1. The Day 2 vibe: ‘Texas is back’
With only one season remaining in what has been a mostly terrible decade for the University of Texas, the Longhorns have an opportunity to become in 2019 what they were most recently in 2009: a factor in the national-championship picture. In 2010-16 — coached for four seasons by Mack Brown and for three by Charlie Strong — Texas was 46-42 overall and 30-32 in the Big 12. In 2017, Tom Herman’s first Texas team finished 7-6. Last season, there was a Cotton Bowl triumph over OU, a Big 12 Championship loss to OU, a Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia and a 10-4 record. This year, Herman has a 20-start veteran at quarterback — All-Big 12 selection Sam Ehlinger — and likely enters the season with a national top-10 ranking. During Day 2 of the Big 12 Media Days event, a strong “Texas is back” vibe could be felt all over AT&T Stadium. If that vibe is sustained after the Longhorns host LSU on Sept. 7, the Oct. 12 OU-Texas game could be an epic match of top-five teams. Herman was swarmed by reporters during his Big 12 Media appearance. “For this past season to have those tangible results,” Herman said, “and to beat your rival in the Cotton Bowl and to be able to have the Golden Hat in Austin for a year at least, and to be able to win a New Year's Six bowl game and (record) all the victories in between — it definitely makes the ability for a young man to buy in much easier, for sure.”
2. Rising star Matt Campbell drives Iowa State’s ascension
Since the Big 12 became a 10-team league before the 2012 season, not much has been expected from Iowa State. In the Big 12 preseason media poll, the Paul Rhoads-coached Cyclones were picked to finish eighth in 2012, ninth in 2013, ninth in 2014 and ninth in 2015. After having gone 35-15 in four seasons as the Toledo head man, Matt Campbell was hired to succeed Rhoads at Iowa State. After a 3-9 debut in 2016, each of Campbell’s last two teams was 8-5. Among his signature wins were a stunning 2017 triumph at Oklahoma and a 2018 victory at Oklahoma State. In that game, freshman QB Brock Purdy played for the first time — and played beautifully in a 48-42 Cyclone victory. Campbell now is mentioned frequently as a possible candidate for significant college jobs and is viewed also as someone who might be destined for the NFL. Resulting from the momentum generated in 2017 and 2018, the Cyclones are third in this year’s Big 12 preseason poll. In consecutive games, the Cyclones host OSU for homecoming (Oct. 26) and visit OU (Nov. 9).
“When I first got to Iowa State, all of the questions were ‘What color uniforms are you wearing? (and) ‘What’s your entrance song?’ People cared about stuff that really doesn't matter,” the 39-year-old Campbell said. “Now, we’re talking about a football team. We’re asking football questions and we’re concerned about what’s really important in terms of growing a football culture.”
3. ‘Horns down’ issue is ‘a hot topic’
Day 2 began with an appearance by Greg Burks, the Big 12 coordinator of officials, and the first question was related to the “Horns down” gesture that irks Texas people and players. Opposing fans and athletes counter Texas’ “Horns up” gesture by turning it upside down. It’s been happening for decades, but only during the last few seasons has it become a controversial talking point. When exactly is a “Horns down” gesture considered an infraction? Burks stopped short of providing exact clarity. “The answer I will give you is ‘it depends,’ ” Burks replied. “It’s like any unsportsmanlike act. If somebody scores quickly, turns to their cheering section, and it’s quick and they move on, we're not going to do anything with that. If it's to a bench or to (an opposing) player — and it's prolonged — it would be an unsportsmanlike act.” “It’s a hot topic,” Burks continued. “I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it's like any touchdown celebration. Is it directed at an opponent or just celebration with your teammates? . . . What if they direct it at (opposing) fans? That probably would be a foul in that situation.
“My advice is if you want to do that, do it back in your bench area, do it back with teammates, (and) get away from where you are an individual drawing attention to yourself.”
4. Matt Rhule’s cleansing of the Baylor culture
In December 2016, Matt Rhule left the Temple program and accepted the responsibility of restoring a shattered, disgraced Baylor program. The Bears’ roster was a mess. Fans clamored for the return of the fired Art Briles. Rhule’s 2017 Bears were 1-11. Last season, they were 7-6 with a Texas Bowl victory. The Tulsa World questions for Rhule on Tuesday: In 2½ years under his leadership, how much has the culture improved and settled? What is the state of the program? “I think the young people in our program are doing things as well as any team in college football,” Rhule replied. “(Only) Clemson had more college graduates than we did. To have 10 guys in graduate school and to have guys doing the right things in the community — we’re not perfect, but if you took a look into our program, you would see a lot of people doing things the right way and striving to achieve at a high level.
“We had to play a lot of guys before they were ready. But at the end of the day, I think the progress is showing up on the field and showing up in the classroom and in the community, and I hope that translates over to football.”
5. Chris Klieman’s assignment — following Bill Snyder at K-State
There are four first-year coaches in the Big 12: Neal Brown at West Virginia, Sallisaw native Matt Wells at Texas Tech, Les Miles at Kansas and Chris Klieman at Kansas State. Ultimately, Klieman might wind up with the highest level of success. At North Dakota State, he was 69-6 and coached the Bison to four FCS national titles in five seasons. Two of his quarterbacks — Carson Wentz and Easton Stick — were NFL draft picks. At Kansas State, the 51-year-old Klieman succeeds the 79-year-old Bill Snyder, the retired coach who took a perennial terrible Wildcat program and developed it into a consistent winner. “What (Snyder) did at Kansas State was nothing short of remarkable,” Klieman said Tuesday. “We have great facilities. We have a great infrastructure. We have a great culture because of what (Snyder) did.
“I know I’m not going to fill his shoes. I’m just trying to continue in his legacy, but doing it in our way. I just want to make sure that he can be proud of the product out on the field.”
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