1. So Oklahoma president David Boren denied a report that the construction on Memorial Stadium will be delayed due to the economic climate and the recent on-field struggles for the Sooners. I don’t buy the latter. Despite finishing an 8-5 season, the Sooners are still just a season removed from a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Granted, Bob Stoops past few seasons certainly have not lived up to his first few, but nonetheless, it’s still a top program in America. But, the economic climate is certainly a strong possibility for why there may be a delay, or a cut back, on the originally planned $370 million renovation. The fact is oil prices have tumbled more than 50% in recent weeks, and the OU donor base, and the state economy, is heavily tied to energy, specifically oil.
If I’m a Sooner fan, I don’t view this is a big deal for the football program going forward. Memorial Stadium is still a top notch facility, and combined with the brand name, coaching staff, etc., a “new” stadium should not be make-or-break for recruiting going forward. It is a bump in the road, and if the project is delayed to late 2016, or is scaled back, it is not the end of the world.
2. Speaking of OU … is there any doubt that Lon Kruger is the best basketball coach in the state of Oklahoma? Time and time again he proves his X’s and O’s blow out that of in-state rival Travis Ford, and with the way Scott Brooks’ season has gone with the Thunder, it looks the basketball coaching hierarchy begins in Norman. When Kruger was hired in 2011, some thought he was too old to start anew at another program. Clearly AD Joe Castiglione and President Boren saw a guy who had turned around every program he has ever coached (K-State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV), and expected the same in a homecoming of sorts to the Big 12. So far, it’s worked to perfection.
3. As for those coaches who aren’t the admiration of their fan base/administration at the moment: Texas’ Rick Barnes. In Saturday’s crushing loss to Baylor, the Longhorns continued their bad habits of silly outside shooting, and not using their strengths inside. Many thought the Longhorns had the best chance to knock Kansas off the top of the Big 12 perch. Instead, Texas is sitting at 3-5 in conference play. Despite Barnes’ ability to consistently recruit quality classes, his inability to build a team that meets expectations has been concerning. Normally, I’d say Barnes should be worried, but he received a contract extension in the offseason that runs through 2019. He isn’t going anywhere … for now.
4. Oklahoma State has lost 4 of their last 6, and looks like they will be living the rest of the season on the bubble. The Big 12 is good enough where Oklahoma State can get hot, string together some top-25 wins, and be right back in the mix. They still get another chance at Iowa State and Kansas, and play West Virginia twice. But, if they can’t beat Texas on the road Wednesday, in a battle of two desperate teams, it’s going to be a long final few weeks for Travis Ford.
5. So, how about Kansas State? I wrote a couple weeks ago I was certain they had no chance to stay atop the Big 12 standings. Every once in a while I get one right. The Wildcats have lost 3 of 4. The problem for K-State is that their non-conference was such a train wreck (losses to Long Beach St and Texas Southern), that simply going .500 in a really good conference isn’t going to cut it. The Wildcats need to win at least 11 Big 12 games to get considered. They’re 5-4 right now, and I have a hard time finding another six wins on their schedule.
6. Where can I sign up for the “Bob Huggins Coach of the Year” fan club? This version of Huggins’ team continues to remind me of some of his best squads towards the end of WVU’s Big East tenure. Feisty, deep, plenty of pressure, and great defense. Huggins can easily go 10 deep with this roster, and frankly he needs to, with a team that is always pressuring in the backcourt, and leads the country in steals per game. Right now, Huggins is the Big 12 Coach of the Year. But if Bill Self can get his group to an 11th straight conference title in Lawrence, that might be enough to turn Huggins down.
7. Here is our pro-Big 12 tweet of the week. Typical SEC fan crying… put in his place by a Big 12 fan who knows the facts.
7. So Allen, TX QB Kyler Murray decided to stay committed to Texas A&M. As I wrote last week, I really felt that the Longhorns had a good chance of landing Murray, mainly because they have a legitimate and immediate need at QB (which A&M currently doesn’t). I respect Murray for sticking with his original commitment, but I wonder how much his father (legendary A&M QB Kevin Murray) had to say about that! Either way, it sent the Longhorns back to the drawing board with just a few days left to National Signing Day. If the Longhorns don’t sign a quarterback Wednesday, and lose their basketball game to Oklahoma State that night, there are going to be some LONG faces in Austin.
8. So we find out that not only did Jay Norvell, who was fired as OU’s offensive coordinator, take the WR coaching job at Texas, but that his former boss Bob Stoops, urged Texas’ Charlie Strong to get involved and try and hire Norvell. Huh!? Granted Stoops and Strong have a good relationship (they come from similar coaching trees), but what is that all about? Norvell was planning to take a job at Wisconsin, since he’s from Madison and has always had a Big Ten pull. Instead, now Bob Stoops has one of his former coaches with his biggest rival. Either Stoops is playing a massive trick on Strong, or he’s being too loyal to one of his former guys, to the potential detriment of his own program.
9. There was an interesting story in last week’s Oklahoman about how the two Oklahoma schools are not recruiting their own state with nearly the same gusto that they do Texas. According to Jason Kersey, more than 30 Oklahoma HS seniors will sign a letter of intent on Wednesday, but only 6 will play at OU or OSU. This despite the fact that former Oklahoma HS football players have accounted for 19 of the Sooners 36 national awards, and OSU has had similar success in state (Justin Blackmon, Dan Bailey, and Brandon Weeden). The reality is it’s a numbers game. Texas will produce ten times as many Division 1 players as Oklahoma. So, while I understand the coaches and players in Oklahoma likely feel slighted, the sheer volume of talent in Texas requires the attention of the OU and OSU staff. That’s not going to change, and the sooner Oklahoma players get less offended by it, the better it is for everyone.
10. So ESPN and the NFL are trying to bully the College Football Playoff to changing the date for next season’s semifinal games from New Year’s Eve to Saturday January 2nd. Good for Bill Hancock and the committee members for telling ‘em to stick it. I’ll be getting into this more during this week’s podcast, which should be out tomorrow.
11. The first Saturday of Big 12 hoops picks went 3-1-1. I will take it. The biggest surprise was the blowout loss by Texas at Baylor. Embarrassing. Oh, it should have been 4-1, but we can a Wayne Selden missed free throw in the final seconds for that!! I may release mid-week picks on twitter (@heartland_cs), and Saturday picks will come again with write ups on Friday.