Football Media Days Grace DFW Metroplex, 33 Undefeated Schools Exude Optimism

by BoCarter | Posted on Friday, July 20th, 2018

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FRISCO, Texas – Football is back – with microphones and logos, anyhow…

Once again, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex assisted in the “unofficial” opening of the 150th season of intercollegiate football (the game will celebrate its 150-year anniversary success throughout 2019 in honor of the initial Princeton-Rutgers game in 1869) with football media days for three conferences Monday-Thursday – the Big 12, Conference USA and the Sooner Athletic Conference at the Fort Worth Club.

And optimism reigns supreme on all sides, though the head coaches in attendance tempered talk of undefeated seasons and national championships with some reality checks.

The head coaches at several schools from the three different circuits see a challenging season yet one that might be full of surprises and some unsung student-athletes and assistant coaches making national names for themselves.

Lincoln Riley, the 34-year-old (he turns 35 on Sept. 5) wunderkind head coach at Oklahoma, became the first Big 12 taskmaster to win the conference championship in his first season in that top role, and now seeks a league-record fourth consecutive crown (the first two in the streak and 10 titles overall were under coach Bob Stoops from 1998-2016) in his “sophomore” year as head coach.

“Going into the season with so many new pieces,” Riley said, “probably more than anything we will need some new leadership. We have experienced at the core positions, especially the offensive line and the defensive front seven, and I’m excited about that. We have the chance to be the most talented Oklahoma team in the last four years, but we also will be young in several places.”

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is coming off his 12th consecutive bowl appearance years as the winningest mentor in Cowboys history and is hoping for some defensive improvement and nuances against arguably the top conference offensively in NCAA FBS.

“I’m really interested and excited to see what happens with our defense this year,” said Gundy. “We have new defensive coordinator Kim Knowles on staff, and he has installed the 4-5-2 alignment. I like watching him coach, and he’s a great teacher.”

Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder made his Big 12-record 20th appearance in 23 total Big 12 gridiron media days and kept his College Football Hall of Fame demeanor and steady attitude for yet another year about the always-competitive Wildcats who have played in 19 bowls during his first 24 years at the helm from 1989-2005 and 2009-present.

“I’ve said it so many times and whether it’s construction, facilities, etc., etc., I think everybody has, ourselves included, nice facilities,” Snyder said. “Though I think sometimes we lose our sense of priority of what is really important, that’s not to say that college football and facilities are not important. We just need to concentrate on the good, young people who make up our programs. We think we have a good group this year as well.”

Veteran TCU head coach Gary Patterson, like Gundy (114 wins in 13 seasons) and Snyder (210 victories in 24 years) at their respective schools, brings in the most head coaching triumphs in Horned Frogs history with 160 in 17-plus seasons, also sees potential in the season ahead.

“As you go into the season,” Patterson stated, “there will be questions. We were thought of last year as being young on defense and growing up as the season continued. This year we are younger on offense as far as starts are concerned, but we have a month before the season to grow. We have to grow up in a hurry because we have a very strong schedule.”

West Virginia mentor Dana Holgorsen has a squad regarded as a possible dark horse for the Big 12 crown after joining the circuit in 2012. QB Will Grier pocketed pre-2018 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year laurels and already has a Heisman Trophy-devoted website for promotional purposes. Holgorsen likes the hype but adds caution about possibilities in the rugged, nine-game Big 12 schedule.

“Well, we welcome expectations (about the season),” he began, “and we want you guys (gathered media in Frisco) to talk about us. I think we have a good group coming back, and we did some good things offensively last year. We just need to get better and improve in several areas, and our guts are dedicated to that.”

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, an offensive guru going back to when he was in the tape rooms at Tech from 1998-2002 and then in the pro ranks from 2003-07, moves forward with a young squad but one anticipating to put many points on the board as has been the case since the took over the Red Raiders program in 2013.

“We lost quite a few playmakers from last year,” Kingsbury noted, “but we have some young guys waiting in the wings. You start with T.J. Vasher who made some big plays for us, and De’Quan Bowman made some plays in the spring. We also have Jacob Hines who is a six-year back who can play several positions.”

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby echoed the sentiments of virtually every head coach and touted the return of the Big 12 Football Championship last December after a five-year hiatus.

“Our championship game was an unqualified success,” Bowlsby explained, “we had about 63,000 people who attended, and it was a great Big 12 football game. We looked back at previous conference football championship games, and seven of the nine in FBS last year were rematches, so there is no problem there with the nine-game, round-robin schedule we play.”

Many of the same sentiments were being exuded by Conference USA coaches as they gathered across the street from the Big 12 locale at The Star at Ford Center. C-USA coaches and student-athletes met at the newly-opened Baylor Scott &White Sports Medicine Center on the indoor artificial turf section, which can opened to produce a 100-yard total practice field facility.

Defending champion Florida Atlantic under head coach Lane Kiffin starts 2018 as East Division winner and the league favorite again while sporting he nation’ second-longest NCAA FBS winning streak at 10 games, including a 50-3 thumping of Akron in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl.

“At Western Kentucky last year it was a cold weather game and the last time our guys were behind in a game,” Kiffin recalled. “To come back and win that game was big, and it was a turning point. We make it really competitive in practice, it helps to have really good players, and it’s not a team with an offensive team or defensive team dominating. One side is so much more dominant than the other.”

“We think the defense will be good again,” noted All-C-USA linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair of FAU. “We need to come out strong against Oklahoma, Air Force, Bethune-Cookman, and UCF in non-conference games. We have a tough schedule, and it will test our defense. We still have FIU as our nearby rivalry game, but every game in Conference USA will be tough again this year.”

“We’re hoping to keep that good balance between the running and passing games like we had last year,” added All-C-USA RB Devin “Motor” Singletary. “Of course, I would like us to run it more often, but that’s up to the coaches to decide. We did have several freshmen come in last spring, and many are on campus this summer, and they really have some talent.

Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert is seeing the fruits of some top-notch recruiting over the last three seasons from transitioning from NCAA to NCAA FBS and saw his 49ers nab a giant, 25-24 Conference USA upset over UAB in overtime as a measure if recent progress.

“It has been a good offseason,” Lambert said, “and the players have worked extremely hard. We have been stocking up on players and now are at our full limit for FBS, so that is a big plus. We have some tough non-conference games in Fordham, Appalachian State and UMass, but they will help us get ready for conference play.”

Veteran Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz will have similar momentum from a 51-10 thumping of SMU in the Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium – some two miles north of the media days’ location.

“Every year is a new year,” Holtz said. “You have a new group of seniors, a new group of leaders, and you need to get the best effort from everyone. Obviously, Florida Atlantic is the favorite to win the conference, but they will haveto do it on the field. There is great balance in the conference again this year.”

Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren sees the challenges of being a first-year head coach with the Owls after serving as Stanford’s offensive coordinator in his previous coaching stop.

“When you get a Stanford kid or a Rice kid,” Bloomgren stated, “you get guys who are self-starters and want to grind. We ask them to keep competing in the classroom like we compete on the field.”

North Texas head coach Seth Littrell is coming off back-to-back bowl berths and a first C-USA West Division crown for the Mean Green and views 2018 as another probable year with postseason visions.

“Over the past couple of years and building those relationships, what our culture is, our coaches have done an unbelievable job of holding each other accountable,” he allowed. “We want to make sure what we are all about – being selfless, tough and disciplined.”

As aspiring Texas Wesleyan joins Arizona Christian, Langston, Lyon, Ottawa (Ariz.), Panhandle State, Southwestern Assemblies of God, Texas College, and Wayland Baptist in the first season of official football competition in the 40-year-old NAIA Sooner Athletic Conference, the preseason adrenalin is flowing at all locations.

“Our direction this season is straight up.” said head coach Joe Prud’homme of Texas Wesleyan, which renewed varsity football in 2017 after a 76-year layoff. “We have a lot of new faces on the team, we had a great recruiting season, and we feel like we put ourselves in a good position to start the year.”

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