The collective DEFCON levels of the college football media in this here Dust/Torrential Rain/Straight Line Wind Bowl we call Nebraska is about to go down a level, as Big 12 Football Media Days kick off in Kansas City.
It's a yummy time, to be sure, as the coaches and selected players of each conference team deliver prepared, way-positive answers to reporters' occasionally provocative questions. If a scribe from The Daily Planet asked Player A, for example, about the joys of toiling under Coach A, the retort tends to go like this:
"Well, he's a great coach. Maybe the best coach who ever coached. Certainly he's my coach, and he coaches me, and that counts for a lot right there. In fact, if Coach were to decide to coach an alpine skiing team, I bet it'd be the best alpine skiing team in a 30-mile radius of wherever that alpine skiing team…happened to ski."
At any rate, the controversial event is preceded by the release of the Big 12 media's annual preseason conference awards and standings predictions. From a pure discussion standpoint, these awards are far more important than the postseason nods, after it's generally become clear to God and everyone which teams actually won the conference and which players earned the awards. Speculation and argument do a better message board tango than actual performance.
Don't let us at Husker Locker stand in the way of your electronic jawing over those predictions, but we've got a few of our own, tailored, shall we say, to that extraneous, intangible stuff making college football that dose of joie de vivre we all know it is.
Don't expect any grand order, except this: We start with a player nearest Husker hearts.
Big 12 star Nebraskans love to hate: Chase Daniel, Missouri quarterback. Maybe it's the baby fat that fills in his oft-unshaven face. Maybe it's his confidence/cockiness as he sits in a film room, predicting touchdowns to come. Maybe it's his "high school defense" jabs at former Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Maybe it's that he's unusually hard to sack. Maybe it's that he befouled the football shrine that is Memorial Stadium by seemingly eating a booger.
Or maybe it's that Missouri's got something Nebraska fans desperately want: A truly great, program-changing quarterback. Maybe it's that he's at Missouri, a team that a lot of older Husker fans will tell you they've loathed ever since the Tigers took a hit out on Jarvis Redwine and put Turner Gill through "hell day."
Whatever it is – Husker fans hate this guy. Like Thomas Lott, Brian Bosworth and Eric Bieniemy, Daniel is in the League of the Loathed. After he's rightly named Big 12 preseason player of the year, a fan emails: "Makes me want to puke." What, exactly? The response is typical: The attitude, the sneer, that girly little hopscotch jump into the end zone during Black October that got played over and over and over again on ESPN.
The attitude? Like Steve Taylor's "I hate Oklahoma" comment in 1987? The sneer? Like when Tommie Frazier called Warren Sapp a "fat boy" in the 1995 Orange Bowl? The cockiness? Like Frazier and national champion Scott Frost? The antics? Like the time Eric Crouch spun the football like a top after beating Notre Dame?
Daniel's just like all of them. He's talks it, then walks it. He knows it, and shows it. He's equally adept at executing the read option and running a pure, five-wide receiver spread. He's a leader, a resourceful, tough guy in an imperfect physical template for a quarterback, and, if Mizzou really is here to stay, the most significant player in the Big 12's young history. Yeah, you just read that. For if the hotbed of talent in Kansas City and St. Louis – and the rest of Missouri, for that matter – narrows its wide gaze just to the in-state team, you have to wonder: Just how many more Grant Wistroms, Mike Ruckers, Dan Alexanders and Will Comptons will Nebraska – or anyone – get? If Missouri can get land the best seven or eight in-state recruits each year, and supplement it with some Texas steers, then NU's climb to the light seems a lot harder and longer.
Opposing player who's easy for Husker fans to love: Todd Reesing, Kansas quarterback. If Daniel stings like a bee, this kid floats like a butterfly. Looks 14, and plays with the sixth sense of an NFL vet. Part of his appeal, frankly, is his team; Kansas is all pluck and savvy, led by coach Mark Mangino, who caught the schedule breaks at just the right moment (KU played neither Texas nor Oklahoma in 2007). But Reesing's performances, save some shaky work against Missouri and Kansas State, were beyond gusty. They were high-wire acts. He's got the ability to deliver balls where they need to be, especially short bubble screens, which are harder to place than they seem. Reesing's also a great scrambler, and truly a scrambler – he runs, like Tony Romo, to buy time, not for yards. Now that Nebraska actually has a quarterback who can do that in Joe Ganz, fans will better appreciate how gifted Reesing really is.
The most overexposed player: Colt McCoy, Texas quarterback. And we mean this in the kindest way, because he's a tough leader who had the misfortune of following Vince Young. But here are the facts: He's the kind of guy who can win 10 games a year. But he won't win 12, and just about anybody at Texas could win 8. Colt's already a folk hero at Texas, and that's worth a lot. But can UT afford to spend two more years on a guy they know is prone to gambling and losing on some passes?
The hidden gem: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State running back. We won't let the cat too far out of the bag here, but the kid can rattle off big chunks of yards. Gained more than 600 yards at 6.5 per carry as a freshman last year. At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, he's sometimes hard to find. He'll give Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray a run for the conference rushing title.
Weariest coach: Just happens to be Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. As much success as the guy's had since he took over at OU, just consider all he's been through recently: A major NCAA violation involving his star quarterback; an instant replay rip-off at Oregon; a classic (but, for OU, humiliating) bowl game against Boise State; his brother struggling at Arizona; constant turnover among his best players; a defense that rarely shows up in consecutive weeks; and calls that he can't win the big one anymore.
Yes, we know…at $6 millon in 2008, it's a tough life, right? Well, you try living it…and still winning, let's see, four of the last six Big 12 titles. Not easy, even for the unflappable Stoops.
Coach most likely to have a "I'm a man! I'm 40!" moment: Ron Prince, Kansas State. He went from motivational genius (hammering Texas 41-21) to dead duck in the matter of two months. But the latter label was deserved, as the Wildcats truly mailed in their last four games, giving 31, 73, 49 and 45 points respectively. That's a tired, ambivalent team. You get the sense that if Kansas State stumbles out of the gate, the haughty, talky Prince will get peppered by the K-State media that is none too jazzed about returning to the conference basement. The chances to snap are high.
Of course, from this point forward, OSU's Mike Gundy is always in the running for this award.
Official ESPN darling: That'd be Texas Tech, which is poised for its best season ever. Expect lengthy features on Crabtree, coach Mike Leach, the city of Lubbock, pirates, the linemen's splits, the glitter on the helmets, and pretty much everything else.
Team most likely to flop: Oklahoma State. Much has been made of the massive financial contributions of oilman T. Boone Pickens. The argument was that those huge gluts of cash would help the Pokes compete, specifically Oklahoma. But that money also applies pressure to the coaching staff and players to produce. So far? Not what OSU would have hoped. Couple that with a media that will look for a reason to tear the competitive, aggressive Gundy apart, and the Cowboys are headed for a crucible. The non-conference schedule is manageable, but the conference slate – featuring road games at Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech and Colorado, could very well leave OSU at 6-5, hosting the Sooners in a Bedlam game just after Thanksgiving. That game could be for Gundy's job.
Team most likely to surprise: Iowa State. If you could draw up a perfect Big 12 conference schedule, it'd be the Cyclones' slate. No Texas, Oklahoma or Texas Tech. Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska at home. Two of the weakest league teams, Kansas State and Baylor, on the road. Beyond that, Iowa State played noticeably better as the season progressed. Second-year coach Gene Chizik seems committed to running the ball and stopping the run – good thing, considering ISU has to break in a new quarterback. Don't be shocked if Iowa State upsets some top 25 team's apple cart.
Best home uniforms: Kansas State. In a league of great away uniforms, this probably the best home ensemble. The Wildcats offset purple with – novel, I know – a color lighter than purple. Northwestern and TCU should take note. Immediately recognizable and pleasing.
Best away uniforms: Dead heat between Texas and Nebraska, who have some of the best road uniforms in college football, period.
Worst home and road uniforms: Oklahoma State, with a loud orange right out of a street bazaar in Calcutta. Great for a sari. Not so much for a football ensemble. There's a reason OSU's basketball team wears black.
All-name team: One from each school. The best we could find. Well, to fit our bad jokes.
Nebraska OL Max McShane: Walk-on lineman also moonlights as a private detective.
Texas OL Nicolas Jean-Baptiste: Just cool.
Missouri QB Chase Daniel: So maybe it's the name. Sounds like a buddy of Patrick Bateman.
Iowa State WR Euseph Messiah: Amen.
Kansas LB Sal Capra: Versatile name. Leaves the door open to be a loan shark or a movie director.
Kansas State DB Adrian Stryker: Also the name of the lead character in Steven Seagal's newest direct-to-video classic, At One With Death.
Texas OL Buck Burnette: Yeah, you knew we'd have a "Texas" name in there.
Colorado DL George Hypolite: A better diet than South Beach or Atkins.
Oklahoma K Tress Way: I've got two buddies who live on that street.
Oklahoma State LB Orie Lemon: Motown name. Lead singer of the "The Corvelettes," right?
Texas Tech WR Darcel McBath: Also known as Shakespeare's "clean king."
Texas A&M is a squad full of boring names, so 2008 prospects seem suspect.