In the Big 12, expect the unexpected -- and expect more from K-State
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Well, that was fun, wasn't it? Over roughly 48 hours in Texas, we discovered:
* Emboldened Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert probably won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year (assuming they ever have in the first place).
* Bob Stoops is perfectly cool with Oklahoma fans tweeting recruits as often as they like.
* Big 12 offenses are so fast, so frenetic, that the league felt compelled to add an eighth official just to keep up with them.
* Charlie Weis thinks his team is a pile of, well, you know.
* Parity is cool!
That last bit in particular was repeated early and often during Big 12 football media days this week: Nine teams, or 90 percent of the league membership, played in bowl games a year ago. Depth rules. The Big 12: Our Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl fodder is better than your Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl fodder!
Except it wasn't. (Michigan State outlasted TCU, 17-16, last December in Tempe.) In fact, it's all very similar to the line we heard the Big Ten kicking around just a few years ago, before Nebraska came aboard, when Penn State and Michigan were considered to be slipping and comatose (RichRod!), respectively.
Spin is spin, and while the Big 12 has only Kansas to really beat up on anymore -- and the Jayhawks were actually quite plucky in Lawrence this past autumn, November notwithstanding -- the "parity" narrative is also a subtle way of noting that Texas and Oklahoma are nowhere near what they were. Or rather, nowhere near what their fan bases expect them to be, which is Alabama West.
And despite their deeper pockets and inherent advantages, the Big 12's big boys figure, on paper, to remain in a mini-funk. The Sooners haven't played in a BCS-level bowl in two seasons; Texas hasn't been to one in three seasons, and the Longhorns were picked fourth in the media's annual preseason poll.
Stoops and Mack Brown contend it's because the likes of the Jayhawks and Iowa State are no longer easy marks. Critics contend it's because the elite have slipped. The truth probably lies, as it usually does, somewhere in the middle.
And while this whole depth thing has been very bad for traditionalists who yearn for a Big 12 team in the national championship hunt, it has also been very good for the likes of Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor, the circuit's three biggest climbers in the 10-team post-Huskers/post-Aggies/post-Tigers/post-Buffs realignment.
Old money is out; guesswork -- as K-State coach Bill Snyder called it the other day -- is very much in. Which would explain why six different Big 12 squads got first-place votes in the media poll released last week. The Cowboys are the consensus top dog, but it's in pencil. Just like everything else.
Conventional wisdom is out; dart-chucking is in. David Ash of Texas is the most veteran quarterback returning, with 18 starts under his belt. And yet the preseason choice for all-league honors was TCU's Casey Pachall, who played just four games a year ago before a suspension wiped out the rest of his season.
In fact, just about the only consistent element of projecting the preseason race is that few expect the Wildcats, the defending Big 12 co-champs, to actually be a part of it. Which is understandable, given the dossier: K-State returns just two starters from a fairly salty defense of a year ago. Quarterback/Heisman finalist Collin Klein, the centerpiece of the offense, is gone, which is tough enough. Middle linebacker Arthur Brown, the heart of the defensive side of the ball, has left the building, too.
"To win a conference championship and people still pick you down in the rankings, that puts a little fire in your system," Wildcats linebacker Tre Walker told reporters in Dallas when asked about the preseason snubbage. "It doesn't matter where you're ranked or how you recruit. It matters what you do on Saturday."
K-State was picked eighth in 2011. It wound up second.
The Wildcats were picked sixth a year ago. They wound up sharing the league title with the Sooners, and reached the BCS by virtue of a head-to-head victory over Oklahoma in Norman.
Over its last 18 Big 12 tilts, K-State is 15-3.
We never learn, do we?
"Most of the times the odds are against us, but that just gives us the mentality that we don't have anything to lose," wide receiver Tyler Lockett told the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal. "As hard as we work in practice and the way coach Snyder tests our mentality each and every day, we haven't come to work this hard to lose."
In "Star Wars" terms, your hate only makes them stronger.
Which is not to say there aren't strong points to begin with. Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job -- or even if it winds up being shared between Daniel Sams and Jake Waters -- the top receiving duo of Lockett and Tremaine Thompson can run with anybody.
We forget about tailback John Hubert, as well as an offensive line that returns all five starters, including center BJ Finney and 6-9 left tackle Cornelius Lucas.
We forget what a healthy Ty Zimmerman at safety means to the secondary.
We forget about a schedule that features eight home games, as well as nine played within the friendly confines of the Sunflower State.
We forget about Snyder, 73 years young. We forget just how dangerous his teams are when you don't see them coming.
"I think I said last year that if I were given the opportunity, I would have picked us 99th," Snyder quipped in Dallas. "As I look at this year, where we stand, I'd probably echo the same thought."
In other words, he's got us right where he wants us. Again.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.