ANAHEIM, Calif. — Lincoln Riley thought it was possibly planned.
Oklahoma’s coach was recruiting in Atlanta ahead of the Home Depot College Football Awards show he was attending with quarterback Baker Mayfield, left tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, when he ran into a familiar foe.
Riley and Georgia coach Kirby Smart — whose teams meet Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl — bumped into each other at an area high school, while both were recruiting a prospect beyond this year’s class.
“We were waiting for a crowd of reporters to come out of the side. I thought it might have been staged in a way. It was funny,” Riley said. “We were both going solo. We joked about that because so many head coaches when they recruit travel with one or two other staff members. We were both going solo, young guys going at it like we’re assistants. So we had a laugh about it, spent a few minutes there. He’s a great guy. I’ve got a ton respect for him for the job he’s done there.”
It wasn’t the first time the two have spoken.
Smart and some of Georgia’s staff picked Riley’s brain a few seasons ago, specifically about how to use their running backs as OU does — turning them into pass-catchers and productive runners.
“We shared ideas offensively,” Smart said, “because they had some really talented backs in their past. They've used those backs different ways. So as we've known we were going to have backs here, we said, how can we use our running backs in other ways? That was a big study for us two years ago when I got here and this year. So we've done some stuff with them.”
• Mayfield under the weather: OU posted a social media photo of Mayfield in practice gear Wednesday, but the Heisman Trophy quarterback did not attend the Rose Bowl’s opening media session at Disneyland.
Riley said Mayfield wasn’t feeling well, but expects him to be fine.
“He’s sick. He’s going to live,” Riley said.
Andrews spoke in Mayfield’s place.
This is the second time Mayfield has been under the weather this month. He lost his voice between the Big 12 championship and the Heisman ceremony in New York, in what turned into a whirlwind travel week.
Riley doesn’t think the busy schedule has worn out his star quarterback.
“Nah, I don’ think so. (He handled it) good,” Riley said. “He was great before we came out and he had about three and a half days at home for Christmas, which is a good recharge, mentally and physically for our guys. I think he’s in a good place. I think our whole team is.”
• All accounted for: Between injuries and off-field incidents during the long layoff after the conference season, it’s not uncommon for college players to miss bowl games.
Every OU player made the trip to California, Riley said.
“Everybody’s here,” Riley said. “We’re full strength.”
• Temperature difference: Smart used some of his brief appearance at the Disneyland introductory event to talk about weather.
Athens, Georgia, had a high of 40 degrees Wednesday. In Oklahoma, temperatures have dipped into the 20s.
When Georgia and OU went through practices at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, temperatures were already creeping into the 70s.
“It’s a little bit warmer,” Riley said. “Last week, or the week before, had some decent weather as far as being warm back in Norman. Not much of an adjustment. We’ll get used to it in the next couple of days here.”
• Westbrook reflects on OU experience: Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook penned a first-person article for The Players’ Tribune, which was mostly based on his time at OU.
The former Sooner receiver didn’t predict how Baker Mayfield and Co. will fare in the Rose Bowl, but did say Mayfield “showed his true colors” after a 2015 College Football Playoff loss to Clemson.
“He just had this determined look on his face,” wrote Westbrook, who has caught 26 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown his rookie season in Jacksonville.
Aside from his reflection on Mayfield, Westbrook fondly remembered his time at OU, but wrote he wished he’d have soaked in it more. He also expressed support for the current Sooners.
“Enjoy these moments, OU Nation,” he wrote. “Enjoy the campus while you’re there. Enjoy a sandwich at Pickelman’s. Enjoy the playoffs.
“Then go ahead and win the damn championship. You deserve it.”