2009 Big 12 Football Media Days Official Blog with Keith Whitmire

Keith Whitmire is a former Big 12 beat writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. In more than 20 years as a sports writer, he has covered multiple Final Fours, BCS bowl games and Big 12 championships. He has covered games on every Big 12 campus and has been an eyewitness to many of the conference's greatest moments.

Wednesday, July 29

Collins could be Texas' emerging star

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said he doesn't like to single out teammates, but he could barely contain his excitement about junior receiver Brandon Collins' chance to grab the spotlight this season.

"Brandon Collins is probably one of the most talented guys to come through Texas at the receiver position," McCoy said. "He's kind of solidified himself as a playmaker. He runs great routes, has great hands. I don't want to hype him too much, but he's got a chance to be special."

That will wrap it up from here, folks. We managed to cover 12 teams over three days, but all the talk ends when the Big 12 season kicks off Sept. 3 with North Dakota State at Iowa State.

 

Mack and McCoy are like family

Although Texas coach Mack Brown has the reputation of being player-friendly, quarterback Colt McCoy said he was actually intimidated by his coach initially.

"When I first got there, I was kind of scared of him, because he was 'Coach Brown,'" McCoy said. "Now I feel kind of like he's my dad. We have a great relationship."

Just to be sure things aren't two lovey-dovey between them, McCoy then pointed out that Brown can be "mean" when he needs to be - just like a father.

 

McCoy gets grand introduction from teammate

Being one of the star attractions of media days, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was late to his session with the print media because he was held up with other interviews.

When McCoy finally entered the print room, linebacker Sergio Kindle spoke solemnly into his microphone and proclaimed, "The great Colt McCoy has entered the room. That's the leader of the offense, the leader of the team."

 

Shipley is the old man of Texas' team

Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA after missing two years with injuries. After playing last season not knowing if it was his last year, Shipley said it will be nice knowing for sure this is his final college campaign.

"Sometimes you look around and realize you're there with a whole different group of guys than you came in with," Shipley said. "You forget after a while what it was like to be the new kid coming in. Sometimes I have to remind myself to talk to the young guys and give them advice."

The younger guys, however, are constantly reminding Shipley of his age - a wise old 23. He turns 24 in December.

"They're always laughing at me and asking me how old I am," Shipley said. "They think it's hilarious."


If the football thing doens't work out, McCoy has a future in farming

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy began his media session talking about his time spent this summer working on his grandfather's farm. He had to describe in detail what goes into baling hay. He also mentioned he built a fence, all in the sweltering Texas heat.

"I told my grandad, I've kind of got a job at school..." McCoy said.

The media crowd around McCoy was huge, of course. Hard to say if he had more microphones and notepads around him than Oklahoma's Sam Bradford had yesterday. I guess we'll need a tiebreaker to decide.

 

Buffs LB leaves teammates smarting

Colorado linebacker Jeff Smart is still amazed about a big hit teammate Marcus Burton delivered this spring.

"A big, 250-pound tight end caught a ball and was running down the field. Marcus hit him and he went flying about 15 yards," Smart said. "In the film room it was pretty impressive."

Burton said his biggest practice hit was probably when he knocked a running back under the bleachers lining the Buffs' practice field. He said he likes smacking opponents much more.

"It's one of our goals to punish people," Burton said. "You don't want to hurt anybody, but you want them to know you're there."

 

Stadium leaves Buffaloes in awe

Colorado's players here for media days got to tour the new Cowboys Stadium, site of the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship, yesterday. All were impressed.

"It was amazing," linebacker Marcus Burton said. "It's hard to picture a football game in there. It was like a palace."

Burton was especially ecstatic about the tour because of a rooting interest.

"I've been a Cowboys fan pretty much my whole life," Burton said. "It will be a privilege to play there if we make it back December 5."


10-wins quote getting some more mileage

The media isn't letting die Colorado coach Dan Hawkins' quote from a team banquet that he expects "10 wins and no excuses" this season. Big shock, I know.

"Everybody asks questions about it," tight end Riar Greer said. "It's cool to see our coach has that much confidence in our team. I don't feel any more pressure because of it. It just makes me more fired up to do it."

Added Greer: "It's a bold statement from a bold man."


Leach taking a look at the defense

It's been no secret that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is obsessed with offense. But this offseason Leach spent some time focusing on the defense as well.

"I like it," defensive back Jamar Wall said. "Now that he's doing that, it's showing us more respect and making us feel good about ourselves."

The Tech defense goes against the famed Tech offense every day in practice. So what would happen if they were to play each other for  real?

"I think we would have the upper hand, actually," Wall said. "After seeing it so many times, we know how to stop it. I don't know about shutting them out, though. It's kind of hard to shut them out."

Defensive lineman Colby Whitlock, for one, wouldn't look forward to playing the Tech offense.

"It would be tiring," Whitlock said. "It's a tough offense to face. Not to mention it gets to be a six-hour game."

 

It takes a village to replace Crabtree

Texas Tech defensive back Jamar Wall said it won't be just one receiver that replaces the production of Michael Crabtree, but a host of talented guys. He gave a quick scouting report of three of the names fans are likely to hear a lot this fall.

Tramain Swindall - "The man can jump. He can make you look bad in practice."

Lyle Leong - "Great hands. He's small (6-1, 165) but he doesn't care. He's like a barking dog." Wall was especially impressed the time Leong practiced with a club-like cast on one hand and was still able to make catches.

Detron Lewis - He reminds Wall the most of Crabtree. "He's not as tall as Crab, but his moves, his ability. He can get upfield. He's the spitting image of him."

 

Tech's Brandon Carter knows how to draw a crowd

Texas Tech offensive lineman Brandon Carter has, by far, attracted the most reporters to his interview session of any non-quarterback this week.

Carter is known for his tattoos, piercings, mohawk haircut and garish facepaint on game days. Today, he went semi-casual, with no facepaint or piercings (that we could see), but he did sport the mohawk. Which was adorned with a skull tattoo on the left side of his cranium. There were as many questions about his body adornment as Carter has tattoos.

"Nothing is exempt from being tattooed," said Carter, who said he got his first tattoo when he was 18 and on a summer visit to Tech. "My body's a canvas and there's a lot of skin there."

There's also a lot of substance to Carter, coach Mike Leach said, despite his gameday get-up.

"I don't think it intimidates anybody," Leach said. "The funny thing about him, he looks like a curveball but comes in as a fastball right down the middle. He's got the highest test scores on our team. He's a tremendously articulate person."

That articulation, however, goes out the window on fall Saturdays.

"He's one of those guys that wishes we were playing a doubleheader instead of just one game," Leach said. "You can literally that he's genuinely upset at the end of every game because the game's over."

Said Carter: "Outside of football, I'm a nice guy. Inside of football, you probably don't want to talk to me."

 

Playing for Snyder

Kansas State tight end Jeron Mastrud is from Beaverton, Oregon, so he didn't grow up under the aura of coach Bill Snyder. He said he began to understand how much Snyder is revered among K-State fans when he went on a fan tour this summer.

"I have gotten a little sense of that," Mastrud said. "There is a great level of respect for him."

As far as playing for Snyder, Mastrud said the difference has been physical so far.

"Just longer practices," Mastrud said. "You're going to work hard no matter who you play for."

 

Fashion Police would approve of K-State's look

The three Kansas State players here are all dressed in shirt and tie with a K-State blazer.

"Coach wants us to look professional at all times," linebacker Alex Hrebec said. "He says the word, we dress up."

Dressing up was a bit of a challenge for tight end Jeron Mastrud, who had to borrow his dress shirt and tie from a teammate.


K-State offense has diverse look

Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman is adjusting to the offense installed by coach Bill Snyder. He said he likes the system, but says there are a lot of components to it.

"We;re very diverse right now," Coffman said. "We have aspects of the West Coast offense, the power running game. I don't think we have a set offense right now. We have a lot of things in."

Coffman said he expects the offense to be narrowed down heading into fall when it's determined who the Wildcats
"want to get the ball to."

I wouldn't count on that, Carson. The Bill Snyder offenses I remember were always diverse.


Bill Snyder - comedian

Bill Snyder's dry sense of humor was in full effect at the start of his press conference. He joked that some of the members of the media look familiar, but with more gray hair. He said he was just glad that they all are still employed - which drew some nervous laughter from the print media.

Snyder also cracked that his four captains played rock-paper-scissors to see who didn't get to make the trip to D-FW. The players who won were QB Carson Coffman, TE Jeron Mastrud and LB Alex Hrebec. OL Nick Stringer was the who got left home.

 

Waiting for Bill

We're ready to go here for the final day of Media Days. Just waiting for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to kick things off. Wonder how many "Second Coming" references have been written about his return to coaching?

After K-State, it's the always glib Mike Leach of Texas Tech followed by Colorado's Dan Hawkins and Texas' Mack Brown.

Snyder has just entered the room. We're moments away from liftoff.

 

Tuesday, July 28

SEC, Big Ten deals are cause for concern

The Big Ten has formed its own television network. The Southeastern Conference has been promised billions, in a more traditional rights deal, to not form its own network.

That leaves the Big 12 seriously studying the revenue landscape, commissioner Dan Beebe said in his annual "State of the Conference" address.

Beebe said he has been consulting with experts about which direction the Big 12 should pursue to try to keep up with the Big Ten and the SEC. The Big 12 currently receives about $60 million annually from ABC/ESPN and another $20 million or so from Fox.

"If you create your own distribution [like the Big Ten Network] you're not as subject to what's the lay of the land the next time your negotiation comes up," Beebe said.

On the other hand, creating your own network means being responsible for production costs and having to negotiate with cable and satellite carriers.

The SEC's deal with ESPN and CBS, estimated to be worth $3 billion over the next 15 years, means a lot of SEC games will be pumped into homes in the Big 12's footprint.

"I think the infiltration of that programming into our markets is something we're going to have to take a look at," Beebe said.

It's possible the Big 12 could combine with another league, such as the Pac-10 or Atlantic Coast Conference, to increase its leverage in television negotiations.

"I don't discount any scenario," Beebe said. "Partnerships with other conferences is something we're going to have to take a good look at."

The Big 12 will do a lot of looking and pondering in the coming months, Beebe said.

"I think everything has to be on the table," Beebe said. "There's all sorts of things to consider in this. It's what makes the job fun."

 

Colorado players tour the new stadium

It worked out that the Colorado players in Dallas for media days were also able to tour Cowboys Stadium.

No word on their reaction to the pigskin palace, but it brings back memories of the last time the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship was played in the Dallas area.

During the 2001 media days, Colorado coach Gary Barnett arranged a tour of Texas Stadium for his players as a motivational ploy. Four months later, Colorado returned to Texas Stadium and beat Texas for the Big 12 title.

 

Cowboys Stadium wows Big 12 media

Cowboys Stadium and television revenue were the hot topics this afternoon. OK, first the stadium then the money.

About 200 members of the media took advantage of a Big 12-sponsored tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. Yes, it's big. Yes, it's impressive. And yes, that scoreboard is huge!

The high-definition scoreboard that hangs 90 feet above the field is 160 feet long and 72 feet tall. It contains 30 million LED bulbs and weighs 1.2 million pounds.

The stadium itself covers 73 acres. Add in the parking lots and it's around 150 acres.

It will seat 80,000 for most games, including the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship on Dec. 5. But it can be expanded to 100,000. The Big 12 title game will also be played there in 2010, as will the Super Bowl.

Cowboys Stadium is also the new home of the AT&T Cotton Bowl, which has moved its offices into the stadium. The facility could be the key to the Cotton Bowl achieving BCS status.

If the BCS were to add another game, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said the league is adamant that the game be located within the league's geographic region.

Beebe was also asked about the possibility of Cowboys Stadium becoming a permanent site for the league's championship game.

"I think it will be under serious consideration," Beebe said."I think Dallas is fairly accessible, so it's a big attraction."

Beebe said the Big 12's board of directors has been presented proposals about permanent sites and the discussions never went far.

Beebe then pointed to the massive stadium with a huge Big 12 logo on the video screen and said, "But they haven't seen this."

 

More emphasis on safety, enforcement in 2009

Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson gave an hour-long presentation about the various rules changes and areas of emphasis for the coming season. There are a number of little tweaks, but one of the major areas addressed is for officials to be less hesitant to flag potentially dangerous plays.

"We're going to emphasize to officials to err on the side of safety and make these calls," Anderson.

In particular, there will be a lot of focus on blows to the head. Don't be surprised to see more players flagged for targeting opponents above the shoulders, regardless of whether they lead with their helmet.

There may be more suspensions this season. Conferences will not only look at ejections in their weekly reviews of games, but they are also going to emphasize the issuing of penalties for flagrant actions that aren't penalized during games. So even if a player gets away with a flagrant foul in a game, if the TV cameras catch him he could be suspended the following week by the conference.

There's good news for those who are weary of the constant rule changes. Anderson said everyone seems to be happy with the current state of timing issues, i.e. the lengths of games and the time alloted between plays. And from this point forward, rules changes will be enacted every two years, instead of every year.

So the rulebook for 2009 will be the same rulebook for 2010. The NCAA's rules committee will still meet next year, but Anderson said "barring some catastrophic event" the rules will remain the same.

 

No rivalry among Heisman winners

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford said his favorite part of the Heisman ceremonies was getting to talk with a lot of older Heisman winners.

"My favorite was probably Mike Rozier from Nebraska," Bradford said. "He was fun to be around."

 

Stoops looking forward to Cowboys Stadium

Oklahoma's meeting with BYU on Sept. 5 will be the first regular season football game played at the sparkling new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington - even before the Dallas Cowboys play a regular season game there.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he's been blown away by the pictures he's seen of the deluxe and spacious facility. But as a coach, he's all about focus.

"We're not just worried about walking in and seeing it, we want to play well," Stoops said.

And, obviously, Stoops wants OU to play well enough to make two appearances at the stadium in 2009. The Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship game will be played in Jerry Jones' new palace on Dec. 5.

 

Red River Rivalry just another game to OU's McCoy

It may be heresy to say so, but Oklahoma defensive tackle said he approaches the Texas game like it's "the next game on the schedule."

He doesn't buy into the theory that this year's game is going to be any bigger, given last year's tiebreaker controversy.

"People put so much into it already, how big can you make it?" McCoy said. "It's about winning all your games, not just OU-Texas."

 

OU teammate fine with the attention Bradford gets

Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham is a pretty accomplished player in his own right, but he doesn't mind all the attention given to quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.

"I like being around Sam," Gresham said. "Sam takes the attention away from me. I'm glad it was him [that won the Heisman] because he handles it so well."

 

Winning Heisman a life-changing event for OU's Bradford

First, the media crowd for Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford smashed the previous 2009 media days record set by Baylor's Robert Griffin III. That's what having a Heisman will do for you.

Asked how much the Heisman has changed things for him, Bradford simply said, "A lot."

But when asked where he keeps his copy of the Heisman Trophy, well, that's apparently more guarded than an OU practice.

"Where do I keep it? That's a secret. A big secret," Bradford said.

"When my parents had it, people would call and ask if they could come over and take pictures with it. I've never really taken it out [in public]."

After all, it's not like it's something he can wear on a keychain.

 

Kansas defense coming together

Even with the switch to a 4-2-5 defense, Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey says the defense should be much-improved in 2009.

"I think our defense has made a 180-degree turn from where we were last year, in terms of playing as a collective unit," Stuckey said. "Understanding the defense as a whole is one of the most important things. As a safety, it's important for me to know why I need that cornerback where he is. It makes both our jobs easier."

 

No D in the Big 12? No way, says Reesing

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing makes a good point in response to criticism that the Big 12 doesn't play a high level of defense.

"They say we don't play much defense, but I think most of the Big 12 teams still scored a lot of points in their bowl games," Reesing said. "So I guess nobody else plays defense, either."

If my math is right, Big 12 teams averaged 28.7 points in seven bowl games last season.


Reesing loves to frustrate defenses

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing is often at his best when plays break down and he can freelance.

"That's why I love playing quarterback, those times when you get a chance to make something out of nothing," Reesing said.

On the flip side, it can be infuriating for defenses to play a QB who can deviate from the script.

"He's one of those guys that forces you to do just what you're supposed to do. If you try to anticipate his tendencies, you'll be out of position," Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey said. "He will anticipate your tendencies and break you off from where he's really looking."

 

Schedule isn't friendly to KU

The Big 12's schedule rotation has Kansas playing Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas again this year - the three teams that tied for the Big 12 South title.

"The way I look at it, these are opportunities to make a name for ourselves," KU receiver Kerry Meier said. "We figure if we can hang with those guys, we can play with any team in America."


No more vacations in Waco

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III agreed that the Bears were able to surprise some opponents in 2008, but said it's not necessarily a disadvantage to be a known quantity in 2009.

"We definitely snuck in the back door on a lot of teams," Griffin said. "This year it's not going to be like that. That might be bad for them [opponents]. They're not going to have any games off. They're used to having a game off [when they play Baylor]."

 

It's a new world for Baylor

The emergence of Robert Griffin III and the competitiveness Baylor displayed last season has changed a lot of attitudes about the Bears, both inside and outside the program.

"With Coach [Art] Briles and the staff he's brought in, our whole world has changed," center J.D. Walton said. "The confidence we walk around with, and the confidence we play with, is incredible. I think we're starting to get more respect than we ever have. People are going to have to know who Baylor is to get through the Big 12."

Robert Griffin III is in the building

By far, the biggest crowd of reporters for any single player was the gaggle surrounding Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. We've yet to see Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy, but Griffin could definitely give them a run in terms of media attention.

And to think, at one time Griffin wasn't a high priority recruit for Baylor.

"The previous Baylor staff told me I could walk on," Griffin said.

A reporter gasped what everyone else was thinking, "What?"

"That's what I said," Griffin said. "They wanted me to get a track scholarship and walk on."

Griffin was offered a football ride when Art Briles took over the coaching job. Now, Griffin's track career is being put on hold for football, instead of the other way around.

Griffin took off from track last spring to focus on football. And, to some degree, to get a break from constantly training and competing.

As a freshman, Griffin was an All-American and Big 12 champion in the 400 hurdles. The time off from track hasn't deterred him from wanting to compete in the 2012 Olympics.

"That was one of the goals I've set for myself," Griffin said. "It will be there until those Olympics go by."

 

Baston says defense will determine Missouri's season

Although Missouri's defense lost some key players, lineman Jaron Baston said there's enough experience and talent to carry the Tigers in 2009.

"The defense can make or break this team this year," Baston said. "We've got the talent to be the best in the Big 12 and the best in the nation."

O-line could determine new Mizzou QB's success

Missouri offensive line Kurtis Gregory said he and his other linemates will have to play a big role in helping sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert adjust to the starting role.

"Since he's a young quarterback, we've definitely got to be on top of our jobs on the line," Gregory said. "Just keeping him calm is the biggest thing."

 

Taking a page from the Belichick book

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel dared to compare himself to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick during his time in front of the media. But don't worry, it wasn't as arrogant as it sounds.

Pinkel was talking about having to replace both of his coordinators - a task that could be even more critical than replacing Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin. Former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is now the head coach at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns.

To replace them, Pinkel promoted quarterbacks coach David Yost and linebackers coach Dave Steckel.

"I've kind of got the Bill Belichick approach to my staff," Pinkel said. "I try to train people in my organization to move up when there is movement. I expect the transition to go fairly smooth."

 

Mizzou's Weatherspoon is a knockout LB

Defensive lineman Jaron Baston didn't hesitate a nanosecond when asked which Missouri teamate is the hardest hitter.

"Oh, Sean Weatherspoon," Baston said. "He's 250 pounds and runs a 4.4. So you put that together, you can do some damage."

Missouri's trainers tried to measure Weatherspoon's blows by putting a device in his helmet that recorded the strength of his collisions. Weatherspoon said a 95 on the device was considered "concussion level" and he would hit 92 or 93 on the scale.

But Weatherspoon's biggest blow probably came his freshman year when Mizzou was preparing for Texas A&M. One of his best friends on the team, defensive back Kevin Rutland, was running the option as a quarterback on the scout team offense. Weatherspoon flattened him on a practice day when the team wasn't even in full pads.

"He almost didn't get to travel to Texas to see his family," Weatherspoon said. "That's my boy. I wouldn't knock him out like that again. We're expecting him to make some big plays for us this year."

 

Missouri has arrived

Gary Pinkel has entered the room. He's signing some souvenir footballs before taking the podium.

For those of you keeping score at home, the entire schedule has been pushed back 15 minutes today.

 

Breaking news: The Tigers have landed

We were just informed that Missouri's traveling party just landed five minutes ago. So there will be a slight delay before we get to hear from Gary Pinkel and Co.

 

Caffeine is a priority

There doesn't seem to be as much pep in the step of the assembled media masses on Day 2, but what better cure for a bleary-eyed scribe than to listen to Gary Pinkel?

The Missouri coach will be in the interview room in a moment. Until then, there's one leftover from yesterday: Massive Nebraska lineman Ndamukong Suh says Warren Sapp is the guy he tries to pattern himself after. So we can all look forward to Suh's appearance on Dancing With The Stars in a few years. Oh boy.

 

Monday, July 27

Looking ahead to Tuesday

After an afternoon session today, media sessions begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday here at the Westin DFW North. Missouri is leading off, followed by Baylor, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Final interviews should wrap up around 1:20. After a lunch break, Big 12 coordinator of officials Walt Anderson will lead a session on college football officiating. That's always an eye-opener with the way college football tweaks its rules every year.

The highlight of the day will probably be the tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. That's where Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe will give his "State of the Conference" address. The media is also invited to take in a ballgame next door at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (the Detroit Tigers are in town - too bad it's not the Royals with so many Kansas/Missouri media members in town).

Of course, it's not just media schlubs in attendance. Anyone affiliated with the league is here, including TV execs and bowl reps. You can't miss the guys from the AT&T Cotton Bowl in their snazzy, bright pink golf shirts. They've been getting a lot of attention from wisecracking reporters, which is probably the point.

 

The waiting was the hardest part for Iowa State's crew today

Iowa State's traveling party sat in the Des Moines airport for three hours today waiting for the weather to clear for the trip to Dallas-Fort Worth.

"We did a whole lot of nothing," defensive lineman Nate Frere said. "They didn't even have an arcade. I walked around and twiddled my thumbs a lot."

Quarterback Austen Arnaud said coach Paul Rhoads was able to conduct business on his Blackberry while waiting, but he wasn't so fortunate.

"We were just sitting with nothing to do," Arnaud said. "I had my iPod with me. I was trying to sleep, but the chairs were uncomfortable."

Someone suggested to Frere that he could have gotten some lifting in at the baggage carousel, but he quickly shot that down.

"I'm on break," Frere said. "I'll do plenty of lifting in August."

 

Rhoads getting rave reviews from players

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A college football team loves its new head coach. Everyone loves new coaches - until they lose their first game. But the affection Iowa State's players have for Paul Rhoads seems genuine.

"Coach Rhoads is very hands-on. You can tell he cares," defensive lineman Nate Frere said. "He puts the effort forward to know you and your family."

Playing for his third head coach, quarterback Austen Arnaud said he feels like he's "seen the whole spectrum" of coaches, and likes what he sees in Rhoads.

"This guy has so much energy, it's awesome," Arnaud said. "Coach Rhoads is one of the most upbeat guys I've ever met in my life."

Frere said he felt the team "kind of got burned" by former coach Gene Chizik's departure for Auburn after just two seasons. He said it helps that Rhoads is an Iowa native and the kind of coach who likes to "hang out on the couches" with the players.

"Having a coach like Rhoads smooths the transition," Frere said.

 

New Iowa State coach adjusting to the job

New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said the biggest change from being an assistant to a head coach is the demand on his time. There are many more responsibilities, but he said it's nothing he can't handle.

"I don't really feel any more pressue in that regard," Rhoads said. "I've aspired to sit in this chair for a long time. I've prepared to sit in this chair for a long time."

 

A&M defense keeping it simple this season

Texas A&M's defensive players won't have as much to process this season, and it's not just because it will the Aggies' second year in a new system.

"That was one of the thigns they [the coaching staff] said last year, 'We're going to make it easy on you guys,'" defensive back Trent Hunter said. "The defense wasn't easy, it was hard."

Hunter said one of the ways things will be simpler this season is cutting down on the number of coverages. Last year the Aggies played three separate coverages. This year Hunter said there will be only two main coverages.

"They put in 100 new things every week last year and it really hurt us," Hunter said. "This year they really did scale it back."

 

A&M lockerroom break-in a laughing matter for A&M's Hunter

Texas A&M defensive back Trent Hunter shook his head and laughed when someone mentioned last week's vandalism of the Aggies' dressing room. No real damage was done, but someone did write, "The eyes of Texas are upon you" in athletic tape on a wall.

"I was just kind of tickled," Hunter said. "I was like, man, if you've got that much time on your hands, get a job."

When asked whether it was an inside job - someone from within A&M trying to motivate the team - Hunter said, "No comment."

 

The Cyclones have landed

Just got word that the Iowa State traveling party just landed at nearby D-FW Airport. Shouldn't take long for them to get here, even with notorious D-FW traffic.

Of course, anyone who's flown into D-FW knows that often the longest part of the trip is the taxi from the runway to the gate. Hey, it's a big airport.

 

Student body keeps a close eye on the Aggies

Speaking of tough love, Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson said the Aggie student body has almost a "Big Brother" relationship with the team.

"I love our fans, I love our student body," Johnson said. They are pretty tough on us at times, but that's a tribute to how smart they are...It's tough love.

 

No family discount for A&M coach

Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said he spent a somber weekend in his study last fall after losing to Texas, 49-9, in the season finale.

The mood was broken when his 9-year-old daughter came into the room and curled up on his lap. Sherman, naturally, was expecting to hear some words of comfort.

"She said, 'Daddy, get over it,'" said Sherman, which cracked up the assembled media. "Out of the mouths of babes, you get great advice."

 

Okung: OSU predictions are a year late

You hear a lot of "This is the year for Oklahoma State to break through" in preseason forecasts. OSU offensive lineman Russell Okung begs to differ.

"Last year was our year," Okung said. "And we didn't take advantage of it. That's the great thing about college football - you get a second chance."

Okung was succint when asked what kept OSU from breaking through last season.

"We didn't finish," he said. "You hear that a lot. It's a cliche, but it's true."

Okung said he was angrier at himself in the offseasons than he's ever been. With OSU's talent and experience, he said the Cowboys can compete for not just Big 12 titles, but a national championship.

"We're right there," he said.

OSU's Robinson gets familiar with Bradford, McCoy

Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson spent some time with counterparts Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy of Texas in the offseason at various camps and functions. Robinson hopes to compete with those two for the league's top honors, but he said the signal-callers kept things non-competitive.

"We talked a little bit about football, but mostly it was just shooting the bull with those guys," Robinson said. "They're all humble guys. There's no ego with any of those guys."

Finish too fast for OSU last season?

One of the media members kept referring to Oklahoma State's 2008 schedule as being "back-loaded." The Cowboys did not face any of the South's big guns - Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech - until late October, after running up a 7-0 record. OSU wound up losing to all three of the teams tied atop the South stadings.

Guess what? Oklahoma State's schedule pretty much plays out the same in 2009. OSU won't see Texas until Halloween, followed by Tech and OU in November. There is the matter of that season opener with Georgia, of course, which will be a much more formidable first foe than Washington State was last year.

"Last year helped us a lot, those big games later in the season," OSU linebacker Andre Sexton said. "There was so much hype, I don't think we were ready for it. Now we're prepared for it."

 

More on the Big 12's D from Andre Sexton

Oklahoma State linebacker Andre Sexton is another player who takes issue with the charge that the Big 12 doesn't play defense well enough as a league.

"I don't think it's the defense so much, it's just the talent on offense," Sexton said. "Week in and week out, there's no drop-off like you see in other conferences. As a defense, it wears you down."

 

Coaching kept Suh in college

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh could have been a No. 1 pick in last spring's NFL draft. A big reason why he decided to remain a Husker was the coaching of defensive coordinator/line coach Carl Pelini.

In his first season under Pelini, Suh recorded 7.5 sacks and a team-leading 76 tackles.

"I only worked about six months or so with Coach Carl and the staff," Suh said. "Another reason why I came back is because, with another year under them, how good can I be?"

A goofy QB? Then what's Pluto?

Nebraska offensive lineman Jacob Hickman said Zac Lee, the heir apparent at quarterback, has a different personality than predecessor Joe Ganz.

"Joe was kind of more, 'Let's do this. Let's go,'" Hickman said. "Zac is more, 'Hey, what's up?' He's kind of goofy."

Asked to explain Lee's "goofiness," Hickman had a hard time coming up with something. At least something he could tell the media. But he emphasized that Lee is a leader, goofiness and all.

"He's a player's player," Hickman said. "He'll do what needs to be done - and with a smile on his face."

Roy Helu Jr. assures us they play defense in the Big 12

Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr. looked astounded when told the Big 12 was criticized last year for not playing enough defense in a league dominated by high-powered spread offenses.

"If we can't play defense," Helu said, "then I guess I can't run."

Helu rushed for 803 yards and seven TDs last season.

 

Pelini: No more sense of dread at Nebraska

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said a major sign that the culture is changing in Lincoln is the way the players carry themselves into each practice. He said players used to show up with a "feeling of dread."

"They were more looking for the easy way to get out," Pelini said. "Now they're looking to get better."

 

National Football Foundation presentation

Before we kicked off, we heard a presentation from Matt Sign, chief operating officer of the National Football Foundation which is headquartered nearby in Las Colinas. Sign read an impressive list of accomplishments by former football players and coaches, as well as the many ways the Foundation has helped with scholarships and other endeavors.

"We believe football has and will continue to make a dramatic impact on people's lives," said Sign, who was an outstanding defensive lineman at Rice back in his playing days.

Sign noted that Nebraska's Grant Wistrom and Texas' lineman Steve McMicheal will be inducted into the Foundation's Hall of Fame in December. Colorado radio voice Larry Zimmer and former Big 12 director of officials Tim Millis will also be honored.

About to start

We're about to get under way here in the print media ballroom. After an Italian lunch full of nap-inducing pasta, Bo Pelini will need to be on top of his game. Shouldn't be a problem for him.

Schedule update: Because of travel issues, Texas A&M has been bumped up into the third spot in the order. The Aggies will start their print media portion in Iowa State's spot at 2:30 p.m. Iowa State is now scheduled to go at 3:15 p.m. in the print media room.

No surprise there are travel issues. We've had thunderstorms this morning in Dallas-Fort Worth. Nothing ties up D-FW Airport like a good Texas thunderstorm.

 

We're here
There was already a line at the registration table before registration officially started at 10:30 a.m. That's a welcome sight. With all the talk about media outlets cutting back coverage, it's clear that there is still a massive amount of interest in Big 12 football. All the usual media faces are here, so it should be another great gabfest.

And, of course, a little gossiping will be going on. The only thing sports writers do better than gobble up free food is gossip.

The only news item so far is that Iowa State is having a little travel trouble getting to D-FW. Iowa State is scheduled to go third today, after Nebraska and Oklahoma State, so there's still plenty of time for the Cyclones to find their way to the Westin-DFW North.