-team tournament. However, the Redbirds’ RPI ranking of No. 33 was higher than 15 teams that received at-large bids.

    9. Vanderbilt became the first team ever with 15 losses to get an at-large bid. Not only that, the Commodores are a No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are supposed to be intriguing. Maybe this one should be decided by SAT scores.

    8. Michigan State had 14 losses, was seeded No. 40 overall, which equates to the final No. 10 seed, yet the Spartans somehow were given a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional. Not good news for No. 1-seeded Kansas.

    7. Middle Tennessee State, where former Oklahoma State guard and Oklahoma City University coach Win Case serves as an assistant to head coach Kermit Davis, deserved an at-large bid rather than an automatic berth at No. 12. No harm done, however. At least we now know which team to pick in the obligatory No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset special when the Blue Raiders face Minnesota in the South Regional. In fact, every 5 vs. 12 matchup potentially could be upsetting. Ranking the other three in terms of likelihood: UNC-Wilmington over Virginia in the East; Princeton over Notre Dame in the West; Nevada over Iowa State in the Midwest.

    6. Speaking of OSU, the Cowboys deserved better than a No. 10 seed. Yes, they’ve lost three straight, but they were against Iowa State (twice) and Kansas. OSU was ranked No. 35 overall by the committee, which equates to the third No. 9 seed. So what happened?

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    Alex Brown: 30 years of athletic care for the Sooners

    OU athletic trainer Alex Brown has been to three Final Fours with the Sooners.
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Alex Brown is in his 30th year as an athletic trainer at Oklahoma, and don’t dare ask him to rank his most memorable moments with the men’s basketball program. Such determinations are difficult when you have worked with three Final Four teams, three national players of the year, eight All-Americans and advanced to 21 NCAA Tournaments.

    “All my favorite moments usually are road wins, but NCAA Tournament wins are always special,” Brown admitted. “Just going to the NCAA Tournament is special. My favorite day of the year is Selection Sunday.”

    Brown also doesn’t share locker room banter, which falls under privileged information. “Hey, I can’t tell everything,” Brown said with a laugh before adding, “You’ll have to wait for my book.”

    Nor should you ask Brown to reveal his most challenging moments as an athletic trainer. “There’s too many to mention,” Brown said.

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects an individual’s health records and information, but many medical moments happen in plain sight and the Sooners have endured some doozies:

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    All-Big 12 selections -- let's see how well the coaches did

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 5, 2017

    This season’s All-Big 12 men’s basketball awards will be revealed today, starting at noon. Voting was done by conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.

    Listed below are the correct answers. Let’s see how close the coaches are to getting it right.

    You will notice a whole lot of Kansas listed here, but such things tend to happen when you’re ranked No. 1 nationally, own a 28-3 overall record, finish 16-2 in league play and win your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title by four games in what the Sagarin Ratings calculate to be the nation’s top-ranked conference.

    FIRST TEAM

    G – Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    G – Monte Morris (Iowa State)

    G – Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State)

    F – Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    F – Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

    SECOND TEAM

    G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)

    G – Naz Mitrou-Long (Iowa State)

    G – Devonte' Graham (Kansas)

    F – Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)

    F – Jarrett Allen (Texas)

    Player of the Year: Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte (Baylor)

    Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas)

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    With Big 12 seeds set, why does OSU-KU game even matter?

    OSU first-year coach Brad Underwood
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 3, 2017

    Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

    KU coach Bill Self

    By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night's Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.

    OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.

    So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:

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    Black History Month: OU volleyball player Patrice Arrington

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 28, 2017

    Former Oklahoma volleyball coach Miles Pabst was so impressed with Patrice Arrington, he often repeats himself while reminiscing about the school’s first-ever All-American selection in the sport.

    Pabst’s thoughts when he first saw Arrington play: “Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness,” Pabst said.

    The way to best describe Arrington’s skills: “Ha, ha. She was an exceptional, exceptional athlete,” Pabst said.

    Arrington’s greatest strength as a player: “She had tremendous, tremendous power,” Pabst said.

    Arrington’s personal attributes: “She’s just a wonderful, wonderful person,” Pabst said.

    After heaping more praise on Arrington, Pabst delivered an unsolicited punch line: “If Patrice had been born of the male species, she would have been another Adrian Peterson.”

    Suffice to say, consider Pabst impressed.

    After hearing Pabst’s remarks, a stunned Arrington laughed for several seconds.

    “That is hilarious,” Arrington said.

    The affable Arrington has heard a healthy portion of praise throughout the years, but the Adrian Peterson comparison was a doozy. “I guess people have called me a freak of nature athletically,” Arrington admitted shyly. “I probably got if from my dad (Percy). He played every sport. He excelled in everything. He’s 78 years old. Still playing tennis. Still doing stuff. So I guess I was born with it.”

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    Kruger dominates alma mater for career win No. 600

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 25, 2017

    With Oklahoma’s 81-51 triumph over Kansas State on Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center, Lon Kruger picked up his 600th career victory as an NCAA Division I basketball coach.

    Coincidentally, he achieved the milestone against the school where he previously excelled as an athlete and coach.

    And like the 599 wins that came before, Kruger deflected attention away from himself while being careful to include everyone who helped make his achievement possible.

    “It’s been a fun ride,” Kruger said of his journey to No. 600. “It’s been great, all the relationships and all the people you’ve met and worked with. And the players, of course, are at the heart of all of it. That’s why any of those wins come about.”

    Kruger has served at six different colleges – Texas-Pan American (1982-86), Kansas State (1986-90), Florida (1990-96), Illinois (1996-2000), UNLV (2004-11) and Oklahoma (2011-present). He is the first head coach to take five different Division I schools to the NCAA Tournament (Pan American being the exception); all five of those schools made multiple appearances; all five had at least one tournament win; four advanced to the Sweet 16 (Illinois being the exception); and he made it to the Final Four with Florida in 1994 and with OU last season.

    Few coaches have done as much re-construction work as Kruger. At each collegiate stop, he inherited a program that had struggled the year before, sometimes woefully. Schools where he took the reins were a combined 78-99 (.440) the season prior to his arrival and no program was coming off a winning season in conference play with a combined league record of 26-54 (.325).

    Did any relocation project seem more challenging, frustrating, exasperating and/or disappointing than the others?

    “All the situations are unique one way or another, of course,” Kruger said. “In terms of our approach, we’ve approached them all the same. It’s always about people. It’s always about relationships. It’s always about recruiting, finding the right fit in those situations. It’s always a bit different at each place, but it’s always comes down to people, for sure.”

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    OU's long road to the Women's Final Four could be a short trip

    Photo by Ty Russell
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 25, 2017

    Reaching this year’s Final Four would be a lengthy journey in terms of achievement for the Oklahoma women’s basketball team, but it could end up being a ridiculously short trek in terms of actual miles traveled.

    • Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City (March 3-6) – 23.7 miles
    • Possible NCAA First/Second Round at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman (March 17-20) – 0 miles
    • Possible NCAA Regional at Chesapeake Energy Arena (March 24-26) – 23.7 miles
    • NCAA Final Four at American Airlines Center in Dallas (March 31 and April 2) – 187.0 miles.

    On the four most important weekends of the season, if everything falls into place, OU’s road to the 2017 Final Four would require traveling just 234.4 total miles (one-way).

    First and second round sites won’t be revealed until the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Selection Show airs at 6 p.m. on March 13, but all other locales were determined long before the 2016-17 season commenced.

    The Sooners knew precisely where their postseason schedule potentially could take them. Head coach Sherri Coale didn’t need to draw it up on a dry erase board. No need for Google Maps.

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    Westbrook deserved a better fate, and Presti delivered with a trade

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 23, 2107

    As Thursday’s 2 p.m. NBA trade deadline approached, it would have understandable if OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti had decided to stand pat and allowed the remainder of the 2016-17 season to simply stay the course.

    With the All-Star Break ending, the Thunder (32-25) held an 8-game lead for the final Western Conference playoff spot, a comfortable cushion ahead of a team that had just traded away its franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins. Just 3½ games out of the No. 4 spot with 25 regular-season games remaining, OKC also was in position to improve its first-round playoff chances considerably.

    So Presti refused to stand pat.

    Presti tried to stand pat five years ago, and with good reason. He simultaneously had three of today’s greatest players on the OKC roster in Kevin Durant (23 years old), Russell Westbrook (also 23) and James Harden (22), plus budding star Serge Ibaka (22). Presti also had an impatient bench warmer named Reggie Jackson (21).

    Fresh off making the 2011-12 NBA Finals, a spry squad that coach Scott Brooks affectionately referred to as “Thunder U” was on the verge of becoming a powerhouse with the potential to win multiple championships.

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    Westbrook and Durant must rise above it all during All-Star Game

    Westbrook and Durant must rise above it all during All-Star Game
    Photo by Sue Ogracki/Associated Press
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 18, 2017

    Presumably, Russell Westbrook knows better.

    He knows better than to deliberately ignore former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant during Sunday night’s All-Star Game in New Orleans.

    There is no doubt in my mind Durant will pass the ball to Westbrook for an open dunk or jumper while they share the court against the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Given the lack of defense at this event, heaven knows there’ll be plenty of opportunities.

    For Westbrook’s sake, here’s hoping he’ll be wise enough do the same in kind for Durant.

    Western Conference All-Star coach Steve Kerr absolutely, positively should play Westbrook (non-starter) alongside Durant (starter) during the game, for at least one shift and possibly several. After all, no tandem at this year’s All-Star Game has played alongside each other longer than Westbrook and Durant.

    They know each other’s tendencies better than any other teammates. They were together for eight years with the Thunder and also with USA Basketball during summers. Meanwhile, Durant joined the Golden State Warriors less than eight months ago.

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    The verdict is in -- Kevin Durant no longer is welcome in OKC

    THUNDER WARRIORS BASKETBALL
    Golden State's Kevin Durant (35) reacts after being called for his fifth foul during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Golden State won 130-114. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb, 12, 2017

     

    Saturday night’s game between the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors was a mismatch and you can credit, or blame, Kevin Durant for this.

    With Durant’s free-agent defection on July 4 last year, the Thunder went from being an elite team (one win shy of claiming last year's Western Conference championship) to its current status as a lower-echelon playoff team (currently the conference's No. 7 seed).

    In three meetings this season, Golden State has dismantled OKC by 26 (122-96 at Oracle Arena on Nov. 3), by 21 (121-100 at Oracle on Jan. 18) and by 16 last night with a 130-114 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The season's final mismatch will be March 20 in OKC.

    If Durant’s intent when he left was to humiliate teammates and fans who did everything within their power to support him as a four-time scoring champ and the league's 2013-14 Most Valuable Player, well … congrats. Mission accomplished.

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    Durant or Westbrook: Whose Thunder jersey will be raised to the rafters first? The answer is neither

    Durant or Westbrook?
    Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 11, 2017

     

    With Kevin Durant breaking hearts and Russell Westbrook mending them, it raises a question. Which player will have his Thunder jersey raised to the rafters first?

    The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Stunned Thunder fans met denial head-on last July 4 when Durant chose to leave OKC and join the already overloaded Golden State Warriors.

    Durant’s decision was so shocking, denial lingered longer than usual. Anger might never leave. For many fans, acceptance might never arrive.

    Durant turned his back on a state that instantaneously embraced him despite playing for the University of Texas his lone collegiate season. More than seven months later, with that gaping wound still fresh, raw emotion no doubt will greet Durant tonight when he returns to OKC for the first time.

    As an unrestricted free agent, Durant could sign with whatever team he pleased. Yet it seemed ludicrous for Durant to leave the place where for eight years he expressed his unwavering devotion to a crazed fan base that did the same in kind.

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    Durant: Perhaps Thunder fans could compromise

    Warriors Kevin Durant Returns to Oklahoma

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 10, 2017

     

    Here’s what I hope will happen Saturday night during pre-game introductions when the Golden State Warriors visit the OKC Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena:

    Durant receives a standing ovation as he walks through a tunnel of teammates. The public address announcer pauses to allow Durant to soak in the moment for the loudest ovation ever given to an opposing player inside The Peake. The decibel level rises each time Durant smiles and waves to the crowd as he fights back tears. The cheers slowly subside and pre-game introductions finally continue.

    Here’s what I expect will happen:

    A sellout crowd stands as Durant slowly walks through his tunnel of teammates. No one is able to hear the public address announcer. Though there are some cheers, they are overwhelmed by venomous boos. Durant continues to walk slowly onto the court, avoiding eye contact with the crowd and doing his best to hide his heartache. He does not smile. He does not wave. After only a slight pause, the public address announcer continues with other introductions, unable to be heard over the steady stream of boos.

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    The Story Continues for Oklahoma in 2017

    oklahoma softball champions
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Feb. 07, 2017

    It’s not where you start but where you finish that counts. For this year’s Oklahoma softball team, it will be about both.

    Last year’s Sooners began with somewhat modest expectations and promptly were humbled with an 0-2 start on opening day. Steadily they climbed from a season-low No. 14 national ranking and finished at No. 1 by winning 57 of their final 63 games to claim the program’s third NCAA Championship.

    This year’s Sooners have the formidable task of finishing the season precisely where they started.

    The defending champs are a unanimous pick at No. 1 in this year’s NFCA and USA Collegiate Softball preseason polls, marking only the fourth time in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll a team was a unanimous preseason pick at No. 1 – joining Arizona (1998), Washington (2010) and Arizona State (2012).

    Somewhat shockingly, it also marks the first time in OU’s storied history it has been placed atop a national preseason poll, having previously topped out at No. 2 prior to the 2002, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

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    OU hoops focusing on progress

    Oklahoma Sooners basketball

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Jan. 20, 2017

    Judging from the reaction inside the locker room following Wednesday night’s game at West Virginia, you would have thought the Oklahoma men’s basketball team had just advanced to its second straight Final Four.

    The program’s Twitter account (@OU_MBBall) shared 77 seconds of the postgame celebration after the Sooners stunned the No. 7-ranked Mountaineers 89-87 in overtime before a silenced crowd of 11,895 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown.

    “Those spontaneous celebrations, it’s hard to put a value on those,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “When your guys get a chance to do that, you never cut those short. That was pretty special.”

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    Why so defensive, John Elway?

    John Elway hires Vance Joseph
    Denver Post
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Jan. 14, 2017

    Time will tell if Denver Broncos general manager John Elway chose wisely in selecting Vance Joseph as the team’s new head coach. Given his wondrous history with the franchise – which includes six Super Bowls, three Vince Lombardi Trophies, a Hall-of-Fame selection, nine Pro Bowls and a collection of local car dealerships – more success likely awaits Denver’s longtime savior.

    When hiring a coach, a team can either play to its strength or its weakness. Elway played to his team’s strength, which is why he chose Joseph, a defensive assistant coach for 12 NFL seasons and fresh off his one-year stint as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

    Defense is why Denver claimed Super Bowl 50 over the 17-1 Carolina Panthers last season. Let’s face it, without that defense, the Broncos’ record this season would have been somewhere around 4-12 rather than 9-7.

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