Roundtable: Biggest storyline

RRS publisher Chris Level, managing editor Aaron Dickens and associate editor
Michael Graham weigh in on three Texas Tech football questions in this
installment of The Roundtable.
Dickens: "I was surprised that there weren't more Longhorn
Network-related fireworks. Talk of the channel potentially airing high school
content dominated the headlines in the days leading up to the Big 12's media
days, but the reaction from the league's coaches and players was fairly tame.
"Missouri's Gary Pinkel was the only coach that rocked the boat on the
subject, saying that the idea of airing high school games on an institutional
network lacked "common sense."
"'It's a lack of common sense there to think that the network, the university
network, can have high school games on their network,' Pinkel said. 'To me
there's no common sense there. I have enough trouble coaching football so I'll
leave that to some other people to make those decisions.'
"There was some expectation from the assembled media that Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville was likely to provide the signature quote about the issue, but
Tuberville wasn't even asked about it during his time in the print room.
"Frankly, the most notable quote about the Longhorn Network came from Oklahoma
linebacker Travis Lewis -- and it generated more laughs than fireworks.
"'Man I am starting my own network,' he said. 'TLN, Travis Lewis Network. I want
to make money when I get out of college and this is the best way. I'm going to
have king crab fishing, alligator hunting, sports, news and I may even throw
some ice skating in there we'll see.'"
Graham: "The single biggest thing to take away from Big 12 Media
Days was the Big 12 Conference's attempt to show that everything was business as
usual after losing Nebraska and Colorado.
"The Big 12 emphasized how unique it is as the only BCS conference that plays a
round-robin format and the only conference that can name a true champion.
"There's definitely no question the Big 12 is proud of its new identity and the
conference is right in celebrating its uniqueness. It is the only remaining big
time football conference to feature a round-robin format and that's good in
"A team that can run through the rest of the conference with ease should get an
invite to the national championship game without having to play a team its
already defeated in the regular season and that can be advantageous.
"Then again, the Big 12 is the only BCS conference that had members 'stolen'
last year."
Level: "Oklahoma is the runaway choice to win the Big 12 this year and
I don't think there are many people in the media that think there's even a close
second. Obviously Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are ranked behind the Sooners in
the preseason media poll, but the sense that I got in Dallas was that people
expect OU to roll through the conference almost like they did in 2004.
"I don't remember anyone mentioning the Red River Shootout at Big 12 Media Days
at all. When was the last time that happened?
"Double T 104.3's Chuck Heinz asked Bob Stoops point blank if he
expected to play for the national championship this season, and Stoops said that
he did. OU players Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and Travis
Lewis echoed those same sentiments.
"I understand why Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the conference
title, but I'm at least a little bit surprised that the majority of people that
cover the Big 12 seem to think it will be a cakewalk for the Sooners."
Dickens: "Aside from Tommy Tuberville, I was a part of sit-down interviews with
five of the Big 12's other nine coaches -- Baylor's Art Briles, Iowa
State's Paul Rhoads, Kansas' Turner Gill, Kansas State's
Bill Snyder and Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Out of that group, the
biggest thrill was getting to talk to Snyder -- one of the best college football
coaches of all-time and the architect of one of the biggest program turnarounds
in the history of the sport.
"I was also impressed with Pinkel. Having never been around him in person, all
of my opinions of him had been formed from listening to him on the Big 12
teleconference or watching clips of press conferences. I'm not sure if I can
exactly define my expectations going into the interview, but Pinkel surpassed
"The person I was probably least impressed with was Big 12 Commissioner Dan
Beebe. (Yes, he's not a coach. I'm taking advantage of the fact that I'm the
person that loads these pieces.) Beebe deserves a lot of credit for what he has
done over the last year -- huge new deal with Fox, overseeing a productive and
harmonious set of Big 12 meetings in June and acting promptly earlier this month
to head off any prolonged Longhorn Network controversy -- but I was disappointed
with a couple of things that he did in Dallas.
"First, Beebe's staged Q&A session with former Dallas sports anchor Scott Murray
on Monday was transparent and awkward. Transparent because it seemed rehearsed
-- a statement given from a dais would have worked much better -- and awkward
because Beebe stepped on stage with music from 'The Natural' blaring in the
conference room.
"Second, Beebe pushed a similar story throughout the two-day event about the
league's new round-robin schedule. When asked, Beebe relayed how, having grown
up on the west coast, he had always been secretly jealous of the Pac-10's
round-robin scheduling and is excited about leading a conference that now uses
that same format. To steal a line from ESPN's Monday Night Countdown -- c'mon
Graham: "Missouri's Gary Pinkel stole headlines at Big 12 Media
Days as the only coach to take a swing at Texas' Longhorn Network. It's
something every coach probably wanted to do but wouldn't do on a national stage.
"Pinkel said it lacked 'common sense' to potentially allow the Longhorn Network
to broadcast high school football games and other high school events. He was
implying Texas can potentially further recruit prospects by airing their games
as a form of flattery.
"Pinkel's statement caused some uncomfortable moments for Texas'
Mack Brown. Brown didn't have the greatest answer on the position, he basically
said it was out of his hands and listed off the few negatives of having a cable
network devoted to a single university.
"Baylor's Art Briles and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy also impressed at
Media Days. Their teams are expected to be better than usual and they didn't do
much to rain on the parade. It's a good way to jockey for position in the
preseason polls.
"Briles emphasized Baylor is an improving team that should come back this season
from a bowl season with better play all around.
"Meanwhile, Gundy played up his squad's high power offense and did his best to
play off thoughts losing former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will set
back last year's offensive numbers.
"I don't think there was a least impressive coach at Media Days. Every other
coach in discussion played up to expectations and all were up front about season
"For instance, Kansas State's Bill Snyder was asked if he likes playing Texas
every year from now on.
"Snyder's answer: 'No.'
"That answer isn't going to rile up the purple troops but it's honest. Everyone
should respect honesty."
Level: "Every coach is impressive in his own way at these types of
things. These guys are well-versed in dealing with the media and there aren't
any that come across as frosty and unfriendly now that Nebraska and head coach
Bo Pelini are in the Big Ten.
"I was least impressed with the way that Mack Brown handled
questions about the Longhorn Network. Brown's spin on Bevo TV puts some of the
stuff peddled by politicians to shame.
"'We're going to sign 20 to 25 players a year, more 20 than 25, and those
players will probably be committed to us before June in their junior year. So I
don't think that part will have any effect on recruiting at all.'
"Brown went on to add that he thinks that not showing high school football would
hurt Texas high school coaches, players and communities.
"Really, Mack? You don't think showing high school games on an institutional
network will have any impact on recruiting? I get why you are defending the
Longhorn Network and don't blame you a bit for doing so, but please don't insult
our intelligence."
Dickens: "Quarterback. Quarterback. Quarterback.
"While I think coaches, media and fans have a better idea of what Tech has in
Seth Doege than they do of other areas of the team -- cornerback,
outside receiver, defensive line -- more rides on Doege than anything or anyone
"It involves more than just on-field production -- leadership, respect and
confidence. And while we may think we have a good handle on what to expect, that
doesn't necessarily mean those expectations will translate into results."
Graham: "Texas Tech's defense is a far more pressing storyline
than storylines about quarterback Seth Doege and whether or not he will hold
onto the starting job .
"The Red Raider defense will determine how far Tech will go this upcoming season
while the offense should be able to handle itself all around whether Doege has
first-year struggles or not.
"Tech is transitioning to a new defense with players that combined for bad
defensive numbers across the board last season. Whether or not those guys have
improved will determine the season.
"My guess is there will be improvement.
"The defensive line has much more depth than last season, there are some
athletic linebackers behind the line and the secondary corps have a full year of
"That's a good starting point for 2011 but we're going to find out quickly just
how much better the defense is."
Level: "I think Seth Doege and the quarterback position is the obvious
answer, but defensive line is up there as well.
"How will the rotation up front shake out? The Red Raiders have plenty of
options, but few clear-cut answers -- newcomers like Leon Mackey and
Dennell Wesley, players that redshirted or were otherwise unavailable
for all or most of last season like Aundrey Barr,
Jackson Richards and
Scott Smith and the players who return from last
season like Dartwan Bush and Donald Langley.
"For as much attention as the back end of Tech's defense has received this
offseason, none of that will matter if the team isn't able to get consistent
pressure on opposing quarterbacks."