DALLAS — Fans may need their own special user’s guide to identifying Big 12 quarterbacks this fall.
Arguably the best offensive league the past 10 years — usually led by a veteran signal caller — the Big 12 is now entering a new era with young, many unproven quarterbacks taking the reins for the first time this season.
Look no further than the Big 12 Media Days this week. The two-day event often features marquee quarterbacks, names you know, and names scattered on preseason award watch lists — including the Heisman Trophy.
“We’re in a quarterback-driven league, and if you just look at the last 10 years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses,” Texas coach Mack Brown said Tuesday.
This year, however, those looking for their quarterback fix in Dallas only had two to chose from — the Longhorns’ David Ash and the Jayhawks’ Jake Heaps, who is a first-year starter for the Jayhawks.
Including Kansas State — now without Collin Klein — Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State are now looking for new leaders under center.
“I understand it’s a major topic at that position, but if you ask about your right guard on offense — anyway, none of you are going to ask that question,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said regarding the lack of Big 12 star power at QB this season. “So for coaches, those two situations probably share some commonality, but for the common readers, that’s probably not the case.”
But just because there aren’t marquee names at quarterback this season in the Big 12, doesn’t mean there won’t be by the end of the season. Snyder pointed to Johnny Manziel, who a year ago was a relative unknown at Texas A&M to start the season. He wasn’t a lock to earn the starting job, yet won the Heisman, beating out the Wildcats’ Klein, who was third.
“There’s a young guy down here in College Station that came on the scene, and nobody had a clue that he was going to get himself on the field, and ended up winning the Heisman,” Snyder said. “You just never know.”
K-State has two intriguing players at QB this season in sophomore Daniel Sams and juco transfer Jake Waters. Though very different types of quarterbacks, both played well during the spring game this past April.
Snyder didn’t name a starter Monday, instead voicing his concern over losing a few other offensive starters — not just Klein. That said, K-State is still returning eight guys on offense.
“We don’t have a starting quarterback yet,” he said. “In addition to losing Collin, even though we return a substantial number of starters on offense, we still lost some extremely talented young guys — Chris Harper, a big-play wide receiver, and Braden Wilson, we miss his toughness tremendously.”
TCU is in a different position than most teams, as sophomore Trevone Boykin is back and battling former starter Casey Pachall, who was the preseason All-Big 12 pick at quarterback this year. Boykin started the final nine games last season after Pachall was suspended four games into the season for suspicion of driving drunk. Pachall, who has won 16 of his last 18 starts for TCU, and might end up being the Big 12’s best, was not in attendance at media days.
Horned Frogs’ coach Gary Patterson said both of his QBs could play this season.
“It won’t be a 50-50 thing,” he said. “But I do believe there’s a place for both of them, like a lot of other schools in the conference — guy that can throw, guy that can run. For a defensive coordinator, that’s a different animal.”
The league’s missing star power comes after a stretch in which the Big 12 featured some of the best in the country under center, including Heisman winners in 2003 (OU’s Jason White), 2008 (OU’s Sam Bradford) and 2011 (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III). In the last 10 years alone, a Big 12 quarterback has finished among the Heisman’s top four vote-getters eight times — including White, who was third in 2004, Texas’ Vince Young, who was second in 2005, Missouri’s Chase Daniel, who was fourth in 2007, Texas’ Colt McCoy, who was second in 2008 and third in 2009, and then Klein last season.
And though there aren’t household names right now, its not like every program is without quality players at quarterback. Oklahoma State — picked to win the Big 12 this season — has a pair of guys capable of starting in Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Though Chelf is likely to earn the job, head coach Mike Gundy has yet to make it official.
“We’ve got two young men that we feel very comfortable with, and they’ve worked, and they’re extremely dedicated to our program,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said Monday. “They’re great team players. They’ll get equal reps.
“We expect to play very fast this year, so we’ll work both guys. We feel very comfortable with them.”
Oklahoma, picked to finish second, has also not named a starter this season — many think Blake Bell has the best shot at the job after being used in special run packages last season. OU coach Bob Stoops seemed to disagree on Tuesday.
“You’re kind of making assumptions if you think he’s the guy right now,” he said of his ‘Bell-dozer’ QB. “We’ve got a number of guys in there in competition with him that are doing really well — Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight — to go along with Blake Bell.
Bell has mainly been used a bruising runner at the line of scrimmage or in goal-line packages for short yardage. In some ways, he is very similar to Klein, who ran more early in his career and had to prove himself as a passer once he became the regular starter.
“Blake is a guy who does throw the football well,” Stoops said. “We have a history in my, going on 15 years, of having guys in quarterbacks who are really excellent throwers, and Blake fits that mold. We would never recruit a guy that we didn’t feel would be a great passer.”
Big 12 vs. SEC
It’s a debate that raged on every year. Which is better, the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12? If you’re counting national champions, lets say, in the last seven years, the answer is easy. After all, the SEC has won the last seven national titles — three for Alabama, two for Florida and one each for Auburn and LSU.
The Big 12 had nine of its 10 teams play in bowl games a year ago — the only one missing out being Kansas. The Big 12 also features perhaps the best offenses in the country each year, while the SEC touts its defenses.
Texas’ Mack Brown has an opinion on the matter.
“Everybody else can beat anybody else in the league on a given day, and that’s not happening across the country,” Brown said of the Big 12. “You saw the SEC — the top seven beat the bottom seven (a 30-0 record), and that’s not happening in our league.
“Our league is very challenging. At one point, there were two or three teams that were better than everybody else, and that’s not the case anymore. Everybody is pretty good. When you look as us being fourth, I thought what we saw is the numbers are really close and people are confused on who they think may win this conference championship. That’s a compliment to our league.”
Baylor’s Art Briles said the Big 12’s round-robin scheduling is to blame for the Big 12 not getting teams into the national title game of late, something that doesn’t take place in the SEC with unbalanced scheduling.
“Two years ago Oklahoma State is in the national championship game if Iowa State doesn’t beat them in overtime,” he said. “Kansas State most likely would have been in the national championship game last year if Baylor doesn’t beat them in their 11th game of the year.”
Stoops and Mary Kay
The Big 12 had to share the Omni hotel in Dallas this week with the national Mary Kay cosmetics convention. For OU coach Bob Stoops and his wife, that’s a double-whammy this week.
Bob was in town Tuesday for media day functions, while his wife Carol will arrive later this week for the Mary Kay convention.
“My wife is a national sales director here for Mary Kay,” Stoops said Tuesday during the news conference. “She comes down Friday and her seminar starts, I think, Monday through Wednesday. So, she’ll part of this group, just in a different seminar. I’m very proud of her. These women do a great job.
“Get your wives into it. It would be great for them. I’m recruiting.”
Heisman hype begins
Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk said he’s going to win the Heisman Trophy — last December before the Holiday Bowl. The former Oregon transfer, who was named the Big 12’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, wasn’t just saying it either. He believes it and intends to live up to his big words. On Tuesday, he reaffirmed his goals — “Big 12 championship. National championship. Heisman Trophy.”
Bears’ coach Art Briles said Seastrunk has some of the same qualities his first Heisman winner — Robert Griffin III — had when he won the award in 2011.
“Lache has some qualities that give him an opportunity,” Briles said. “He’s a dynamic football player that’s very engaging, and those are good qualities to have. They help you with the voters. I’d much rather have players wanting to win the Heisman than clap for the one that does.”
Briles wasn’t bothered by his star running backs’ prediction either.
“I hope he’s right,” he said. “What it did to me? Nothing. We know Lache. Lache is a great teammate. He’s a great, passionate, caring person for everybody on the football team, prepares as well as anybody in the United States of America, and he believes in himself. And I learned a long time ago, if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.
“He’s a guy that’s going to help us win football games, and he’s going to fight hard to do it, so we respect him.”