In just his fourth season as the Oklahoma Sooners football coach, Lincoln Riley has become one of the highest revered college football coaches in the country.
In three full seasons, Riley has coached the Sooners to become three-time Big 12 champions, made three-straight College Football Playoffs and produced two Heisman Trophy winners. On Saturday, the Sooners (6-2, 5-2 Big 12) will come to Morgantown to try and spoil West Virginia’s (5-3, 4-3) senior day.
The Mountaineers have never beaten OU as Big 12 opponents and WVU coach Neal Brown had nothing but praise for Riley on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
“Everybody just assumes because you’re at Oklahoma you get as good as players as anywhere in the country and it’s an easy job,” Brown said Monday morning. “Well, those jobs are hard and he’s made it look relatively easy. That’s a credit to him.”
Despite losing two of their first three games of the season, Brown said the Sooners are playing as well as any team in the country over the last month of the season.
They definitely are playing their best football here in the last month,” Brown said. “Some of that is [quarterback] Spencer Rattler maturing. A freshman quarterback with the talent he has, he’s going to improve and he definitely has. The other thing that probably hasn’t been talked about is getting [running back Rhamondre] Stevenson back and [defensive end Ronnie] Perkins back.”
A redshirt-freshman, Rattler is the first non-transfer quarterback Riley has coached at OU. Rattler had a shaky start to the season, throwing five interceptions in the team’s first four games. In his last four games, however, Rattler has only been picked off once. He also leads all Big 12 quarterbacks in both passing yards (2,319) and touchdowns (22).
Stevenson and Perkins were suspended for the first five games of the season but have been big boosts to the Sooners in three games since their returns in late October Stevenson has rushed for 332 yards and five touchdowns and Perkins has racked up 13 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Brown said if you ignore the record, Oklahoma looks like a team that could go to the College Football Playoff against this season.
“If you look at the teams at the top of the rankings right now, they all have the ability to rush the passer without blitzing and really clog you up in the run game, and [Oklahoma is] no different,” Brown said. “I think [defensive coordinator Alex] Grinch has done a nice job. He’s got his hands all over this…They’ve only had their full front here for a couple of games and those guys are only going to get better.”
With the success Riley has had in his story time leading the Sooners, his name is tossed around a lot when NFL jobs are open. So far Riley has stayed in Norman, but his name usually comes up in every round of rumors.
“I’m for Lincoln if he wants to go,” Brown said with a chuckle.
WVU and Oklahoma will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday from Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ABC.