DALLAS -- Big 12 Media Days has gone through plenty of changes over the years, but the 2014 edition just felt different. The vibe wasn't radically altered from past years and the familiar surroundings of the Omni Hotel in downtown seemed even more spruced up than usual -- although the Mary Kay cosmetics convention downstairs might have had something to do with that.
No, for the first time in over a decade, the Big 12's annual season kickoff event didn't have former Texas head coach Mack Brown around to schmooze with the media and drop quips about his Longhorns. New coach Charlie Strong attracted just as big of a crowd -- likely even bigger, given how few opportunities there are to interview him -- but it was abundantly clear that Strong was no Mack, and even more so that the Texas program would be much different under his tenure.
Perhaps the surest sign there was a changing of the guard in Austin was the fact that opposing head coaches had plenty of (good) things to say about Strong. Dean of Big 12 coaches Bill Snyder remarked it was great to hear about the new coach's daughters getting adjusted to life in Texas. Even the head of hated rival Oklahoma commented on how nice it was to see a new, yet familiar face at Media Day.
"I think Charlie's a great coach. He's an excellent person. We've really enjoyed the times I have been around him," Bob Stoops said. "So I gotta be careful. I can't wish him too much luck, but I know he'll do a great job and he's a great coach."
Stoops had a somewhat icy friendship with Brown when the two coached against each other, meeting in Dallas twice a year for both Media Days and the annual Red River Rivalry a few months later. Mentioning Strong actually brought a smile to the typically straight-laced coach, which if nothing else spoke to how much differently Texas will be viewed going forward as the program begins a new era.
The change in the current Big 12 hierarchy was most evident in the fact that Stoops and Strong were even holding press conferences on the same day. Typically Texas and Oklahoma went one after the other in the two-day format and more than one media member noted how it's been a while since the two traditional league powers were paired together. Instead, it was Baylor (and to a lesser degree, Oklahoma State) that were split up and moved to Monday.
And not to hammer the point home, but it was more than strange for those who have been around the conference for years to hear Baylor players and staff being asked if they felt upset about being picked to finish second in the preseason poll. Yes, that's the new world order around the Big 12, with the Bears the defending league champions and a possible College Football Playoff contender.
Things just seemed different in Dallas this week. Luckily it won't be too long before we see the teams take the field and just how different the Big 12 standings will be.
Here's some additional news and notes from around the rest of the conference:
Bowlsby once again makes waves around the NCAA
Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby is still fairly new on the job when compared to his peers at other conferences, but he's sure getting the hang of making some newsworthy remarks at Media Days. That he discussed upcoming legal and revenue challenges in college athletics was no surprise. That he decided to throw NCAA enforcement under the bus like he did was a surprise.
"Enforcement is broken. The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently," Bowlsby said. "If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions."
The comments weren't anything new nor something that others haven't said, but it was enough to burn up the airwaves in the hours after he said it. Now comes the hard part, though: what will actually end up happening with enforcement going forward. Even with new-found autonomy for power conferences, we could hear much of the same from Bowlsby again next year.
Texas DE Reed in the clear, looking to improve on breakout year
Although Jackson Jeffcoat received most of the attention on the Texas defense last year, it was his partner in crime on the opposite side of the line -- Cedric Reed -- that did quite a bit of damage in his own right.
"I had a third to fourth (draft grade). Some people said fourth to fifth round, that's why it was kind of confusing," Reed said. "I just felt like I could play a lot better the way our defense is."
Reed racked up 10 sacks last season and was one of the few bright spots for a squad that will forever be remembered for being ran over, around, and through last year in non-conference games against BYU and Ole Miss.
The defensive end was intrigued by the incoming staff and didn't think hard about leaving Austin for the NFL early. Some scouts believe he has first-round potential at the end of the day if he lives up to the flashes he's shown so far with a solid frame that can translate to the next level.
His new coach, however, won't let that go to his star defensive player's head.
"The thing with Cedric is he has to play better. He has to get better overall as a football player," Charlie Strong said. "In fall camp I'll get a chance to really watch him."
One thing Reed has already improved upon is how careful he is when outside the football program. He was one of several Longhorns linked to possible NCAA violations that stemmed from meals paid for by an agent but told reporters that all was well on that front and he would not be missing any time due to the incident a few months ago.
"That's a compliance thing and they're handling that. I didn't have anything to do with that," he said. "I'm clear."
Reed also praised defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who came over from Alabama, for his youthful approach to the position and helping players make an easy transition to Strong's much more disciplined and focused program.
Oklahoma State, West Virginia confident going into big non-conference games
The Big 12 will be featured prominently on college football's opening weekend, but will do so as heavy underdogs in marquee non-conference games as West Virginia travels to Atlanta to play Alabama and Oklahoma State comes to Dallas to take on Florida State.
Few give either Big 12 team much of a chance, but that's not dimming the outlook for either program before they hit fall camp to prepare for them.
"We're playing against the Heisman Trophy winner and defending national champions. They're going to have athletes all over the field," Cowboys corner Kevin Peterson said. "But there's no bigger stage to show what we can do and what the younger players can do to make a name for themselves."
"I was actually watching film of them on the plane ride here," West Virginia's Daryl Worley said. "They're a great opponent no matter who they play or who they match up against. On either side of the ball. But at the end of the day, one game we look at closely is the Oklahoma game and how they we're able to defeat them. It's going to be a great challenge.
"But I don't want to lose no matter who the opponent is."
Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said he's been busy breaking down film of the Crimson Tide and paid particular attention to games like Oklahoma, Auburn and Texas A&M. He also anticipates talking with coaches like Kevin Sumlin over the next few weeks in the run up to the game.
It also helps Holgorsen's cause on the other side of the ball that he's got FCS All-American Shaquille Riddick on the roster, who transferred in and will immediately fill a pass-rush role for the team. The head coach even remarked that the NFL Draft prospect is as good, physically, as anybody on the team.
Weis changing things up on offense
Say what you want about Kansas coach Charlie Weis, but there's not much of a filter on what he says when it comes to football. The normally brutally honest coach is learning, however, to not only pull back a little at the press conference but recognize that his traditional offense might be great in the NFL but clearly needs to be tweaked in college.
Perhaps that's one reason why he's shying away from trying to develop the next Tom Brady in Lawrence. Will a move to a spread offense with a dual-threat quarterback in a more experienced Montrell Cozart result in any wins, though? Only time will tell.
"We haven't done a thing in the two years I've been here. We won one game two years ago, we won three games last year. We won one game in the conference, we haven't won a game on the road, for me to get up here and say these are what my expectations are for you, I'm just not very smart," Weis remarked. "But our team very clearly knows what our expectations are. There's no hiding it."
Well, he is hiding it from the media, but it's hard to throw out a number when it will be a huge stretch for the Jayhawks to make a bowl game in 2014.
Oakman is one confident, oversized family man
There might have been nobody more intriguing from an NFL Draft standpoint than Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman. He was the star attraction in the hallways and on the podium, carrying around 275 pounds on a 6-foot-9 frame and quickly becoming one of the more entertaining players to pass through on Monday.
As it turns out, Oakman has a family large enough to match his size. He's one of 12 siblings in a Brady Bunch-esque group, the youngest among his mother's six children and the oldest on his father's side. He even had a little trouble sorting out where every member fell on the family tree.
Perhaps that kind of upbringing is why he quickly went to bat for his fellow brothers on the Bears' squad and questioned why the defending champion would be picked behind Oklahoma in the preseason poll.
"Same old, same old," he said. "It's kind of disrespectful. You have your starting QB back, most of the front line back and we're ranked number two? And we beat OU with a clean slate (last year). It doesn't make sense to me."
Quarterback Bryce Petty agreed, perhaps more diplomatically.
"Let's go. That's all I can say ," he said. "It's not up to us to vote, it's up to us to play. That tells us that we're not there yet, which is fine with me because I don't think you're ever there. Once you feel like you have, then you're in trouble."
Speaking of the signal-caller, Petty said his goal this season was to throw fewer than three interceptions and even mentioned the possibility of making a national title run even if the non-conference schedule is, well, lacking.
Jimbo said, Art said
The best part of Monday was the media day war of words between Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Baylor's Art Briles.
Fisher said every conference should have a title game. The Big 12 does not and maintains it isn't looking to add one anytime soon. Briles, a confident coach born and raised in a confident state, seemed to take offense to somebody else meddling in league affairs.
"Jimbo Fisher, he needs to worry about the ACC. That's what he needs to worry about," the Bears' coach said. "I'm not telling them how to do their business. Don't come down here to Texas and tell me how to do mine. We'll see what happens, but I'm not concerned what happens."
Can these two meet at the end of the year to settle things?
Replacing Verrett will be no easy task at TCU
Devonte Fields was the player who was talked about the most when it came to the Horned Frogs, but at least the team knows how to operate without him in the lineup on defense. It is a different question when it comes to the back end with the departure of first-round draft pick Jason Verrett.
"We are deeper (in the secondary), but it's tough to replace somebody like that," senior safety Sam Carter said. "It's like saying how is South Carolina going to replace (Jadeveon) Clowney or how is Texas A&M going to replace Johnny (Manziel)? You just don't. You hope guys come in and you can replace him as a unit, but it's hard to replace first-round draft picks."
Carter will no doubt shoulder more of the load on the back end of the defense this year with several new faces around and his position as the smart field general in the secondary. Head coach Gary Patterson is one of the best around on that side of the ball and has still fielded a quality defense even if moving to the Big 12 has been rougher than expected.
Still, there might be more of a learning curve for some of the new starters the team will be sending out to replace a lockdown corner like Verrett.
"It's so complex. I won't compare it to the NFL because I've never been there, but I hear on NFL Network or whatever that (in the league) you learn something so fast," Carter said about Patterson's schemes. "It took me a whole year and a half to learn the defense. I'm still learning now."
Iowa State's Bibbs adding to his skill set
Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads thinks he has a special player at tight end in E.J. Bibbs and didn't shy away from calling him one of the best in the country. The addition of Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator on the staff figures to place even more emphasis on Bibbs' game and will see him experiment with new wrinkles like splitting out wide more often.
"It adds to it," the tight end said. "I love being out wide. That's one of my specialties to split out and go catch the ball."
Mueller not thinking of NFL Draft or standing up
As hard as it is to believe in this day and age, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year didn't even give the NFL a thought coming out of his junior year. In fact, he didn't even put in for a NFL Draft evaluation just to see where he stood like many prospects do prior to their final year in college.
"I didn't. I think if I did they would have had me going number one overall," Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller said with a laugh.
While the Wildcats star is happy to keep it light when it comes to the draft, he understands that this could be his last season at defensive end as his pass-rushing skills and 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame might have to stand up and play linebacker at the next level.
"My coaches like me where I'll best have success in the program," said Mueller, dismissing moving around a little for Kansas State this season. "I have to believe in that, too. I can have success anywhere on the field if you give me a chance and that opportunity. Obviously if I played linebacker I may have to lose some pounds, but I love this game, I love football and I'd do whatever it takes."
Mueller was considered by some to be the most logical choice for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but the media went with TCU's Devonte Fields as the selection that was unveiled last week. Given Fields' current predicament after off-the-field issues, perhaps that makes Mueller the front-runner for the award officially and that would be just fine by him.
"I want to win as many awards as I possibly can just because that puts K-State on a platform," the defensive end said. "Obviously that means the team had a good year because I can't do anything without a fantastic team behind me."
He'll have a chance to accomplish those goals early in the year with a big non-conference matchup against defending SEC champion Auburn on a Thursday night in the Little Apple.
Big 12 Awards
Best dressed? It was easy to go with Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who even bypassed a school-colored tie and opted for a look that could have found him in an issue of GQ. Iowa State's Paul Rhoads might have come in second with a very clean look.
Most impressive? You wouldn't think a punter would be the star of the show, but West Virginia's Nick O'Toole was the eye-catching member of the Mountaineers group and had to fight off question after question about his fetching mustache.
Happiest person leaving media days? Undoubtedly Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who looked like he'd rather be in line at the DMV than sitting around talking at Media Days.