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.

Bowling Green WR Gehrig Dieter transferring to Alabama

Bowling Green wide receiver Gehrig Dieter makes a reception for a touchdown against Georgia Southern during the first half of the GoDaddy Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell/AL.com via AP)
Mike Kittrell/AL.com via AP
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Alabama will be adding a 1,000-yard wide receiver by way of a graduate transfer from the MAC. Gehrig Dieter will transfer from Bowling Green to Alabama in 2016, and he will be available to play right away. Dieter announced the news of his transfer to Alabama on his Twitter account Saturday afternoon.

Dieter is scheduled to graduate from Bowling Green in May, which means he will be a graduate transfer. This makes him eligible to play right away next fall at any other FBS program with a spot available. That FBS program just so happens to be the defending national champions. With freshman Calvin Ridley breaking out for the Crimson Tide in 2015 en route to a national championship, it looks as though Alabama will have quite a 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position.

Dieter was Bowling Green’s second-leading receiver in 015 with 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns. Together with Roger Lewis (1,544 yards, 16 touchdowns), and quarterback Matt Johnson (4,946 yards, 46 touchdowns), Bowling Green had a dynamic offense that now faces a bit of an uphill battle heading into the spring. With Dieter transferring and Johnson graduating to the NFL and head coach Dino Babers taking a job at Syracuse, Bowling Green could be set to take a step back next fall.

Johnny Lattner, Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner and College Football Hall of Famer, dies at 83

GPHR 45/1638:  Football player John Lattner, posed action diving in uniform inside the Stadium for Football Guide, May 1952.
Notre Dame Athletics
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The Notre Dame football family lost a legend today. Johnny Lattner, winner of the 1953 Heisman Trophy, passed away at the age of 83 after battling lung cancer.

In addition to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1953, becoming Notre Dame’s fourth in program history, Lattner also received the Maxwell award in both the 1952 and 1953 seasons. He was also named a consensus All-American in 1952 and 1953. The Chicago native played halfback for the Fighting Irish under Frank Leahy from 1950 through 1953. The “bread and butter ball carrier” went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a knee injury suffered during a two-year stint in the United States Air Force cut his pro career short. Lattner went on to dabble in some coaching at the high school level as well as at the University of Denver. He remained the head coach at Denver until the school shut down the football program in 1961.

Lattner was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

FCS may rebrand its championship game as a bowl game

Members of the North Dakota State football team hold the championship trophy following their FCS Championship NCAA college football game against Illinois State, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. North Dakota State won the game 29-27 for their fourth straight national championship.  (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
AP Photo/Tim Sharp
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As if there were not enough bowl game sin college football, we could be on our way to adding one more. Well, at least in name.

The Football Championship Subdivision national championship game could be rebranded as a bowl game in an attempt to spark more interest from the casual college football fans. Inspired by the relative success of the inaugural Celebration Bowl, played between the champions of the MEAC and SWAC, the Missouri Valley Conference is reportedly leading the charge to rename the FCS national championship game in a marketing ploy to generate more buzz with the help of the NCAA and television partner ESPN, which broadcast the national championship game in addition to providing coverage for additional playoff game sin the FCS postseason.

“The public understands playoffs, so we benefit from that for the first rounds of the championship,” said Patty Viverito, commissioner of  the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Pioneer League (just imagine if Jim Delany was the commissioner of the Big Ten and the MAC). “But then when it comes time for the championship game, because it’s in the mix of what is the bowl frenzy, it gets lost. So we think we can have the best of both worlds by having the playoffs leading up to the ‘Football Championship Bowl’ – however it is branded, but with the name ‘bowl’ so that we become part of the bowl lineup.”

This past season’s FCS national championship game was played on January 9, 2016. The championship game moved to January starting during the 2010 season. Previously the game had been played in mid-December. The move to push the championship game back closer to the BCS Championship Game was a strategic move to draw more attention to its national title game. This occurred a year after the game relocated to Frisco, Texas from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“To be in the same space, if you will, as the FBS bowls was absolutely tremendous,” MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas said, referring to the Celebration Bowl, which preceded the New Mexico Bowl and its official kickoff to the FBS bowl season. “We were the first game on ABC to start the bowl season. It was branded that way, it was marketed that way, it was promoted that way.”

Changing the championship game’s name to a bowl could have a downfall attached to it. While bowls certainly spark interest for some, it could also lead the game to fall under the radar amid a full slate of bowl games during bowl season. Having the game defined in title as being a national championship game could have a more positive effect on how the game is viewed by the casual fan.

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

James Conner
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.