As football season creeps closer and closer, it seems like everyone is counting down the days until their team kicks off the season. Unfortunately, it is still only July but there is one last big event before the season begins, which is Big 12 Media Days. I know, this isn’t exactly going to fix my football cravings either but it will have to do for right now because let’s face it; this is all we have right now. The 2017 Big 12 Media Days are going to be a bit different from previous years. This year the Star in Frisco or as some say, “The little house that Jerry built” will be the host of this year’s media day. With expansion talk left behind in 2016, hopefully this year will be more focused on just football and football alone. With that said, here are the 5 biggest headlines going into this year’s Big 12 Media Days.
1) Will this be Kliff Kingsbury’s last season with Texas Tech?
There is no doubt that everyone knows that the Red Raiders have to improve this season or else, well, you know. No person should understand that more loudly and clearly than Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury himself. Since the 2013 season (Kingsbury’s first year as HC), Texas Tech has gone 24-26 overall and has a Big 12 record of 13-23 (Yikes!). Kliff has never finished higher than 5th in the final conference standings and since 2000, the Red Raiders have only missed a bowl game in three seasons, two which belong to Kliff Kingsbury. I am not here to completely bash on Kliff but I am telling you like it is and not sugar coating it. If Kingsbury doesn’t get his team back to a bowl game this year, I am afraid his time in Lubbock may come to an end after the season. I understand Texas Tech has still quite a bit of money invested in him after that 2014 contract extension but there is a question that needs to be asked to the AD Kirby Hocutt. How much are you willing to pay to win football games? Are you willing to possibly not only pay a new coach but a former coach, who isn’t even coaching your team anymore? This can all be fixed by a simple three letter word, win. With the media preseason poll showing that most folks think that the Red Raiders will finish 9th this year isn’t very encouraging but the good news is that the media doesn’t affect the outcome of games, players and coaches do. Kliff Kingsbury’s seat is hotter than the west Texas sun but do the Red Raiders have what it takes to turn things around this year? Only time will tell.
2) Will 2017 be the year Bill Snyder calls it quits?
When you think of Kansas State football, what comes to mind? I’ll give you a hint, the stadium they play in is named after him. The answer is Bill Snyder and if you didn’t know that then please, seek medical attention immediately. Snyder is heading into his 26th seasons as the man in charge in Manhattan and while he may be getting wiser, unfortunately he isn’t getting any younger as the years pass. Bill Snyder has an overall record of 202-105-1 (Yes, one tie) and a conference record of 118-80-1 going all the way back to the good ole Big 8 days. There is no doubt that this is Snyder’s best team since the 2012 squad so I am starting to wonder if he will ride into the sunset with this particular group. The college football hall of fame coach will have a plenty to think about after the 2017 season is over.
3) Will 2017 remembered as the “Year Of Gundy”?
There many interesting coaches in the Big 12 but Mike Gundy takes the cake as “The most interesting coach in the world” in my book. Just like coach Snyder at Kansas State, this will be Mike Gundy’s best team in recent years going back to the 2011 team. In the last few years Mike has not been as open with the media as he is now. My guess for this is confidence, I mean with conference championship expectations and actually having the talent to pull it off must be a great confidence booster for any coach.
Just look at everything he has done this year and a snap of football hasn’t even been played. The mullet continues to be a fashion trend even though he trimmed it. Not to mention the big daddy mug this past signing day and wearing a singlet to draw support for the wrestling team. Oh yeah, if that wasn’t badass enough for you then how about hunting rattlesnakes? Do you see what three consecutive 10 plus win seasons can do? This is the most confident I have ever seen Mike Gundy and with the recent contract extension, this probably won’t be the last “Year of Gundy”. It is hard to believe that the man who once said “Come after me, I’m a man I’m 40!” is now the 2nd longest tenured head coach in the Big 12 but don’t let the mullet fool you, Mike Gundy is more focused than ever before.
4) New faces in new places (well, almost)
Baylor: Now on its third head coach in the last three years, the Bears think they have found a long term solution in new head coach Matt Rhule. A coach from the northeast who doesn’t have any Texas ties? That will never work will it? Well, Matt Rhule isn’t just some cookie cutter coach. Matt Rhule is a tough, disciplined head coach and he expects the same from his football team. Just take a look at his last stop at Temple, he took a two win football team in 2013 and improved every single year all the way to this past season. By the time 2015 rolled around, he had his first ten win season and he topped it off with a conference title in 2016. Last season the Bears lacked physicality and mental toughness but you can make a bet the size of Texas that this year’s Baylor team won’t be lacking in either department.
Texas: Now on their its coach in five years, but the Longhorns think they have finally found the program savior in Tom Herman. When you think of Texas football, what comes to mind? Well, if we are talking about the last 7 years, the word mediocrity comes to mind. Since 2010 Texas has had an overall record of 46-42 and has not mad a bowl game since the 2014 season. Let that sink in for a moment and think about that. This is the supposed to be the premiere program of that state but the last 7 years have been forgettable for fans. Tom Herman had tremendous success at Houston and you could even make an argument that his Houston teams the last two years were the best in the state. When Charlie Strong left he said “The cake is baked” meaning he laid the foundation and now it’s Tom Herman’s cake to put the icing on in 2017.
Oklahoma: The back to back defending Big 12 champs have a lot of talent coming back this seasons. They have a two-time offensive player of the year quarterback in Baker Mayfield returning, one of the best offensive lines in the country and the majority of their starters on defense as well. This could have been a monster year for Bob Stoops if retirement didn’t call his name. Now it is Lincoln Riley’s turn to call the shots and he has just been handed the keys to a Ferrari and his instructions are not to crash what Stoops has built. In his tenure (1999-2016) Bob Stoops lost only 9 home games and won 10, I repeat 10 Big 12 titles. I am sure many Oklahoma fans wish they could have won some of those national title games and now they just want to get back to them. Will the new 33 year old head coach get them there? No pressure Lincoln Riley but all eyes in the Sooner state will be watching.
5) The new Big 12 Championship Game
Remember the old Big 12 slogan, “One true champion”? After talks about expansion and then deciding not to expand, the Big 12 has finally decided on having their first conference title game since 2010. There will be no divisions and the title game will be a rematch of the top two teams in the conference on December 2nd at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas. Now whether you agree with this or not, this game is going to happen regardless and the world will go on. But before that time comes you bet your last dollar that I am going to have some second thoughts about this and I will explain why.
The last two years, the Big 12 has had a regular season finale game that decided who was going to win the conference title. That game is Bedlam and it has been traditionally played in the last week of the regular season right around the time the other conferences had their championship game. Well now that game has been moved up a few weeks so the possibility of having the same matchup in consecutive weeks has been thrown out the window.
Now the top three teams this season are in my eyes going to be Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Here are some key dates to remember if two of these three teams have to play each other again for all the marbles. October 21st is a matchup between Kansas State and Oklahoma which is 6 weeks from a possible rematch. November 4th is the Bedlam game which is 4 weeks away from the title game and the Kansas State/Oklahoma State game is only 2 weeks away from the conference championship. I guarantee you that the folks who run this conference do not want Kansas State and Oklahoma State playing again that close to the final game. Is the Bedlam game too close to the championship game? Well, maybe so but at least they moved it up right? The Kansas State/Oklahoma rematch wouldn’t be that bad considering how spread out the possible rematch would be but the football fan in me would love to see Bedlam played at the highest stakes possible.
While other conferences have so called “title” games, that doesn’t necessarily mean the two teams are as good as one another. In fact the four other power five conference’s title games are sort of lopsided. The SEC west has won 8 consecutive conference title games and that trend doesn’t look like it will fade anytime soon. The ACC Coastal division has won six straight over the Atlantic division and in fact the regular season winner of the FSU/Clemson matchup has gone on to win the conference in the past 6 seasons. Much like the SEC, the Big Ten has the same issue. The Big Ten eastern division is miles ahead of the Big Ten west. The east division includes, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. Tell me that isn’t lopsided and I will call you a liar. Whoever wins that division gets a date with most likely Wisconsin or Nebraska every year and no disrespect to them but yawn.
Speaking of lopsided, take a look at the Pac-12, who has had six straight conference champions coming out of the north division. In fact the Pac-12 North has outscored the Pac-12 South 247 to 114 in the past six years averaging about a 22 point margin of victory in each game. What this all means is the Big 12 might actually be the only conference with the best two teams playing at the end of the year. With that said, there is a greater chance for an upset for ruining the other team’s chances of make the playoff or it will be the best conference title game in the country. It is a high risk/high rewards for the Big 12 but it will be one damn interesting game for sure.
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