New coaches and changes in philosophy will dominate the conversations when Big 12 teams talk to the press
In a sign that the college football season is quickly approaching, conference media days are here. Big 12 programs will assemble on July 15 and 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Ironically, the annual gabfests rarely produce major news. Coaches and media-trained players know all too well at this point how to offer up canned answers about taking it one game at a time and making offseason gains in strength and conditioning.
That doesn't mean the assembled members of the fourth estate can't do their best to pry out some candid responses. Here are the most compelling questions for the Big 12 teams' representatives at media days this year.
Isn't Matt Rhule supposed to be a defensive guy?
When Baylor's head coach was first hired, he infamously poked fun at the quality of the defenses around the Big 12. He has learned some tough lessons in the last two years when it comes to dealing with cutting-edge offenses. Rhule and his staff have adopted the points-a-plenty mindset that dominates the league. For the Bears to take the next step, he will need to make good on his reputation as a defensive mastermind.
Iowa State Cyclones
Where does the explosiveness come from in this offense?
Wide receiver Hakeem Butler averaged a staggering 22 yards per reception last season, providing most of the punch in ISU's aerial attack. Maybe sophomore Tarique Milton or senior Deshaunte Jones can fill Butler's shoes, but you can't understate how important finding a replacement is for the Cyclones this season. You can't win big in the Big 12 if you can't stretch the field.
Be honest: How long is this going to take?
New head coach Les Miles possesses a legendarily sunny disposition. That kind of optimistic attitude undoubtedly made him an attractive candidate to oversee the rebuild of KU's ravaged football program. Can he give an honest assessment of how long it would take to get the Jayhawks back to respectability? Even if he can't, it would be interesting to hear his response.
Kansas State Wildcats
How many reliable receivers do you have?
Isaiah Zuber opted to play his final season at Mississippi State as a graduate transfer. Touted third-year sophomore Hunter Rison was suspended indefinitely after spring practice. The dependable pass catchers on the KSU roster are dwindling. Dalton Schoen will likely take over as the No. 1 option, but new head coach Chris Klieman can't feel too comfortable with the receivers behind him.
Can your safeties handle their responsibilities in this defense?
The safety position has been a drag on OU's defense for years, culminating in last season's revolving door in the lineup. Head coach Lincoln Riley made one of the most important coordinator hires of the offseason when he identified Alex Grinch as the man to overhaul the defense. In the past, Grinch has relied on his safeties to be active playmakers in the secondary. Do the Sooners know who those players will be this year, or will Grinch need to tweak his scheme to accommodate the holes in personnel?
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Which QB gives you the most confidence?
Mike Gundy stuck with Taylor Cornelius all last season in large part because OSU's head coach felt most comfortable with the fifth-year senior's veteran presence. Spencer Sanders seems like the clubhouse leader to win the job this year, but that will require Gundy to put his faith in a redshirt freshman. If Gundy feels as though he would rest easier with seasoned Hawaii transfer Dru Brown behind center, he could opt to let Sanders marinate on the bench a bit longer to start the season.
TCU Horned Frogs
Does a proven offensive line change how Sonny Cumbie will structure your offense?
TCU has five returning starters on its offensive line and a pile of uncertainty at quarterback behind them. Despite the presence of star Jalen Reagor in the receiving corps, wouldn't it make sense for Gary Patterson to instruct his offensive coordinator to lean on the ground game? The notoriously feisty head Horned Frog would undoubtedly love to share his thoughts on the subject with the media.
Do you trust Sam Ehlinger to win games with his arm?
Ehlinger answered plenty of questions with his play on the field last season. However, head coach Tom Herman has built UT's offense around a move-the-chains rushing attack and setting up his QB for easy throws. The conference's preseason offensive player of the year can count on opponents putting him in spots in 2019 that will require doing more in the passing game for the Longhorns to win games. Herman is likely planning for that already.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Was the problem with Tech's defense the players or the coaches?
This is a no-win question for new head coach Matt Wells, so it would probably elicit a standard non-answer. Wells' true thoughts on the matter would go a long way towards figuring out how this coaching staff intends to shore up a D that has languished for years, though.
West Virginia Mountaineers
What's up with the defections?
Safety Kenny Robinson and wide receiver Marcus Simms are some of the biggest names to leave Morgantown since Neal Brown was hired in January, but they're just two of multiple departees this year. Is this a standard blood-letting that happens when a new coaching staff takes over, or is something else going on with the Eers?
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
(Top photo courtesy of www.big12sports.com)