When toe meets leather to get the 2012 Big 12 Conference football season started this weekend, fans need to know that kickoff rules have changed.
First, kickoffs will come from the 35-yard line. The kickoff coverage unit can line up at the 30-yard line (allowing for just a five-yard run up). And touchbacks on kickoffs will bring the ball to the 25-yard line, not the 20.
The NCAA changed the rule in order to limit injuries. The collisions have become violent, with players running full speed for 40 to 50 yards and those on the return team blocking or carrying the ball on a return.
"I think anything that can help with the injuries is a positive," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "Heck, the NFL is doing it. We ought to do it. Some of the big blows and the big injuries do come with those big collisions on kickoffs and to limit some of those, I think is a good thing."
The change means adjustments in how teams approach kickoffs. Last season, Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp led the nation with 61 touchbacks on kickoffs. Will the Cowboys have Sharp continue to pound the ball deep and allow the opponent to start on its 25? Or will Oklahoma State (and other teams) go with the "sky kick" - a higher, shorter kickoff that stays in play and might allow for pinning a team closer to its goal line?
"I have reservations about ever telling him to do anything other than just kick it as hard as he can," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of Sharp. "We have discussed different things to do, and we have that capability. We're not for sure what we're going to do, based on who we're playing and what their return team's like, that sort of stuff.
"But if we don't kick him deep, we're almost crazy."
There's also a rule change involving onside kicks. The receiving team can now call for a fair catch on a ball that has hit the ground once. A preferred method for onside kicks had involved the kicker driving the ball into the ground, producing a high bounce that enabled the coverage unit to converge on the receiver with ill inent. Again, the change has to do with player safety.
"That's a very big deal. It's huge," said West Virginia's Corey Smith, who handled most of the team's kickoffs last season. "It's going to make onside kicks much, much more difficult."
While onside kicks have a lot success rate, teams desperate to regain possession after scoring late in a game will need to try different ways to produce an onside kick that covers the required 10 yards and is difficult for the receiving team to corral.
"You've got to come up with something new," said Joe DeForest, WVU's defensive coordinator and a special teams specialist throughout his 11 years at Oklahoma State. "Fortunately, I've done it differently the past couple of years anyway, but you're going to have to be more creative. There's a way you can kick it into the ground where it will hit twice - boom, boom, and the second hop is a big one - and then it's fair game again."
Helmet Rule Change
Another significant rule change involves players who lose their helmets during a play. Unless it's the result of a penalty, a player who loses his helmet must sit out a play.
A player who loses his helmet but continues to participate in the play can be flagged for a penalty.
And in the final minute, helmet loss will include a 10-second clock runoff.
If you've watched a lot of college football the last few seasons, you've noticed a lot of loose helmets. Data from the 2011 season indicated that helmets came off of players more than twice per game.
When Tulsa plays at Iowa State Saturday, there's a common thread for both coaches. The Cyclones' Paul Rhoads and the Golden Hurricane's Bill Blankenship both were coached by John Cooper, an Iowa State alum.
Blankenship played quarterback for Cooper in his first season as Tulsa's coach in 1977, then went on to an outstanding career as a high school coach in Oklahoma. Rhoads was on Cooper's coaching staff at Ohio State.
"Both of them are similar," Cooper said of his two proteges. "Both of them have great work ethics. Both of them relate very, very well to people. Both of them can motivate and they demand respect."
More In-Stadium Replays
The Big 12 and Southeastern conferences have increased the number of instant replays that can be shown on in-stadium video boards. In the Big 12, a replay can be shown up to three times. Previously, a replay could be shown just once.
"It includes plays that are under review, but also foul/penalties that have or haven't been called, timing decisions at the end of game or other situations that would fall under the category of controversial play," Big 12 associate commissioner for communications Bob Burda told the Kansas City Star.
TCU, which starts the season Sept. 8 against Grambling State, has five freshmen listed as starters and 15 freshmen listed in the two-deep chart. Texas also has 15 freshmen listed in its depth chart. That's the second-most nationally (Colorado has 16).
Texas has nine scholarship seniors listed on its roster. That's the second-fewest in college football behind Indiana, Colorado, Rice with 8 each.
When SMU plays at Baylor Sunday, it will be the third time the former Southwest Conference members have played since that league folded. The Bears won the previous two meetings - 10-7 in 2003 and 28-23 in 2005. The Mustangs' coach in those two games was current Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
Comings And Goings
Texas Tech junior Aaron Fisher, a backup receiver who coach Tommy Tuberville said was the "No. 1 special teams guy" for the Red Raiders will be out for the season after suffering a broken leg in a non-contact drill.
TCU junior offensive tackle James Dunbar was no longer with the team. He played in 18 games the last two seasons and was a candidate to take over one of the three starting jobs open on the offensive line.
Kansas State freshman quarterback Tavarius Bender has left school and has returned to his home in Lincoln, Neb. He enrolled at K-State a semester early and after playing well in spring practice was considered a candidate to be the backup to starter Collin Klein.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, when asked if recruits who orally commit to his program are considered committed:
"No, and we tell them that. You're kidding yourself if you think that's a commitment. It's kind of like envisioning telling my wife, 'Hey, we're going to get married in February, but until we do I'm going to date these other three girls. It doesn't work."
Kansas offensive line coach Tim Grunhard on his players' desire to protect their quarterback:
"They know Dayne Crist is an integral part of this offense. They talk about it every day, trying to keep him healthy, giving him an opportunity to step up and throw the ball and not worrying about people falling at his feet, not worry about people in his face."
West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest on how facing the Mountaineers' potent, up-tempo offense will prepare his players for Big 12 play:
"It's the greatest thing that could ever happen. The speed of the game by our offense, I don't know if we'll face anybody faster. So hopefully we won't ever get tempoed. That's the goal and that's why we play and practice fast.''
Baylor coach Art Briles on senior quarterback Nick Florence, who takes over for Robert Griffin III as the Bears' quarterback:
"We're not saying, 'Nick, we need you to be Robert, we need you to do this.' We're not saying it because we wouldn't say it to anybody. We'll let Nick be Nick. Nick being Nick is good enough for us."
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz On "hybrid" players:
"I think that's a cool word, you know what I mean? I get told by recruits, 'Hey, I'm a hybrid.' I'm like, 'Do I plug you in at night and get better gas mileage?' ... It's all about speed. When someone says you're a hybrid, that just means you're fast for your size."