Top 5 Storylines to Watch at Big 12 Media Days
The college football offseason is slowly morphing into college football preseason. How do we know? Conference media days are underway. The SEC is holding its media days this week, and the Big 12 will have its media days next Monday and Tuesday (July 21-22).
The storylines for Big 12 media days are aplenty. From the College Football Playoff to Heisman candidates and expectations for Texas, it will all be on the table next week in Dallas. Whether those stories get legitimate answers remain to be seen.
Which stories are sure to get the most attention? Our answers are in the following primer.
5. Coaches on the Hot Seat
This is usually an annual topic. For the past couple of years, former Texas coach Mack Brown teetered on the edge of it.
Now that Brown has officially "moved on" from the Longhorns, the conversation shifts to a pair of Big 12 coaches: Kansas' Charlie Weis and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen. In fact, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has Weis as one of his five coaches on the hot seat entering this season.
Weis has the tough task of turning Kansas, which went to the Orange Bowl in 2007-08 under former coach Mark Mangino, into a bowl-eligible program. Things haven't gone smoothly. Weis has four wins in two years. If the offense can't make at least marginal improvements, anything more than 3-9 seems impossible.
Many of the same issues can be said about West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 10-3 in Holgorsen's first season in Morgantown, but have trended downward since. Since WVU athletic director Oliver Luck jumped through hoops to hire Holgorsen in late 2010, he's probably willing to give his coach a longer leash.
In other words, it might take a disaster of a season—even worse than last year's—for Holgorsen to lose his job. Still, '14 is a crucial year for Holgorsen, who must show he is capable of getting the Mountaineers out of this hole.
It's never a fun line of questioning, but both coaches will likely be asked about their job security.
4. College Football Playoff
The College Football Playoff is a major storyline across all of college football, not just the Big 12. However, the Big 12 stands out from the rest of college football's power conferences because it doesn't have a conference championship game.
Whether this ends up hindering or helping the conference, which touts its "One True Champion" motto via round-robin schedule, remains to be seen.
Coaches will be asked about this conference championship game, or lack thereof. They'll also be asked about strength of schedule and whether that really helps or hurts a team's chances of getting into the playoff. Texas, for example, plays UCLA and BYU in September. Kansas State has an early-season game against Auburn. Baylor, however, plays zero "Power Five" teams in its non-conference schedule.
How all of these schedules look by year's end will be fascinating to watch since it's not abundantly clear how strength of schedule will be weighed.
3. Bryce Petty, the Heisman Contender
Imagine Baylor head coach Art Briles telling a quarterback recruit that he's coached two Heisman-winning signal-callers in four years.
It's a scary thought if you're a competing head coach, but it's possible, given the numbers Baylor offenses are capable of producing. The Heisman has, after all, morphed into a glorified Davey O'Brien Award given to quarterbacks with aesthetically pleasing stats. Last season, quarterback Bryce Petty totaled roughly 4,400 yards and 46 touchdowns by himself.
Can he do it again this year with the benefit of preseason hype on his side? As of May, he's at 10/1 odds to win the hardware, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Bears are replacing important skill players around Petty, like running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese. Still, Baylor landed four Preseason All-Big 12 selections on offense, including Petty. If the Bears can reload on offense, they'll be in the hunt for a second straight Big 12 title.
And Petty will likely be in the hunt for an invitation to New York in December. He'll certainly be asked about it a lot, believe it.
2. Oklahoma Quarterback Trevor Knight
There will undoubtedly be a side story about wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the troubled ex-Missouri Tiger who officially became a member of the Sooners earlier this month. But there's no guarantee he will play this year, so the focus is all about quarterback Trevor Knight.
He's been the story for Oklahoma all offseason after his four-touchdown performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Now, he enters the 2014 season as potentially the most dangerous offensive weapon in the conference.
However, the last time anyone saw Knight was Oklahoma's spring game—and the incumbent starter hardly impressed, going just 5-of-14 passing with an interception. Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel was especially critical of Knight's performance.
"Not seeing the coverage, recognizing it," Heupel said via RJ Young of SoonerScoop.com. "Not going to the right place. Fundamentally not being good when he is throwing it to the right spot."
Knight's dramatic development as a passer last season inspires hope about his ceiling, but there's a legitimate question about whether he can keep it up all season. The Sooners have high expectations involving the College Football Playoff. Knight is going to be a big part of realizing, or not realizing, those expectations.
Yes, just Texas. Like, everything.
First-year coach Charlie Strong has been on the job about seven months and no one else during Big 12 media days will garner more focus. Given Strong's reputation—fair or not—of being distant, relative to media obligations, this is a big moment for him. There's no doubt he can coach, so how does he handle the frenzy?
Then there's the whole quarterback situation. Among the four players the Longhorns are bringing, none of them are named David Ash. Ash has been roped off from media access all offseason because of injury problems, and, while he's the presumed front-runner to start, that's not a guarantee. His absence from media days is interesting. Strong and his players will undoubtedly be asked about the quarterback race.
Finally, what are the realistic expectations for this team? Strong raised eyebrows in April when he said the Horns wouldn't be winning a national championship this year, but that's an honest assessment. Is that assessment the same or different now? What do the players think? Whether on the field or on the recruiting trail, Texas has underachieved over the last couple of years.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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