Oklahoma Sooners

Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley and a lifetime of connections

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Texas Tech

When Texas Tech and Oklahoma take the field 7 p.m. Saturday in Norman, you can throw out the records. In fact, take every preview that you see and rip it to shreds. There’s more to this game than talent. There is more at stake than postseason aspirations. This game will be more like two friends taking the video game controllers and playing an old NCAA Football game.

Kliff Kingsbury and Lincoln Riley are two of the youngest coaches in the entire college landscape. Both are in their 30s, and they were also briefly teammates at Texas Tech in 2002. Riley walked on to Tech during Kingsbury’s senior season, but was cut the next summer when then-Tech head coach Mike Leach decided Riley would have a brighter future on his coaching staff.

Since then, three quarterbacks from that team, and many more on the coaching staff have been hired as a play caller at an FBS school in some sort of way. Sonny Cumbie was a walk-on who is now the offensive coordinator at TCU. Dana Holgorsen, Sonny Dykes, Art Briles and Greg McMackin have all held head coaching positions in the FBS at some point or another. Additionally, Ruffin McNeill is currently working under Riley at Oklahoma. The team was filled with football brainiacs, so no wonder a team with so little talent nearly won the Big 12 South Division that year.

Interestingly enough, there won’t be two controllers used in this game though. Kingsbury and Riley each have an assistant who was a part of Leach’s Texas Tech program. While Kingsbury was trying to live out his dream in the NFL, Riley was coaching inside receiver Eric Morris. Still on the staff during Morris’ career was McNeill. Morris is now the offensive coordinator under Kingsbury while McNeill is the assistant head coach under Riley at Oklahoma.

All four of these coaches know each other, and the systems they operate, extremely well. With this, you can expect the trick plays to come out. Defenses are literally practicing to play against what they’ve seen in practice all season long. Riley and Kingsbury are from the same breed with small variances.


However, there is one extra wrinkle to this mix: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. The 2016 Heisman finalist currently plays for Riley. With all of the success Mayfield has garnered at Oklahoma, he has Kingsbury to thank. Mayfield was a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech in 2013. He started making a name for himself during fall camp, and it became a battle between him and scholarship freshman quarterback Davis Webb for the starting spot that season. A source told me in 2013 that Webb came down with an energy-draining illness for the season opening game at SMU. This illness supposedly made the decision easier for Kingsbury, and Mayfield helped Tech get off to a 5-0 start before being injured during a 54-16 victory at Kansas. Webb was given his shot before also being injured. By the end of the season, a quarterback controversy ensued and Mayfield left Tech on terrible terms.

Mayfield transferred to pursue a childhood dream and play for the Oklahoma Sooners. After sitting out a full season, he entered another battle to be a starting quarterback at a Big 12 Conference school. Lincoln Riley was hired as an assistant to Bob Stoops during the same offseason, and the two have worked well as a combination since.

Bragging rights will be a fairly high stake when these five men go into a chess match Saturday. If the Sooners go up big, House of Pain might return to the sound system at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Riley remembers all too well how the song “Jump Around” became a part of the rivalry in 2008. He quoted a tweet of the video earlier this week showing the day the Sooners derailed Tech’s national championship hopes.

Of course, the Red Raiders returned the favor in 2009 with Riley and McNeill taking part in Tech’s 41-13 spanking of the Sooners. Tech also spoiled Oklahoma’s 2007 national championship aspirations, providing them with a second loss in a year that saw a two-loss LSU team win the BCS National Championship. It was a rivalry in the making. The two programs had swapped home victories both ways from 2004-2010. From 1996-2011, the series was 10-6 in favor of Oklahoma.

It’s been a lopsided series since Tech ended the Sooners 40-game home win streak in 2011. Oklahoma has reeled off five-straight victories and Kingsbury hasn’t scored a win over the Sooners since his first start as Tech’s quarterback in 1999.

Throw all of this away. Throw out every statistic, every historical fact and everything these two programs have shown this year. We are in for a game of backyard football. Pack it up. Pack it in. A new era in this series is about to begin, and both are in it to win.

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