There should be plenty of pop, sizzle and mystery when Big 12 coaches and players head to Dallas for Big 12 Media Days on July 22-23.
Oklahoma State was picked by Big 12 media representatives to win the conference. Texas was picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll, behind TCU at No. 3. Yes, this is going to be an interesting couple of days in Dallas.
Several elite teams have lost a tremendous amount of talent. Could this be the year a smaller program makes its move? Can Texas rebound? There will be no shortage of topics to discuss.
Grab your popcorn and get ready for Big 12 Media Days.
July 22: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, Kansas, Texas Tech
Oklahoma State is facing extremely high expectations. The theme for the Cowboys may be defense since tackle Calvin Barnett and linebacker Shaun Lewis are making the trip along with receiver Josh Stewart. Defense? Yes, defense.
Mike Gundy did not bring a quarterback, so the Clint Chelf versus J.W. Walsh controversy will continue to swirl, even though Chelf is the unofficial starter, according to The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. Defensive improvement will be discussed at great length, and so will the Cowboys' Fiesta Bowl aspirations.
The question is, is Oklahoma State's defense good enough to fend off Baylor and Oklahoma?
Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder also has a quarterback dilemma: Jake Waters or Daniel Sams? Snyder is not tipping his hat. He is bringing center B.J. Finney, receiver Tyler Lockett, linebacker Tre' Walker and safety Ty Zimmerman, who is one of the defense's two returning starters.
Everything we need to know about the Wildcats will be answered in their first three conference games, as Kansas State travels to Texas and Oklahoma State before hosting Baylor.
Count on lots of questions about the lack of experience on the defense and lots of puzzled looks from Snyder. Does anyone even doubt his ability to rebuild and reload? His proclivity to overachieve? Shame on any who do.
TCU is next up. Head coach Gary Patterson could blow everyone's mind in the first week of football. TCU opens its season against LSU in Arlington, Texas. TCU returns 16 starters, nine on defense, while LSU returns four defensive starters. Could this be the upset of the year? Coaches hate to talk about future opponents, but since LSU is TCU's first game, he can talk endlessly about this game.
Patterson has not named a starting quarterback, and like Snyder and Gundy, he did not bring a quarterback.
Running back Waymon James is the lone offensive player to accompany Patterson, while cornerback Jason Verrett, safety Sam Carter and defensive end Jon Koontz will also be attending. The Horned Frogs defense is their strength, so this selection of players makes sense.
When Patterson isn't answering questions about TCU's stout defense, expect him to address quarterback Casey Pachall's situation. Did Patterson go too light on his punishment? Pachall completed rehab treatment after being arrested on drunk driving charges in October.
Kansas follows TCU. Head coach Charlie Weis is bringing quarterback Jake Heaps. The former BYU player sat out last year as part of the NCAA's transfer penalty. Running back James Sims, linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Cassius Sendish round out the rest of the Jayhawks ensemble.
Prognosticators have Kansas winning anywhere between three and five games, but it may win more.
Weis' efforts in landing junior college transfers who will play right away is a brilliant game plan to compensate for a lack of experienced players. Until Weis can attract top-notch high school prospects—and that time will come if the Jayhawks start playing more competitively—he is going to have to rely on JUCOs to fill in at non-skilled positions.
The offense is a definite bright spot this year, and Weis should feel extremely comfortable and confident talking about his offense. Someone needs to ask Weis if he plans on continuing to go heavy on JUCOs or if this is just a short-term solution to having experienced players on the field while the underclassmen learn the playbook.
Texas Tech is the final team up on the podium, and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury will address football expectations for the Red Raiders. Does anyone think that he will not be answering questions about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, his former protege? This could get awkward, especially if some questions about Tommy Tuberville's hasty departure from Lubbock, Texas, pop up.
Should Red Raiders fans expect a similar offense like Texas A&M's? That question will be asked. Who is the starting quarterback, Michael Brewer or Davis Webb? That will be asked as well, despite Kingsbury telling ESPN's Ivan Maisel that he will make that decision in August.
Defensive end Kerry Hyder, receiver Eric Ward and running back Kenny Williams will be in attendance.
July 23: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Baylor, Iowa State
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops will bring center Gabe Ikard, fullback Trey Millard and cornerback Aaron Colvin. Yep, the Sooners have not named their starting quarterback, so no QB will be making this trip. The offense is loaded, and the defense returns four starters, so the obvious points of discussion are who will step up for the defense and who is going to lead the offense.
Stoops may address the fact that Phil Steele's Big 12 forecast has Oklahoma third behind Texas and Oklahoma State. Fans would love to hear about his experiences in helping out Oklahoma's tornado victims last May; college football needs more feel-good stories like this.
The biggest talking point will be how the Sooners feel about their rival being picked to win the conference.
Texas follows Oklahoma. Head coach Mack Brown might be feeling some extra pressure this year. He gets back two defensive players who missed last year due to injury: linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, and the latter will be in attendance with Brown. The defense was porous at times, and the return of these two players makes up for the loss of Alex Okafor to the NFL.
Brown is also bringing quarterback David Ash, guard Trey Hopkins and safety Adrian Phillips. Ash will probably be asked about his relationship with former Longhorns quarterback Vince Young, who has mentored him. The overlying theme will be how Texas responds to mixed expectations. The Longhorns were ranked No. 4 in Phil Steele's Top 40 preseason poll, but the Big 12 media wasn't as impressed.
West Virginia is up after Texas, and this could be the most interesting Q&A of the day. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has a team without an identity, it would seem. From Sports Illustrated's Ben Glicksman:
As West Virginia's coach stood at the podium following the team's spring game, a reporter asked if he was ready to name a starting quarterback.
"At quarterback?" Holgorsen laughed, glancing briefly around the room. "Not only are we not ready to do that at quarterback, we're not ready to do that at about 20 other positions as well."
The Mountaineers were picked to finish eighth, above Iowa State and Kansas, in the Big 12 media preseason poll. Defensive tackle Will Clarke, free safety Karl Joseph and tackle Quinton Spain will be in attendance.
Baylor head coach Art Briles is bringing a star-studded trio from Waco, Tex. Running back Lache Seastrunk, guard Cyril Richardson and safety Ahmad Dixon will accompany Briles.
Seastrunk is a Heisman sleeper and the first player from Baylor to be named the Big 12's Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Richardson was named the league's Offensive Lineman of the Year. Dixon is on the Thorpe Award watch list and made CBS Sports' top five potential breakout players for the 2014 NFL draft.
Baylor might land a couple of more prospects after this event simply because of the studs they are trotting out to the podium. Expect to hear about Baylor's climb into relevance in the college football landscape and how much longer Briles will be at Baylor before getting lured to a big-boy school in need of a head coach. The Bears were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 media preseason poll.
Iowa State is the last program up, and head coach Paul Rhoads is a fun interview. He also is doing some good things in Ames. The Cyclones return five offensive starters and four defensive starters, and the biggest concern is the loss of linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. Expect Rhoads to talk about the development of the new guys.
Iowa State finished 6-7 last year, losing 31-17 to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. A bowl berth seems unlikely this year, but Rhoads always manages to overachieve and pull a big upset or two. Last year, Iowa State beat Iowa and TCU and gave Big 12 champion Kansas State a heck of a game before finally losing 27-21.
When Big 12 Media Days end, there will be five weeks left until college football kicks off on Aug. 29. It is right around the corner.
Hang in there, Big 12 fans.