Following last week’s Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences, the Big 12 will hold its football media days Monday and Tuesday at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys practice facility in Frisco, Texas.
Heading into its 22nd season, the Big 12’s talking points at the annual football preview have often involved off-field negatives instead of happy talk. Over the next two days, though, the 10-team conference doesn’t have to spend much time or answer many uncomfortable or investigative-type questions.
The conference-wide discussion topics figure to center on the Big 12 going to a centralized replay review system and the resurrected conference championship game. The date for that game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has not been announced but it could be made public during media days. It will be played either Dec. 1 or 2.
So what about the storylines and questions for the teams? Here’s a preview of what could be on tap. Teams are listed in order of the Big 12 preseason poll (selected by the media). The day listed in parentheses is when the team’s coach and players will be in attendance.
The Sooners are picked to win their 10th Big 12 title and have won the last two. That makes OU enough of a story, but wait — there’s more. Lincoln Riley has been the team’s head coach for little over a month, being elevated from offensive coordinator when Bob Stoops made his stunning retirement announcement. The Sooners also have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. So, yeah, Oklahoma stories will consume most of the attention on Day One.
Oklahoma State (Tuesday)
Last year, Mike Gundy’s hairstyle was the hit of media days. His mullet was modest last July but it has at times flowed even longer and freer. It’s still business in the front, party in the back but he recently got a slight trim. If the Cowboys were a mediocre bunch, writing about the coach’s locks would be appropriate. But Gundy believes this year’s team is as good as the 2011 team that was 86 ten-thousandths of a point from playing for the national championship. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington, both seniors, might be the nation’s most-dangerous big-play combo.
Kansas State (Tuesday)
Coach Bill Snyder has had an eventful offseason. He was diagnosed with throat cancer but is apparently healthy. Plus, he had a short but unseemly turn as bad guy in blocking the transfer of one of his players. (Corey Sutton was eventually released from his K-State scholarship.) Snyder, who will turn 78 in October, has 202 wins and at some point he’s going to step down. With 14 returning starters and a veteran quarterback (senior Jesse Ertz), this might be Snyder’s last chance at a Big 12 title.
If not for Riley’s sudden ascension as OU’s coach, Tom Herman would be the popular new kid. Assuming Riley is a big hit on Monday, it will be interesting to see what sort of swagger Herman displays during his day in the spotlight. The Longhorns hired Herman to be the savior, and the team is getting considerable hype because of his two-year stint at Houston combined with the talent on the roster. However, Texas is coming off three consecutive losing seasons and over the last seven seasons has managed to finish among the Top 25 only once. Will Herman embrace high expectations or attempt to tamp down the hype?
Media days require finding story angles, and the Horned Frogs fill the role as a dark horse team in the Big 12 race. TCU finished a disappointing 6-7 last season and coach Gary Patterson doesn’t like disappointment. In his previous three losing seasons as the Frogs coach, the team has bounced back to win a conference title the next season. Winning the Big 12 might be too big a jump, but 17 returning starters plus what should be a salty defense help make TCU a tough out.
West Virginia (Tuesday)
New quarterback Will Grier has a 5-0 record as a starter. His time at Florida was cut short when he was suspended by the NCAA for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. That led to his transfer to Morgantown and he appears to be a perfect fit for coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. And that offense will be managed a bit differently. Holgorsen hired Jake Spavital, a former offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Cal, to coordinate the Mountaineers offense. The move will allow Holgorsen to me more of a CEO.
New coach Matt Rhule hasn’t had to put out any off-field fires of late but the school remains embroiled in lawsuits resulting from the sexual assault scandals that took down Art Briles. That stigma won’t disappear and Rhule has to hope that none of his players run afoul of the law for anything more than a parking ticket. On the field, Rhule doesn’t have a full roster but the Bears still have enough talent to reach a bowl game.
Texas Tech (Monday)
Will this be coach Kliff Kingsbury’s final appearance at Big 12 media days? His record in Lubbock has slipped below .500 to 24-26 and the Red Raiders are coming off a 5-7 season. The defense, which gave up 40 or more points eight times last season, is an ongoing disaster and this season Texas Tech must replace quarterback Patrick Mahomes. His playmaking ability kept the Red Raiders competitive but now unknown and untested senior Nic Shimonek takes over. Kingsbury’s future will be a topic that will endure throughout the season.
Iowa State (Monday)
Second-year coach Matt Campbell has recruited aggressively, and the Cyclones believe they can build off last season. Campbell’s desire to put his best players on the field has led to an unusual position switch. Joel Lanning, who started the first eight games at quarterback last season but shared snaps with Jacob Park, has been moved to defense and probably will start at middle linebacker. Iowa State believes Park is the better quarterback and the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Lanning is one of the team’s best athletes.
David Beaty goes into his third season as the Jayhawks coach. He will undoubtedly point to many positives; the reality is it’s hard to imagine Kansas winning more than two games. Beaty hired Doug Meacham away from TCU to be the offensive coordinator, the school has announced a $300 million plan to update Memorial Stadium and the roster is filled out with numbers and improved talent. Upsetting Texas was a huge accomplishment but it might take a few more years to make it a milestone.
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