Hey fans, just checked into my room at the Omni Hotel in Dallas on the eve of the start of Big 12 Media Days for the upcoming football season.
I thought I’d share some random thoughts and questions I look forward to asking all 10 head coaches July 18-19. But first up is Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. There’s already some behind the scenes talk that Bowlsby will ask the governing board of directors to vote on conference expansion July 19. It will be interesting because Oklahoma and West Virginia are in favor; Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State are said to be no votes. Eight are needed on this decision.
At 10:05 a.m. July 18, Gary Patterson of TCU takes the podium. The Horned Frogs have eight defensive starters and four offensive starters returning from last season. That’s why many believe TCU has the best chance to dethrone Oklahoma. But the Horned Frogs have to overcome the loss of quarterback Trevone Boykin, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate in 2015. Still it would be wrong to count out Kenny Hill, the son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Ken Hill, who sat out all of last season because he transferred from Texas A&M. That time on the bench should help with the speed and understanding of the offense. But Patterson’s best recruiting effort of the spring? Keeping Sonny Cumbie in Fort Worth to work with Hill. Cumbie explored leaving for the offensive coordinator position at Texas. Look forward to hearing Patterson talk about this offense with a new field general in 2016.
David Beaty takes the stage at 10:35 a.m. Confession — I enjoyed meeting the Kansas head coach last year and thought he was a great hire for the Jayhawks because of his extensive offensive background. The other attribute I liked about him was how he talked about a fun dual-threat quarterback I saw at Killeen High years ago, Michael Cummings. Cummings tore his ACL in spring practice in 2015. Beaty said Cummings was the ideal leader and teammate because he promised to work hard to return to help the Jayhawks. Kansas has a lot of work ahead of itself as it tries to return to the days it experienced in 2008, the year Kansas won the Orange Bowl. That team featured another Central Texas quarterback, Todd Reesing. For Beaty, his first season was about changing a culture. I look forward to hearing what he believes he needs to accomplish in year two.
Texas Tech is up next at 11:15 a.m. Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch is thought to be a darkhorse in the conference race this year. The biggest reason is because of his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes will be a second-year starter and led the Red Raiders to a big win against Texas in late November. But fans aren’t concerned about the Tech offense; they want to know about new defensive coordinator David Gibbs, a coach Kingsbury worked with years ago. Kingsbury is 19-19 headed into year four. This is the year all the elements are supposed to come together. Wonder if Kingsbury is feeling more pressure?
At 11:50 a.m. is Iowa State and new head coach Matt Campbell. Interesting story about Campbell. He brought his Toledo team to Ames to play the Cyclones in 2014. Afterward he told his wife how impressed he was with the game day atmosphere, the campus, the fans, the facilities and all things Iowa State. Those thoughts are what propelled him to say yes to the Cyclones, even though he was rumored to be a strong candidate at Missouri, and some at Maryland and Virginia Tech wanted him to take over those programs. Campbell is another offensive coach, so scoring in the Big 12 is vital to a team’s success. The question for him is how the install of the offense is going.
Oklahoma State rounds out the first day of press conferences with Mike Gundy taking the podium at 12:20 p.m. Nine offensive starters — including all five linemen — and eight defensive starters return. One of the most important starters coming back is quarterback Mason Rudolph. No squad has that kind of experience coming back. And yet the Cowboys aren’t picked to win the conference. Can anyone say bulletin board material?
In addition to the Monday interviews, new Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades will be formally introduced during a press conference at 4 p.m.
The last day of media days begins with the Texas Longhorns at 10:05 a.m. July 19. I’ll take the over 10 on how many times Charlie Strong will be asked about starting quarterback. And while that question is understandable, that’s not the only question mark. Ryan Newsome announced he was transferring, days after it was understood he’d be given first consideration on returns in special teams. Strong also has new offensive coaches and a new scheme. So he’ll definitely be asked how is the chemistry, how quickly are the players picking up the offense, and how is the rapport of the players and coaches. Strong, who is a defensive coach, will address what coaches have done to improve that side of the ball. And don’t think we’ve forgotten about special teams either. Needless to say, Strong will be pretty busy.
Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia follows. Holgorsen guided the Mountaineers to a 5-1 record after an 0-4 record in October. He received another season, but it feels like Holgorsen has very little room for error. Thirteen starters — nine on offense and four on defense — are back. Mountaineer fans are hoping to see the team build on its impressive Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State, 43-42. A great start is vital for Holgorsen.
Third up is Baylor. And 30 minutes won’t be enough to ask interim head coach Jim Grobe about the spring with the Bears. He’ll be asked plenty of questions about the program, but many of those will not be about football. Quarterback Seth Russell is back following a neck injury that forced him to miss some games last season. Their answers to these difficult questions will tell fans plenty on the mental state of the Bears.
Bill Snyder of Kansas State follows. The Wildcats went 6-7 last year, including 3-6 in conference play. The primary reason for that was the number of injuries the team suffered, including the one to quarterback Jesse Ertz on the season’s first play. Ertz is one of the Wildcats available to the media, so getting his take on returning from such an injury will be great for many.
The morning session ends with Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, the favorite to win the conference again. Last year the Sooners were hungry. This year will be about staying hungry. And beating Texas.