Earlier this week, the Big 12 universities got together in Dallas for the annual football media days. The Collegian was also in attendance, gathering the top story lines for every team in the conference going into the season.
The Horned Frogs come into the 2015 season sitting atop the Big 12 in the media’s preseason poll. Can the underdog-turned-favorite in just one season meet expectations by winning the conference and landing a berth in the College Football Playoff, or will they stumble and crack under the pressure?
“But the thing I found is just, for me, if I stay even keel with how we need to do things, then my team will because it just kind of all reverberates down,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “So for me, I’m just going to – what I think when I go to bed at night and not just in the Big 12, but everything that we’ve been able to accomplish at TCU in the last 18 years, it’s all great and fine, but it’s kind of like winning any awards. You can put them all in the closet, because it doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore when we play Minnesota.”
With new head coach David Beaty taking over in Lawrence, a new culture is being established. No matter who takes over, there’s zero chance that Kansas will see success on the field this season. Success for this team, however, will just be signs that the Jayhawks are at least on the right track.
“We’re currently wrapped up in preparing our staff and our team to create a brand of Kansas football that is tough, fast‑paced, disciplined, highly competitive, fun to watch and, man, fun to play in,” Beaty said. “If you’re a guy that wants to play college football, we want you to want to come play in this.”
The Mountaineers look to maybe be a dark-horse Big 12 title candidate for the 2015 season. One of the main reasons for that is West Virginia has quietly assembled one of the strongest (or the strongest) defenses in the conference.
“Without a doubt, it should be the best (defense) that I’ve had potentially since I started coaching 20‑some years ago,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I’ve just got guys that have a bunch of experience.”
The biggest question for the Wildcats lies at the most important position on the field: quarterback. K-State has four guys in contention to take the job, all with zero starting experience and very little game experience.
And it’s a tight race getting close to camp.
“It’s hard to get all the repetitions you would like with four guys sharing the opportunities, so it will be significant for us to be able to pare that down as quickly as we possibly can,” head coach Bill Snyder said. “I don’t know how fast that will be. Right now they’re all on equal footing.”
The Red Raiders look to field an improved defense with new defensive coordinator David Gibbs taking over this season. Texas Tech had, statistically, the worst defense in the Big 12 last season.
“I think schematically, he’ll do some different things, the way he handles players,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ve had some shuffling of which coaches are coaching which positions. So pretty much an entire overhaul.”
Even though they going for a three-peat in conference championships, the Bears were still picked second by the media for this season. Will Baylor’s streak end, or will they channel the underdog spirit they know so well and pull out another conference title?
“Getting chosen second, I mean, that’s okay,” head coach Art Briles said. “Like I said, it’s better than getting third. I guess you’ve got to win it three times in a row to get picked first.”
Oklahoma has a similar problem as K-State, but the candidates for the starting job in Norman both have significantly more experience. Last season, poor quarterback play was one of the factors that left the Sooners with their first sub-10 win record since 2009.
“(In) the quarterback battle, I know it’s popular for everyone to act like a certain guy has already got the job,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Trevor Knight and Baker Mayfield are in a tight battle, and Cody Thomas is right on their heels.”
The Cyclones had one of the worst offenses in the country last season in offensive coordinator Mark Mangino’s first season. Will Iowa State be able to get something going on that end of the ball to get the Cyclones out of the bottom of the conference and Paul Rhoads off the hot seat in Ames?
“I think (Mangino) has a much better understanding of where the league is at right now,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “Going into his second season as the offensive coordinator, and his job and the staff’s job to put us in position, run‑pass position, to run away from numbers and throw away from numbers in a positive sense offensively.”
The Pokes are another dark-horse candidate to do something big this season. They have several good quarterbacks, they have players returning on both sides of the ball and they have a coach who has proven that he knows how to win.
“I think, if we played well and take care of the ball, that we’ll have an opportunity to win the league,” head coach Mike Gundy said. “We have good young players. We’ve got some depth. We like our football team. I like our coaching staff. I like how the team cares about each other.”
Will this be the year that Texas finally gets back to being Texas? Head coach Charlie Strong is only in his second year, so the only pressure he’s receiving is from impatient fans down in Austin, Texas.
“Last year, 6‑7 is not good enough,” Strong said. “It will never be good enough at the University of Texas. We know we lost a lot of players on defense, returned a lot on offense, but we have to improve as a coaching staff.”