Phil Steele examines the Big 12’s standing among the Power 5 conferences and explains why he likes Oklahoma to win the conference. (1:12)
Big 12 media days have arrived, which means the start of the season is around the corner. Here are five storylines to follow over the next two days in Frisco, Texas:
1. Rookie Red River coaches
Not since 1947 have Oklahoma and Texas had first-year head coaches in the same season. Blair Cherry got the best of Bud Wilkinson that year. But Wilkinson’s Sooners won the next three matchups, and Cherry resigned amid criticism, despite going 9-2 in his final season. With the retired Bob Stoops no longer roaming the Oklahoma sideline, the pressure will be ratcheted up in this rivalry. Sooner Nation will expect Lincoln Riley to handle the Longhorns the same way Stoops did. For Tom Herman, the heat will be on to regain control in Dallas against a 34-year-old rookie head coach. Either way, the Red River Showdown just got all the more compelling.
2. Bill Snyder’s health
In the spring, the 77-year-old Kansas State coach revealed that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatments. In his first large public appearance since the spring, Snyder is sure to be peppered with questions about his health this week. With a veteran quarterback in Jesse Ertz and a potentially stingy defense, Snyder has a loaded squad. But for the Wildcats to reach their ceiling, they’re going to need their Hall of Fame coach healthy and leading them.
3. The championship game
After whiffing on the College Football Playoff in two of the first three years, the Big 12 altered its format by adding a championship game. In addition, the league created the most difficult possible path to the title, guaranteeing that its top two teams in the standings would face each other again. The Big 12 believes that this will enhance its playoff profile, giving it a 13th game and a presence on championship weekend. But the addition of the title game comes with risk — and the possibility that the regular-season champ — and league’s best playoff hopeful — could lose in the title game and eliminate itself from playoff consideration.
4. A critical nonconference slate
The primary reason the Big 12 didn’t really factor into the playoff discussion last season was a collectively dismal showing against nonconference competition. But this fall, the Big 12 will have a prime shot at redemption with perhaps the most challenging nonconference slate the league has ever faced. West Virginia will meet Virginia Tech. Texas will go to USC. Oklahoma will go to Ohio State. Oklahoma State will go to Pitt. And TCU will go to Arkansas. To prove itself more worthy of consideration by the selection committee, the Big 12 will have to win some of these showdowns this time.
5. Year of the QBs
Headlined by Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, both of whom will be in Frisco, the Big 12 is loaded again at quarterback. Set to open on the short lists of Heisman favorites, the two seniors are the biggest reasons the Sooners and Cowboys were voted No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason Big 12 poll. But they aren’t the conference’s only capable signal-callers. Ertz, West Virginia’s Will Grier, Texas’ Shane Buechele and TCU’s Kenny Hill all have the talent — and supporting cast — to quarterback their teams into Big 12 title contention and challenge the Oklahoma schools.