By JOHN SHINN
DALLAS — Oklahoma State enters the season as the favorite to win the Big 12 Conference, but over half the league seems to have a legitimate shot at winning the title. The days of the Big 12 race seemingly coming down to the winner of the Oklahoma-Texas game in mid-October have evaporated.
The competitive balance that’s blanketed the league was on full display Monday at the conference’s Media Days.
One of the reasons OSU coach Mike Gundy believes the parity has taken is the up-tempo offenses that most of the conference’s teams use.
“In my opinion, high tempo and spread offenses have been the single thing that's created parity in college football,” he said. “And over the last eight or 10 years, when coaches have essentially started playing basketball on grass is really what we're playing now by spreading the court and getting the ball to young men that years ago wouldn't have an opportunity to play because they weren't maybe as big or as strong or as fast, and maybe even a (OSU receiver) Josh Stewart, if you were in a traditional style of offense, where does he play? Even though he's a really, really good player, does he get 100 catches, and do we know who he is across the country? I would say no.”
The only league teams that didn’t use an up-tempo offense last season were Kansas State, which shared the conference title with Oklahoma and won the head-to-head matchup, Kansas, TCU and Texas were the only to huddle on a regular basis last season. Although, the Longhorns aren’t expected to this year.
The Big 12 isn’t the only conference where the offense has taken hold. Every major conference has teams running an up-tempo offense.
Gundy believes as long as that trend continues, so will parity. To him any rules that negatively affect the up-tempo offenses will only hurt parity.
Also any notion that up-tempo offenses are causing more injuries is misplaced.
“It would be a huge mistake for somebody to be convinced that that would have in any form or fashion or reason to cause any injury,” he said. “We’re spread out. We're throwing it around and catching it. There's not as many collisions compared to putting everybody together tight and ramming everybody up in there and being a pile. So I certainly don't agree with that. I think it's great for college football.”
No predictions: Kansas State is picked to finish in the lower half of the league this season after sharing the conference title with Oklahoma last season.
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder was fine with the prognosticators picking his team to finish there.
“I know it has to be done, but it's an awful difficult task to make those kinds of decisions. I certainly couldn't do it,” he said. “I’ve declined so many times to be on the coaches polls in regards to selecting the top 25 in the country, et cetera, because I just — it is so difficult to do. Even during the course of the season, it becomes difficult to pick winners and losers. That's why people make so much money in Las Vegas, I guess.”
Playing time available: Any recruits looking for immediate playing time, take a close look at Kansas. Coach Charlie Weis isn’t exactly enamored with his roster.
The Jayhawks went 1-11 last season and haven’t won a Big 12 game since 2011.
“Everyone wants to play. There's no one that wants to not play,” Weis said. “I said, have you looked at that pile of crap out there? Have you taken a look at that? So if you don't think you can play here, where do you think you can play? It's a pretty simple approach. And that's not a sales pitch. That's practical. You've seen it, right? Unfortunately, so have I.”
But Weis said the one thing that turns him off about a recruit is when they ask him about the depth chart.
“I answer the question: Let me give you some advice, never ask that question again because that means that you don't think you're good enough,” he said. “So really, by being honest with them and just saying here's what it is, hopefully, before it's all said and done, before I end up leaving the place, that's not going to be the same thing I'm saying, but that's what I'm saying right now.”
Think young: At 33 years old, Kliff Kingsbury is the youngest head football coach in the history of the Big 12. However, he believes his age will help him on the recruiting trail. After all his last season as Texas Tech’s quarterback was just 11 years ago.
“I think not only age, but being in a place that I played and wasn't too far removed from, I think that helps,” he said. “It’s easy to sell a product when you lived it and you loved it and you're telling the parents and telling the kids. Hopefully, they see that passion.”
Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M last season.
More defensive limitations?: The NCAA has added the stiffest penalty for tacklers targeting about the shoulders this season. Players can be ejected after one offense this season.
The penalty has been implemented because every level of football is doing what it can to limit head injuries.
However, some believe trying to take away vicious hits are just too drastic. Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker is among that group.
“You have running backs that are 6-foot-1, 6-2 and 220 pounds. They have the ability to come at you in the open field and run you over in front of 60,000 fans. They can embarrass you, No. 1. No. 2, the minute you have a wide receiver going over the middle and you can’t do that (stop him with a punishing hit),” he said. “We all understand about helmet-to-helmet and that it’s all about safety. But when you start taking away big hits, it’s not football.”
The hits that used to go directly to highlight videos will now send players directly to the showers. It’s a tough sanction, but leagues from the NFL down to junior high schools are doing everything possible to curb concussions.
Walker believes the “targeting” rule is going make things even tougher for defenses. They were already struggling stopping offenses that make their living with short passes over the middle of the field. The rule change removes some of the intimidation factor linebackers and safeties had over some receivers.
“You’re going to have a lot of players getting kicked out of games or you’re going to have a lot of touchdowns,” he said.