NORMAN — Oklahoma turned the defensive dogs loose on Texas Tech on Saturday night, and on Monday morning all eyes were focused on this week’s big showdown with Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and yet the most compelling discussion from Lincoln Riley’s weekly press conference was centered around neither.
Riley said last week it was the Sooners’ biggest recruiting weekend of the year, but even he didn’t know quite how big it would be.
OU on Sunday landed a verbal commitment from four-star defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins, prompting Riley to take to social media and issue his standard subtweet with the big googly eyes, the sure sign of a Sooner verbal.
But Riley was just getting started.
Within 30 minutes, Riley tweeted double googly eyes. Then, just over three hours later, a triple googly eyes. And 2 ½ hours after that, Riley posted a tweet with four googly-eye emojis.
“It was just a great weekend, top to bottom,” Riley said Monday. “It started with our fans and a great atmosphere Saturday night. Our recruiting team, (executive director of recruiting) Annie Hanson and (director of player personnel) Drew Hill and all those guys just had a tremendous plan for the weekend.”
And that’s not all. Apparently, of the 17 prospects in town over the weekend on their official visit, five are expected to give a non-binding, verbal pledge to Oklahoma, according to Sooners Illustrated publisher Bob Przybylo and SoonerScoop.com writer Eddie Radosevich. Kids can change their mind — and often do — but as of now, the landslide from Saturday is unprecedented.
No. 8-ranked OU (7-1, 4-1) is embroiled in a championship chase, both for the Big 12 Conference and for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at No. 11 Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1) is an elimination game, one that will propel the winner into another league showdown next week (OU hosts No. 10 TCU, OSU visits No. 14 Iowa State).
Forget the College Football Playoff. For the Big 12, the playoff has begun.
If beating Texas Tech by three touchdowns on a chilly Saturday night can generate this kind of momentum for the Sooners, imagine what a third consecutive Big 12 title and another visit to the bracket might do.
Last week, Riley asked Sooner Nation to get loud and proud against the Red Raiders. They did in OU’s 49-27 victory, and it apparently left an impression on the recruits.
“I want to say thank you to our fan base,” Riley said. “I thought they really, really responded in a big way. It was a great atmosphere. Our players noticed it. They were talking about it. It was something very special to them. Our recruits noticed it. The whole country noticed it.”
Riley talked about the difficulty of preparing for a big home game only a week ahead of preparing for an even bigger road game, and all the while the Sooner staff was hosting a massive weekend with recruits and their families.
“It’s difficult when you think about getting ready to play a really good football team, you bring in the number of official visitors that we brought in, all the organization, and then on the back end, you’re getting ready to go play a really good football team, too,” Riley said. “So there’s a lot of organization and a lot of effort by a lot of people, but we had a great group, a lot of great families. It was just a tremendous weekend for our program.”
Riley also said he tries to find a balance between flash and substance. Just throwing out a shiny lure can bring in any fish, but he’s looking for something more specific.
“It’s something we consider,” Riley said. “It’s something we talk about a lot. You want to have fun with them and do fun things and cool things that they enjoy that catch their eye, but you want people that are coming here for the right reasons. So … despite all the flash and all that, behind the scenes, when we really sit down and talk to these guys, they’re real conversations and we’re making sure we’re bringing in people that are about OU and doing things the right way.”
Bob Stoops used to tweet “BOOM!” with the prospect’s home area code every time he got a verbal commitment. Riley wouldn’t say exactly what criteria goes into putting up the googly eyes on Twitter, but did acknowledge that when it comes to recruiting, he is doing things a bit differently than his processor.
“I would say there’s a lot of different ways to do it, and obviously Bob got his fair share of players here,” Riley said. “But yeah, I would say we’re just continuing to push the issue there. Our staff’s really been bought into it, Annie and Drew, Eric (Striker), Cole (Smith), all those guys we have on that staff have really helped to progress things there, trying to do some things that other people aren’t doing and really trying to grab these guys’ attention.
“The new facility, the investment that Joe (Castiglione and) that our university made, and not just our facility, but just kind of our recruiting operation right now has made a big difference. So it’s a team effort. It’s not something I’m doing, it’s something we’re doing as a group, and like I said, there’s a lot of momentum behind it right now. It’s fun to recruit when you have that much momentum.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.