While the minor league conferences like the SEC and ACC kick off their media days this week, Big 12 media days right around the corner. Myself along with a couple of Heartland College Sports staff members will be in Frisco, Texas next Monday and Tuesday to deliver you full coverage of the event. But as we approach the 2017 campaign, there’s no doubt the Big 12 conference is as healthy as it’s been in at least a decade.
Conference realignment and expansion is dead (for now)
For at least the past 7 years, discussions surrounding conference expansion and realignment has been at the forefront of anything related to Big 12 media days. Who’s coming? Who’s going? Will the conference even continue to exist? This is the nonsense the media has been forced to cover and the coaches and players have had to talk about. But not this year.
Also, unlike last season when Big 12 media days was all about the idea of Big 12 expansion, there will be none this year (or at least, God willing, very little). We can all be thankful for that. In fact, we are probably a solid 5 years away from any kind of conference expansion or realignment talk coming back to the forefront. The Big 12 is raking in money, third-most behind only the SEC and Big Ten. But when factoring in third tier rights, the Big 12 is on par with many in those two conferences.
The fact that the Big 12 media members, coaches, and players can go into media days knowing that the conference is stable and set in stone means everyone can focus more on what really matters most: the play on the field.
The Red River Rivalry is about to get a serious jolt with Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman becoming the new faces of this match up. It’s the first time since the 1930s that OU and Texas are bringing in a new head coach in the same year. Watching these two young head coaches battle on the field and on the recruiting trail should become a storyline that the Big 12 can continue to build its reputation off of.
And don’t forget about Matt Rhule. It’s one of the hardest jobs in college football to rebuild Baylor from a football standpoint, but also from a respectability standpoint. All signs so far point to Rhule being the perfect fit for the job. He’s embraced the community and has not shied away from the problems of the previous Art Briles administration. Rhule is a strong personality, but a fun personality, who has put together a fantastic staff with strong Texas ties. His pro-style offense will be a welcomed change of pace in Big 12 football.
West Virginia president Gordon Gee is now the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, and there is no better fit for the job. In a time when stability is finally starting to settle in for the Big 12 conference, Gee has the perfect personality, temperament and experience (Brown, Vanderbilt, Ohio State) the be the chairman.
And unlike his predecessor David Boren, Gee has a welcomed sense of humility and knowing what he doesn’t know. In a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News, Gee was asked about the importance of getting the Big 12 into the College Football Playoff, saying, “You understand, I’m a lawyer, not an athletic administrator and don’t know much about the X’s and O’s. But I do know this. One, we need to make certain we’re very competitive in recruiting and bringing in great student-athletes and also I think, moving to a championship game will give us a lot more opportunity to make our case. I think the third thing is I believe we need to make certain our fan base is incredibly supportive of what we’re doing.”
Refreshing, huh? And unlike Boren who was happy to answer any question thrown at him regarding Oklahoma’s happiness in the Big 12, Gee is preaching unity. It’s about time.
There are a handful of players who could find themselves in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December. The obvious candidates are Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph and/or James Washington. Also, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier will be a household name to college football fans this season. The Big 12 conference hasn’t had a Heisman winner since 2011 when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III won the award. Between the talent and explosive offenses in the conference, this has the potential to be a special season for the conference on the individual award front. And the good news is we will get to hear from all three players (Mayfield, Rudolph, Washington) next week in Frisco at Big 12 media days.
It took several years, but Kansas is no longer going to be the “easy win” it has been. Now that’s not to say that the Jayhawks won’t get blown out at least a couple times in conference play, but the days of looking at a schedule and chalking up a game against KU as a “guaranteed W” are over. David Beaty has the program on the right path and is killing it on the recruiting trail, many thanks to his assistant Tony Hull.
In fact, the bottom of the Big 12 has picked itself up. Matt Campbell is making impressive strides in Year 2 at Iowa State. Most fans would probably place Texas Tech in that lower tier, and while Kliff Kingsbury has had his issues in Lubbock, the fact that the Red Raiders could finish in 8th place in the Big 12 speaks to a conference that has lots of depth and parity.
Plus, if you want to call the Oklahoma schools the two favorites in the conference, the 3-7 spots are incredibly competitive and a case can be made for Texas, Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor to finish in just about any order. That’s good for the conference. And it’s entirely possible one of them jumps into the top 2 spots by season’s end.
All in all, this is going to be a fantastic Big 12 media days where the focus will be on the coaches, players and the on-field expectations. Sure there is always some fun off-field topics. But the key is those issues will be just that, “fun”. Be sure to keep it tuned to Heartland College Sports for all your coverage next Monday and Tuesday.