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Young Blood: Transfusion brings 3 new coaches, each facing unique challenges

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Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley wants to keep fueling a college football giant, Texas’ Tom Herman wants to wake up a sleeping giant, and Baylor’s Matt Rhule wants to make giant steps toward creating a new culture.

This much is clear: The Big 12's three new head coaches will play a major role in shaping the future of the league.

While all three are walking into high-profile jobs, they’re stepping into dramatically different situations.

The 33-year-old Riley is taking over for the winningest coach in Oklahoma and Big 12 football history following Bob Stoops shocking retirement in June.

Herman is tasked with resurrecting a Longhorns program that hasn’t been nationally relevant since reaching the 2009 BCS championship game and is coming off three straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong.

Rhule is trying to clean up a Baylor program that reached unprecedented levels of success under Art Briles but damaged the university’s image with a widespread sexual assault scandal.

Which coach has the toughest job is debatable. All three have their own unique challenges that will be played out before the eyes of the college football world.

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Rhule horiz

The Matt Rhule era officially begins Saturday night when Baylor hosts Liberty at 6 p.m. inside McLane Stadium.

Rhule has met Baylor’s sexual assault problems head-on, constantly reminding his players of the need to be responsible citizens off the field and representing the university the right way. He believes it’s important to confront his players with sexual assault issues to raise awareness and avoid the problems Baylor has had in the past.

“That which we don’t acknowledge we’re doomed to repeat,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day, I don’t know everything that happened, but I just know something that happened that was wrong. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t learn from it, then what was the point of it? I want to move forward, but I want to move forward always acknowledging the past.”

Through text messages, Rhule repeatedly sends out directives to his players on how they need to show accountability in everything they do. He makes them understand that they need to help each other stay out of potentially bad situations.

“It’s just a reminder to remember who you are and that you’re a Baylor Bear and be respectful to women,” Rhule said. “Get yourself out of bad situations and protect a teammate. It’s about continuing to model and teach and demand that the guys in our program act like men. What does it mean to be a man? To us it’s that you respect authority, you stand up to injustice whether it’s popular or not, you protect those that are weaker than you. You’re honest, you’re accountable, you live a life of integrity. We want them to grow into men while they’re here and be great husbands and fathers when they leave.”

Rhule was well aware of the issues he was inheriting when he was named Baylor’s coach last December. But as the son of a Nazarene pastor, he felt a calling to coach at Baylor after leading Temple to a pair of 10-win seasons in his final two seasons at the Philadelphia school.

“It was an opportunity for me to coach football and still outwardly embrace my faith,” Rhule said. “I think there's no greater calling for me right now than to do that.”

While changing the culture of the Baylor football program is a major goal, Rhule still wants to put a successful team on the field beginning this season.

Since the start of spring drills, his emphasis has been to develop a physical team that won’t break mentally. He coached in the NFL with the New York Giants and many members of his staff also have NFL experience.

Though he understands the need to run an up-tempo spread offense in the Big 12, he’ll also use elements of the pro-style offense that will feature power football.

“When you’re different, you’re unique,” Rhule said. “So we’re going to try to be different. But we’re also going to try to highlight our players. It’s not about the system to me. It’s about what the players can do, the quarterback.”

While Baylor is undergoing a significant transformation under Rhule, Riley simply wants to keep the crimson and white machine rolling at Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma Football

Aiding Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley (right) in his debut season as head coach is the return of Heisman contender Baker Mayfield.

Bob Stoops built a legendary career in 18 seasons at Oklahoma, producing a school record 190 wins, 10 Big 12 championships and the 2000 national title. His June 7 retirement at the age of 56 stunned everybody -- including Lincoln Riley.

Riley knows he’s stepping into some enormous shoes as Stoops’ successor. After just two years as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, he’s taking over one of the most high profile jobs in college football.

“Of course, the expectations are there to win, like they always are at Oklahoma,” Riley said. “Of course, you get the pressure with it. But that's something that I enjoy and something that our staff enjoys, our players. That's why you come to play and coach at Oklahoma is to win and to win big. It's always been like that. If you don't enjoy that sense of pressure and those expectations, then it's probably not the place for you.”

One of the reasons Stoops chose Riley as his successor is to keep the Oklahoma coaching staff intact, including his younger brother, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Undergoing a smooth transition is important to the Oklahoma players.

“Keeping the staff there was very important,” said Oklahoma safety Steven Parker. “Nothing has changed, only the head coach. He made that clear from Day 1 as soon as he walked in. I feel like Coach Riley will succeed as a head coach because he’s a player’s coach and knows what he’s doing. He’s very intelligent. It’s not just all about football. He’s developing us as men also.”

Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield believes Riley possesses many of the same traits as Stoops and will continue to have success at a high level.

“Coach Riley and Coach Stoops have the ability to adapt to their players and get the best out of them,” Mayfield said. “They both have extremely high expectations. That’s why Coach Riley is the youngest coach in the FBS. Coach Riley brings in that young energy that we needed. I think it will be a great transition.”

Coming off an 11-2 season, the Sooners are the Big 12 favorites and are ranked No. 8 in the country in the coaches preseason poll. Mayfield is a Heisman contender after passing for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns last season and the Sooners will feature one of the best offensive lines in the country.

Oklahoma’s defense should be strong with linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, safety Steven Parker and cornerback Jordan Thomas returning.

“I’m thrilled going into the season,” Riley said. “I feel like we have a very, very strong team coming back with some new exciting young players that we're excited to infuse our team with. Probably the thing I'm most excited about with our team is our overall team leadership.”

Since Stoops will still be in Norman, Riley plans to continue to lean on his mentor any time he needs advice or encouragement. Not every coach has the luxury of dialing up the winningest coach in school history any time of the day.

“I'll definitely use his counsel,” Riley said. “I think, both with Bob and with Coach (Barry) Switzer, you've got two guys there that have done it at as a high level as anybody has done it, obviously both at Oklahoma, and guys that are ready and willing at any point, which I'm thankful for.”

When Rhule coached in the American Athletic Conference, one of his closest coaching friends was Tom Herman. Rhule’s Temple teams went 20-8 and Herman’s Houston teams went 22-5 during the two seasons they coached against each other in the AAC.

“I met Tom when he came into the league and we hit it off right away,” Rhule said. “We’d kind of hung out with his wife and my wife at all the media days. Then he whipped me in the championship game one year. After that game I went into their locker room and shook his hand and shook (quarterback) Greg Ward’s hand. I love the way his teams play and he’s a good man.”

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Tom Herman cover story inside art.jpg

New Texas coach Tom Herman has injected a new level of optimism, as the Longhorns open the year ranked No. 23 in the preseason coaches poll.

The Cougars’ success over the last two seasons made Herman one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country. After Texas lost to TCU on Nov. 25 to finish 5-7 under Strong last year, Herman was named the Longhorns coach a day later.

Despite top recruiting classes, the Longhorns have been one of the most underachieving teams in the nation in the last seven years. Herman wants to restore a winning culture to a program that was once in the national championship conversation nearly every season under Mack Brown.

During his first meeting with Texas president Greg Fenves, Herman was assured he’d have total control of the football program without outside interference. In his first meeting with the players, he made it clear that he expects the losing culture to change under his guidance.

“Since the first team meeting that we had, which was a very political one and a direct one, our guys have bought in,” Herman said. “I will say the buy-in level has been extremely high from the number of players I think really, truly believe in what we’re preaching, that believe in our way of doing things.”

Herman will inherit significant talent including sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele, All-America offensive tackle Connor Williams, safety P.J. Locke and linebacker Malik Jefferson.

While Herman has no grand predictions for this season, he believes his disciplined system will give his team a chance for immediate success. Despite three straight losing seasons, the Longhorns are ranked No. 23 in the coaches preseason poll.

“I know that these guys are going to be trained as well as anybody in the country and we’re going to play to our maximum potential,” Herman said. “I feel good that these guys are willing to do whatever we ask them to coming off the three-year stretch this program has had. They don’t want that to be their legacy. They want to be remembered as the team and the group that turned this thing around. I think we're well on our way.”

Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team

Offensive player of the year: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Defensive player of the year: Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas

Offensive newcomer of the year: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

Defensive newcomer of the year: Elijah Walker, DB, Kansas State

Pos Name School Cl Ht Wt Notable

OFFENSE

QB Baker Mayfield Oklahoma Sr 6-1 220 Third in 2016 Heisman race
RB Justice Hill Oklahoma State So 5-10 195 1,142 yards rushing, 6 TDs
RB Justin Crawford West Virginia Sr 6-0 202 1,184 yards, 7.3 yards per carry
WR Allen Lazard Iowa State Sr 6-5 222 69 catches, 1,018 yards
WR James Washington Oklahoma State Sr 6-0 205 71 catches, 1,380 yards, 10 TDs
WR Keke Coutee Texas Tech Jr 5-11 180 55 catches, 890 yards. 7 TDs
OL Orlando Brown Oklahoma Jr 6-8 345 Leader of Big 12’s best offensive line
OL Connor Williams Texas Jr 6-6 320 Returning All-American
OL Dalton Risner Kansas State Jr 6-5 300 All-Big 12 in 2016
OL Zach Crabtree Oklahoma State Sr 6-7 310 Dominating offensive tackle
OL Austin Schlottman TCU Sr 6-6 300 Second-team all-Big 12 last season
K Clayton Hatfield Texas Tech Jr 5-10 185 Hit 13 of 14 field goals

DEFENSE

DL Dorance Armstrong Kansas Jr 6-4 246 League-high 20 tackles for loss
DL K.J. Smith Baylor Sr 6-1 260 7 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
DL Reggie Walker Kansas State So 6-2 235 6.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss
DL Mat Boesen TCU Sr 6-4 235 6 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
LB Travin Howard TCU Sr 6-1 213 235 tackles in last two seasons
LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo Oklahoma Sr 6-1 240 9 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
LB Taylor Young Baylor Sr 5-9 225 265 tackles in 3 seasons
DB D.J. Reed Kansas State Jr 5-9 188 19 passes defended, 3 interceptions
DB Jordan Thomas Oklahoma Sr 6-0 185 19 passes defended, 2 interceptions
DB Nick Orr TCU Sr 5-10 187 86 tackles, 4 interceptions
DB Tre Flowers Oklahoma State Sr 6-3 200 61 tackles, 7 pass breakups
P Michael Dickson Texas Jr 6-3 205 Third nationally with 47.4-yard average

Big 12/NCAA football predictions

staffers make their picks for how the college football season will play out.

  Brice Cherry, Sports Editor John Werner, Staff Writer Krista Pirtle, Staff Writer Brian Crownover, Sports Designer Tim Woods, City Editor Jim Wilson, Publisher

PREDICTED STANDINGS

First Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2 Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2
Second Oklahoma 11-3 Oklahoma State 11-3 Oklahoma 11-3 Oklahoma 11-3 Kansas State 10-4 Oklahoma State 10-4
Third Kansas State 10-3 Kansas State 9-4 Kansas State 10-3 Kansas State 9-4 Oklahoma State 9-4 Texas 8-5
Fourth West Virginia 8-5 TCU 9-4 TCU 8-5 Baylor 9-4 Texas 9-4 Kansas State 8-5
Fifth TCU 8-5 Texas 8-5 Texas 8-5 TCU 9-4 Baylor 8-5 West Virginia 7-6
Sixth Texas 7-6 West Virginia 8-5 Baylor 7-6 West Virginia 8-5 TCU 8-5 TCU 7-6
Seventh Texas Tech 6-7 Baylor 7-6 West Virginia 7-6 Texas 8-5 West Virginia 7-6 Texas Tech 6-7
Eighth Baylor 6-7 Texas Tech 5-7 Texas Tech 6-7 Iowa State 7-6 Texas Tech 5-7 Iowa State 5-7
Ninth Iowa State 4-8 Iowa State 5-7 Iowa State 4-8 Texas Tech 5-7 Iowa State 5-7 Baylor 5-7
Tenth Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 2-10 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9

INDIVIDUAL HONORS

Offensive player of the year Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Mason Rudolph, OSU Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU
Top offensive newcomer Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU
Defensive player of the year Travin Howard, TCU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Travin Howard, TCU Travin Howard, TCU
Top defensive newcomer Taquon Graham, UT Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU
Best quarterback Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU
Best running back Terence Williams, BU Justice Hill, OSU Justin Crawford, WVU Justin Crawford,WVU Justice Hill, OSU Justice Hill, OSU
Best receiver James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU
Best offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann, TCU Orlando Brown, OU Orlando Brown, OU Dalton Risner, KSU Orlando Brown, OU Connor Williams, UT
Best defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU KJ Smith, BU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU
Best linebacker Travin Howard, TCU Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OU Malik Jefferson, UT Malik Jefferson, UT Travin Howard, TCU Malik Jefferson, UT
Best defensive back Jordan Thomas, OU D.J. Reed, KSU D.J. Reed, KSU Kamari Cotton-Moya, ISU Jordan Thomas, OU Jordan Thomas, OU
Best specialist Zach Sinor, OSU Michael Dickson, UT Michael Dickson, UT KaVontae Turpin, TCU Michael Dickson, UT Clayton Hatfield, TT
Most underrated Byron Pringle, KSU Taylor Young, BU Dravon Askew-Henry, WVU Taylor Young, BU Taylor Young, BU Shane Buechele, UT
Best coach Bill Snyder, KSU Mike Gundy, OSU Bill Snyder, KSU Mike Gundy, OSU Tom Herman, UT Tom Herman, UT
Heisman Trophy winner Sam Darnold, USC Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sam Darnold, USC Saquon Barkley, Penn State J.T. Barrett, Ohio State Sam Darnold, USC

TITLE RACES

Big 12 champion Oklahoma State Oklahoma Oklahoma State Oklahoma State Oklahoma Oklahoma
SEC champion Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama
Big Ten champion Penn State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State
ACC champion Louisville Florida State Florida State Florida State Florida State Florida State
Pac-12 champion USC USC USC Washington Washington USC
CFP participants Alabama, USC, Penn St., OSU Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St. Alabama, Florida St., Ohio St., OSU OSU, Alabama, Ohio St., Washington Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St., Oklahoma Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St., USC
Title game finalists Alabama vs. USC Alabama vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Florida State Ohio State vs. Alabama Alabama vs. Ohio State Alabama vs. Ohio State
National champ Alabama Alabama Alabama Ohio State Ohio State Alabama

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