Bob Stoops

Playing ‘Five Questions’ ahead of Big 12 Media Days

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Following in the 2014 footsteps of its Power-Five brethren in the SEC and ACC, the Big 12 will take its conference show on the road for its annual soirée in front of various media entities that cover the league on a daily — or sometime — basis.

And, as was the case with the other two conferences that have already undergone the media car wash, questions abound as college football gets set to enter its first season with a playoff that will determine its champion.

Below are but five of the most pressing questions facing the conference and its members entering the annual Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, in no particular order.

CAN SOONERS CARRY BIG 12 BANNER INTO PLAYOFFS?
At least as far as the media is concerned, Oklahoma is the overwhelming favorite to stake its claim to the 2014 conference championship.  A sizable portion of that preseason confidence is based on the Sooners rolling the Tide following the 2013 regular season.  To close out last year, the Sooners dropped Kansas State by 10 on the road in Manhattan; scored 16 fourth-quarter points to rally past hated in-state rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater; and then stunned heavy-favorite Alabama by two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.  Conversely, OU lost to 2013 Big 12 champion Baylor by 29 points, and was dispatched by eight-win Texas to the tune of 36-20 earlier that season.  Which OU team shows up Sooner or later this coming season?  That remains to be seen, and could determine if the Big 12 has a seat at the four-team College Football Playoff table.

IF NOT OU, THEN WHO?
This one’s easy: Baylor.  Much like Duke in the ACC, and for whatever reason, the Bears are getting little to no respect after what was a historic campaign for its football program.  The media hasn’t exactly forgotten BU as nine media members picked them to repeat — a whopping 47 picked OU to dethrone them — but the fact that the defending champs are mere afterthoughts to a team that got waxed by 29 by those very champs is perplexing to say the least.  Sleep on Art Briles and his Bears at your own peril.  I can guarantee one thing: the coaches in the Big 12 won’t be.

HOW STRONG WILL CHARLIE BE?
There were quite a few individuals, myself included, who felt that Charlie Strong was a slam-dunk, home-run hire for Texas as Mack Brown‘s replacement.  There was also a sizable contingent, however, who felt that Strong would be in over his head as it pertains to the intense media microscope UT’s head football coach invariably finds himself under as well as dealing with the back-room politics of Longhorn football (guilty too).  While the latter will play out in one fashion or form over the coming months and years, Strong will get his second chance to address a media throng as the head coach at Texas — and do so with his eye-opening-but-honest comments regarding UT’s immediate title hopes fresh on some minds.  As long as he wins on the field, he doesn’t have to worry about winning press conferences.  Absent any type of UT track record, though, a “winning” press conference during media days could go a long way to softening his transition into what’s one of the most scrutinized and high-pressured jobs in college football.

A BRYCEMAN IN BAYLOR’S FUTURE?
Once the conference of quarterbacks as far as the eye can see, the Big 12 has seen the most important position on the football field hit a significant lull.  Baylor, though, is exempt from said lull.  After watching Robert Griffin III win the first Heisman Trophy in the football program’s history a couple of years ago, the Bears simply reloaded with RGIII’s second understudy.  Coming off a prolific 2013 season — 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns, three interceptions — in his first season as the starter, and even with the loss of a couple of premium skill players, Bryce Petty is widely viewed as a preseason Heisman favorite.  At media days, Petty will have a chance to speak to many a media member, many of whom are Heisman voters.  It’ll be Petty’s opportunity to talk to a handful of national scribes, laying the groundwork for what is, for now, an unofficial Heisman campaign.  Look, though, for that “unofficial” to turn “official” within the first month or so of the start of the upcoming season.

LAST B12 MEDIA DAY RODEO FOR HOLGORSEN, WEIS?
Heading into the 2014 season, there’s little doubt that Florida’s Will Muschamp resides on the most scorching seat in America.  Not far behind, though, are a pair of Big 12 coaches whose coaching asses are firmly planted on the proverbial hot seat.  Were it not for a rather sizable buyout, there was a fairly good chance that Dana Holgorsen wouldn’t have seen a third season at West Virginia.  Armed with an unacceptable (a sanitized version of my God’s Country friends’ description of his time at WVU) 21-17 overall record and 11-14 mark in conference play, the onus is on Holgorsen to improve the Mountaineers immediately — at least nine wins, bowl win — or find himself on the first postseason train out of Morgantown.  Kansas’ Charlie Weis, on the other hand, could only pray for Holgorsen’s WVU level of “success.”  In his two seasons in Lawrence, Weis has posted a 4-20/1-17 record as the Jayhawks head coach.  If that abysmal trend continues, you can expect plenty of “Sorry, Charlie” headlines at or near the end of the upcoming season.

Reportedly transferring from Vols, Ray Raulerson confirms he’s ‘exploring options’

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Thursday, reports surfaced that two Tennessee offensive linemen would be leaving the Volunteers football program and possibly transferring to the FCS level.  Friday, one of those two confirmed he’s looking into it.

Speaking to The Knoxville News Sentinel, Ray Raulerson acknowledged that he’s “exploring options right now,” although he stopped short of confirming a transfer.  However, the redshirt sophomore center talked of his time in Knoxville in the past tense, an indication that he is prepared to move on.

“I’m exploring options right now,” Raulerson told the News Sentinel. “…I really loved it at Tennessee, but I’m going to go to a place where I have a better chance to play.”

Raulerson was a three-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class.  After redshirting as a true freshman, he played in five games in 2015.

It has yet to be confirmed that the other lineman, fifth-year senior tackle Dontavius Blair, is indeed transferring.  Raulerson, though, told the newspaper that his teammate is leaving as well.

Clemson tables proposal that would’ve had students paying for some football tickets

CLEMSON, SC - AUGUST 31: Clemson Tigers fans celebrate at the start of the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Students at Clemson can rest easy; your football fix will still be free of charge this year.

In 2015, tickets for the student sections in both the lower bowl and upper bowl of Memorial Stadium came at no cost to those enrolled in classes at the university.  In April, however, athletic director Dan Radakovich proposed levying what was described as a “$225 student donation” for those wishing to sit in the lower bowl on season tickets, while the upper bowl seats would remain free.

Late this past week, tigernet.com reported, Radakovich’s proposal was tabled as the university will “continue to have good conversations with student leaders about the entire ticketing process.”

So, for the 2016 football season, tickets in both bowls will come at no cost to students.  As was the case last year, all of those tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

It wasn’t all good news financially for Clemson students — or their parents — as The State news paper writes that “[t]he university’s board of trustees voted almost unanimously via teleconference Thursday to raise tuition rates for the 2016-17 year for in-state and out-of-state students.”

Separation of UCLA coach Jim Mora, wife of 30-plus years announced in a statement

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins greets players after a third quarter UCLA touchdown against the BYU Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 19, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 24-23.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Unfortunately, the private life of a major college football coach has once again become laid bare for public consumption.

In a statement released Friday, the agent for UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jimmy Sexton, released a statement confirming that his client and his wife, Shannon, have decided to separate.  The couple have been married for more than 30 years, and have four children — one daughter and three sons.

“After much thought and careful consideration, Jim and Shannon Mora have decided to separate,” the statement from Sexton began. “This was a very difficult decision and they appreciate the respect for their family’s privacy at this time.”

The 54-year-old Mora will be entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Bruins.  Earlier this month, UCLA announced that Mora, 37-16 in his first four seasons with the Bruins, had reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension with the university.

There was no specific word on whether any type of raise was involved in the new agreement, which keeps Mora signed through the 2021 season.

Entire Penn State staff on receiving end of new two-year contracts

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 27:  Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions hugs a police officer after defeating the Boston College Eagles in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 27, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Earlier this year, James Franklin saw a pair of key assistant coaches leave his Penn State staff for other jobs.  Fast-forward a few months, and the head coach’s athletic department is looking to provide the program a little more staff stability.

Speaking to area reporters earlier this week, Franklin revealed that every member of his nine-man coaching staff received new two-year contracts this offseason.  Not only that, but other members of the football staff received new deals as well.

“Our entire staff just this summer got (two)-year contracts,” Franklin said Thursday according to the Times Leader. “All of the assistants, their first contracts just ran out. And they all just signed multiple-year, guaranteed contracts. All the strength coaches did. All the administrators. Everybody.”

Arguably the best part, though, at least from Franklin’s point of view?  The new deals also addressed the buyout aspect of contracts, presumably making it harder for a Nittany Lion assistant to jump ship without some type of significant financial penalty.

“That’s really good from a stability standpoint. It’s helpful,” said the coach o the contracts, adding, “and what we did is, it’s both ways. They have the stability and protections, but we have buyouts as well.”

In January, Franklin watched as defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand leave for jobs at Tennessee and Auburn, respectively. And it’s not like the assistants left for promotions; rather, each of the moves involved was, at least in title, lateral ones.

The pay involved in those moves, however, is another matter entirely, something that, along with the buyouts, was likely addressed in the new deals. The financial particulars, though, have yet to be released, although that’s expected at some point in the next month or two.