Big 12 Mailbag: Signing day, poor officiating, expansion, title race

The Texas Longhorns will likely be the story of Signing Day. 

Reese Strickland/Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

Your e-mails and tweets were much appreciated this week, readers. Today, we’ll tackle the problem of officiating across the Big 12, some signing day storylines and the Big 12 title race.

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To your questions!

Tyler Thornburg in Tulsa, Okla. writes: Any word from Big 12 about poor officiating in conference games?

Tyler Thompson in Kansas City writes: the "Big 12 Refs suck" chant last night – do you see it continuing at other venues? Does the league make changes?

David Ubben: This is a really tough spot for the Big 12 or any league, and I’ll revisit why a bit later. 

Walt Anderson (who coincidentally also works with the NFL, was on the AFC title game officiating team and was charged with verifying the Patriots’ balls were at the league-mandated PSI before the game) is the coordinator of football officiating in the league and Curtis Shaw coordinates basketball officials. 

Neither has a very high approval rating with fans, but it’s a much more legitimate issue on the basketball court. Watching football across other leagues, I don’t see a big difference in the quality between Big 12 officials and other leagues. 

That’s not the case in basketball, which seems to rotate between being called too closely and with a complete lack of consistency. The result: Frustrated coaches like Trent Johnson, who the league reprimanded on Wednesday. They’re only slightly more frustrated than fans and defenders trying to deal with with choppy, ugly games. What is or isn’t allowed varies far too wildly from game to game. There’s going to be some natural variance between crews on how tightly games are called, but there seems to be no consistency between them or during games. 

I’ve had a handful of conversations about officiating with people around the league in both sports in the last month. The only thing I’ve gleaned is that both Shaw and Anderson have reputations of being tough graders and demanding bosses. That’s been almost universal. Every officiating crew’s performance is reviewed on video and graded. Crews receive those grades. You’d be surprised at how many fans have no idea that happens. 

Conventional wisdom says you can’t make those public, but it’d be very interesting if we lived in a world where you could. If the Big 12 was the only league that did it, its officials would be by far the most scrutinized and the best officials would be scrambling for work in other leagues. Obviously, that’s not an option. 

However, if the grades for every crew in every league were made public after games, would it really be the worst thing? You’d have a hard time convincing me more accountability in that area is a bad thing. 

When that information is all handled behind a giant curtain, you see e-mails like this from fans beating their heads against the wall because they believe officials have no accountability and the league isn’t set on improvement. Though recent results suggest otherwise, the Big 12 is trying to improve. Do more drastic measures need to be taken? I wouldn’t oppose it on the basketball front. 

Kyle Hinn at Baylor asks: Who in the Big 12 has the most surprising signing day (good or bad)?

David Ubben: Texas is trending toward a big-time boom or bust type of Signing Day. They’re going to be the story in the Big 12 either way. Grabbing Malik Jefferson was huge, but all the speculation about guys like Kyler Murray, Daylon Mack, Damarkus Lodge and Soso Jamobo could mean a historic signing day for the Longhorns, one way or the other. Texas learned late Thursday night that Murray won’t be its quarterback of the future. He’s sticking with Texas A&M.

That would be a huge haul that would push Texas from a borderline national top 10 class into the top five. It’s the kind of recruiting class you can look back on and say, "Yep, that’s where Charlie Strong really got it going at Texas." 

When Jefferson committed back in December, Strong raised eyebrows when he compared it to Tim Tebow committing to Florida. The idea was it would ignite a sort of momentum on the recruiting trail. 

If Texas can end up with three of those four big Texan fish still swimming in uncommitted waters, it’ll be hard to disagree. 

J.M. Schafer in Fayettevile, Arkansas writes: TCU’s recruiting ceiling in the years to come? Top 25ish class? Top 10?

David Ubben: I wrote a few times back when TCU was getting ready to join the league and last year’s Big 12 title only confirmed it: There’s no reason TCU can’t recruit at the level of Texas and Oklahoma and consistently field top 10 classes. 

Five years is a full generation in recruiting. History beyond that is somewhat overrated. If you haven’t been nationally relevant in that span, the name on your jersey doesn’t mean as much to the average 17-year-old as you might think. 

If TCU keeps hovering around the 10-win mark consistently, they’re going to be able to offer a lot to kids in the DFW area: Namely the ability to win big and the ability to stay home and play in the metroplex. Those are two gigantic selling points. Staying home isn’t for everyone, but it’s for a lot of people. Gary Patterson likes to talk about how people used to say TCU could go to bowls, but it couldn’t go to a BCS bowl. Then it could go to a BCS bowl but couldn’t win one. Then it could win a BCS bowl but couldn’t play in a major league. Then it could play in a major league but couldn’t win in a major league. 

Now, I suppose it’s that TCU could win in a major league, but not every year. The Frogs’ detractors are running out of ammo. 

When TCU first joined the league, I saw an infrastructure that would allow it to win big very, very quickly. It had a brand-new stadium, great talent, a winning culture and one of the game’s best coaches who didn’t look like he was going anywhere. 

Last year, that culminated in a Big 12 title after an average first year and a disastrous (if not a big unlucky) second year. It won’t be the Frogs’ last. They still don’t have the depth of some of the Big 12’s other teams, but they’re good enough to compete and win and the Frogs are probably the Big 12’s best chance at a national title next year. Patterson is a master defensive strategist who will have plenty of weapons despite losing guys like Paul Dawson, Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. 

Handing the offense to Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie was one of the best things Patterson’s ever done and most of the offense is coming back in 2015, led by quarterback Trevone Boykin. 

The quality and depth of the Big 12 is good for the league but make it tougher for elite teams to emerge and compete for national titles. If the Big 12 had been this deep in the early ’00s, there’s no way the Big 12 would have played for seven national titles from the birth of the BCS to the 2009 season. 

Still, I’m betting TCU gets a shot to play for one in the next five years. That’s the product of having a stable program that gets a major steroid boost by taking a Big 12 title ring on the recruiting trail. 

Jeff Moore in Edna, Texas writes: What’s status of Big 12 football championship game? Has quest for NCAA exception been submitted? Expansion in play? Where are we?

David Ubben: The Big 12 title game waiver, submitted along with the ACC, is still in place. The league expects to hear a ruling this summer, and isn’t expecting that ruling to come back in time for spring meetings in June. There’s little doubt among league members that it will be granted, but that doesn’t mean the title game is coming back. 

The Big 12 just wants the ability to host a championship game in its back pocket and not have to jump through hoops if it decides it wants its champion to play a 13th game. As I wrote in the hours after TCU and Baylor’s playoff snubs, bringing it back is a silly idea, but this is mostly a due diligence move on the part of the conference. 

As for expansion, I’ll reiterate that it’s not in play right now. There’s certainly some fan unrest on the subject, but nobody I’ve talked to in the league is pushing for or has sensed any kind of momentum for that idea in the foreseeable future. Nobody is entirely ruling it out because the landscape can change so quickly, but for now, there’s not a reasonable scenario in sight that would result in the Big 12 expanding. 

Travis Castleman in Richmond, Va. asks: What do you think of WVU recruiting in football this year and in upcoming years?

David Ubben: Shaq Wilson, a three-star ATH from Coral Gables, Fla., was a nice pickup on Wednesday. West Virginia swiped him from Georgia with an offer to play receiver. Who wouldn’t want to play receiver in this offense?

Currently, West Virginia has the nation’s No. 30 class, according to 247’s composite rankings. 

Here’s where it ranked previously: 

2014: 38th

2013: 30th

2012: 36th

2011: 49th

2010: 28th

2009: 22nd

2008: 48th

It’s too small a sample size to make a sweeping generalization, but it doesn’t appear West Virginia has gotten a major bump from Big 12 membership.

What strikes me about West Virginia is how little has changed beyond just the raw rankings. WVU’s pipeline to Miramar is alive and well, evidenced by two four-star prospects–CB Tyrek Cole and WR Javon Durante–from the Florida high school highlighting this year’s class. Damon Cogdell, a Miami native who coached at Miramar for 12 seasons and now coaches West Virginia’s defensive line, is a huge reason for that. 

However, when West Virginia joined, I thought they’d have a great chance to replace Missouri in the state of Texas as the land where undersized, productive spread talents would go after UT, OU and A&M passed on them. Mizzou basically built its program on that and Dana Holgorsen spent most of his coaching career in Texas. It hasn’t happened. West Virginia doesn’t have a single Texan in its 2015 class and only has 10 members of the roster who are from the state, several of whom were recruited when West Virginia was still in the Big East. 

WVU hasn’t spent as much time recruiting Texas as I would have expected, but has done an outstanding job of maintaining its link to Florida after leaving the Big East. That’s called strong relationships on the coaching staff. 

The best news for West Virginia is where it has ranked in the conference. It’s third this year and was fifth a year ago. It was fourth in 2012, which was up from seventh in 2011. WVU can expect to finish in the top half of the league in recruiting almost every year, and over time, those kinds of things have a way of panning out. 

Adam Rogg in Wichita, Kan. writes: What series of events would have to happen for Kansas not to win the Big 12? Because a 1 game lead already seems insurmountable.

David Ubben: Well, it’s college basketball and these guys are still learning. Every team, especially one like Kansas that doesn’t really have elite-level talent, it susceptible to a rough patch. Injuries aside, that’s the only hope. I don’t think it’ll happen, mostly because it just hasn’t–beyond a couple games–under Bill Self very often. 

To me, Kansas looks like a team on its way to a 14-4 or 15-3 record in league play. Iowa State is the only team with the roster capable of equalling that, but it already has a hideous loss to Texas Tech (who scored 36 points against Oklahoma on Wednesday) on its resume. 

They are who we thought they were, and the Cyclones let ’em off the hook.