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.

Conference USA releases 2018 schedule

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Conference USA released its 2018 schedule on Tuesday, confirming that once again the league will play football this fall.

The league slate kicks off Sept. 8 with FIU’s visit to Old Dominion, while the first game involving a C-USA team is set for Aug. 25, when Rice hosts Prairie View A&M. Conference games are scattered throughout the month of September, with the first full Saturday slate coming on Oct. 6 with Old Dominion at Florida Atlantic, UAB at Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee at Marshall, North Texas at UTEP and UTSA at Rice.

While the MAC has opted for a full embrace of midweek football, Conference USA has gone in the exact opposite direction. Not one C-USA game is scheduled as of today for a weeknight — Thursday or Friday included — and only one game will be played on a day other than Saturday, a Friday, Aug. 31 visit to Wisconsin by Western Kentucky.

The most-anticipated non-conference games involving C-USA teams are Florida Atlantic’s opener at Oklahoma and on Sept. 1 and the Owls’ Sept. 22 visit to reigning American and Peach Bowl champion UCF. North Texas also has two shots to win nationwide respect for the league in its opener against SMU on Sept. 1 in Denton and a Sept. 15 visit to retooling Arkansas.

The highlight of the league schedule comes on Nov. 17 with a rematch of the 2017 title game when Florida Atlantic visits North Texas. The Owls won both meetings last season by a combined score of 110-48.

The 14th C-USA Championship will be held on Dec. 1 at the home of the division winner with the best conference record. FAU will look to become the second straight back-to-back C-USA champion, joining Western Kentucky in 2015-16.

Former LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada reportedly lands at Maryland

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It’s good to be Matt Canada.

He parachuted into Baton Rouge for a year, got paid a bunch of money, then got paid even more money to leave. And now he’s set to get paid from another school.

According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Canada is set to join the Maryland staff as offensive coordinator. Rittenberg notes that Canada signed a multi-year agreement with the Terps, though salary terms were not revealed. Walt Bell, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Florida State, made $500,000 in 2017, according to USA Today.

Maryland will be Canada’s seventh school to call plays for in this decade alone. He spent 2010 (and three years before that) at Indiana, then moved to Northern Illinois in 2011. He parlayed that into one season at Wisconsin, three at NC State, and then one season stints at Pittsburgh, LSU and now Maryland.

Report: Oklahoma State signs 27-year-old Australian punter

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Australian punters are the hot new commodity in college football, and word has made it back to the Land Down Under: punt the ball far and high enough and you, too, can receive a full scholarship to an American university.

According to the Latrobe Valley Express — which you now is legit, because its header as of press time already reads Wednesday, January 24 — 27-year-old Australian punter Tom Hutton has signed with Oklahoma State. Hutton hails from Newborough, Australia, about a two hour ride from Melbourne, and in December attended a training session at Prokick Australia.

“I was told about [American football] a few years ago so I thought ‘I’ll probably be too old for it now’, thinking that it was like Aussie Rules and that if you were over 21 then you had no chance,” Hutton told the paper. “But then I saw a few older blokes getting scholarships so I thought I may as well give it a go.”

Prokick Australia claims the last five Ray Guy Award winners as alums, including 2017 victor Michael Dickson of Texas. Oklahoma State saw his ability up close, as Dickson punted 11 times for a 50.9-yard average in October, nearly booting his way to victory in a 13-10 Cowboys overtime victory. “Their punter is — did he win the Ray Guy Award last year?” Mike Gundy said after that game. “He should have won it. He changed the field on us. I don’t know what the yardage is, I just know that every time we go a little bit of field position, he changed the field … he was fantastic for them.”

The story of how Hutton was approved for an Oklahoma State offer doesn’t go into details, but Hutton’s recollection of how Hutton, who works overnights at a paper mill in addition to playing Aussie rules football in the Mid Gippsland Football League, received the offer is perfect.

“I woke up after night shift on two hours sleep and this person said ‘we know where you’re going, you’re going to Oklahoma State and we’ve got the coach on the phone,'” he said. “I thought ‘Jesus Christ, can you give me half an hour? I need to have a shower and actually wake up and make sure this is not a dream.'”

According to the Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing, Hutton will arrive in Stillwater in July and have four years of eligibility.

Arkansas adds TCU signee who signed with New York Yankees

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Austin Aune‘s circuitous sports journey, one which Chris Weinke and Brandon Weeden would approve, has taken its next stop in Fayetteville.

According to 247Sports.com, Aune has joined the Arkansas football program and is enrolled in classes at the university.  At least initially, the quarterback will be a part of the Razorbacks as a walk-on; it’s expected he’ll take the field with the rest of his new teammates when spring practice kicks off month after next.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aune had also considered TCU and North Texas before the SEC’s mystique proved to be too much.

“The allure of the SEC and the SEC West and Chad [Morris] and Coach [Joe] Craddock, and everybody being on the same page up there as far as the opportunity goes,” the player’s father, Greg Aune, told the Democrat-Gazette. “He likes their system. It’s a fast-paced system, wide-open system. That’s what he played in high school. It’s a pass-oriented offense. He’s a read-run oriented guy, so that’s a lot of what those guys do.”

The fact that Aune considered TCU as a potential landing spot before settling on Morris and UA shouldn’t come as a surprise as he actually signed with the Horned Frogs back in 2012.  However, he was drafted by the New York Yankees that same year and, after signing a contract that included a $1 million signing bonus, embarked on what turned out to be a six-year career in the minor leagues.  Despite that financial commitment, Aune never made it past Single-A ball.