Lincoln Riley is replacing a legend, Tom Herman is trying to resurrect a legendary program and Matt Rhule has a chance to create his own legend by rebuilding the Baylor football program in a classy manner.
They’re the Big 12’s three new head football coaches, and they’ve each got their work cut out for them in vastly different ways as the 2017 season approaches.
The Big 12 race will have an aura of mystery because nobody quite knows how each of the three new coaches will perform in his first season on the job.
On the surface, it appears Riley has a chance to make the smoothest transition since he’s taking over an Oklahoma program that’s built for long term success.
Bob Stoops won 10 Big 12 championships in 18 seasons before he retired suddenly June 6. The 33-year-old Riley was handed the keys to the Cadillac after only two seasons as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.
After winning the last two Big 12 titles, the Sooners will be stacked again with Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield leading the way at quarterback.
Mayfield has the Big 12’s best offensive line and an array of talented receivers and running backs to complement him despite the losses of Biletnikoff Award winning receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Since the Sooners defense has tremendous potential, they’re the favorite for a three-peat.
But can you imagine the pressure Riley is facing as he steps in for Stoops? Few schools have higher expectations than Oklahoma, and Riley will be on the hot seat to win big immediately.
If the Sooners aren’t in the conversation for the national championship, the conversation will turn to whether Riley can handle such a high profile job.
Herman will be expected to win at Texas but even the most unreasonable Longhorns fan should see it will likely take time to return to national prominence.
The Longhorns are coming off three straight losing seasons that cost Charlie Strong his job. Herman has already indicated the Texas program isn’t an overnight fix, something Longhorns fans don’t want to hear.
But the Longhorns underachieved so profoundly under Strong that a modest eight-win season would look good in Herman’s debut. Herman will eventually be expected to transform the Longhorns into a national championship contender, a place this program hasn’t been since 2009 when Mack Brown was still riding high.
Herman came to Texas with superb credentials. After serving as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator for three seasons, Herman enjoyed two strong years at Houston as he led the Cougars to a 22-4 record.
He became a hot commodity in 2015 when the Cougars went 13-1 and capped the season with a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. The Cougars dropped to 9-3 last year but still produced wins over powerful Oklahoma and Louisville.
But if Texas suffers its fourth straight losing season, Herman’s golden boy status will diminish quickly. Texas fans aren’t known for their patience.
Patience needs to become a major part of Baylor fans vocabulary with the mess Rhule’s stepping into.
He’s trying to clean up a Baylor football program that’s gained national attention for all the wrong reasons following the sexual assault scandal that ended Art Briles’ highly successful tenure.
The Bears aren’t devoid of talent with players like quarterback Zach Smith, running back Terence Williams, defensive end K.J. Smith and linebacker Taylor Young on the roster. But a thin offensive line and questionable depth at other places make the Bears vulnerable. Don’t be surprised if a lot of freshmen play, especially on the offensive line.
An eighth straight bowl appearance certainly isn’t out of the question for the Bears. But success on the field shouldn’t be Baylor’s first priority. Building a program with integrity should trump any other goals.