Big 12: Eers, Sooners Picked for Title Tilt
By JIM BUTTA
MORGANTOWN — When the 10 head coaches from the Big 12 got together for the league’s annual preseason Media Days in Frisco, Texas, there was little surprised when the media covering the conference released its first poll of the year.
Oklahoma, which had been selected to win the title the past two seasons, was again chosen to take home the trophy when the league conducts its championship game on Saturday, Dec. 1.
The Sooners garnered 46 of the 52 first-place votes to distance themselves from the rest of the field. Surprisingly, Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers picked up two first-place votes to slide in second to OU by a 509-432 margin.
Questions to both Holgorsen and OU’s Lincoln Riley immediately began flying around from the scribes in attendance as it was soon discovered that the two expected championship entrants were already slated to meet in Morgantown during the final week of the regular season.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Riley said. “This offseason has certainly felt a lot different in many ways than the previous one did. Excited for our team going forward. We feel like we’ve got so much recruiting momentum, so much overall momentum behind the program based on what this group has been able to do here for the last few years, it’s very exciting.
“Going into a season with so many new pieces at critical positions, probably more important than anything, new leadership, experienced players at core positions, especially offensive line, that defensive front seven, so excited to see that.
“This is going to be an interesting team, no question. I think it’s got a chance to be maybe the most talented team that we’ve had in the now four years that we will have been at OU, but also probably our most inexperienced team as well. So, I think our leadership is going to be a very, very key part of how this team progresses. Should be an entertaining season. Nonconference schedule for us is as challenging as always and all three of them being at home. But three very, very tough opponents, teams that were very successful last year with Army and Florida Atlantic and with Coach (Chip) Kelly being back at UCLA, they’re going to be an intriguing challenge as well. A lot to build on, a lot of excitement around our program and certainly looking forward to getting started.”
Riley wasn’t the only one downplaying his team’s Nov. 23rd trip to Morgantown.
“Don’t know, never done it, and not going to think about it,” Holgorsen lashed out when confronted with the possibility of back-to-back hookups with the Sooners. “We got to play Tennessee. That’s our first game. That’s our focus. Obviously, we’ve been in this league for six, seven years now, so there’s familiarity with every opponent in the league. The back-to-back thing, I don’t know. I’m sure it’s happened before. We get to a point to where that’s something we will have to deal with, we will research it and deal with it the best way possible.”
Of course, there are eight other teams in the Big 12 with hopes of being one of the teams playing for the championship in December.
TCU (390) and Texas (370) both garnered a first-place vote to come in third and fourth, respectively, in the balloting while Oklahoma State (300) rounds out the top five.
Kansas State, which hauled in the final two first-place votes, heads the bottom half of the preseason poll with 283 points followed by Iowa State (250), Texas Tech (149), Baylor (125) and Kansas (52).
“Nothing he (KSU’s Bill Snyder) does surprises me,” Holgorsen said. “I’ve watched him coach growing up as a kid. I’ve talked about this in length. He’s one of my heroes and one of the guys that I’ve always looked up to and small kid in Iowa I was watching him on the sidelines and followed his career at Kansas State. He’s a Hall of Fame football coach and as resilient as resilient gets.
“It’s surprising he’s still doing it. I ain’t doing it when I’m 79. I will be lucky to be here when I’m 79. I admire him for everything he’s done, everything he’s accomplished, everything he’s brought to the sport of football, everything he’s brought to the coaching community. One of the most well-respected guys in the history of our game and excited about being able to compete with him again. He’s always incredibly gracious before the game and incredibly gracious before the game and incredibly complimentary after the game, doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. He’s always the same guy. The letters are famous and nobody else in this profession does that.”