Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley celebrates with his team after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 41-17 in the Big 12 Championship AT&T Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Football

Big 12 rebuild? After strong year, league heads into 2018 with more questions than answers

Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU have gotten all the preseason hype, but how will Texas, Oklahoma State, others fare going forward?

Posted July 15th, 2018

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From the looks of things, the Big 12 had a terrific football year in 2017.

Oklahoma represented the league in the College Football Playoff and produced a Heisman Trophy winner. Three teams had 10-win seasons, and eight played in bowl games. The league’s 5-3 postseason mark was second among the Power Five conferences.

Seven teams posted winning records, including Texas, which snapped a three-year losing streak.

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But this year looks like a rebuilding one for the league. Big 12 media days are Monday and Tuesday at The Star in Frisco, and there’s a real question as to whether this conference has enough star power. 

Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU have garnered most of the preseason hype. The Longhorns are gathering momentum in coach Tom Herman’s second season. Kansas State is always going to be well-schooled under Bill Snyder. Iowa State is game, too.

Here’s a look at some of the key issues heading into Big 12 media days, which always serve as the unofficial kickoff to the season.

Will Grier (7) of the West Virginia Mountaineers takes the field against the Iowa State Cyclones at Mountaineer Field on November 04, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Coming back from a late-season injury, Grier is the key to a potentially explosive Mountaineers passing game. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

1. Is Will Grier the Big 12’s best Heisman candidate?

Kudos to the West Virginia sports information office for getting Grier’s name out there this month. And why not? Grier is the league’s best returning quarterback. He averaged 317.3 passing yards per game last season before suffering a broken hand diving for the pylon against Texas. 

The Mountaineers were 10-3 under Dana Holgorsen in 2016 but took a step back to 7-6 last year. Defense was a big reason why. West Virginia allowed 445.5 yards per game, the third-worst total in the league.

2. Can Lincoln Riley continue Oklahoma’s winning ways?

Onlookers always gave Oklahoma the benefit of the doubt when Bob Stoops was in charge. But the visor-wearing veteran is well into retirement these days, and Riley led the program for a full offseason. The Sooners got into the CFP last season thanks to Mayfield. But what now?

Frankly, it’s hard to gauge whether OU will be it’s suffocating self or just above-average, which is still better than most. Quarterback is the biggest issue, obviously. 

Kyler Murray was drafted ninth overall by the Oakland A’s to play baseball and reportedly got a $5 million signing bonus. This will be his last season wearing crimson and cream. Does Murray getting the starting nod, or will it be Austin Kendall? 

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy holds the Camping World Bowl Trophy after defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 28, 2017 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. Michael Chang/Getty Images

3. Who’s replacing all those playmakers in Stillwater?

Oklahoma State has posted double-digit winning seasons for three straight years, a first in school history. But this one is a total crap shoot. How will coach Mike Gundy replace all that offensive firepower lost? The Cowboys are starting over at quarterback, running back and receiver. 

“Start out with the quarterback that doesn’t have any experience,” Gundy told the Tulsa World after the spring game. “At the running back position, I think we’ll be as competitive as anyone in the country. I think we have good players at the wideout positions, we just don’t have experience.”

4. How hot is Kliff Kingsbury’s seat?

When it comes to discussing Kliff Kingsbury’s job security, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Texas Tech’s late-season win over Texas. That alone may have saved the day. The Red Raiders got a critical sixth win and into a bowl game.

Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt made the decision to stick with Kingsbury, who now enters his sixth season with a 30-33 record. Tying your fate to that of the football coach is always a dicey proposition. 

What’s ironic is that Kingsbury faced exactly the same questions about his future at Big 12 media days last July. This was before Tech went 6-7.

“It just comes with the territory,” Kingsbury said last July. “I think in this profession, if you start looking at other things outside of that game that week, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury walks the field before a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman

5. Will any Big 12 team make the playoffs?

Big 12 athletic directors will tell you their league provides the best path to the playoffs for its members. It’s the only major conference where all members play each other in a true round-robin fashion. Coaches know if they win all their games, they’re in.

Some teams have mega-sized, non-conference matchups. TCU squares off against Ohio State in Arlington on Sept. 15. That’s the same day Texas hosts USC in Austin. West Virginia opens the year against Tennessee and will face North Carolina State. Oklahoma’s biggest non-conference foe is UCLA.

These are the types of games fans want and TV executives practically demand. Alabama’s biggest non-conference opponent this year? Louisville, a team that went 8-5 in 2017.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com

Big 12 media days

Monday-Tuesday, the Star in Frisco

Monday’s teams, players — Iowa State (QB Kyle Kempt, DL Ray Lima, RB David Montgomery, DB Brian Peavy), Kansas (LB Joe Dineen Jr., RB Khalil Herbert, WR Steven Sims Jr., DT Daniel Wise), Oklahoma (RB Rodney Anderson, DL Amani Bledsoe, LB Kenneth Murray, OL Ben Powers), TCU (WR Jaelan Austin, DE Ben Banogu, RB Sewo Olonilua, LB Ty Summers), Texas Tech (LB Dakota Allen, OL Travis Bruffy, WR Ja’deion High, DB Jah’shawn Johnson)

Tuesday’s teams, players — Baylor (DT Ira Lewis, WR Chris Platt, DL Greg Roberts, DB Verkedric Vaughns), Kansas State (QB Alex Delton, QB Skylar Thompson, OL Dalton Risner, DB Duke Shelley), Oklahoma State (DT Darrion Daniels, RB Justice Hill, WR Jalen McCleskey, LB Justin Phillips), Texas (TE Andrew Beck, DL/LB Breckyn Hager, DT Chris Nelson, LG Patrick Vahe), West Virginia (S Dravon Askew-Henry, OL Yodny Cajuste, QB Will Grier, LB David Long Jr.)

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