To some, it might appear Big 12 Conference schools have decided to ease into the new season. The Big 12’s coaches don’t think that is the case.
When Oklahoma State plays at UCLA this weekend, it is the only Big 12 team playing a major conference opponent. That doesn’t mean, though, the Big 12 teams will get a week off. Teams’ scheduling philosophies were topics of discussion during the first Big 12 coaches’ teleconference of the season.
“In line with my thinking, you’d prefer not to play another major conference team but a Division-I in a nonconference game,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. “It’s tougher and tougher to get these games. Everybody wants the same opponents, and the prices are going through the ceiling. It’s unbelievable what it’s costing to bring some of these nonconference games in.”
The Jayhawks had scheduled games against Tulsa, which Kansas plays Saturday, and Northwestern before Mangino arrived in Lawrence, Kan. They had to addToledo because they could not find anyone else. Mangino also said nonconference games have become scarier because the difference of the talent level between the major and minor conferences is shrinking.
“With 85 scholarships in Division-I, good players are filtering all over the place, you can’t take anybody for granted,” he said. “On any given day, anybody can win. These games are difficult to find people you can beat them in the first half and play your subs in the second. Those days are about over. We don’t have any games like that on our schedule.”
Even mighty Texas, which has won at least 10 games three years in a row, enters its nonconference schedule prepared for tight games.
“When you look at scheduling now and limit on scholarships and what it’s done through the years, you better be ready to play,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “You better quit worrying about who the opponent or how many stars are next to the school for tradition. You better get ready to play because everybody has good players.”
Brown recalled the story of his brothers, who coach at Alabama-Birmingham, as an example. Last year, UAB’s starting quarterback Darrell Hackney broke his thumb the week before it played highly ranked Georgia, but the Bulldogs struggled with the Blazers, winning 16-13.
Texas begins its season against North Texas, which has won the Sun Belt Conference three straight seasons. The Mean Green has gone to three straight bowls and won 18 straight conference games.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said he likes to use his nonconference schedule as another teaching tool. Snyder has received criticism in the past for schedules thought to be excessively easy. His Wildcats open the season against Western Kentucky.
“I would always like to hope that we would have the opportunity to allow a number of young players in our program to have experience, to gain experience during the course of season,” Snyder said. “I think it holds true that you’re going to end playing a lot of people over the course of the season. Guys get injured, and you want to develop experience for the future as well.
“You don’t like to get yourself caught in a critical conference game during the course of the year and have an injury and have to play young people that haven’t been on the field before.”
RIGHTEOUS RUNNING BACKS:
When Texas begins its season Saturday against North Texas, it will have to deal with one of the best returning running backs in the nation. Senior Patrick Cobbs led the nation in yards per game with 152.7 and led in scoring with 17 touchdowns.
Brown said he views the game as a test for his highly touted defense.
“They’re run defense has been so good, and we’re trying to improve ours,” Brown said. “At a time where we’re looking to be better against the run and tackle better, no better challenge for us to open against the nation’s best.”
The Longhorns will counter Cobbs with running back Cedric Benson, their Heisman Trophy contender at running back. Benson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past three years.
INSTANT REPLAY INQUIRIES:
Even though the Big 12 doesn’t have a similar experiment planned, it is paying attention to the results of the Big Ten Conference’s experiment with instant replay.
“From what I’ve heard about it and what it sounds like, I would like to see it, just watching the USC-Virginia Tech game, the offensive pass interference call. That was certainly a sequence in that game that turned the game,” Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said.
“What I’ve heard about the Big 10 experiment, I like, and I’m glad they’re going to do it. We’ll get all their feedback, both pro and con, and I’m sure it’s something we’ll talk about at our meetings in January.”
In the play Franchione referenced from the game Saturday night, a referee called a Virginia Tech player for pushing off on a deep pass. The penalty erased the completion and forced the Hokies to punt. Several plays later, USC scored.
The Big 10’s proposed system involves using the replays the TV broadcasts provide. The conference-assigned technical advisor possesses the sole decision whether to initiate the replay process.