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.

Suspended USC LB Osa Masina reportedly under investigation for sexual assault

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Antwaun Woods #99 of the USC Trojans and Osa Masina #58 of the USC Trojans pressure Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies on this pass play during the first quarter of a game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean Haffey/Getty Images)
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And now we know a little more of the rest of the story, and it’s potentially serious for one member of the USC football program.

Monday night, Clay Helton revealed that Osa Masina has been suspended for his team’s season opener against Alabama this weekend.  The head coach gave no specific reason or reasons for the sanctions being placed on the linebacker, although a school official subsequently described it as an unspecified violation of team rules.

However, the FOX affiliate out of Salt Lake City is reporting that Masina, a Utah native, is being investigated over sexual assault allegations.  The probe stems from an alleged incident or incidents that allegedly took place over the summer in Salt Lake County.

From the television station’s report:

Cottonwood Heights Police have confirmed the ongoing investigation but have not released details about the alleged crime.

Cottonwood Heights PD, with the help of the Los Angeles Police Dept., served a search warrant last week at a USC practice facility in Los Angeles.

At this point, no charges have been filed.  All questions to Masina’s parents were referred to the defense attorney representing their son.

Masina (pictured, left) was a five-star 2015 recruit who was the top-rated player at any position in the state of Utah.  He played in 12 games as a true freshman last season and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, with the highlight of his first year as a Trojan coming on a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner adds four-game suspension to rocky Boise State résumé

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 12: Mitchell Juergens #87 of the Brigham Young Cougars catches this 4th down, 4th quarter go ahead touchdown between defenders Darian Thompson #4 and Dylan Sumner-Gardner #29 of the Boise State Broncos at LaVell Edwards Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Provo, Utah. BYU won 35-24. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The roller coaster career of Dylan Sumner-Gardner at Boise State is on a downward trajectory yet again.

Tuesday, Boise announced that Sumner-Gardner (pictured, No. 29) has been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.  According to the school’s release, the suspension stems from the defensive back “failing to meet NCAA football academic eligibility requirements.”

Sumner-Gardner will kiss games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Washington State, Oregon State and Utah State.  Provided the current timeline holds, Sumner-Gardner would be eligible to return for the New Mexico game Oct. 7.

After playing in 13 games as a true freshman, Sumner-Gardner started the first four games last year before going down with a season-ending ankle injury.  In November he was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge, then didn’t travel to BSU’s Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois in late December because of what was described as an unspecified violation of team rules.  His status for the upcoming season has been a question mark throughout the offseason.

Sumner-Gardner, a four-star 2014 prospect who was the Broncos’ highest-rated recruit in that class, had been a projected starter at safety; with the junior sidelined, Cameron Hartsfield is listed as the starter instead.

Heart condition forces Okla. St.’s Josh Mabin to retire

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 25:   An Oklahoma State Cowboys flag billows before the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders September 25, 2014 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Sadly, a non-football health issue will bring to an end Josh Mabin‘s football-playing career.

On his personal Twitter account, Mabin announced that he will be forced to retire from the sport due to a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  The Mayo Clinic’s website describes the disease as one in which “the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied),” with the thickened heart muscle making it harder for the heart to pump blood.  The condition could cause “problems in the heart’s electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).”

Oklahoma State has yet to publicly address the linebacker’s status with the program moving forward.

It’s likely Mabin will remain on scholarship at OSU, but won’t count against the Cowboys’ 85-man limit.

A four-star 2014 recruit, Mabin was rated as the No. 18 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 54 player at any position in the state of Texas.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Mabin played in five games last season.  He was credited with four tackles in that limited action.

Mabin was listed as the backup middle linebacker to starter Chad Whitener on the depth chart OSU released last week.

Arrested Auburn S Stephen Roberts suspended for opener vs. Clemson

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Stephen Roberts #14 of the Auburn Tigers is called for pass interference on Christian Kirk #3 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the fourth quarter at Kyle Field on November 7, 2015 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Facing the best quarterback in the country, Auburn will need all hands on deck in the secondary for the opener.  Unfortunately for the SEC Tigers, that won’t be the case.

Late last week, Stephen Roberts was arrested following a traffic stop and charged with attempting to elude a police officer and possession of a firearm without a permit.  Tuesday, head coach Gus Malzahn confirmed that the defensive back will be suspended for Saturday’s season opener against No. 2 Clemson.

It’s uncertain if Roberts will return for the following Saturday’s game against Arkansas State as Malzahn labeled the suspension “week-to-week.”

Roberts played in 13 games last season, starting the final four games of the year.  He was expected to start at one of the safety positions for the Tigers this season.

Both of the charges Roberts is facing are misdemeanors.  His first court appearance is currently scheduled for Nov. 17.