When Big "D" hosts Big 12 Media Days for football, it's like being in that special place from which you automatically know what day of the week or time of year it is. Because when the head coaches and key players from the ten conference teams gather in Dallas every year, as they did on Monday and Tuesday this week, you know that college football and the 2011 Big 12 season is right around the corner.
Over the two days, members of the print, broadcast and digital sports media were given the opportunity to hear from each of the head coaches in the conference and select players from each school about the coming Big 12 football season and conduct individual interviews with the team representatives.
As a prelude to Big 12 Media Days at the Westin Galleria in Dallas, late last week the conference released the results of its annual preseason media poll and preseason All-Big 12 Offensive and Defensive First Teams. To no one's surprise, Oklahoma is the overwhelming favorite to capture the Big 12 football crown, which would be the Sooners' eighth in the last 12 years.
This is the first year since the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996 that the league has not been structured in a North-South divisional alignment. Oklahoma was picked nine times by the media in the preseason polling to win the Big 12 South. The Sooners' successfully accomplished the feat in six of those years.
Most all of the coaches and players who participated in the two-day preseason road show, which unofficially kicks offs the start of another Big 12 football season, expressed the opinion that going to a balanced, round-robin schedule in which every school gets to play each other is a good change and will result in a stronger, more competitive conference race. The team that stands on top at the end will have earned that right through its season-long performance on the field. Under those conditions, nothing should be lost from the discontinuation of an extra conference championship game to decide the Big 12 champion.
One of the coaches who has been openly advocating for a full round-robin league schedule for several years is Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy. "I think it's going to help our league," he said. "At the end of the season, there won't be any teams that say that a certain team from the north or a certain team from the south didn't play each other and didn't deserve to be in a conference championship game."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who is starting his 11th season as head of the Tigers' football program, also believes the conference will benefit from the new alignment. "As it's evolved to ten teams, I think the league will be as strong or stronger nationally each and every year, and (with) the competition every week, you better bring it," Pinkel said. "You better bring everything you've got every week. That's the challenge that you have, because this is a really, really good conference."
Coach Bob Stoops' defending-champion Sooners received 41 of the 43 first-place votes cast in the preseason poll. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, expected to battle it out for the second spot behind OU, divided the other two first-place votes. Texas A&M had no difficulty moving the ball and scoring points last season, but it was the strength of the Aggies' defense that was the major contributor to A&M's nine-win season and three-way tie with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (all with 6-2 conference records) for first place in the Big 12 South a year ago.
The Aggies' lose some key players off of their defense from last year, including All-American linebacker/defensive end Von Miller. This may be a huge concern for some fans and media, but not so much for A&M coach Mike Sherman. "I think we're going to be a better team on defense, even though we lose some significant players," Sherman said. "I believe the second year in the defense will make the biggest jump. Our guys will have a lot more familiarity and knowledge of the defense and be able to fit in a little bit better."
The Missouri Tigers are ranked fourth by the Big 12 media coming into the 2011 season, ahead of Texas. Baylor heads the bottom half of the conference, according to the preseason media, followed by Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas.
With Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas all appearing on the schedule the first day (along with Baylor), the attendance and media interest was tilted more heavily to this group of teams on opening day. Mack Brown of Texas was the final coach to take the podium on Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days, and he naturally was asked what we could expect from Texas this season after last year's cliff dive.
"We've obviously got a lot of questions that we have to get answered over the next month," said Brown, who has led the Longhorns to two BCS national championship games and one national title in his 13 previous seasons in Austin. "We have a new offense to figure out, a new defense to figure out. We have positions to figure out. Obviously, the quarterback position has to be figured out. And we we've got to figure out who we feature in all the different schemes with a lot of new coaches," he said.
In casting ballots for the preseason All-Big 12 Football Team, the local media and others who follow the Big 12 on a national basis selected Oklahoma State junior wide-receiver Justin Blackmon as Offensive Player of the Year and Travis Lewis, a senior linebacker from Oklahoma, as the pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Malcolm Brown, the highly touted running-back recruit for Texas, was picked as the preseason favorite for Newcomer of the Year in the conference.
Oklahoma led the 2011 Preseason All-Big 12 Team, with four players selected on both offense and defense. Oklahoma State had four players selected. Players from eight of the ten conference schools were named to the preseason first team. In total, there were 16 seniors named to the first team, eight juniors and three sophomores. Here is the complete listing of the Big 12 Preseason First Team:
WR Ryan Broyles, senior, Oklahoma
TE Michael Egnew, senior, Missouri
OL Kelechi Osemele, senior, Iowa State
OL Levy Adcock, senior, Oklahoma State
C Ben Habern, junior, Oklahoma
OL Luke Joeckel, sophomore, Texas A&M
OL Lonnie Edwards, senior, Texas Tech
WR Justin Blackmon, junior, Oklahoma State
QB Landry Jones, junior, Oklahoma
RB Bryce Brown, sophomore, Kansas State
RB Roy Finch, sophomore, Oklahoma
RB Cyrus Gray, senior, Texas A&M
PK Grant Russell, senior, Missouri
KR Coryell Judie, senior, Texas A&M
DL Brad Madison, junior, Missouri
DL Frank Alexander, senior, Oklhoma
DL Ronnell Lewis, junior, Oklahoma
DL Kheeston Randall, senior, Texas
LB Jake Knott, junior, Iowa State
LB Keenan Robinson, senior, Texas
LB Travis Lewis, senior, Oklahoma
DB Markelle Martin, senior, Oklahoma State
DB Demontre Hurst, junior, Oklahoma
DB Blake Gideon, senior, Texas
DB Coryell Judie, senior, Texas A&M
P Quinn Sharp, junior, Oklahoma State
PR Ryan Broyles, senior, Oklahoma