Five most compelling storylines to watch in the Big 12 – Week 1

Five most compelling storylines to watch in the Big 12 – Week 1

 

Keith Fletcher – FOXSportsSouthwest.com

 

The Big 12 football season is a week from kicking off. There’s a lot of storylines that have evolved through the off-season leading up to this. Here’s five of the most interesting ones to keep an eye on.

 

#5 – Robert Griffin planting and cutting on his right leg

 

The preseason pundits have spoken, flopped out their tarot cards, and see the Bears receiving a bowl invitation in December. All preseason predictions are contingent upon key personell remaining healthy for a majority of the season. When Baylor opens at home with Sam Houston State (6:00 CT, Sept. 4, No TV) Bear fans will hold a collective breath until Robert Griffin III somehow replicates the move that shredded his knee last fall and put him out of commission for the season: a hard plant of the right leg in an attempt to slice leftward and upfield.  Don’t let the opponent fool you or distract you. RG3’s injury last year came against Northwestern State. A freak injury can occur against the Waco HIgh JV. So pay no mind to the Bearkats being picked seventh out of eight Southland Conference teams. Baylor needs a good passing day out of Griffin, and running game balanced with plenty of Jay Finley. But it’s that first plant and cut on the right leg of Griffin that may serve as the biggest drama at Floyd Casey Stadium next Saturday.

 

#4 – K-State’s marquee Big 12/Pac-10 matchup with UCLA

 

It is going to be hard to shake off, for some time, the events of this past summer. In the shuffle of Conference teams that resulted in Nebraska and Colorado filing divorce papers with the Big 12, Kansas State was one of the schools nearly left high and dry. The Pac-10 went bed-hopping around the Big 12 trying to seduce schools into a long-term romp in the hay. K-State never got a peck on the cheek. Nothing cuts to the soul of a competitor’s belly more than a feeling of disrespect and an act that results (purposely or not) in public humiliation. Kansas State and UCLA coaches will play down the big picture metaphor of conferences and what one school thinks of the other when the two face off at Bill Snyder Family Stadium (2:30 CT, Sept. 4, ABC Regional). But in the hearts of players and fans, what transpired last June was not gentlemanly business dealings in rooms with big cigars and expensive suits. There were judgements made as to who held what value, and K-State was effectively viewed as having no value to the Pac-10.  Oklahoma State will play Washington State, another Big 12/Pac-10 matchup. But OSU had its roll in the sack with the Pac-10 and was left with a number to call for more good times. K-State has more to prove, to itself and the conference it stayed loyal to.

 

#3 – Texas A&M’s defense vs. Stephen F. Austin

 

The stat that lingers like the stench of a dead rodent in the attic is Texas A&M ranking last in the Big 12 for total defense the last two years. Yet, the Aggies come in with the league’s top defensive player, rush end Vonn Miller, and a vow from A&M coaches that the off-season has been spent putting together a supporting cast around him that will lead the Ags out of the statistical cellar. And along comes a home opener (6:00 CT, Sept. 4, No TV) against an FCS school to show the maroon faithful how far the unit has come, posting a big defensive goose egg to begin the season … right? Maybe easier said than done, even for a team with a solid defensive reputation to begin the year. SFA is the defending Southland Conference co-champ, picked to win it again, and has already debuted as high as #8 in preseason FCS national polls. QB Jeremy Moses is back, last year’s SLC offensive player of the year after leading the nation in completions (385), TD passes (40) and total passing yards (4,124). And after what Appalachian State did in Michigan’s Big House a couple of years ago, teams like SFA aren’t as convinced that a non-conference matchup with a BCS-conference team is a first class ticket to a butt whoophing. It’s not uncommon for FCS teams to score a few points on FBS schools in non-conference play, but most of that comes in the 4th quarter when defensive second- and third-teamers are mopping up. So it brings intruige to College Station to see how well the Aggies’ first-team defense controls the Lumberjacks and how big of a cushion the offense can provide before coach Mike Sherman can let the defense’s bullpen take over. How many points given up are too much for the reigning Big 12-worst defense against a very good FCS team? We’ll know when we see it. 

 

#2 – Quarterback and Coach stability at Colorado

 

Tyler Hansen was named Colorado’s starting quarterback for the opener against Colorado State at Denver’s Invesco Field (1:00 CT, Sept. 4, The Mountain). And if Coach Dan Hawkins is true to his word, Hansen will be the No. 1 starter on the depth chart all year long, injuries permitting. That means Hansen won’t have to look over his shoulder to see if the Coach is patting hit right arm, signaling for his son to come in relief. For many CU fans, this decision is a sigh of relief. But it will be interesting to see what happens if the Hansen and the offense, for whatever reason, start careening out of control against the Rams. Is the quarterback drama done at Colorado? Will Cody Hawkins take significant snaps with the first team offense, and if so, will the term Nepotism be loosely thrown around on CU fan chat boards? Will it all be enough to save the skin of Coach Hawkins at CU? Four quarters at Invesco Field may not reveal all the answers, but it will show a good bit of them. 

 

#1 – Tommy Tuberville’s new look at Texas Tech

 

Speaking of quarterback drama … new Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville has settled on Taylor Potts for the opener against SMU (2:30 CT, Sept. 5, ESPN). But what does that mean in the big scheme of things in Raiderland now? If we understand this right, throwing the ball may be a second option more times than not under Tuberville. Tech is the biggest mystery in the Big 12, if not all of college football. Mike Leach was given a pink slip last December, but not for all the usual college football reasons. It’s not like he ran the program into the ground and the majority of the fan base was shouting for someone who could produce more Ws. The decision was the product of questionable behavior on the coach, and an administration who appeared bitter about being on the losing end of a popularity contest with the coach and seemed a little too eager to prove who was the real chief of the tribe. That means the team is full of good athletes who don’t need to be taught confidence or how to win. Just steady the ship and stay the course.  Is Potts the starting QB because he has a better mastery of the offense? Or is it because he best depicts the personality of offensive coordinator Neal Brown and Coach Tuberville and the direction they want to take the program? Answers will be interesting to see against an SMU team riding high after eight wins a year ago, one of them being over Nevada in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl – the Mustangs first post-season win in 25 years. SMU, like Tech, has received votes in both the AP and Coaches’ preseason polls. Tech always seems to be the South Division wild card. With Tuberville now at the reigns, the card is a little wilder.

 

Keith Fletcher has covered the Big 12 since its 1996 inception as a reporter and producer for Big 12 Showcase, seen weekly on Fox Sports Southwest, Midwest and Rocky Mountain.