NORMAN — The best thing about the Big 12 Conference’s football media days, for all their pomp and circumstance, is what they signify.
Mostly, they’re a permission to forget about baseball, basketball, golf and everything else and turn your attention back to college football because the season is near.
The worst thing about them is little of consequence tends to be discussed or disclosed, from the coaches most of all.
They’re always confident, always “excited” about each player they’re asked about, always happy with what’s going on internally, the quality of the offseason, the health of their program.
Yet, often not on purpose, things of legitimate noteworthiness are said or mentioned. Sometimes a smart question reveals something important.
It’s rarely much, but a little is still something. Given that, here’s a collection of actually notable media days nuggets from each program, offered in the same order as the media-voted Big 12 preseason poll.
About running back Eric Gray, who media voted the league’s preseason newcomer of the year, Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said Gray “honestly exceeded everything that we put in front of him. He learned the offense quickly, he really got acclimated with his teammates and the university quickly, he does everything right.”
When they say “honestly” they tend to mean it. So, it would appear the Sooners have Kennedy Brooks and at least one other runner who can be counted upon to produce in Gray, who averaged better than 5 yards per carry over 258 carries at Tennessee.
2. Iowa State
The question to Cyclone coach Matt Campbell was about his seniors, of which Iowa State has 25, though it ought to have just 17.
“We’re fortunate,” Campbell said. “We’ve got eight of those seniors for us that are coming back with that COVID rule.”
So, if you’re counting, the Cyclones, have 25 seniors, eight of them super seniors, Brock Purdy back at quarterback and preseason defensive player of the year Mike Rose back at linebacker. Norman’s own Charlie Kolar, too, at tight end.
Iowa State’s legit, and with that kind of senior presence, unlikely to beat itself.
Speaking about his quarterbacks, first-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said plenty.
“I just didn’t feel like 15 practices was enough to name a guy starter in a brand new system, a brand new scheme with brand new coaches …
“Casey Thompson is a guy who has been in the program longer,” he said. “Everybody remembers what he did in the Alamo Bowl with four touchdown passes in the second half. Very athletic guy, very driven, very focused, high football IQ, great leader.
“Hudson Card, tremendous passing ability, great instincts passing the football.”
Sarkisian may like both of them, but explaining away having not chosen a starter, he managed to offer every reason why the Longhorns will be fortunate to finish where they’ve been chosen in the conference.
4. Oklahoma State
The Cowboy offensive line was decimated last season and OSU coach Mike Gundy called it “unfair that a couple of those guys were out there. They didn’t have any experience, their bodies weren’t developed.”
“We’re already better just by the depth chart,” Gundy said. “We’re already better [and] we haven’t played a game yet.”
A measure of OSU’s line issues, Chuba Hubbard averaged less than 5 yards per carry after averaging more than 6 the previous two seasons.
Hubbard’s gone, but quarterback Spencer Sanders returns as does most of a reasonably good defense.
Line maturation and depth, by itself, should make OSU better than a year ago and it went 8-3 last season, 6-3 in the league.
TCU coach Gary Patterspn didn’t make news talking about his team, but about another issue in college football’s changing landscape.
“How do we manage our roster?” he said. “We only had eight seniors, so … losing guys, we didn’t have to worry. But if I was somebody that had 24 seniors, until that rule gets changed, that’s going to be hard because if you [then] lose 10 guys to the [transfer] portal … you can’t replace them.”
“That rule,” Patterson said, is the one limiting programs to awarding 25 new scholarships a year.
Via graduation and the portal, it’s not hard to imagine a program that watches 35 scholarship players exit that can’t begin to replace them.
Yet another issue that needs addressing at a time the NCAA is lessening its regulatory role.
6. West Virginia
“I think when we started having success toward the end of the 2019 season, we won two of our last three games, which was a turning point for us, which gave us an opportunity heading into the 2020 season to take a step,” Mountaineer third-year coach Neal Brown said. “I really feel strongly, if we were able to play our full schedule [last season], the improvement would have been even more.”
WVU was 6-4 a year ago, 4-4 in the conference and two of those losses were by less than a touchdown.
The media voted the Mountaineers sixth, yet in Morgantown, they believe they’re on the way up. They might be.
7. Kansas State
The Wildcats beat OU last season and won their next three to get to 4-1 before closing with five straight losses.
“We came up with some core values at the end of [last] season that are going to be exemplified with our student-athletes on and off the field,” third-year coach Chris Klieman said. “One was discipline, one was commitment, one was toughness and the last one was to be selfless.”
Given last season, good move. Also, if establishing new core values is where your program is, it’s a long way from where it needs to be.
“Your question takes me back to that time in December when [I] had to make the change and … it’s a part of this job that I particularly don’t like,” said Baylor coach Dave Aranda, who fired offensive coordinator Larry Fedora last December after the Bears ranked 125th nationally in yards per play.
It’s just Aranda’s second season and the Bears are still in the process of starting over, a very long way from leading OU 28-3 early in the second quarter on Nov. 16, 2019.
9. Texas Tech
People are expecting even less from Texas Tech than Baylor, but at the very least the Red Raiders have a receiver who can play.
“Kaylon Geiger, a transfer from Troy, he’ll have one year of eligibility,” Tech coach Matt Wells said. “We’ll play him at an outside receiver position. I believe he can play both … inside and outside. He’s a speed wideout, really good with the ball in his hand, post catch. He had about 140 catches over two years at Troy.”
Wells buried the lede.
That many catches anywhere is big time, and the number’s actually 149 at 11.3 yards per grab.
Tech may stink, but the Red Raiders have a receiver.
The Jayhawks went 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference in 2008 under coach Mark Mangino. Since, they’re 7-98 against Big 12 Conference foes.
This season might not be any better than the last 12, but KU appears to have a defensive leader in Kenny Logan.
“Kenny was one of the first ones to come into my office when I was appointed head coach,” rookie skipper Lance Leipold said. “He’s a daily visitor. I just think, in so many ways, he is impactful.”
Logan, a junior cornerback, made 58 tackles last season and picked off two passes.
A first-year coach inheriting a hapless program needs a guy like that.