What we learned at Big 12 media days
July, 24, 2013
By David Ubben | ESPN.com
A few overwhelming observations from two days chatting with the league's coaches and players:
Denial is the name of the game. By my count, only two Big 12 starting quarterback spots are truly still up for grabs: Kansas State and West Virginia. Four more Big 12 teams (Texas, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas) know who their quarterback will be in Week 1. The rest of the league's quarterback races look like mere formalities, but don't tell Big 12 coaches that. Bob Stoops bristled at a question that presumed Blake Bell would be his Week 1 starter. Davis Webb has been a welcome surprise in Lubbock, but Kliff Kingsbury maintaining that he could win the job over Michael Brewer is less than convincing. Gary Patterson saying he asked Casey Pachall to come to media days tips his hand to that "open" job. Mike Gundy is still hoping Mississippi State -- Oklahoma State's Week 1 opponent -- believes J.W. Walsh will beat out Clint Chelf after Chelf's strong finish to the 2012 season. It's all a little silly, but if any of those jobs tip the other way, it'll be shocking.
Charlie Weis can't be beaten in one category: Honesty. The Kansas coach turned heads with his frank comments on his recruiting pitch. "Have you looked at that pile of crap out there? Have you taken a look at that? So if you don't think you can play here, where do you think you can play? It's a pretty simple approach. And that's not a sales pitch. That's practical. You've seen it, right? Unfortunately, so have I." He drew praise and criticism for the comments, but the bottom line is, he's absolutely correct and has a 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play to show for it. Most importantly, his players agreed with him and see it as motivation to change.
Mike Gundy defended himself well in opening up about Wes Lunt. I got a chance to talk with Gundy about the handling of Wes Lunt's transfer, and came away with two conclusions. First, it seems like Wes Lunt sort of threw Gundy under the bus while Gundy was keeping silent at Lunt's request. Other than a lack of communication about where Lunt stood, I'm not sure Gundy did anything explicitly wrong. Two, Gundy's case (Lunt wanted to go to Illinois and he would have allowed him to go to an SEC or Pac-12 school if he'd strongly, specifically requested it) is reasonable, and I buy it. Like Gundy said, a transfer is never going to be a purely clean break, but I do think the controversy with the situation was overblown and Gundy's future strategy of holding a press conference when a high-profile player leaves would be the right one.
The Big 12's getting ready for a new look. The new Big 12 logo debuted early Monday morning. It's simple, and yes, it does bear a resemblance to the FAU logo. It's still a good look, even if it seems the simple approach would suggest the league overpaid for having the logo designed. It won't debut until 2014, and I was also surprised the league stuck with roman numerals. I hate when people refer to the league as the "Big XII," and the new logo's going to keep that confusion going.
This season should feature controversy. Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson's presentation on Day 2 was one of the more talked-about events of the week, and for good reason. Big 12 referees are being given an extremely difficult task to remove the dangerous hits that put players' heads at risk. It's the right motivation, but with game suspensions on the line, the risk is high and could lead to ugly incidents when it's enforced and done so in questionable fashion. The most baffling news from Anderson: If a targeting penalty and ejection is overturned by the replay booth (who will review all targeting flags), the player will remain in the game but the penalty stays. ... Huh? I'm sure the league's coaches love that.