Let’s be honest, Lincoln Riley has never been one for a good sound byte. So you can understand why I had to do a double take when I read the quote that Riley made on Sirius XM’s ESPNU channel when he took a dig at Georgia and the SEC.
The Oklahoma Sooners head coach said, “If you throw Georgia in the Big 12 every year, there is no way they are a top-five defense in the country. That’s not a shot at Georgia. They were absolutely one of the best defenses last year. It’s a compliment to our league (the Big 12).”
You can spin it as not being a shot at Georgia or the SEC, but it really is. And that’s OK. By saying that Georgia would not have a top-five defense in the country if it was in the Big 12, it’s another way of saying, “The SEC offenses stink.” And they, for the most part, do.
The Big 12 has missed this in the absence of Bob Stoops. Riley is now 12+ months into the job and is getting more comfortable. That’s also a good thing for OU and this conference.
Bob Stoops would notoriously defend the Big 12 Conference and its members, especially when it came to the national perception it couldn’t stack up against the SEC. Stoops would then go prove it on the field with regular-season wins against Tennessee and Sugar Bowl victories over Alabama and Auburn. He could talk the talk and walk the walk.
Without Stoops, no one has taken that role over, however there really hasn’t been an obvious candidate to do so. Gary Patterson is probably the most vocal of the bunch and when he speaks, people listen, but to be fair, TCU is not Oklahoma when it comes to national stature. The Oklahoma Sooners head coach just makes more headlines than does the TCU head coach and that will remain so until the end of time. Mike Gundy could do it, but he seems to save his powder for the likes of his own administration (looking at you Mike Holder and T. Boone). Tom Herman is a big name, but really hasn’t proven anything to be digging into opposing conferences on national radio. Rhule, no. Holgersen, eh, just not there. Campbell doesn’t have it in him (yet?). Snyder gets the respect, but isn’t the national brand. Kingsbury should probably just stay focused on the 2018 season. Beaty, LOL. That leaves Riley.
While I don’t expect Riley to begin shooting off at the hip with outlandish and bold statements in 2018 (although I’ll gladly take a couple at Big 12 Media Days later this month), the fact that he felt he could make such a statement tells me he’s getting more settled into his role as not just a Power 5 head coach, but as the voice of one of the blue bloods in college football. Riley is smart and nothing he says is by accident or without purpose.
None of this is to excuse the Big 12’s struggles on defense. The entire conference needs to improve its defensive play, especially in the trenches, where the days of Gerald McCoy feel like a distant memory. But this conference can hang with the best of the best of the other Power 5 conferences, going 5-3 in bowl games this past season, and 4-2 two seasons ago.
And without guys like Lincoln Riley and outlets like Heartland College Sports, the mainstream sports media might have forgotten that.
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