NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley won’t slow down to reflect.
That’s just now how he operates.
The youngest coach in the FBS has won more games in his first year than any of Oklahoma’s greats; he passed Barry Switzer and Chuck Fairbanks last week with a victory over West Virginia. With one more win, he would become just the fifth FBS coach with no previous head-coaching experience at a four-year college to claim at least 12 victories in his debut season.
The 34-year-old offensive mastermind is locked in on what’s next — the Big 12 championship game on Saturday matching second-ranked Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, No. 3 CFP) and tenth-ranked TCU (10-2, 7-2, No. 11 CFP). It will provide Riley with another chance to match wits with TCU’s coach, veteran defensive guru Gary Patterson.
“I’m just trying to do everything I can to help our team win this game,” Riley said. “There’ll be a lot about this season that when it’s over, regardless what happens here, that we’ll be very, very proud of. But now is not the time for that.”
That’s because perhaps his most difficult challenge yet looms. The 57-year-old Patterson is the winningest coach in TCU history and the second-longest tenured FBS head coach, behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Under Patterson’s leadership, the Horned Frogs have reached 10 wins for the 11th time in his 17 seasons as head coach.
Patterson, known as a stickler for detail, has the benefit of game film to study from the previous meeting. Though the Sooners made the first half look easy in a 38-20 regular-season win over the Horned Frogs a few weeks ago, Riley insists it was tough. He noted that TCU shut out the Sooners in the second half.
“To sit there and think that it was easy or that it wasn’t a challenge every snap is just not right,” Riley said. “It wasn’t easy then. We had to earn everything that we did. We went back and looked at it, so there’s a lot of things we’ve got to do better. I’m sure coach Patterson did the same with his group. It’s going to be a battle. I am very confident in our offense, but I know how good these guys are defensively. They’re tremendous.”
The Sooners remain confident, too, and with good reason — they lead the nation in total offense with 593.5 yards per game and rank fourth in points per game with 45.2 per contest. Riley has put his own mark on the program in his first year following Bob Stoops.
“We went from having the legend of coach Stoops to having the future of coach Riley,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “It was about as smooth as it possibly could’ve gone. That’s a credit to coach Riley.”
Mayfield said Riley gained the team’s respect with his work ethic during his two years as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator.
“He’s very passionate,” Mayfield said. “His work ethic — whew. He’s always in there watching film. He’s coming up with new plays, new schemes. He enjoys the process and working to design a play or an offense and having control. He wants to have the perfect scheme. I don’t necessarily know how to say it. The way he watches film — he tries to put us in the best situation possible.”
It didn’t take the Sooners, or anyone else to figure out that Riley was head coaching material. He won the Broyles Award for the nation’s best assistant coach in 2015.
“From the moment he got here, we expected nothing less for either him to go on and be a head coach somewhere else at some point or be the head coach here,” Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown said. We always knew what he was capable of, and obviously, he’s been showing it around here.”
Mayfield has often said it helps that Riley can relate to the players in a different way than the other coaches.
“I think it was kind of a youthful and young energy that he brought in,” Mayfield said. “That passion that we all love to play with, I think we saw that in him. Also, just the relationships he built with players from his past two seasons of being here before, being the head coach, I think it helped just push us forward. I’d say it was momentum, everything positive.”
Patterson has energy, too — enough that he’s agreed to a new six-year deal with the program. He’s still got it — TCU ranks first in the nation in red zone defense, second in rushing defense, fourth in sacks per game and eighth in points allowed per contest.
“I don’t look at myself as an older guy,” Patterson said. “On the field, the way I am on the sideline, I just don’t look at myself as an older guy. I still think I have a lot of energy, and I like coaching. I like what I got into football for — coaching ball.”
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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.