The Big 12’s annual Media Days gathering is Monday and Tuesday at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. The annual event serves as a kickoff to the coming football season, and there will be plenty of questions for coaches and invited players to answer in a season of big changes for the conference. Here are five storylines to follow for the Big 12:
1) The new Big 12
Gone are Colorado (Pac-12) and Nebraska (Big Ten). With a 10-team Big 12, the North-South divisions and the conference championship game are gone, too. Now teams will play a complete round-robin schedule, which means one more conference game for each team and also eliminates teams from gaining a possible advantage based on the schedule rotation of games against the opposite division.
2) Is Oklahoma a national title contender?
The large majority of preseason national rankings released thus far have the Sooners at either No. 1 or No. 2. Eight starters are back from an offense that averaged 37.2 points per game last year. Included are quarterback Landry Jones, who was second in the nation in passing yards and touchdowns, and receiver Ryan Broyles, who led the nation in receptions and was third in yards. Oklahoma has a 36-game home winning streak, so the Sooners’ road games are worth a look. And there are two big away games: a nonconference game at Florida State on Sept. 17 and at Oklahoma State to end the regular season.
3) If not Oklahoma ...
The Sooners are the clear conference favorite, receiving 41 of 43 first-place votes in the preseason media poll. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State split the other two first-place votes. A&M was 9-4 last season, beat Oklahoma 33-19 in College Station and finished the season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1999. Seventeen starters return, so expectations are high, but there is that Nov. 5 game at Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State’s record has steadily improved in coach Mike Gundy’s six years. After an 11-2 record last season, a conference title is the next step. Nine offensive starters are back, including the big-play combination of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon.
Schedule concern: Two of the Cowboys’ first three Big 12 games are at Texas A&M and Texas. They also must play at Missouri and Texas Tech.
4) Can Texas return to the top?
The Longhorns went 5-7 last season and saw their 12-year bowl streak end. That led to big off-season changes in Austin, with some of the biggest coming in the coaching staff. Among the five new assistants: innovative co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who was hired from Boise State, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, hired from Mississippi State after Will Muschamp left to become head coach at Florida.
With questions at quarterback, true freshman running back Malcolm Brown — one of the nation’s top recruits — needs to make the big and immediate impact expected of him.
5) Baylor’s Mr. Excitement
Baylor’s rise in the Big 12 has, not coincidentally, been accompanied by the increased level of play from junior quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin came back from a 2009 knee injury to pass for a school-record 3,501 yards last year. He also accounted for 30 touchdowns (22 passing, eight rushing). Griffin has playmakers around him in the Bears’ offense, but there’s no doubt that he’s the centerpiece. Griffin is the conference’s most exciting player. If healthy for a full season, he is a Heisman Trophy candidate.