This is starting to feel like that course in advanced statistics that everyone tells you is impossible to understand.
Head spinning. Mind exploding. No end in sight.
When thinking about college realignment, v. 2.0, I have no idea what to think anymore.
For the second consecutive year, realignment dealing primarily with the Big 12 has dominated college football. The only difference this year is that the rampant speculation is taking place during the season, stealing the focus away from the field and putting it somewhere in outer space. Seriously.
Oklahoma might join the Pac-12 and take Oklahoma State with it.
Reports have tied Kansas with potential landing spots in the Pac-12 or Big East. Ditto for Missouri and the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 or Big East.
Who knows what Texas will do. But the Longhorns, like last summer, are the heavy hitters who likely hold the key to either saving the league again or dissolving it into oblivion.
Texas A&M still has to accept an invitation from the SEC.
Can anyone make any sense of these developments?
Then, there's the financial side of this mess. Texas signed a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN for the Longhorn Network in January. Could UT keep the LHN in the Pac-12, which has equal revenue sharing? Last summer, the answer was no. That's essentially why UT is still a member of the Big 12. For now.
Furthermore, there's the 13-year, $1.17 billion deal commissioner Dan Beebe and the Big 12 landed with Fox in April. What happens to this deal if there are no teams left in the Big 12 to play any games next year?
Our Matt Tait mentioned this on Monday, but there's simply too much financial uncertainty for this thing to be completely resolved in a week.
There is no fixed penalty for a member institution leaving the Big 12. The conference bylaws are complicated and vague. For reference, Nebraska (Big Ten) settled for $9.25 million, while Colorado (Pac-12) settled for $6.86 million in exit fees last year.
I have no idea what will happen, but I do hope Kansas stays in a BCS Conference, as Tom Keegan pointed out today.
Now, for the put-on-the-back-shelf, on-the-field analysis from the first week of action in the Big 12:
After week 1 ...
Straight up: 9-1
Vs. spread: 4-2.
Not a bad showing for the first week. My one straight-up loss was Baylor pulling off a 50-48 thriller over TCU on Friday. If quarterback Robert Griffin (21-of-27, 359 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT) keeps putting those numbers up, he could find himself in the Heisman conversation.
Some bullet-point observations from the first week:
• After one week, the top two teams in the country in total offense? 1. Oklahoma State (666 yards); 2. Oklahoma (663 yards).
• Every Big 12 team won its week 1 games, netting the conference a 10-0 record to begin the season, the best mark in the country. The Big East also went undefeated in week 1 at 8-0.
• Big 12 team that looked the best: Oklahoma (47-14 rout of Tulsa). How the Sooners play on the road (at No. 6 Florida State on Sept. 17) will define their season.
• Big 12 team that looked the worst: Tie between Kansas State (10-7 escape over Eastern Kentucky) and Iowa State (20-19 scare of a victory over Northern Iowa). Iowa State needed a game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left, while Kansas State trailed Eastern Kentucky for three quarters. Kansas fans have to feel a little better about potentially beating these two teams this season (Oct. 22 at home vs. K-State; Nov. 5 at Iowa State).
• Player of the week: Baylor's Robert Griffin. As mentioned above, he was sensational on Friday against TCU in Baylor's 50-48 victory. He was also more accurate with the ball than in the earlier stages of his college career. People will compare him to Vince Young, but Griffin throws a much better deep ball, and is also more accurate. Could that translate into NFL success for Griffin?
• Keep in mind two Big 12 games before Saturday this week: Arizona at No. 9 Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. Thursday; and No. 21 Missouri at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Here's the first edition this season of the Sorrentino Scale, which ranks each Big 12 football team every week:
- Oklahoma (1-0): Offense could be most electric in country.
- Texas A&M (1-0): Aggies can beat teams in variety of ways; A&M dismantled SMU, 46-14, behind two touchdowns apiece on the ground from Cyrus Gray (132 yards) and Christine Michael (85 yards).
- Oklahoma State (1-0): Big 12 should have three of top scoring offenses in country, with Cowboys (61-34 winners over Louisiana-Lafayette) potentially leading the way.
- Missouri (1-0): Once James Franklin and Missouri's offense come around, Tigers will be dangerous.
- Baylor (1-0): If defense steps up, Bears could threaten with seven or eight wins. Don't forget about receiver Kendall Wright (12-189-2).
- Texas (1-0): Interesting Saturday matchup at home vs. BYU.
- Texas Tech (1-0): Red Raiders' pass defense (sore spot last year) off to great start (held Texas State to 75 net passing yards in 50-10 victory).
- Kansas State (1-0): Have a week off to try to figure out just what the heck that was against Eastern Kentucky.
- Kansas (1-0): Beautiful formula for offensive success in week 1: Jordan Webb plays the caretaker (7-10, 146 passing yards, 3 TDs), lets talented ground game go wild (301 rushing yards, 3 TDs).
- Iowa State (1-0): If Cyclones play like they did in week 1 for rest of season, they may not win another game.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
It's nice to finally focus on the action again.
In the midst of an ugly offseason, the most prominent college football headlines essentially had nothing to do with the games.
Miami (Fla.) was investigated for rules violations centering around improper benefits given by booster Nevin Shapiro in one of the largest scandals in the history of college sports.
Ohio State players sold memorabilia to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.
Arrest warrants were obtained for LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and a teammate on charges of second-degree battery for a bar fight that injured four people. The school suspended the players indefinitely.
Texas A&M surely will cause another realignment cluster of a situation across college football after notifying the Big 12 that it planned to leave the conference in the summer of 2012. The SEC, A&M's likely destination, would have 13 teams. The Big 12 would be down to nine. How many more will each add? Will the Big 12 survive a third member school leaving in the past year? It's unknown. And it's a mess.
Perhaps what college football needs is some game action. A time to sit back in front of the TV over the weekend and unwind. Or a time to catch a game live. Follow it online. Anything to detract from probation, rules violations or realignment. It kind of feels like a break.
At long last, the games are back. I'm kicking off the Big 12 season here on the Conference Chatter blog with some predictions for week 1.
I'll post my predictions for each Big 12 game around this time every week, picking against the spread and straight up. I'll keep a running tally of both.
If you think some or any of my predictions are absurd, feel free to let me know about it. Or maybe you agree with some of my forecasts. Either way, I'd be glad to interact with our loyal KUsports.com readers every week in the comments section.
For a brief video version of my picks, check out my ConferenceChatterTV account on YouTube.
The last two seasons, I picked every Big 12 game, straight up, on YouTube. Here are those results:
2010 season: 82-23 (78.1 percent accurate, straight up)
2009 season: 81-24 (77.1 percent accurate, straight up)
This is my first year of picking against the spread. Let's get this thing going.
No. 14 TCU at Baylor, 7 p.m.
Line: TCU by 3.5
Pick: vs. line: TCU; straight up: TCU.
One-line reason: Baylor needs to prove it can stop someone on 'D' before I have more faith in the Bears, led by junior do-it-all quarterback Robert Griffin.
Miami (Ohio) at No. 21 Missouri, 11 a.m.
Line: Missouri by 20.5
Pick: vs line: Miami (Ohio); straight up: Missouri.
One-line reason: The Tigers, even with new sophomore QB James Franklin making his first start, should provide noticeable separation along offense and defensive lines. But 20.5 points are a whole lot.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma State by 37
Pick: vs. line: Louisiana-Lafayette; straight up: Oklahoma State
One-line reason: Cowboys beat Lafayette by 26 last year on the road, but 37? That's asking a lot, as much as I love watching the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon touchdown show.
Northern Iowa at Iowa State, 6 p.m.
Pick: straight up: Iowa State
One-line reason: Cyclones won, 27-0, vs. UNI last season.
Eastern Kentucky at Kansas State, 6 p.m.
Pick: straight up: Kansas State
One-line reason: Should be a yawner. More interesting: How many rushing yards will Bryce Brown have? Set line around 50.
McNeese State at Kansas, 6 p.m.
Pick: straight up: Kansas
One-line reason: Because a North Dakota State catastrophe can't happen two times in two years; Kansas should score as many points as it can and not worry about running up the score; confidence will build, as a result.
Texas State at Texas Tech, 6 p.m.
Pick: straight up: Texas Tech
One-line reason: Let's just play this one and quickly move on.
Rice at Texas, 7 p.m.
Line: Texas by 24.5
Pick: vs. line: Rice; straight up: Texas
One-line reason: I want to see something from Longhorns before picking them by more than three touchdowns.
Tulsa at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma by 25
Pick: vs. line: Oklahoma; straight up: Oklahoma
One-line reason: OU has won 36 straight home games, tops in the country; with talent level, Sooners should blow people out this year at home.
SMU at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.
Line: Texas A&M by 15.5
Pick: vs. line: Texas A&M; straight up: Texas A&M
One-line reason: If realignment talk isn't a distraction, Aggies should cruise at home.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
This time of year — more specifically this week — holds a certain amount of special sports significance across the country.
Perhaps you'll feel an added jolt of enthusiasm this week as you go about your daily routine.
College football is upon us. The seven-month drought is over, and thankfully, we're pretty much done hearing about fall practices and anything pertaining to the offseason.
Yes, we've officially hit game week.
The Big 12 will take part in its first game Friday, when Baylor plays host to No. 14 TCU, one year after the Horned Frogs destroyed the Bears, 45-10, in Fort Worth, Texas. Eight conference teams will jump into action Saturday, while Texas A&M will open its season Sunday.
In the meantime, here are my top questions facing each Big 12 team before the season starts.
No. 1 Oklahoma
Week 1: Saturday vs. Tulsa, 7 p.m.
Biggest question: How will the absence of Travis Lewis, chosen as preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, affect the Sooners and their quest for a national championship?
Lewis, who broke his toe on Aug. 8, is expected to miss eight weeks. If that timetable holds, eight weeks from the time of injury would be Oct. 3.
The good news: OU faces archrival Texas on Oct. 10 in Dallas. The bad news: The Sooners have a front-heavy schedule, with games at No. 6 Florida State on Sept. 17, and a home tilt against No. 21 Missouri on Sept. 24. Can OU remain undefeated in the time Lewis misses?
Oklahoma is a factory for producing above-average Big 12 players at virtually every position on the field, but this injury came at an inopportune time. The Sooners are still trying to cope with losing senior linebacker Austin Box, who died in May because of a toxic mix of pain pills.
No. 8 Texas A&M
Week 1: Sunday vs. SMU, 6:30 p.m.
Biggest question: How many games would the Aggies win in the SEC this season?
Texas A&M reportedly notified the Big 12 late Monday night its intentions of withdrawing from the conference. Today, Texas A&M denied that it sent the withdrawal letter. This will be a long, dragged-out process that should still result in A&M bolting.
In a similar manner to Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) last year, A&M's announced departure should make for some super-awkward matchups this season with the Aggies still in the Big 12. A&M may take the heat off Texas for one season as the Big 12's most despised team. Maybe not, but we'll see.
If greener pastures await the Aggies in the SEC, then best of luck, but their path to any kind of BCS appearance will take a mammoth hit. A&M figures to be the second- or third-best team in the Big 12 this season. Without a Big 12 championship game, the Aggies will be legitimate contenders to take the Big 12 crown and an automatic berth to a BCS bowl game.
But what if A&M played in the SEC this year? Eight of 12 SEC teams are ranked to begin the season. Add an SEC Championship game to the mix, and the path to a BCS game just became a whole lot more difficult for the Aggies.
More long-term stability in the SEC? Probably. But I'm not expecting the Aggies to play in many BCS games coming out of their new conference.
No. 9 Oklahoma State
Week 1: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 6 p.m.
Biggest question: Can OSU finally take the next step and win its first-ever Big 12 Championship?
The Pokes never won or even represented the South in the Big 12 Championship game (back in the good old days when there was one).
The Cowboys took a significant step last year by going 11-2 and capturing the most victories in a single season in program history. Clearly, though, they want more.
This year seems to be as good a year as any to accomplish something bigger. Senior quarterback Brandon Weeden and junior wide receiver Justin Blackmon are the most dangerous pass-catch combo in America, the offensive line returns everyone and is known as the best in the conference, OSU's defense returns six starters and the Cowboys draw Oklahoma in Stillwater this year. What's not to like?
"It's very motivating. We all are striving to get there," Blackmon told me last month at Big 12 media days in Dallas, about breaking through and winning the conference. "We all look at the big picture. We think about it every time we're in the weight room. We have a big sign that says Big 12 champs. That's what we want to do. And that's where we're trying to get."
No. 21 Missouri
Week 1: Saturday vs. Miami (Ohio), 11 a.m.
Biggest question: How ready for the big-time is James Franklin?
The sophomore will follow a list of successful MU quarterbacks that went on to have careers in the NFL (Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert).
Franklin, though, doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense with the Tigers' returning talent. Losing left tackle Elvis Fisher to season-ending knee surgery certainly hurts, but Missouri will still return three of five starters on the offensive line, to go along with receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.
If Franklin steps in as a caretaker who doesn't turn the ball over, MU has a shot at double-digit victories this season. But is he up to the challenge?
Week 1: Saturday vs. McNeese State, 6 p.m.
Biggest question: Who knows what state McNeese State is in?
OK, I'll move on to a serious question (the answer is Louisiana for those who didn't know. I sure as heck didn't before looking it up).
Real question: How much maturity on the field will we see from quarterback Jordan Webb?
Webb went through his share of freshman mistakes in 2010. More interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven). Being sacked 21 times in nine games. Only averaging 132.8 passing yards per game.
How much difference will we see in 2011? With an expected boost from the running game and an experienced offensive line, Webb enters a more favorable situation this season. He has speedster Daymond Patterson back at receiver, along with a slew of promising, young targets looking to prove themselves.
KU receivers caught only six touchdown passes last year. That should change with a more developed and experienced Webb. Webb's maturation could be directly tied to how many more victories, if any, the Jayhawks see this year after a dismal 3-9 showing in 2010.
Week 1: Saturday vs. Eastern Kentucky, 6 p.m.
Biggest question: Will Bryce Brown exhibit a consistent enough work ethic to be able to take over the reins at running back from Daniel Thomas?
It seems foolish to even ask this question, based on Brown's sky-high ceiling. Naturally, the 6-foot, 220-pound Tennessee transfer seems to be the guy to replace Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rushing the previous two seasons. But Brown has not separated himself from the pack, which includes sophomore John Hubert and junior college transfer Angelo Pease.
Brown, a sophomore, was the No. 1-ranked high school recruit in the country by Rivals.com in 2009. Maybe he feels a sense of entitlement. Perhaps coach Bill Snyder is just pushing the motivation buttons. From the recent reports I've seen, Brown has not been the clear-cut No. 1 running back in practice KSU fans expected. Brown, for all we know, could view fall practice like Allen Iverson, only to explode on the scene once the season starts. Either way, he better start getting on Snyder's good side.
Week 1: Friday vs. No 14 TCU
Biggest question: How much has the defense improved from last year?
By now, Big 12 fans know that Robert Griffin can move the Bears offense down the field. But the Bears couldn't stop anybody last season on defense. BU ranked 114th out of 120 Div. I teams in pass defense with 265.08 yards allowed per game last year.
Over the offseason, Baylor hired new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who previously held the same position at Pittsburgh. Bennett installed a new system, the 4-2-5 defense, in an attempt to put more speed on the field. How well BU picks up the new defense will determine how much success it has in the win column after a 7-6 season in 2010 that saw the Bears make their first bowl appearance since 1994.
Week 1: Saturday vs. Northern Iowa, 6 p.m.
Biggest question: How much early success will quarterback Steele Jantz have in the Cyclones' system?
Jantz, a junior college transfer, recently won the starting quarterback job over Jerome Tiller, who was declared academically ineligible and won't play in 2011. Jantz is coming off a season in which he accumulated 3,676 total yards and 37 total touchdowns at City College of San Francisco.
Of course, the competition will be just a bit more fierce in the Big 12. Iowa State's non-conference schedule won't offer much down time for Jantz, either. After opening at home to Northern Iowa, ISU will play host to Iowa on Sept. 10 and travel to Connecticut on Sept. 16. Welcome to Div. I, Mr. Jantz.
Week 1: Saturday vs. Rice, 7 p.m.
Biggest question: The Longhorns' record should be better than their abominable 5-7 showing from last year. But how many more victories will that equal?
UT has new offensive coordinators (Bryan Harsin, previously at Boise State, and Major Applewhite will take over for Greg Davis), and a new defensive coordinator (Manny Diaz, previously at Mississippi State, will take over for Will Muschamp).
The coaching staff recently tapped junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert to be the starter. Gilbert must improve from his 10 touchdowns against 17 interceptions one year ago.
Gilbert's help on the perimeter took a hit over the summer when UT lost Malcolm Williams (left team to deal with family issues) and Marquise Goodwin (took redshirt to focus on track and field after winning national title in long jump).
Gilbert has a No. 1 receiver in the making in sophomore Mike Davis, and Jaxon Shipley, younger brother of UT career receiving leader Jordan Shipley, has turned heads in summer and fall camps. Freshman Malcolm Brown could be UT's best running back since Jamaal Charles, and could help take the pressure off Gilbert.
UT's defense will be solid. But how much progress will the offense make?
Week 1: Saturday vs. Texas State, 6 p.m.
Biggest question: How much more will the Red Raiders and second-year coach Tommy Tuberville run the football than previous Tech teams?
Tech's strength on offense, for a change, appears to come from pounding the football on the ground. All five offensive linemen return, and TTU boasts three solid running backs in junior Eric Stephens, senior Aaron Crawford and true freshman Ronnie Daniels.
The Red Raiders will still look to the air with junior quarterback Seth Doege and junior receiver Alex Torres, but TTU doesn't possess the same depth at receiver as it had in previous years.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
Big 12 Media Days, Day 2: KU sets goal of ‘Going to Mass Street’; Jeremiah Hatch trims down; Gill says communication better in Year 2
4:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
We're going to go ahead and wrap up our online coverage from Big 12 football media days.
Be sure to check back to KUsports.com for more stories in the coming days from our time here in Dallas.
3:57 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Two more videos before we wrap up our live blog from Dallas.
First, KU coach Turner Gill was asked what his team's goal was this year. He didn't back down, saying it was to win the Big 12 championship.
Also, KU offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch (like tight end Tim Biere) has been impressed by KU's incoming freshmen.
3:45 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Matt mentioned in his 11:02 a.m. update that KU offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch was in great shape after dropping between 35 and 40 pounds this offseason.
The senior explains (in an entertaining way) how he went about losing that weight in this video.
3:31 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
It's official: KU will be switching to a base 3-4 defense this fall.
KU linebacker Steven Johnson said new defensive coordinator Vic Shealy had informed the team of the change about two weeks ago.
"We have a lot of good linebackers," Johnson said, "so we're trying to make our defense built to our favor."
Last year, the Jayhawks ran a base 4-3 defense. The year before, under former coach Mark Mangino, KU's base set was a 4-2-5.
Matt Tait previously reported that KU might switch to a base 3-4 in this article from last month.
3:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Kansas coach Turner Gill said KU's second offseason under his watch was more productive than their first. See video below:
2:28 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Evidently, the Jayhawks getting picked last in the Big 12 changed linebacker Steven Johnson's shopping habits.
The KU senior said — though he was tempted — he avoided buying all of the preseason magazines he saw at Wal-Mart.
Check out the video below:
2:15 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Though last year's 3-9 record was tough on KU fans, it sounds like it was even tougher on offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch.
He talks about how last year's struggles motivated him this offseason in the video below:
2:05 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
KU coach Turner Gill said Tuesday that he anticipated that the Jayhawks would win more games in 2010 than they did. Video below:
12:46 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
I know there's no cheering in the press box, but it's still hard to not like KU linebacker Steven Johnson (Here's a feature on his remarkable journey from walk-on to starter from last year, in case you haven't seen it).
Not only is he engaging in interviews and a good storyteller, he also isn't somebody that takes himself too seriously.
That can be seen in the video below as Johnson — who said one of his goals was to represent KU at Big 12 media days — actually thanks media members for interviewing him.
12:35 p.m. update: By Matt Tait
One of the more incredible things to watch at these types of events during the past couple of years has been the increased role Twitter has played.
Like with any other aspect of our society, Twitter seems to be one of the media's favorite methods to deliver news fast.
With all kinds of Tweets flying around throughout the morning, it can become tough to keep an eye on the best ones out there. Some are funny, some are newsy and others are just flat-out baffling.
One of the most interesting Tweets to pop up so far today came from Brian Hanni, host of Rock Chalk Sports Talk on 1320 KLWN. During the radio portion of the day, Hanni had KU coach Turner Gill one-on-one. When he asked him if freshman QB Brock Berglund could come in and compete, provided he arrives as scheduled on Aug. 3, Gill delivered an interesting response. Here's a look at Hanni's Tweet:
"Asked if Berglund has his issues enough behind him to come in & compete, Gill said "Michael Cummings is gonna be able to compete" #kufball"
Earlier in the day, I asked Gill if he had any further comment on the Berglund situation, considering that Berglund's lawyers [released another statement yesterday] about him planning to report to camp on Aug. 3 and having a trial date set for December.
Gill was mostly quiet and simply said, "That's about it, he'll be here Aug. 3, ready to go."
Maybe his response to Hanni was unintentional, but we'll definitely check back with him during the one-on-one sessions with the print media later today.
More to come...
12:15 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
To view photos from Day 2's action of Big 12 football media days on Tuesday, [visit our online photo gallery].
12:10 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Kansas senior tight end Tim Biere says KU's 2011 recruiting class is the best he's seen since he's been in Lawrence. Video below:
Noon update: By Eric Sorrentino
I thought one of the most interesting topics of Turner Gill's press conference regarded the levels of communication between the Jayhawks' players as last season progressed.
"I thought early on in our season and all that, our players didn't talk to each other very much," Gill said on Tuesday at the Westin Galleria. "Not just football-wise, I'm just talking about just in general."
KU suffered back-to-back brutal losses of 55-7 (at Baylor) and 59-7 (vs. Kansas State) in the first half of last season. The Jayhawks' highlight of the second half of last season was the historic 52-45 comeback victory against Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010 in Lawrence, the greatest comeback in KU history (35 unanswered points in the final 11:05).
Gill took action himself last season to assure better communication amongst his players.
"I'm trying to find ways and did a little bit of seminars and trying to get our players to be able to communicate," Gill said. "If you're not able to communicate, we're not going to be able to move forward in our program to be champions."
11:38 a.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino
Here are some Tweets I had (follow me [@Big12_Spotlight]) from Turner Gill's press conference, which ended a few minutes ago:
• Turner Gill: I'm a little bit more at ease as I go into this football season. Last year at this time, I didn't quite understand deep details.
• Gill: Everybody is a lot more confident ... I really feel good about our work ethic. We have gotten faster.
• This year, we got competition. That's what we didn't have last year at some positions.
• On Big 12 schedule/round-robin format: I think that's a plus for the Big 12. It's good for our fans. I think it will be a long-term deal.
• I think there was tremendous improvement as a football team in the last four games of the season ... There was communication. At the beginning of last season, our players didn't talk to each other too much.
Stay tuned for more updates shortly...
11:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Kansas coach Turner Gill says that he doesn't think it will take a long time for the Jayhawks to become a winning football program. Video below:
11:15 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Kansas linebacker Steven Johnson talks about the Jayhawks' goal in 2011 of "going to Mass. St." See below:
11:02 a.m. update: By Matt Tait
We've heard about it all summer but now we've finally seen it. KU senior Jeremiah Hatch is in fantastic shape and looks as good as he's looked in years. The reason? Consistency. Hatch, who's dropped about 40 pounds, said he's always been able to lose the weight but keeping it off was the problem.
This year, the end of his career looming has inspired him to amp it up a notch and the result has put him in the best shape of his life.
Hatch credits strength coach John Williams and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes for helping him focus in and said his faith, his pride and his family have all played key roles in getting him ready for a big senior year.
Beyond shedding the extra weight, Hatch said he's entering the season at 100 percent and added that knee and back problems that have plagued him in the past are now behind him.
More to come...
10:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Stay tuned for video of several Kansas football topics, including Jeremiah Hatch's weight loss, KU's goal of "running to Mass," Turner Gill talking about how long it will take to turn around the program, and Tim Biere talking about KU's impressive 2011 recruiting class.
Original post: By Eric Sorrentino
Dallas — After a rough start in coach Turner Gill's first season, in which the Kansas football team finished 3-9 overall and 1-7 in Big 12 Conference play, not many pundits pinned the Jayhawks as bounceback contenders in 2011.
Earlier this month in the Big 12 preseason poll, [the media predicted Kansas] would make a return appearance to the basement of the conference.
Will the Jayhawks surprise folks and string together some victories, or continue their downward spiral in Gill's second season in Lawrence?
Welcome back to the second day of KUsports.com's live coverage of [Big 12 football media days] at the Westin Galleria.
We'll have live updates throughout the day, so keep it locked on KUsports.com and follow us on Twitter. I'm live in Dallas with KU football beat writer Matt Tait (Twitter [@mctait]) and KUsports.com online editor Jesse Newell (Twitter [@jessenewell]). My Twitter feed is [@Big12_Spotlight]. We plan to string together video, text updates, pictures and more from today's proceedings.
Gill is scheduled to address the media at 11:20 a.m.
Should you have any questions, comments or otherwise, post in the comments section below or Tweet at us. Is there a question you want us to ask one of the players? Seniors Tim Biere, Steven Johnson and Jeremiah Hatch will be available to the media from 2-3 p.m. today. Ask your question in the comments section and we'll do our best to try and have it answered.
Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville will begin Day 2 at 11 a.m. The Red Raiders will be followed by Gill (11:20 a.m.), Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads (11:40 a.m.), Kansas State coach Bill Snyder (noon) and
Big 12 Media Days, Day 1: KU media guide unveiled; Pinkel says prep games on Longhorn Network ‘ludicrous’
5:30 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
We're going to wrap up our Day 1 coverage from Media Days here in Dallas.
Check back Tuesday morning for live blog posts, videos and photos from KU's day in front of the press.
5:12 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Just in case anyone was wondering, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon has no problem with Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles.
You can see for yourself in the video below.
So why would there be bad blood between this year's two preseason Big 12 first-team selections at receiver?
Turns out that last week, OU receiver Kenny Stills tweeted that Blackmon "is all about big bodying people and sloppy routes."
That should add a little fire to the Bedlam Series this year, which already has the potential to be a top-10 matchup.
4:58 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Last year, Missouri receiver T.J. Moe made headlines before the KU-Missouri game with some bulletin-board material.
“I hate them,” Moe said of the Jayhawks. “I’ve been a Mizzou fan my whole life. From day one. Every time I see a [KU] shirt I just want to burn it.”
Moe told me Monday that his strong feelings about MU and KU came from growing up in St. Louis.
“Mizzou was my team,” Moe said. “I don’t care if we’re losing 62 to zero against Oklahoma, I’m still a diehard Mizzou fan when I’m 8 years old.
“So I just went, ‘We hate Kansas. OK, so do I then.’ I did what I was told, because that’s what we did. We’re Tigers. That’s what happens.”
When I asked Moe if he’d rather play the KU-MU game at Arrowhead or on the campus sites, he interrupted me before I could even get the question out.
“I don’t ever want to play at Kansas,” Moe said. “And they probably never want to play at Missouri. So let’s play at Arrowhead.”
Moe, like his teammates in videos below in this blog, said the KU-MU rivalry hasn’t been hurt by the Jayhawks’ recent struggles.
“Not in our minds. In fact, I don’t even know what their record was last year. I’m not worried about that,” Moe said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re playing Kansas, and we’re both 0-0 and we’ve got to figure out a way to beat them.”
Right before the interviewed ended, I asked Moe specifically about his comment about wanting to burn KU T-shirts when he saw them.
“I’m not supposed to talk about Kansas,” he said.
4:39 p.m. update: By Matt Tait
One of the things that always amazes me at these things is how well players from different teams know each other. It's probably foolish of me to be amazed by that seeing how many of the players in the league are from Texas AND many of them played with or against each other growing up. However, it always gets me.
Today's one-on-one sessions with the players are finished and here are a few of the "amazing" highlights that came from them.
• Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright said he's great friends with new KU linebacker Malcolm Walker. Wright, one of the top targets in the league, said he was looking forward to playing against Walker this fall in Lawrence but still kind of bummed that the Bears weren't able to sign his buddy. They tried and Walker was interested, but the juco transfer chose Kansas instead, a move that he'll probably be glad he made considering the fact that Walker's in line for serious playing time this fall.
• Trent Hunter, of Texas A&M, said he had committed to Kansas State before getting an offer from the Aggies.
• Kenji Jackson, of Mizzou, said he visited Kansas, Missouri and TCU out of high school and nearly picked the Jayhawks. In the end, Jackson said MU was the best fit for him but, surprisingly, he doesn't seem to have anything against KU. I doubt his teammates will be too happy about that.
• Another Sunflower State note of interest comes from Markelle Martin, of Oklahoma State. Martin, a Texas native, said he always used to play with the Wildcats on the old college football video games growing up because he liked the look of the Powercat. Outside of that, Martin admitted to not knowing a single thing about Kansas.
While all of those tidbits struck me as interesting, by far the most surprising moment came from Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray, who said that KU legend Gale Sayers is his favorite running back of all-time.
When asked how that happened, Gray proved he knew his stuff. He admitted to knowing Sayers more as a Chicago Bear than a Kansas Jayhawk but gave big-time props to the Kansas Comet for being the first true home run threat to ever play the game. Gray said he modeled some of his game after Sayers and is hoping to meet him face-to-face when the Jayhawks head down to College Station, Texas, later this year to play A&M.
Continuing with the theme of this entry, Gray and teammate Tony Jerod-Eddie both grew up playing little league football with KU's Lubbock Smith (see Jesse's update below) and Jeremiah Hatch.
More to come...
4:35 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
If you remember, in a feature last year about KU safety Lubbock Smith, we had a photo of Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray and Smith in a photo together.
The two played on the same youth football teams growing up in Dallas.
When I talked to Gray — a preseason Big 12 first-team selection this season — he said he still talked to Smith at least once a week and referred to him as his "brother."
"He's been on a team where they've won, and I've been on a team where we lost. It's kind of reversed right now," Gray said. "We just talk about finishing out strong."
Gray — whose older brother actually dated Smith's sister a while back — said he didn't rag Smith at all following the Aggies' 45-10 victory over KU in Lawrence last year.
"When I saw him, I hugged him after the game," Gray said. "He was just like, 'Man, I didn't play my best.' I was like, 'Hey, what I want you to do is get in that film room and just learn from that.'
"I know that's what Lubbock's going to do."
4:30 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
While here, I wanted to make sure to ask Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden what he thought about recent Kansas City Royals first-round draft pick Bubba Starling.
For those that don't know, Starling — from Gardner-Edgerton High School — has not yet signed with the Royals and has a scholarship offer to Nebraska to play football. Soon, he'll have decide which sport he wants to play.
Weeden comes from a similar situation. He was drafted in the second round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. He spent five years in minor-league baseball before an injury ended his baseball career.
"I know what I would do," Weeden said about Starling. " ... I don't know what his situation is or what he's thinking, but that's a lot of money as an 18-year-old kid. You can always go back to school."
After baseball, Weeden chose to play college football at Oklahoma State, where he is now a senior. He is 27 years old and — it's hard for me to believe this — just 41 days younger than me.
"I was able to enjoy minor-league baseball for five years. Enjoyed every single minute of it," Weeden said. "I get to flip the script, turn the page and do something completely different, and enjoy every single minute of this.
"I feel pretty fortunate. I'm lucky to have the opportunity."
3:53 p.m. update: By Matt Tait
Though the Kansas University football team won't officially be a part of the 2011 Big 12 media days until tomorrow, the Jayhawks have arrived in Dallas and are currently getting settled into their rooms in preparation for tomorrow's big day.
One element of the KU program that came along with head coach Turner Gill, player reps Steven Johnson, Jeremiah Hatch and Tim Biere and athletic director Sheahon Zenger, was the 2011 media guide, unveiled for the first time around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
We'll flip through it and try to bring you the best notes and nuggets at some other time. For now, though, here's a photo of the cover. Not bad.
More to come...
3:35 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
I asked Missouri safety Kenji Jackson and offensive lineman Elvis Fisher whether the KU-MU game had lost any luster with KU's recent struggles.
Their responses are below.
2:27 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
I have to give credit to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
While most coaches have dodged questions about the Longhorn Network, Pinkel has been the most honest with his thoughts.
Below, Pinkel says the idea of having high school games on a college network is "ludicrous."
A lot of coaches seem to be thinking that, but Pinkel is the one, so far, that has had the guts to say it with the cameras rolling.
2:07 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
We'll have a few Missouri videos up in a few minutes, but for now, here's another video of Texas coach Mack Brown.
Below, he says that he thinks that the impact of potentially having high school football games on the Longhorn Network is "overplayed a little bit." Very interesting ...
12:50 p.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino
Texas coach Mack Brown was asked about the Longhorn Network and said the added exposure could actually work against his program.
"I can tell by the work that we've put in in the first six months, it's not going to be an easy partnership, because they're (ESPN) paying us $300 million for access, and we gotta figure out how much access we can give them and not hurt our chance to have an edge to win the game," Brown said. "So Dave Brown (of ESPN) called me mid-summer and said: 'We want to have your first scrimmage online. Everybody's going to want to see it.' And I said: Yeah, Oklahoma, A&M, Kansas, Texas Tech, they're going to be sitting there grading our practice as we do it. We can't do that."
Brown also joked about UT's disappointing 5-7 finish last season.
"My wife told me most hotels don't have a 13th floor. And (2010) was my 13th year, so I should have skipped it. Some people thought I did (laughter). But it didn't work well. So we're starting over on year 14."
The Longhorns were picked fifth in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll.
"You all (media) make our players mad daily," Brown said. "And you motivate them first. One of them told me last night: 'Do you know they picked us fifth in the league?' I don't know that. I do now. Thank you for reminding me."
Player interviews begin at 2 p.m., so stay tuned throughout the day.
12:43 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Baylor coach Art Briles spoke earlier about the Bears, who finished 7-6 last season and made an appearance in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, trying to avoid being a one-hit wonder, like the infamous Vanilla Ice (you're welcome):
12:32 p.m. update: By Matt Tait
Texas A&M Wide receiver Jeff Fuller, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior from McKinney, Texas, was asked about how good the wide receivers were in the Big 12.
He said, in no uncertain terms, that they were great and then mentioned a couple. First, he singled out OSU's Justin Blackmon and OU's Ryan Broyles. He then even mentioned a couple of other guys on his own team.
So where does Fuller fall in? He was asked that very question and wasn't too worried about the answer.
"I kind of leave that up to you guys to decide who's the best."
Color me a Fuller fan.
More to come...
12:20 p.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was asked about the Tigers' new starting quarterback this season, sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He was the backup last season to Blaine Gabbert, who was selected by the Jaguars in April's NFL Draft.
"James is a really good athlete, at 6-3, 225 (pounds)," Pinkel said. "People ask me to compare him to Brad Smith. Brad is a leaner, more extreme athlete. James has great movement, can extend the play, can do damage in running game. We haven't really had that since Brad Smith. He has a good arm, has good touch and has a lot going for him."
Pinkel has done a solid job of molding quarterbacks these last few years between Smith, Chase Daniel and Gabbert. Franklin is young, but MU returns four of five offensive linemen, who should make the transition a smoother one.
11:56 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Interesting tidbit: Texas coach Mack Brown spoke about the Longhorn Network perhaps working against his program. View the video below:
11:47 a.m. update: By Matt Tait
A lot of the talk from Texas A&M camp was about senior QB Ryan Tannehill and his status as the clear-cut starter heading into this season.
Last year, Tannehill split time at WR and QB and started just six games under center. Despite his inexperience, A&M coach Mike Sherman believes 100 percent in his QB's ability and he's looking forward to watching him lead the Aggies on the field.
"He's got all the tools we're looking for," Sherman said. "He's extremely competitive, highly confident in his ability and he's a tremendous leader."
Never was that more evident than during the offseason when Tannehill used his power of persuasion to entice wide receiver Jeff Fuller to return to A&M for another season instead of leaving for the NFL.
"I sent him a text every day just trying to nudge him to come back," Tannehill said. "He's a great player and it's huge for me to have a weapon like that down the field."
Tannehill wasn't the only one sending those texts. Fuller said he heard from several teammates and even his parents on the matter. When asked if he ever asked any of them to leave him alone, Fuller smiled and said, "I'd never tell 'em to leave me alone."
More to come...
11:35 a.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Below is video of Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin speaking about the similarities between him and teammate Robert T. Griffin, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound senior offensive lineman. At one point as a high school athlete, the talented quarterback Griffin wasn't even ranked by Rivals.com:
11:20 a.m. update: By Matt Tait
While a good chunk of the talk has been and will continue to be about the ongoing feud between Texas and Texas A&M and how it will shape the future of the conference, UT coach Mack Brown took time out to answer plenty of questions about last year's rough season in which the Longhorns finished 5-7 and missed a bowl.
Of the challenge of bouncing back, Brown said: "Sometimes you need to get kicked in the face to wake up. We've been one of the top teams in America and last year we weren't. The challenge for us is to get to work and make sure we get there again. It's a fun time for us, a challenging time for us. And it's time to get to work."
Like UT or hate UT, you gotta appreciate the way Mack Brown answers questions.
More to come...
11:10 a.m. update: By Eric Sorrentino
Not surprisingly, the first question to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman on Day 1 of Big 12 media days concerned his thoughts on the Longhorn Network airing high school football games. The fourth-year Texas A&M coach didn't really take a side on the issue.
"I've got enough on my plate to get my team ready to play," Sherman said at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. "There will be half a million Aggies watching it. Truthfully, I'm just focused on what I have to do. I'm focused on my job and winning the first ballgame. I'm sure you guys can sort that one out yourselves."
Questions regarding the Longhorn network probably won't go away today and Tuesday. Stay tuned. More coming soon from coaches who take the podium, including Baylor's Art Briles (11:20 a.m.), Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy (11:40 a.m.), Missouri's Gary Pinkel (noon) and Texas' Mack Brown (12:20 p.m.).
10:44 a.m. update: By Matt Tait
Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson wraps up rules talk with the following statement: "We will continue to place an emphasis on hits on defenseless players."
We could not confirm whether he was talking directly to KU cornerback Isiah Barfield, but those KU fans dying for football to get here might enjoy looking back at this hit. Flag or no flag.
10:25 a.m. update: By Matt Tait
Day 1 getting off to a slow start. No teams in the print room yet. They're all off doing TV and radio stuff. Our own Jesse Newell is in there with the big boy cameras getting what he can get. Check back throughout the day for videos from Newell. Should be some good stuff.
Texas coach Mack Brown unofficially got things started today by stepping to the podium around 9:40 for a live interview with ESPN's SportsCenter. Brown was pretty loose and personable throughout but I couldn't help but notice how funny it was that Texas cut in line to kick things off. Hey, it's their conference, right?
First team to step to the podium will be Texas A&M around 11 a.m. They'll be followed by Baylor, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas. After that players will be available for one-on-one's from 2-3 p.m. and head coaches again from 3-4 p.m.
Big 12 coordinator of officials, Walt Anderson, is talking now about the rule changes for the 2011 season. Incredibly, and probably appropriately, he kicked off his presentation with a look back at the infamous K-State salute that cost the Wildcats in last year's Pinstripe Bowl.
Anderson said the rule hasn't changed, just the language so that something like that must be made in the direction of an opponent for it to be flagged. Good change. Poor Cats.
Stay tuned for more as the teams step to the podium.
Original post: By Eric Sorrentino
Dallas — Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have plans to dethrone the defending Big 12 football champion Oklahoma Sooners, who have won four of the past five league crowns. Texas is on a quest to prove it belongs back in the race for conference supremacy. Missouri's defense should give it a chance to be in every game as the Tigers attempt to reach double-digit win totals for the fourth time in five years. Baylor, fresh off its first bowl appearance since 1994, flaunts arguably the most electrifying quarterback in college football in Robert Griffin.
Adding to the intrigue of recent Big 12 storylines, Texas A&M already doesn't like how the Longhorn Network is choosing to televise high school football games. Will the Aggies flirt with the pretty girl in the nice dress and think about leaving for the SEC, thus creating another rumor thunderstorm that threatens the Big 12's existence?
Welcome to KUsports.com's live coverage of Big 12 football media days, live from the Westin Galleria in Dallas. College football is back.
The above storylines will surely be addressed and discussed today, when Texas A&M (11 a.m.), Baylor (11:20 a.m.), Oklahoma State (11:40 a.m.) Missouri (noon) and Texas (12:20 p.m.) take the podium at Big 12 media days. Player representatives will speak from 2-3 p.m. today.
The rest of the conference will meet with the media on Tuesday. That includes Kansas and coach Turner Gill, who's scheduled to speak at 11:20 a.m. on Day 2.
It should be interesting to listen to what Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have to say about contending for the Big 12 title. The last time a school not named Oklahoma or Texas won the league was 2003. Remember who that was?
Texas A&M has competed in two Big 12 championships and won in 1998. Oklahoma State has never competed for a Big 12 title. Both have top 10-caliber squads entering the 2011 season. The unfortunate part for the Aggies and Cowboys: OU isn't going anywhere. The Sooners are loaded with talent and could enter the fall ranked No. 1 in the country.
This season, of course, won't have a conference championship game with Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) in different leagues. The formula, then, is pretty simple: The best regular season record in the Big 12 will win the league and earn the conference's automatic BCS bowl berth. The only question left to ask: Who will it be?
I'll be posting live today from the Westin Galleria alongside KUsports.com online editor Jesse Newell (Twitter @jessenewell) and KU football beat writer Matt Tait (Twitter @mctait). All three of us will have fresh updates throughout both days of the proceedings. My Twitter account is @Big12_Spotlight. Hit us up with questions and comments at any time and we'll do our best to get back to you.
Be back on with updates all day, so keep it locked on KUsports.com. And as always, discuss.
Plano, Texas — Mark your calendars, iPhones, iPads or technological device of choice for 10 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, July 25-26, when Big 12 football media days take place at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.
I arrived a few days early to visit the family in Plano and take some vacation time before the two-day event. Next week, I'll attend media days with KU football beat writer Matt Tait and KUsports.com online editor Jesse Newell. Hit us up on Twitter (I'm @Big12_Spotlight, Matt is @mctait, Jesse is @jessenewell) with media days inquiries and/or comments.
We'll have live updates Monday and Tuesday on the Conference Chatter blog, so feel free to become sidetracked from work for a few hours, join the online discussion, ask questions or make requests in preparation for the 2011 college football season, which is 44 days away from opening weekend.
Kansas coach Turner Gill will take the podium at 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by players Tim Biere, Jeremiah Hatch and Steven Johnson from 2-3 p.m.
Click here for the complete two-day schedule, which includes when each Big 12 coach will speak, along with player representatives who were selected to make the trip.
Before next week's media days, I thought of a few topics to help get us in the college football frame of mind.
Answers will come in threes. Feel free to include your answers in the comments section below. Let's do this:
• Three bold predictions for upcoming season in Big 12
1. Oklahoma will average 45 points per game. Oregon led the country in scoring offense with 47 points per game last season, and I think the Sooners will put up similar, gargantuan numbers in 2011. Three years ago, Sam Bradford-led OU put up 51.14 points per game during the year it lost to Florida in the BCS Championship. This OU team is just as loaded.
2. Kansas running back James Sims will amass 1,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. The Jayhawks' record may not look good in 2011 due to its brutal schedule, but fans should notice visible progress in coach Turner Gill's product on the field. Running the football will be the strength of KU's offense this year, and Sims should have a chance to build off a productive freshman year in which he scampered for 735 rushing yards and nine scores.
3. Missouri will rank in the top five in the country in quarterback sacks. The Tigers ranked ninth last year with 37 sacks (2.85 per game). Despite losing Aldon Smith to the NFL, MU's defensive front is stocked with talent (Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton, Kony Ealy, Sheldon Richardson). Missouri should make a push for 40 total sacks.
• Top quote-makers in last three years of Big 12 media days
1. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. The pirate king was also the quote king.
2. Former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Didn't work out for him last year (benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill), but he was extremely articulate and an interesting guy.
3. Former Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. A very original quote who three years ago said he tried to mimic Torry Holt on the field. He might turn out to be better.
• Top quarterbacks in Big 12 for 2011
1. Landry Jones, Oklahoma. Threw for 4,718 yards and 38 TDs vs. 12 INTs last season. Crazy to think the junior should improve those numbers this year.
2. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. All-world receiver Justin Blackmon is also back for the Cowboys. Most fun tandem to watch in the country.
3. Robert Griffin, Baylor. As long as RG3 (only a junior) is under center, the Bears will most likely go bowling.
• Top skill position players in Big 12 for 2011
1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State. Put in its simplest form: the best wide receiver in college football.
2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma. Put in its simplest form: the second-best receiver in college football.
3. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M. Prototypical NFL size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) who will find the end zone plenty in 2011.
• Top Big 12 games for 2011
1. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Dec. 3. Bedlam could decide regular season champion this year in Stillwater, Okla. The Sooners carry an eight-game winning streak in the series.
2. Texas A&M at Oklahoma, Nov. 5. The Sooners don't lose at home. They've won 36 straight in Norman, Okla., the longest active streak in the country. However, if A&M wants to contend for the Big 12 crown, this is a game the Aggies would likely need to steal.
3. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17. For all the hype surrounding the Sooners, a perfect season and a potential BCS title berth could be on the line in their second game of the season in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles should be ranked around the top five in the country to start the season.
• Three things to look forward to in 2011
1. Offensive firepower. The Big 12 only had two teams ranked in the top 15 last season in scoring offense (Oklahoma State, No. 3, 44.23 points per game; Oklahoma, No. 14, 37.21). This season, I expect OU, OSU and Texas A&M to rank in the top 10.
2. Wide receivers. Sure, we know about Blackmon, Broyles and Fuller, but don't forget about Baylor's Kendall Wright, Missouri's T.J. Moe and Oklahoma's Kenny Stills. It's certainly the best crop of Big 12 receivers since 2008, when the conference had Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Brandon Banks, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley, etc.
3. No Big 12 Championship game. At first, I felt like I'd miss the conference title game. I thought with the basketball postseason tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the football championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Big 12 had the best hardwood-gridiron postseason combination of any conference. I don't think I'm going to miss the football title game too much, though. The North division had lost seven straight title games and nothing suggested the South's dominance was going to end any time soon. Plus, without a championship game, a Big 12 squad will have an easier path to the BCS Championship.
• Three things to dread in 2011
1. The absence of elite running backs in the Big 12. Cyrus Gray from Texas A&M is the exception. Other than that, no back in the Big 12 is truly elite yet.
2. The thought of dethroning the SEC. Just because it seems so far-fetched. The SEC has won the past five national championships, and the Big 12 has lost two in that time. Can anyone knock off the SEC in the title game?
3. No Mike Leach at media days. Long live the pirate.
That should be all for now, friends. Looking forward to taking part in media days conversations next week on KUsports.com.
As always, discuss.
Big 12 fall football preview: As new-look conference moves forward, league crown remains OU’s to lose
It's easy to forget how much has happened with the Big 12 Conference in the last year.
Just one summer ago, the Big 12 was on the brink of extinction, stuck in the every-school-for-itself realignment mess that altered the landscape of collegiate athletics.
Nebraska said adios and joined the Big Ten, while Colorado, fearful with the league on life support, bolted for the Pac-10.
Texas heavily considered joining Colorado in the Pac-10, whose commissioner Larry Scott had a vision of starting college football's first 16-team super conference. Instead, the Longhorns remained in the Big 12, saving the league from crumbling. The Pac-10 added Colorado and Utah and became the Pac-12.
The other nine Big 12 schools remained loyal to the league, and the Big 12 moved forward without Nebraska and Colorado.
Reasons vary for UT staying put, but the Longhorns could not have started their own television network as a member of the Pac-12/16. They could, however, in the Big 12. In April, UT agreed to a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN for a 24-hour television network to broadcast Longhorn sports. It's set to launch in August.
Essentially, TV revenue was the focus of last summer's realignment talks.
The Big 12 strengthened its long-term stability in April by signing a 13-year deal with Fox Sports that will bring in $90 million per year — more than four times the current deal — starting in the fall of 2012. Combine that with the conference's ABC-ESPN deal that runs through 2015-16, and the Big 12 is looking at roughly $130 million in annual TV revenue.
It's been a roller coaster of a last year, but Dan Beebe's conference is finally stable again. New deals are in place, TV revenue is flowing and Big 12 members appear pleased with the new configuration.
When the 2011 college football season kicks off — the first Big 12 game is Friday, Sept. 2, when Baylor plays host to TCU — the race for the Big 12 Championship will have a bit of a different feel.
For the first time in 15 years, there will be no Big 12 Championship game in December. The NCAA requires a conference to have at least 12 teams to stage a championship game.
There won't be North or South divisions, either. Big 12 teams will play each other once in a round-robin format every year.
The absence of a conference championship game should make it easier for a Big 12 school to reach the BCS Championship. It's one fewer game a powerhouse team like Oklahoma has to trip up and have its BCS title hopes destroyed.
As it is, the Big 12 has put a representative in the national title game seven times in the 13-year history of the BCS. That number should continue to grow without a Big 12 Championship.
That brings us to right now, roughly two months until college football begins. Which team from the Big 12 has the best chance at securing a BCS title berth?
Welcome to Conference Chatter's Big 12 fall football preview. Here are my league rankings heading into the 2011 season, with analysis to follow:
Good news: Remember the 2008 OU offense led by Sam Bradford that put up 51.14 points per game? The 2011 edition is just as talented.
The Sooners are loaded. With junior Landry Jones (4,718 yards, 38 TDs, 12 INTs) back at quarterback, along with senior receiver Ryan Broyles (131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 TDs) back at wide receiver, OU should average 40 points per game at minimum.
Sophomore receiver Kenny Stills (61 catches, 786 yards, five TDs) is one of the most explosive deep threats in the league. Senior tight end James Hanna (seven TD grabs) also has all-league potential.
If that's not enough, four of five offensive linemen are back for the Sooners. Jones should have plenty of time to locate his weapons. Broyles and Jones are early-season Heisman Trophy candidates, and the Sooners could enter the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Oklahoma will have to replace DeMarco Murray's production at running back, but that shouldn't be a problem. Sophomore Roy Finch has experience and a lightning-fast running style, while incoming freshman five-star recruit Brandon Williams should be one of the top newbies in the country.
All the defense has to do is hold the opposition to a respectable number. Senior linebacker Travis Lewis has led OU in tackles since his freshman year, accumulating a ridiculous 362 stops in three years. Senior defensive end Frank Alexander could crack double-digit sack totals.
Bad news: Honestly, not much. A difficult road matchup in week 2 against Florida State could threaten a perfect season. The secondary is somewhat inexperienced and returns only one starter in junior cornerback Demontre Hurst. That's about it.
Bottom line: Similar to Kansas in men's basketball, Oklahoma football has a certain aura about it that screams 'class of the Big 12.' Since the Big 12's inception in 1996, no football team has been more consistent or dominant. The Sooners have won the Big 12 seven of the past 11 years, and four of the past five years. This season, coach Bob Stoops' squad is in a class of its own atop the conference in a quest to repeat as Big 12 champs and play for a national title.
2. Oklahoma State
Good news: A message for college students, ages 21 and up, in Stillwater: Do not play drinking games involving OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden and OSU wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or you'll run the risk of being blitzed by halftime. Seriously, though, this duo was the most lethal pass-catch combo in college football last season, and they both return, Weeden (4,277 yards, 34 TDs, 13 INTs) for his senior season and Blackmon (111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 touchdowns) for his junior campaign. It's quite possible the Heisman Trophy candidates match or eclipse their staggering numbers from last year. Reason numero uno: All five offensive linemen are back. Hello end zone.
The Cowboys must replace running back Kendall Hunter, but sophomores Joseph Randle (82 carries, 452 yards, two TDs) and Jeremy Smith (56-262-7) are more than capable. Oklahoma State was the top-scoring offense in the Big 12 and third in the country last year with 44.23 points per game. They shouldn't be far off that pace this year, even with the loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen (head coach at West Virginia). Todd Monken, previously the wide receivers coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a former OSU receivers coach, should pick up right where Holgorsen left off as offensive coordinator.
Bad news: The defensive line might struggle to put pressure on the quarterback, as the unit returns one starter in senior defensive end Jamie Blatnick.
Bottom line: If any league team challenges Oklahoma this year, it's the in-state rival Cowboys. OSU faces difficult road tests at Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri. If the Pokes survive those tests, a Dec. 3 Bedlam meeting against OU in Stillwater could decide the conference race.
3. Texas A&M
Good news: The Aggies possess the top one-two running back combination in the Big 12 with senior Cyrus Gray (200 carries, 1,133 yards, 12 TDs) and junior Christine Michael (126 carries, 631 yards, four TDs). Michael missed the last five games last season with a broken leg, but is back to full strength. Gray excelled in Michael's absence, rushing for at least 100 yards in A&M's last seven games.
To label the Aggies as a one-dimensional offense that can only run the ball would be a huge mistake. Senior Ryan Tannehill is a legitimate threat at quarterback, steering A&M to a 5-1 record in games he started after taking over for Jerrod Johnson at the midway point of last season. Tannehill will have the luxury of the top three receivers from a year ago returning to College Station. Senior Jeff Fuller (72 receptions, 1,066 yards, 12 TDs) is one of the most physically-imposing receivers in college football. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Fuller isn't necessarily a burner, but his strength in fighting off defenders, particularly on jump balls, will play to Tannehill's advantage. Any pass in Fuller's vicinity has a chance of being caught.
Bad news: Replacing Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick by the Denver Broncos in April's NFL Draft, will be difficult. The top two candidates to replace Miller at the 'jack' position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position, are sophomore Damontre Moore (Miller's backup last season, 5.5 sacks, 40 tackles) and junior Caleb Russell (impressed in spring).
Bottom line: A&M has the talent to win the Big 12. Coach Mike Sherman enters his fourth year with higher expectations than in his previous three seasons in College Station. This is an A&M team that should be disappointed if it doesn't reach double-digit win totals. Sherman has gone 4-8, 6-7 and 9-4 in three seasons at A&M. Time for the next step.
Good news: The Tigers should be able to maintain the defensive standard set last season when they led the Big 12 in scoring defense with only 16.1 points allowed per game (sixth in country). It's tough to imagine Missouri actually better without defensive end Aldon Smith, taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 7 overall pick the draft, but that may be the case.
MU will boast a ridiculous front led by Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith on the ends. Madison was a pest last year in the backfield, accounting for 7.5 sacks despite starting only two games. Imagine what he can do as a starter. MU has incredible depth on the ends, with freshman Kony Ealy impressing coaches in the spring, and sophomore Sheldon Richardson, a highly-touted former recruit whose eligibility is still in question. If Richardson suits up this fall, the Tigers will have four starting-caliber ends.
Bad news: The Tigers will enter the season with an unproven quarterback in sophomore James Franklin, who will take over for Blaine Gabbert (10th overall pick, Jacksonville Jaguars). On the positive side, Franklin will have returning stud receiver T.J. Moe (92 catches, 1,045 yards, six TDs) and tight end Michael Egnew (90 catches, 762 yards, five TDs) back this year.
Bottom line: Missouri will face two early tests, the first in week 2 at Arizona State, and then in week 4 at Oklahoma. It's a stretch to suggest the Tigers will win the Big 12, but double-digit victories are not out of the question.
Good news: Surely, it can't get much worse than last year, when the Longhorns sputtered to a 5-7 record, lost seven of their last nine and missed a bowl game. The uncharacteristic finish prompted coach Mack Brown to bring in five new assistant coaches and a new strength and conditioning coach.
UT's strength figures to be its defense, led by returning seniors Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson at linebacker, and senior safety Blake Gideon.
Bad news: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert appeared to have his confidence shattered last season, throwing 10 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. As a junior, he's the most experienced option the Longhorns have, and should start in the fall. He must be better.
What really would help Gilbert's cause is the threat of a running game. Freshman Malcolm Brown may be just what Gilbert needs. The five-star running back figures to make immediate impact this fall. UT hasn't had a reliable tailback since Jamaal Charles in 2007.
Bottom line: UT has as much talent as anyone in the conference, especially on defense. But for Texas to win the Big 12, it will need a playmaker to break out on offense (like Brown, or sophomore receiver Mike Davis, for instance).
Good news: Quarterback Robert Griffin proved last season his surgically repaired right knee was fine. He's back this season as a junior because he was granted a medical redshirt after the injury in 2009. As long as Griffin is leading the offense, the Bears, who went bowling last season for the first time since 1994, have a chance to reach the postseason again.
The dual-threat Griffin (3,501 passing yards, 22 TDs, eight INTs; 635 rushing yards, eight TDs) will engineer an offense that returns its top four receivers, led by senior standout Kendall Wright (78 catches, 952 yards, seven TDs).
Bad news: The Bears won't have any trouble putting points on the board. But can they stop anybody? Baylor ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 last season in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett (previously defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh) has a tall task ahead.
Bottom line: Briles, entering his fourth season in Waco, has gone 4-8, 4-8 and 7-6 in three years. The Bears were 7-2 at one point last season, but lost their final four contests. Expect a similar record to last year in 2011.
7. Texas Tech
Good news: The schedule sets up nicely for the Red Raiders to start the season 6-0 or 5-1. Tech, which will enter its second season under Tommy Tuberville, faces the unusual position of being deeper at running back than at receiver. Junior Eric Stephens (127 carries, 668 yards, six TDs) and senior Aaron Crawford will receive the bulk of the carries.
Bad news: Trivia question: After Oklahoma State's Blackmon (20 TD catches), who was second in the country in TD grabs last year? The answer may surprise you: Texas Tech's Lyle Leong (19).
The Red Raiders no longer have reliable receivers Leong or Detron Lewis. Junior Alex Torres has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver, but battled a back injury all of last year. If he's fully healed for 2011, he must provide consistency, especially with Tech breaking in junior quarterback Seth Doege.
Bottom line: Tech should make a bowl game in Tuberville's second season. Fun fact: The Red Raiders have been bowl eligible for 18 straight seasons. Only three other teams — Florida, Florida State and Ohio State — have longer active bowl eligibility streaks.
8. Kansas State
Good news: Bryce Brown, the former Rivals.com No. 1 recruit in the country in the Class of 2009, transferred to K-State from Tennessee and will join the Wildcats this fall. The Wichita native rushed for 460 yards his freshman year in 2009 at Tennessee, and sat out last season due to transfer rules. Brown should create some buzz around Manhattan.
Bad news: The Wildcats still need to replace Daniel Thomas. Brown carries incredible hype, but he's still unproven. And, let's be honest, Thomas was the K-State offense. Handoffs. Screen passes. Shotgun/wildcat formations. KSU will miss Thomas, who rushed for 2,850 yards and 30 scores in two masterful years in Manhattan after transferring from Northwest Mississippi CC.
Bottom line: K-State has some pieces on defense (like Bryce Brown's brother, Arthur, a transfer linebacker from Miami), but the Wildcats must improve their defensive front, which was routinely gashed last season. KSU surrendered a whopping 231.4 rushing yards per game in 2010, dead last in the league and 119th in the country. If that number doesn't improve quite dramatically, KSU could struggle to reach a bowl game.
9. Iowa State
Good news: The Cyclones have some solid pieces on defense, particularly at linebacker with returning junior starters A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, who combined for 241 tackles last season. ISU also returns three of four in the secondary, including senior cornerback Leonard Johnson, who has all-league potential.
Bad news: The Cyclones lack playmakers on offense. Even with quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson, who exhausted their eligibility, Iowa State failed to make big plays last season. ISU's longest pass from scrimmage was 39 yards. In the age of the spread offense? Come on, fellas.
Bottom line: Iowa State has a rough nonconference slate, with games against Iowa and at Connecticut. Combine that with the newly-designed Big 12 schedule (i.e. no avoiding Big 12 South teams), and the losses could start to pile up.
Good news: Well, it's not 2010, when the Jayhawks finished 3-9 and 1-7 in Big 12 play. Kansas must run the football as much as possible with talented backfield options at its disposal. Sophomore James Sims (742 yards, eight TDs) was fantastic last season. True freshman Darrian Miller electrified spring onlookers with his home run potential. Red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon could get looks, as could true freshman Anthony Pierson. Junior Rell Lewis, if healthy, could also be in the mix. Run. The. Football.
Bad news: Quarterback issues still linger. Freshman Brock Berglund's status remains in question. Jordan Webb looks like he'll start. But the sophomore threw more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven) last season. Senior Quinn Mecham, more of a game manager under center, appears to have a limited ceiling. The Jayhawks don't need a game manager at QB, though; they need a playmaker.
Last season, KU quarterbacks tossed only 11 touchdown passes, and had 14 passes picked off.
Bottom line: The schedule is brutal, with nonconference tilts against Northern Illinois and at Georgia Tech. The Jayhawks are also at Oklahoma State, at Texas and at Texas A&M. There's not a game on the schedule that can be pinpointed as a guaranteed victory. The Jayhawks should play better than last year, but it may not reflect in their record.
That should be all for now, friends. Agree with the picks? Disagree? As always, discuss.
It doesn't require much of a memory to recall the last seven regular season Big 12 men's basketball champions.
Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas.
(Note: Three of those years, KU shared the regular-season title with Oklahoma  and Texas [2006, 2008], but you get the point. It's a heck of an accomplishment).
With Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby seeking NBA riches, the success of next year's team will be largely connected to the on-court maturation of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson.
Bill Self, who's won an absurd 83.7 percent of his games in eight years in Lawrence, will be gunning for an eighth straight Big 12 title in 2011-2012. Will anyone from the recently-trimmed Big 12 legitimately challenge KU? The Jayhawks have never finished worse than 12-4 in the league during their seven-year reign as conference champs.
The NBA Draft early eligibility deadline passed on April 24, so we have a better idea of how Big 12 rosters will be constructed next season. Note that players who have not signed with agents can withdraw from the draft up until June 13, so this is not an exact analysis.
Here's how I'd rank the 10 Big 12 teams (still have to get used to that) right now, looking ahead to next season:
1. Kansas (35-3 overall, 14-2 Big 12)
With the Morris twins declaring for the draft, Kansas will lose its top two scorers and rebounders from a year ago, when the Jayhawks went 35-3 and lost to VCU in the Elite Eight. KU's third-leading scorer, Tyrel Reed, is also gone, along with Brady Morningstar and Mario Little.
That said ... Not picking KU to win the Big 12 next season would be a bigger mistake than a pitcher grooving Jose Bautista a fastball in the middle of the strike zone (only shameless plug of my fantasy baseball team in this entry, I promise).
We've seen this episode before. KU was supposed to take a step back in the league standings last year after the departures of Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry. How did that turn out?
Until the Jayhawks are knocked off their throne, they deserve the top spot on everyone's preseason ballot. And there's a good chance KU will live up to the expectations. Taylor and Robinson return, along with Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.
Ben McLemore, an incoming freshman from St. Louis and Rivals.com's No. 34-rated player nationally, should challenge for a starting spot immediately (especially if he throws down like this in Allen Fieldhouse).
Furthermore, KU fans are hitting the refresh button 50-100 times per minute awaiting the decisions of recruits DeAndre Daniels (No. 10 nationally) and Trevor Lacey (No. 24 nationally). (Side note: I've fielded two calls after midnight at the Journal-World recently inquiring about Daniels. To quote Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean: "You need to find yourself a girl, mate.")
You'd have to think the Jayhawks lure at least one of the prized recruits to Lawrence with playing time readily available. Kansas is probably a top 15-20 team without Daniels and Lacey, and a top 5-10 team with one or both of them.
2. Baylor (18-13, 7-9)
The Bears, after a disastrous 18-13 season (considering the talent), and a seventh-place finish in the league standings, will be loaded next season.
Perry Jones surprisingly turned down millions of dollars and a potential top-five spot in the NBA Draft to return to Baylor for his sophomore season. He'll be joined by incoming 6-8, 193-pound freshman Quincy Miller, ranked No. 7 overall by Rivals.com. Another Quincy (Acy) also will return, giving the Bears one of the most feared front lines in the country.
If Baylor receives production from its backcourt (incoming freshman Deuce Bello and a slew of transfers should help), the Bears could make a run at the league title.
3. Missouri (23-11, 8-8)
New coach Frank Haith will inherit an immensely talented group. The Tigers only lose Justin Safford from last year, and he only started 12 of 34 games. MU's top six scorers return, including Marcus Denmon (16.9 ppg), one of the best guards in the league. Mizzou is deep at guard with the Pressey brothers (Phil, Matt) back, along with Michael Dixon.
Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe will form a solid frontcourt. Expecting Haith to win the league in his first year is unrealistic, but a top-three finish is not far-fetched.
4. Texas A&M (24-9, 10-6)
Murray State coach Billy Kennedy accepted the Texas A&M head coaching job on Sunday night, taking over for Mark Turgeon, who left for Maryland. Kennedy will take over a solid group, led by Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, A&M's top two scorers last season. Add incoming freshman point guard Jamal Branch (No. 65 nationally), and the Aggies have some nice pieces.
5. Texas (28-8, 13-3)
Texas was the lone threat to Kansas last season in the league race, but the Longhorns should take a step back next year with the losses of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph to the NBA. Add seniors Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas to the departure list, and that's six of UT's seven leading scorers from last season who will be gone.
Say what you want about coach Rick Barnes, but he remains one of the best recruiters in the country. Five-star incoming freshman point guard Myck Kabongo (No. 26 overall) will run the show for UT next season, and J'Covan Brown will join him in what should be a solid backcourt.
Depth issues and an unproven frontcourt will raise questions on whether the Longhorns can challenge for the Big 12 title.
6. Oklahoma State (20-14, 6-10)
The Cowboys will be somewhat of a wild card, with their success likely tied to the effectiveness of incoming five-star freshman recruit LeBryan Nash (6-7, 230 pounds, No. 6 nationally). Coach Travis Ford also will bring in point guard Cezar Guerrero (four stars, No. 71 nationally) to go along with returners Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi. OSU will be a scary team loaded with sleeper potential and a high ceiling.
7. Kansas State (23-11, 10-6)
The Wildcats return Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, but I don't see them contending for the league crown without Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.
8. Iowa State (16-16, 3-13)
The Cyclones were competitive last season, despite finishing last in the league standings. Coach Fred Hoiberg will enter his second season with quite a few transfers (mainly Chris Allen from Michigan State, and Royce White from Minnesota) looking to make up for the loss of seniors Diante Garrett and Jamie Vanderbeken.
9. Oklahoma (14-18, 5-11)
New coach Lon Kruger signed a seven-year, $16.6 million contract to leave UNLV and head to Norman. He has quite the rebuilding project ahead of him.
10. Texas Tech (13-19, 5-11)
Billy Gillispie will receive another chance to prove himself in the Big 12. The former Texas A&M coach will have to deal with the departures of TTU's best players: John Roberson, Mike Singletary, David Tairu, D'walyn Roberts and Brad Reese.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
Ten observations from another wild weekend in the NCAA Tournament that produced a most improbable Final Four, featuring No. 3 seed Connecticut, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU:
1. jra004 leads the KUsports.com bracket challenge with one weekend left. It appears no one predicted more than two correct Final Four teams in the challenge. The contest was wide open this year as a result of the parity that took over the tournament.
2. Speaking of parity ... Butler and VCU, really? Both remarkable stories. It proves that pre-tournament analysis and all those television shows we love to watch that break down each region on Selection Sunday are pointless. They just make for interesting conversation and friendly debating. This is the first time in the history of the tournament that neither a No. 1 nor a No. 2 seed will participate in the Final Four.
3. I feel for the Kansas fans who looked forward to the tournament all year, only to feel disappointment in losing to another mid-major in March. VCU joined Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa on the list of mid-majors that have recently taken out KU in the NCAAs. The frustration is both visible and understandable.
Taking out all those frustrations on coach Bill Self, however, is completely absurd. Self did not shoot 2-for-21 from three-point range, nor did he only convert 15 of 28 free throws on Sunday against VCU. And spare me the "he should work on free throws more in practice" rebuttal. KU practices are closed to the public. No one knows how many they actually shoot aside from the players and coaches themselves. Considering KU is a combined 68-6 in the past two seasons, who is anyone to question the team's practice routine? Self will and should be on the KU sidelines for as long as he desires.
I'm not a big fan of the 2008 argument either. It goes something like this: If not for KU's national title in 2008, Self would be mocked and his job would be in jeopardy. Well, uh ... he still did win a national title in 2008, and that was just three years ago. He has three appearances with KU in the Elite Eight.
My one question for those who don't think Self is right for KU: Who would be better?
Answer: No one.
4. The Self situation is somewhat similar to Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, who, like Self, has lost his fair share of postseason games despite having a wildly successful overall record.
Stoops had suffered five straight BCS bowl defeats before winning the Fiesta Bowl this past season. But he also owns seven Big 12 championships and one national title.
Self owns seven straight regular-season league titles, five Big 12 tournament titles and one national title. But the unfortunate reality for these coaches is that the last game of the season is the one that's remembered most. For Stoops, much of the time, it's Boise State's miracle in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. For Self, much of the time, it will be VCU.
Stuff happens, though, especially in postseason college basketball, where, as Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan recently pointed out, the playing field is becoming more and more even. It's not like VCU took down Kansas in the first round. It was the Elite Eight. VCU did the same thing to USC, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State. The Rams are hot at the right time, one of the most basic products of March Madness stunners. As unfortunate a loss as it was for KU fans, it doesn't mean Self isn't the right coach for the foreseeable future.
5. A large reason KU fell to VCU was due to its inability to hit outside shots.
The Jayhawks were just 4-of-30 from outside the paint on Sunday. Think about that for a second. OK, maybe don't, because it's probably too painful to mull over any more. But KU needs someone who can consistently knock down outside shots next year.
6. KU's lack of bench production greatly affected the outcome on Sunday. The Jayhawks' bench scored only three points against VCU. Thomas Robinson, KU's sixth man, didn't score and was plagued by three fouls. Against Richmond in the Sweet 16, for example, the KU bench erupted for 31 points, and Robinson had 12 points and 14 boards. KU won that game, 77-57.
7. If you told me before I filled out my bracket that a team from last year's Final Four would return again this year, I would have immediately picked Duke to win it all. What Butler accomplished is incredible, especially since the Bulldogs had such close calls against Old Dominion and Pittsburgh. They could have easily been knocked out of the first round by ODU.
8. Most impressive player of tournament: All due respect to Kemba Walker of UConn, I'm going with Derrick Williams of Arizona. The guy flat-out destroyed Duke's interior defense, and I didn't think that could be done by one player. Williams, who poured in 32 points and grabbed 13 boards against the Blue Devils, provided an incredible show each time Arizona took the floor in this year's NCAAs. The Wildcats had a rigorous road, but it made for exciting drama against Memphis, Texas, Duke and UConn.
9. If you could have a do-over, who will win the national title, now that the Final Four is set? I'm tempted to go with VCU, but I'll be boring and go with UConn.
10. Speaking of UConn ... Thank you, Huskies, for proving once and for all that the fatigue argument has no merit. I'm as guilty as anyone on this issue. I had UConn getting bounced in the Sweet 16 because, I reasoned, it played five games in five days a week before in the Big East tournament. But recent momentum outweighed any questions of fatigue with UConn and Kentucky, which won the SEC tournament.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
My NCAA Tournament bracket, like many others on KUsports.com and across the country, is running on fumes after the first weekend of basketball mayhem.
A top seed is already done, two schools that call Richmond, Va. home are in the Sweet 16 and four double-digit seeds still have their dancing shoes on.
Here are 10 bracket-buster observations from the first weekend of games:
1. Penciling in Kansas to the Final Four would be somewhat premature, given the unpredictable nature of the first weekend. With the Jayhawks' draw, though, anything less than a trip to Houston would likely result in disappointment from the KU fan base.
KU will face No. 12 seed Richmond on Friday in San Antonio (6:27 p.m. on TBS). If I did one thing right this year in my bracket, it was forecasting this matchup. Should the Jayhawks win, they would face the winner of No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (not No. 2 Notre Dame or No. 3 Purdue). I'll pose the question to our KUsports.com readers: Anything less than a Final Four = disappointment?
2. Craziest ending to a game from first weekend: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pittsburgh 70 in Washington, D.C. I really hope Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack found the nearest gas station after the game and demanded tickets to the D.C. lottery. He'd probably win the powerball with the luck that was on his side on Saturday.
With Butler ahead by one in the final seconds, Mack inexplicably fouled Gilbert Brown near midcourt — almost 50 feet away from the basket — with 1.4 seconds left. Brown sank his first free throw, but missed the second. Butler's Matt Howard grabbed the rebound and heaved an awkward-looking, desperation full-court shot, only to be slapped on the arm by Pittsburgh's Nasir Robinson ... roughly 90 feet away from the basket on a foul that was even more mind-boggling than the one that preceded it. Howard naturally sank the first charity to give Butler a one-point lead and intentionally clanked the second off the rim to end the game.
3. Second-craziest ending to a game from first weekend: No. 5 Arizona 70, No. 4 Texas 69 in Tulsa, Okla. Fitting this game was on TNT, which claims the slogan, 'We know drama.' This game was packed with more drama than any Law & Order or Bones episode you'd come across during the station's daytime programming hours.
First question: Should a five-second violation have been called on Texas guard Cory Joseph with 14.5 seconds remaining? Texas led by two before the call gave possession to Arizona, which converted a three-point play to win the game.
Keep an eye on the ref. It really appeared Joseph called timeout around the time the ref's count hit four.
Controversy ensued on the final possession, when UT's J'Covan Brown drove hard to the bucket and received no foul call. Ditto for Gary Johnson on an attempted game-winning put-back. Looking at the replay, I didn't have any problem with the officiating on the final possession. Brown ran into minor contact that probably shouldn't have warranted a foul, and Johnson was hacked after the buzzer, so that's irrelevant. Joseph, however, has a legitimate case to prosecute the Wildcats (or the ref) for getting away with March Madness murder.
4. Can anyone make any sense of No. 10 Florida State, No. 11 Marquette, No. 11 VCU and No. 12 Richmond in the Sweet 16? My bracket has 10 Sweet 16 teams left, five Elite Eight teams remaining, and two Final Four teams left. Far from ideal.
5. Big 12 outlook after first weekend: It's all up to Kansas. Texas A&M and Missouri faltered in the round of 64, while Texas and Kansas State couldn't make it out of the round of 32. This has to be considered an under-performing effort from league squads.
Breakdown of Sweet 16 teams, by conference: ACC 3 (Duke, North Carolina, Florida State); Big East 2 (Connecticut, Marquette); Big Ten 2 (Ohio State, Wisconsin); SEC 2 (Florida, Kentucky); Mountain West 2 (San Diego State, BYU); Big 12 1 (Kansas); Pac-10 1 (Arizona); Atlantic 10 1 (Richmond); Colonial Athletic 1 (VCU); Horizon 1 (Butler).
6. Most valuable player of first weekend: Derrick Williams, Arizona.
Williams' 22 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis were impressive, as were the 17 points and nine boards against Texas. But, most importantly, Williams blocked the potential game-tying shot in the closing seconds against Memphis, and completed the game-winning three-point play against Texas. The Wildcats would be watching the tourney from their couches if not for the ultra-clutch Williams, a 6-foot-8, 241-pound sophomore from La Mirada, Calif.
7. Runners-up for MVP after first weekend: Kemba Walker, Connecticut; Jimmer Fredette, BYU.
Walker had 18 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds against Bucknell; he followed that up with 33 points, five assists and six boards against Cincinnati. The Huskies don't look tired after playing five games in five days two weeks ago to win the Big East tournament. Walker, a 6-1, 172-pound junior, has been near unstoppable.
Fredette has 66 points in two games, and has to be one the most conditioned athletes in the field. He's played all but one minute in the Cougars' two NCAA victories. Fredette drilled seven of 12 threes on Saturday, when he lit up Gonzaga for 34 points.
8. Biggest surprise after first weekend: VCU. No contest. The Rams, who snuck into the expanded 68-team field, beat USC in the tournament's First Four round, then smoked Georgetown (74-56) and Purdue (94-76) to reach the Sweet 16. VCU's best victory during the regular season was a triumph over UCLA way back on Nov. 26, 2010. The Rams went 12-6 and finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Conference. Where did they come from?
9. Best Gus Johnson call after first weekend: George Mason's victory over Villanova. Johnson went crazy in the final few minutes after Mike Morrison followed a missed shot with a dunk that gave Mason the lead with 55 seconds remaining. Johnson quickly proclaimed that the Patriots were "Hustlin' ... fightin' ... scrappin' ... jammin!'" on the way to commercial break. What would the tournament be without Gus?
10. Who's your call to win it all, after seeing what happened in the first few rounds? Ohio State and Kansas looked the best. Duke looked good, especially with Kyrie Irving back, but the Blue Devils let Michigan hang around way too long on Sunday. KU fans have to love the Jayhawks' draw, however, with Richmond, and then either VCU/Florida State. And with Pittsburgh knocked out, the only teams standing in KU's way of making the championship game would be Butler, Wisconsin, BYU or Florida.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.