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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    College football's early signing period set for December

     

    BY CHRIS HUMMER

    247Sports

    May 9, 2017

    College football's early signing period, which was officially approved Monday, is expected to occur on the third Wednesday of each December to align with the mid-year junior college transfer window, according to Susan Peal, Director of Governance for the National Letter of Intent program.

    "It is anticipated that the football early signing period will align with the football mid-year (junior college) transfer signing period each year," Peal wrote 247Sports in an email. "So that would start the third Wednesday of December."

    The 72-hour early signing period for high school seniors will start Dec. 20, 2017.

    This early signing period is in addition to college football's standard National Signing Day, which occurs the first Wednesday of February each year. In essence, college football now has two National Signing Days with recruits having the option to sign in December or February.

    The early signing period is one of a number of prominent pieces of legislation the Division I Council approved earlier this year. Others included a 10th full-time assistant, a change in the official visit schedule with an additional window from April to June, which goes into effect April 1, 2018, and changes to the way off-season recruiting-related camps are conducted.

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    Tommie Harris: My greatest loss

    Former OU standout Tommie Harris (91) began his NFL career with the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

     

    BY TOMMIE HARRIS
    Players Tribune

    Feb. 16, 2017

    We had just stepped off the plane in Austin when the guy slipped me his card.

    “If you ever need anything,” he said, “don’t hesitate to call.”

    I didn’t really think anything of it. I got a lot of cards passed my way during my career. It’s part of being an NFL player. Financial advisors, entrepreneurs, salesmen of all kinds — it didn’t matter what they were selling or what kind of business they were in, they’d drop me a card. When you have money, everybody wants a piece.

    This card came from a guy who owned a private jet company. We had happened to sit next to each other on a flight from Chicago and we started talking.

    It was February 10, 2012, four days before Valentine’s Day. The jet guy had told me about his business, and I had told him about my NFL career and how the last year had been tough. After three Pro Bowls and a trip to the Super Bowl with the Bears, they released me. I caught on with the Colts, but was cut just a month later. Then I signed with the Chargers, where I spent the 2011 season as a fill-in guy — not the kind of role I had played in Chicago. Now, I was a free agent, looking to extend my NFL career.

    I also told him about my family. About my three-year-old son, Tyson, and my four-month-old daughter, Tinsley. About my wife, Ashley, who had gone back home to Oklahoma to finally have a routine medical procedure that she had been putting off. I was on my way to my hometown of Killeen, Texas, to visit my sister before flying to Oklahoma to meet Ashley for Valentine’s Day, our first as a married couple. We had been married 40 days earlier, on New Year’s Day.

    Despite being uncertain about my future in the NFL, I was the happiest I had ever been.

    When we got off the plane, the jet guy and I shook hands and went our separate ways. As I made my way to baggage claim, I got a phone call from an Oklahoma area code.

    “Tommie,” the voice said, “you need to get to Oklahoma right now.”

    “Why?”

    “Your wife has stopped breathing.”

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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 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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    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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    2017 Football Recruiting Composite Team Rankings

    composite team rankings
    Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

     

    247Sports.com

    Feb. 8, 2017

     

    About 247Sports Composite:

    The 247Sports Composite is a proprietary algorithm that compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services, creating the industry's most comprehensive and unbiased prospect and team rankings.

    About 247Sports Recruiting:

    Powered by innovative technology products, 247Sports employs a staff of more than 50 full time recruiting reporters and evaluators that rank and compile data on the nation's elite high school recruits.

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    New lawsuit alleges 52 'acts of rape' by 31 Baylor players

    baylor university college football lawsuitby Tom Fornelli
    @TomFornelli

    January 27, 2017

    The allegations span 2011 to 2014 and include a significant number of incidents

    A new lawsuit against Baylor over Title IX violations and negligence was filed by a former student Friday. The lawsuit, as first reported by the Dallas Morning News but since obtained by CBS Sports, makes some serious claims against the school, allegations that make the culture at Baylor look even worse than it did before, hard as that might be to believe.

    The lawsuit alleges that there were 52 "acts of rape" committed by 31 different Baylor football players from 2011-14. The woman who filed the lawsuit, identified as Elizabeth Doe, says she was raped by two Baylor football players in 2013, who were both named suspects in the incident but never charged by police.

    Doe accuses former Baylor players Tre'Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman of gang-raping her following a party on April 18, 2013.

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    Ranking all 42 college football postseason games

    Ranking all 42 college football postseason games
    USA Today College Bowl Champion

    Ted Miller
    ESPN Senior Writer

    January 12, 2017

     

    Too many bowl games? That's just dumb.

    While not every postseason game scintillated with derring-do and thrilling finishes, more than half of the 42 games were decided by eight or fewer points.

    Here's a ranking of all the postseason games from worst to best. And here's a guess you already know the top three.

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    New Pacific Pro Football League Details

    The Pacific Pro Football League announced Wednesday its intention to begin play next winter. The development program for players who graduated high school but aren't currently playing in college is expected to feature four teams playing under professional rules.

    ESPN.com reported information provided by the league, which includes former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey as well as Tom Brady's agent, Don Yee, among the founders, stated the average salary will be around $50,000, with 50 players on each roster.

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