Big 12 Storylines
News, news and more news … football coaches assembled in Dallas last week for Big 12 media day delivered us the goods, now, it’s time to sift through the wheat and the chaff to come up with some of the storylines heading into fall training camp.
Here is a team-by-team listing based on this year's Big 12 preseason media poll:
Wide receiver depth. Preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma has the makings of a national title contender but in order to do that, though, the Sooners will have to find enough wide receivers to get them into position to be there. Ryan Broyles has graduated and three other starting candidates – Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson – were suspended last May.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops admitted last Monday that developing his wide receiver corps will be issue No. 1 for his staff when fall camp begins.
“That’s going to be a big part of what we do during two-a-days,” he said. “Kenny Stills has been a mainstay for us for a number of years and we’re expecting Kenny to have a great year. And Tre [Metoyer] is a guy we didn’t have a year ago that had a great spring consistently in every practice, in every scrimmage we had, really showed up and made competitive plays. So he’s another guy we’re going to count on.”
Stills had 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season for the Sooners, while Metoyer is an early enrollee from Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy who is a highly touted prospect.
West Virginia …
Managing lofty expectations. West Virginia was the darlings of last week’s Big 12 media day with the return of several key offensive players off last year’s team that pasted Clemson 70-33 in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Despite being a Big 12 newcomer, the Mountaineers will clearly have a target on their backs when conference play begins with Baylor on Sept. 29 in Morgantown.
“You just don’t get ahead of yourself,” explained second-year coach Dana Holgorsen of keeping his team grounded. “That’s what camp is all about. If you think a guy is reading his press clippings then it’s your job as a coach to make sure you bring them down.
“What’s awesome about the Big 12, as opposed to where we were last year, is just the national exposure, and it’s going to be West Coast to East Coast and they’re going to be put in some venues to be able to shine if they can handle that,” Holgorsen said. “That’s our job as coaches, to put them in those positions and make sure that they’re prepared and then get them on that stage and see what they can do from there.”
Starting quarterback(s). Texas has the best set of returning tailbacks in the country and a potentially dominant defense, so the question then becomes: Can the Longhorns get the quarterback play they need to get back to where they were a few years ago when Vince Young and Colt McCoy were running the show?
Texas used two quarterbacks last fall in Case McCoy and David Ash and those two are expected to get all of the reps when fall camp begins. The question Texas fans want answered is will coach Mack Brown pick one and stick with him? Brown said what’s more important to him is having a more physical football team around his two QBs.
“I thought Colt was so good and so accurate that we became a softer offensive football team from a running standpoint,” Brown said. “We were throwing the ball on third and four, and also in those BCS games we didn’t stop the run very well against Alabama, we didn’t stop the run very well against Ohio State and we didn’t stop the run very well against USC.
“So I want us to get so we are a more physical football team from top to bottom, and I also don’t want to have it where the success of our football team is totally on one person’s shoulders for him to have a great day – not a good day – or for him to be healthy.
“To do that, we’ve got to get better around the two quarterbacks.”
Oklahoma State …
Finding the next Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon. Oklahoma State has produced the most dynamic offenses in the country the last few years, in part, because of the terrific wide receiver play the Cowboys have gotten from Dez Bryant and then Justin Blackmon – both top-round draft choices.
So the question becomes: Who is going to step in and fill that role this season? Coach Mike Gundy said he is not sure.
“The comparison I would make is years ago we talked about losing [running back] Kendall Hunter and I felt like Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle, as a pair, needed to combine and give us what Kendall did,” Gundy said. “Those guys have been able to do that. We want three or four of our receivers this year to give us what a Justin Blackmon gave us last year.
“That will be our goal for [freshman quarterback] Wes [Lunt] to be able to develop and delegate the ball to the guys that can make the plays,” Gundy explained. “But it’s very difficult to replace a Justin Blackmon.”
Conference stability. TCU finally has a sense of stability and security after years of turbulence following the implosion of the Southwestern Conference in 1996. Through a lot of hard work and effort, the Horned Frogs have been able to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of college football, winning at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons.
Now, while the sell gets much easier, the job has become exponentially harder, according to TCU coach Gary Patterson.
“I think Fort Worth, before we play a ballgame, wins,” Patterson said. “I think before we play a ballgame, TCU wins financially and credibility-wise. But Gary Patterson’s job got harder and that’s OK. If you look at what we’ve had to accomplish and the facilities – we were walking a mile and a half to practice 15 years ago when L.T [Ladainian Tomlinson] was our starting running back and now our practice fields are right outside.
“There are a lot of things that stand in front of us, but I would say as a university and as a group totally, that we do feel like that we’re a little bit more stable in what we’re doing.”
Kansas State …
Lack of respect. Kansas State, despite a 10-3 record last season and 16 starters returning, including quarterback Collin Reid, was picked to finish sixth in this year’s Big 12 media poll. Veteran K-State coach Bill Snyder will certainly use that to his advantage when his team assembles for the start of fall training camp.
“You look back at last season and we moved up maybe six slots,” Snyder said. “I just hope that we can do something similar to that.”
Snyder said his players will probably take the snubbing a little more personally than the coaches will.
“How do I deal with it? Probably not the same way that young people in the program do,” he said. “Do we perform better as, quote/unquote, underdogs? That I don’t know. I haven’t seen any statistics in that regard. Last year, obviously we played reasonably well in those circumstances.”
What Snyder is more concerned about are the games when his team will be favored, such as last year’s season opener when K-State struggled mightily to defeat Eastern Kentucky.
“You go back to last season and what was our mindset going into the very first ballgame of the season. We played Eastern Kentucky and did not score a touchdown until 58-plus minutes of the ballgame and then we were very fortunate to walk away with a victory,” he said. “One of the things that we have to be concerned about this coming season is that very simple concept of not taking anyone for granted.”
Life after RG3. Baylor has to figure out a way to continue its winning ways without the most dynamic player in college football – Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Baylor coach Art Briles admits that won’t be an easy assignment.
“How do you adjust to not having the best football player in the United States of America last year at the collegiate level?” Briles asked rhetorically. “That’s inspiration. That’s the thing that inspires us. That’s the thing that makes our guys come together and fight for each other and work to prove themselves, because we’re in the proving business. We’re not in the business of saying ‘maybe’ and ‘gosh, I wish.’ We’re in the proving business and our job is to win football games.”
So how does Baylor do that?
“What we have to do is figure out ways to fill in the gaps, because Robert created a bunch of gaps,” Briles explained. “His ability from somebody else’s is a big gap. We have to fill that in with a variety of different methods, schematically, personnel-wise and motivational-wise and inspiration-wise that will give us an opportunity to stay at the level we finished at last year.”
Iowa State …
Capitalizing on last year’s big upset victory over Oklahoma State. Iowa State finished last season 6-7 and failed to have a winning record under fourth-year coach Paul Rhodes. However, the Cyclones did pull off the biggest upset in college football when they defeated Oklahoma State last November to knock the Cowboys out of the national title picture.
Somehow, Rhodes has to figure out a way to parlay that momentous victory into continued success in 2012.
“I think the most significant component of that victory for our football program has been national attention,” Rhodes said. “You play that game on a Friday night at a point late in the season that affected the BCS race, and you got a whole nation talking about it all weekend long.
“Now, that spills over, most importantly for us, in recruiting,” Rhodes said. “You go into living rooms and you go into schools and on the practice fields this spring and the Iowa State brand is recognized on a national level probably more so than it’s ever been.”
Texas Tech …
Fixing a broken defense. Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, a former defensive coordinator, has been known for fielding exceptional defenses in the past. But last year, Tuberville’s Texas Tech defense was one of the worst in the country giving up 485 yards per game. To rectify that, Tuberville brought in veteran defensive coordinator Art Kaufman last spring to fix things.
“There is going to be a dramatic change each week in terms of what type of offense that you play, so you’ve got to have somebody that understands how to adapt to different offenses, how to make changes in terms of your personnel on defense and that only comes from experience,” Tuberville explained. “Art’s been there. We went through a lot of the same scenarios while we were at Ole Miss together. He did the same thing in the ACC [North Carolina] the last few years of seeing different teams in that league each week.”
Tuberville believes having an experienced defensive coordinator is a key component in the unit’s overall success.
“You’re going to give up points in this league,” Tuberville noted. “This is a points league. I mean, we scored close to 40 points a game last year and won five games. The defensive coordinators are going to earn their money and earn everything they get every week with the changes they have to make.”
Overall infusion of talent. New Kansas coach Charlie Weis is looking for a few good men. Actually, Weis is looking for a lot of good men. The former Notre Dame coach already turned around Kansas’ roster last spring and he’s not against adding more players – possibly even some of Penn State’s following the NCAA announcement last week that Nittany Lion players can transfer immediately following the sanctions levied against the school.
Weis, who comes from the same Bill Belichick New England Patriots coaching tree as Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, said he will consider taking Nittany Lion players if the opportunity presents itself. Weis has already taken in some fifth-year-senior transfers from Notre Dame.
“First of all, you have to be respectful to Coach O’Brien and the people who are trying to make good of a bad situation,” Weis said. “But at the same time, the rules are the rules and there’s several players that, when the dust settles, I think will entertain the thought of going somewhere else, especially the way it was presented to them.
“I think that any program that didn’t do homework prior to this decision coming out, was behind on that one,” he said.
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