Baylor, Oklahoma State talk 2022 after Big 12 thriller of 2021

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Baylor coach Dave Aranda and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy sat just a few yards from the end zone where the Big 12 title was decided in their championship game seven months earlier, on a dazzling tackle at the pylon by the Bears.

From a stage surrounded by empty stands, with the only noise coming from the hum of air conditioners inside cavernous AT&T Stadium, Aranda remembered the chaos of that moment. Gundy spoke later, saying the painful memory sometimes hits him when he wakes up in the middle of the night.

Now both are in charge of teams among the top three in this year’s preseason poll, and were clear about moving on while addressing the couple of hundred people on the field in front of them at Big 12 media days Wednesday.

“I think it goes back to just the task within a task,” Aranda said. “So to keep your eyes on that and to focus on what’s real, because I think this is way cool with the lights and all the people, and being asked questions can feel cool. But I think that’s really not real. What’s real is what’s happening day-to-day in your locker room, in your weight room, in your cafeteria.”

Baylor is the preseason favorite to repeat as Big 12 champ a year after entering the season eighth on that 10-team list. The Bears’ 21-16 victory at the home of the Dallas Cowboys was preserved when safety Jairon McVea knocked Dezmon Jackson out of bounds inches short of the goal line on fourth down with 24 seconds left.

The Cowboys had the better chance to qualify for the College Football Playoff, and the loss ended those hopes. Senior quarterback Spencer Sanders will play a big role in trying to get Oklahoma State in position again.

“You kind carry a chip on your shoulder for motivation, but you have no regrets, can’t hold yourself to that,” Sanders said. “You’ve got to let it go and move on. There’s nothing we can do about it now. I’m glad that we could respond in the right way.”

The Cowboys did that by rallying in the second half for a 37-35 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Baylor set a school record with 12 wins – matching Oklahoma State’s total – by beating Mississippi 21-7 in the Sugar Bowl.

With Oklahoma’s 47-32 victory over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, the Big 12 had three teams with at least 11 wins for the first time since 2008. And those are the top three teams in the preseason poll, OU a spot ahead of its Oklahoma rival with Texas voted fourth.

The Bears got the preseason nod despite deciding to change quarterbacks in the spring. Blake Shapen was named the starter over incumbent Gerry Bohanon, who transferred to South Florida.

“I think people expect us to walk out there and win 12 games or whatever, but it’s a blank slate,” linebacker Dillon Doyle said. “It’s a clean canvas, and we have to go beat Albany on whatever date we play that game (Sept. 3).”

Baylor’s expectations start with a defense that finished second overall in the Big 12 – behind Oklahoma State, which belied its offense-first reputation under Gundy, the former quarterback entering his 18th season at his alma mater.

Gundy, the dean of Big 12 coaches by far, was quick to mention the departure of linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper, who combined for 25 tackles for loss on the team that led the country with 4.1 sacks per game (57 total).

“We’ve got guys that have to replace them,” Gundy said. “We like where they’re at. They just haven’t played in big games. We don’t know much about them. We have the same situation at corner. They’ve played some but haven’t been out there in big games.”

Trace Ford‘s return from a knee injury will help Oklahoma State’s depth with pass rushers, and Collin Oliver returns after leading the team with 11 1/2 sacks. Ends Tyler Lacy and Brock Martin also return after combining for 12 1/2 sacks.

The biggest change comes on the sidelines, with former Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason taking over as defensive coordinator. Jim Knowles left for the same job at Ohio State, where safety Tanner McCalister also transferred.

Still, it’s not anything new for Gundy, who has 16 consecutive winning seasons and is coming off his seventh with double-digit victories.

“We don’t really get out of our box much at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said. “We believe in being mentally and physically tough across the board. We try to put our players in situations that game days are like anything they’ve already been through in practice.”

The Cowboys will be motivated by what they went through in the Big 12 title game last year.


Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.