A fluctuating identity crisis: What we learned from Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Frisco, Texas, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP)
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Frisco, Texas, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP)

Welcome to talkin’ season, everybody.

Monday marked the first day of preseason Media Days for both the Big 12 and SEC. That means the college football season is right around the corner, and that’s something to get excited about.

For all of the glitz and glamor of these events, they usually don’t produce much substance, so we watched the news conferences for you.

Here’s what we learned from the Big 12.

The Big 12’s new slogan, and a fluctuating identity crisis

Bob Bowlsby kicked things off with his annual commissioner’s address. After rattling off an array of news, notes and accomplishments from the conference over the last year, he let the world know that the Big 12 has a new mantra: “Every Game Matters.”

It’s an improvement over “One True Champion,” that’s for sure, but it speaks to the fluctuating identity crisis the league has faced in the College Football Playoff era.

The fact that the conference has 10 teams and plays a full round robin schedule differentiates it from the rest of the Power Five. But after the league was shut out from the Playoff in 2014 when TCU and Baylor were jumped by Ohio State after a decisive conference championship game win, the Big 12 decided it needed more to make sure that didn’t happen again.

That brought the return of the Big 12 title game, which of course meant two teams would meet twice in the same season. Those teams were Oklahoma and TCU. OU dispatched the Horned Frogs both times, but a TCU upset would have likely knocked the Sooners from the top four.

Circumstances like that make this new branding — why would you want it to be harder to reach the CFP? — all the more head-scratching:

Here’s how Bowlsby, who said the 2017 title game was “an unqualified success,” explained (spun?) it all:

“You will see the banners around, ‘Every game matters.’ You will see it a lot during the course of the year. We believe in it. We think the Big 12 path to the end of the season is not only the most challenging but the highest quality,” Bowlsby said. “The fact that everybody plays everybody and the fact that we guarantee 1 versus 2 in the championship game is unlike the way any other conference conducts their business.

“Nobody is going to win the Big 12 by who they don’t play. It’s a difficult path but I think it’s one that will serve us well.”

Kyle Murray doesn't have the No. 1 QB spot locked down at Oklahoma. (AP)
Kyler Murray doesn’t have the No. 1 QB spot locked down at Oklahoma. (AP)

Lincoln Riley: Kyler Murray is not Oklahoma’s starting QB yet

It’s been a pretty uneventful offseason, but Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, the suspected heir apparent to Heisman winner and No. 1 NFL pick Baker Mayfield, being selected in the first round of the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics was a big deal. Murray, who signed a $4.7 million contract with the A’s, has two years of football eligibility remaining but has already made it known that this will be his last year on the gridiron.

He wouldn’t stick around for another year as an unpaid amateur if he wasn’t going to be the Sooners’ starting quarterback, right? Probably, but OU head coach Lincoln Riley won’t anoint Murray the team’s No. 1 QB over Austin Kendall just yet.

“Kyler is not the quarterback yet,” Riley said. “There is good competition going on and Kyler is going to have to fight like crazy to win this job.

“It’s a different competition. It’s very different, both have been Baker’s backups in the last two years and they’ve been in multiple years and they’re both ready to be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma.

“First things first. He’s got to win that job and whoever wins it, whether it’s Austin Kendall or Kyler Murray, it will be different, no question.”

How Iowa State learned to believe under Matt Campbell

Not many expected Iowa State to take such a significant leap — from 3-9 to 8-5 — in Year 2 under Matt Campbell. The 2017 campaign got off to a run-of-the-mill 2-2 start before the Cyclones shocked third-ranked Oklahoma 38-31 in Norman.

All of a sudden, Iowa State was a team to pay attention to in the Big 12 after years of treading water under Paul Rhoads. That win did a ton for the program.

“I said this about Iowa State football. In Year 1 we had to learn how to believe,” Campbell said. “What does real belief look like and feel like? In Year 1 you saw our kids grow, but they started to believe that they could win. In Year 2, we had to learn how to win. We learned that by obviously some successes in some football games that maybe we weren’t picked to win. But you also saw it in some tough, gut-wrenching losses that we had throughout the year as well.

“Winning a game like we did against Oklahoma showed us and our kids that here is what it takes to be successful.”

Gary Patterson: Shawn Robinson ‘has the edge’ at QB

Gary Patterson is one of those coaches who wants to keep a competition going as long as possible, even if he and the rest of the public know the outcome. So let’s get this out there: Shawn Robinson will be TCU’s starting quarterback, even if Patterson would not come out and say it on Monday.

When Kenny Hill was injured last fall, Robinson became the first true freshman to start at QB for Patterson. Now a sophomore, Robinson accompanied his coach to Media Days.

“[Robinson’s] the guy that played the most games. He played in six and obviously he started [vs. Texas Tech], which was a hard place to play,” Patterson said. “He was able to win this last year. So obviously he’s proven himself, he probably has the edge.”

Texas Tech the defensive juggernaut?

Well, juggernaut is obviously tongue-in-cheek here — but the improvements Texas Tech made defensively are worth acknowledging. When the Big 12 released its preseason all-conference teams, the Red Raiders — a program consistently among the worst defensively in all of college football over the last decade — led the way with three selections on the defensive side of the ball: linebacker Dakota Allen and defensive backs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Justus Parker.

After some ugly years, TTU coach Kliff Kingsbury gave defensive coordinator David Gibbs credit for sticking to his vision.

“When Coach Gibbs took the job four years ago he kind of had to redo it all,” Kingsbury said. “He had a vision, knew what he wanted to do but had to go through two tough years. To his credit, he stuck to his guns, with his philosophy and his recruiting and now we’re making strides on that side of the football. So have to credit him a ton with sticking it out and just having continuity on that side of the ball to develop a culture and identity that those defensive players and staff are taking a lot of pride in now.”

As for Kingsbury’s quarterback for 2018, that’s all up in the air with McLane Carter, Jett Duffey and Alan Bowman all remaining in the mix to start.

Kansas is senior-laden in a make-or-break year for David Beaty

A new athletic director in place makes David Beaty’s uphill climb to turn the Kansas football program around even steeper. Sheahon Zenger, the man who hired Beaty, was fired and replaced with Jeff Long. Beaty is 3-33 with the Jayhawks with one Big 12 win.

Beaty is well aware this is a make-or-break year for his job security (if any remains), but he’s got an experienced team – “26 seniors, eight returning starters on offense, nine on defense and several specialists” — returning to take on the challenge.

Ultimately, he’s not sure how many wins he will need to stick around.

“Well, the name of the game in college sports is production,” Beaty said. “We’re going to start with game one and the goal is to go 1-0, to win that game and then put just as much focus on that next game to be able to do the same and repeat that. When it comes to a win total, I don’t have that answer. I don’t know that many people do, but I know this: I’ve bet around Christmas time we know.”

Probably before Christmas.

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