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.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.

Mizzou backup QB Marvin Zanders tweets he’s transferring

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 11: Truman the Tiger leads the Mizzou fans in cheers while the Missouri Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs on October 11, 2014 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
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It looks as if Drew Lock will have a new backup when the 2017 season rolls around.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday night, Marvin Zanders announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Missouri football program. The redshirt sophomore said he’s leaving to pursue other opportunities that will further his education and playing career, although where that will be is still to be determined.

Zanders was a three-star 2014 signee who played in just one game in 2015 after redshirting as a true freshman. As Lock’s primary backup in 2016, Zanders played in a total of eight games. In limited action, he completed 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 198 yards and a pair of scores.

The decision of Zanders to move on leaves the Mizzou quarterback cupboard somewhat bare at the moment.

Mark Dantonio won’t lose long-time assistant to head-coaching job at Div. II school

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans leads his team onto the field before a college football game against the against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Spartan Stadium on November 12, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
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At least for now and when it comes to one particular assistant, Mark Dantonio won’t have a hole to fill on his Michigan State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten was one of five finalists for the head-coaching job at Div. II Northern Michigan. On his Facebook page Thursday, by way of ESPN.com, Staten indicated that he will be staying at MSU.

Left unsaid is whether Staten withdrew from the search process because he wanted to remain in East Lansing or if he became aware the program had decided to go in a direction that didn’t include him.

Decision was made after a lot of prayer, talking with family, friends and mentors. I appreciate all of those involved as I will continue to battle on as a Spartan. God Bless and Go Green!

Staten has been a part of Dantonio’s coaching staff for the past 13 seasons, the first three at Cincinnati and the last 10 at MSU. He’s been the Spartans’ line coach for the past five years.

Charlie Strong, Temple have reportedly spoken as USF talk heats up

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Temple lost its head coach to an FBS program in the state of Texas. Could the Owls find his replacement in the form of the former head coach at that state’s flagship university? Or, as is looking more and more likely, could they “lose” him to a fellow AAC school?

According to at least one report the former could be the case as the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing a source familiar with the situation, reported that Strong and Temple officials have spoken about the vacant head-coaching job. How strong, so to speak, the former Louisville and Texas head coach’s interest is in the AAC football program is something the source couldn’t gauge, the Inquirer noted.

That said, “[t]hey had a conversation with Strong, that is a fact,” the source said.

The strongest, so to speak, competition for Strong may very well be coming from USF, with Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders reporting that “[i]t is believed that USF has already begun negotiating a contract with Strong.” A subsequent report from the Tampa Bay Times noted that USF spent Thursday in heavy pursuit of Strong.

The 56-year-old coach had previously been connected to the USF job, and his deep ties to the fertile recruiting grounds in the state that makes a marriage almost a no-brainer for both sides.

Strong was fired by the Longhorns in November after going just 16-21 during his three seasons in Austin. UT currently owes Strong roughly $11.2 million as part of his buyout. Per the terms of his contract, Strong must make “reasonable efforts” to obtain another job. If he does, USA Today wrote, “Texas’ obligation to him will be offset by an amount equal to 50% of the total compensation Strong receives from his new job.”

Matt Rhule, who left Temple for Baylor earlier this week, was paid just north of $1 million for his final season with the Owls, a figure that was eighth amongst AAC coaches. Willie Taggart, who created the USF vacancy by leaving for Oregon, was the fifth-highest paid coach in the conference at $1.7 million.

Strong’s salary final salary of $5.2 million was sixth nationally.