Race for second heating up in the Big 12

As the Big 12 season enters its final week, the most fascinating race is for second.

Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma are all tied with 10 conference victories. All four teams have two games remaining, and all four teams could finish second as easily as they could finish fifth.

A breakdown:

Kansas State
Remaining Games:
at Oklahoma State, vs. Baylor.
Why they could finish second: The Wildcats won their last road game and have already beaten Oklahoma State this season. Winning in Stillwater, though difficult, is hardly impossible. And they should be favored against Baylor at home, where they have won 15 straight. K-State also benefits from tie-breakers, by virtue of its victory over Kansas. Texas also beat the Jayhawks, but it is hurt by losing twice to Oklahoma. That could come in handy when its time to seed the Big 12 Tournament.
Why they could finish fifth: Oklahoma State has been on a roll since Marcus Smart returned from his three-game suspension, and K-State is 2-6 on the road. There’s a reason the Cowboys are favored by 8.5 points in Stillwater. Baylor has also been playing well since it downed K-State in Waco. Beating the Bears at Bramlage Coliseum isn’t a given. The Wildcats face arguably the toughest schedule of this four-team group.
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K-State Q&A: NCAA Tournament chances, keys to beating Oklahoma State and the football season that was

We’ve got a loaded K-State Q&A today, so let’s jump right into your questions.

Thanks, as always, for asking them.

Maybe I’m a bit on the optimistic side, considering the latest Bracketology doesn’t even list K-State on the bubble, but I think K-State has a great shot (maybe 70 percent) of making the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won eight in a row and they have victories over Mississippi, George Washington and Gonzaga. They are a good basketball team.

I understand that early loss to Northern Colorado will haunt them all year and that their RPI is in the high 80s, but a winning record in conference play should be enough to get them in. The Big 12 is surprisingly a beast of a basketball conference this season. Simply playing league games will boost K-State’s RPI.

There’s certainly no guarantee that K-State can go 10-8 or better in the Big 12, but it’s possible the way Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas are playing. The key may be beating teams like Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia. The Wildcats have no room for error. They need to sweep those games, split with teams like Texas and Oklahoma and try to knock off Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor wherever they can.
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Kansas State hardly alone in waiting to announce a starting quarterback

Whenever Kansas State has a preseason quarterback competition, Bill Snyder prefers to wait until the opening game is a few days away to announce a starter.

That is once again the plan leading up to this season. Snyder will likely announce a winner between Jake Waters and Daniel Sams at the beginning of next week. Traditionally, he waits until Tuesday.

The routine isn’t new. How it compares to other quarterback announcements across the Big 12 is. This year, Snyder may reveal his starting quarterback before a handful of his fellow Big 12 coaches.

As of Wednesday morning, only four Big 12 teams (Texas, Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State) know who their starting quarterback will be for Week 1. Six quarterback battles remain ongoing. Most of them will likely end in the next few days, but at least two will continue up until opening kickoff. Both TCU’s Gary Patterson and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy have said they won’t announce a starter before gameday.

The way Patterson talks, he might not release an official depth chart until his team takes the field for warm-ups against LSU.
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Big 12 can prove growth at Media Days

I had a good laugh after taking this picture at Big 12 Media Days last year.

There on stage stood the majority of the conference’s football coaches in different outfits, not exactly sure what to do in front of a big media crowd. Behind them was a hired announcer with a microphone, excitingly telling everyone to take out their cameras because, as he put it: “It’s rare you have the chance to get all 10 coaches in the Big 12 together for a picture.”

Incredibly rare considering all 10 coaches weren’t even up there. If you look close, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville bailed on the event. We were later told he was playing golf at a Red Raiders function.

Still, I had a new camera in my right pocket, so I took it out and snapped the bad boy you see above. Glad I did, because it provides a perfect snapshot of everything that was wrong with the Big 12 back then.

Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who stepped down under considerable fire a few months later, didn’t have control of the conference. There were rumors Texas A&M wanted out (turned out the Aggies were already tunneling under the fence), Missouri wasn’t exactly happy either (the Tigers are now in the SEC with A&M) and everyone was angry at Texas because of The Longhorn Network, and then … this.

Beebe couldn’t even arrange for all 10 of the Big 12′s coaches to show up for a picture.


Making the moment even more embarrassing, the photo-op came in the middle of an over-the-top presentation that began with Beebe walking on stage with the theme music from “The Natural” blaring behind him.

Instead of addressing the problems that existed within the league, the Big 12 tried to impress onlookers with a ridiculous show of smoke and mirrors. It didn’t work. The league almost crumbled.

The conference has come a long way since then, of course. Lengthy, mega television deals have been signed, granting of rights have been agreed to, a new commissioner has been hired, The Longhorn Network is no longer hated, The Champions Bowl looks like a trendsetter and TCU and West Virginia are thrilled to be the new kids on the block.

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Cotton Bowl Countdown: Big 12 vs. SEC

The Sporting News put together a list of this season’s best non-BCS bowl games yesterday, and the Cotton Bowl came in at No. 1.

No surprise there. It is a top 10 game between 10-2 Arkansas and 10-2 Kansas State in a beautiful, new stadium. What’s not to like? Outside of the BCS title game and the Fiesta Bowl, you could make an argument for it being the third best postseason game out there. Even if you like the Rose Bowl better, the Cotton Bowl definitely looks to be more entertaining than the Orange and Sugar Bowls.

Here is how The Sporting News summed up the game:

“The Wildcats don’t have Arkansas’ talent, but can the Hogs match K-State’s will to win? Bill Snyder plus Bobby Petrino equals two premier coaches.”

I’ve got one more reason why the Cotton Bowl looks like a can’t-miss game: It’s a battle between the Big 12 and the SEC — the two most respected football conferences of 2011.

Or, as a wise e-mailer named David wrote when he suggested I blog about this topic:

“It is the only Big12-SEC matchup of the Bowl Season! The entire conference (Big 12) was fighting for survival what feels like just a few months ago, and with our two most recent turncoats (Texas A&M and Missouri) going to the SEC, this game seems like the only ‘statement’ opportunity to let the SEC know there is another conference in the nation on their level.”

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Cotton Bowl Countdown: Realignment redux

Arkansas and Kansas State have been on opposite ends of the conference realignment shuffle.

Over the past two years, Arkansas fans have kicked back and laughed as schools across the country scrambled to find the best possible place for their athletic departments. When the Big 12 reportedly reached out to the Razorbacks a few months ago and asked if they had any interest in leaving the SEC, the answer was a simple “Thanks, but no thanks.”

K-State fans, meanwhile, have sweated out the departures of four teams from the Big 12. First Nebraska and Colorado. Then Texas A&M and Missouri. Everything seems to be stable in Big 12 country now that the conference has added West Virginia and TCU. Texas and Oklahoma have agreed to equal revenue sharing, and the league had a fabulous football season. But there were some tense times in there.

Why were their experiences so different? Arkansas decided to get in on conference realignment 20 years early.

In 1990, the SEC was looking for new teams. After shopping all over the region, it added the Razorbacks and South Carolina. The move allowed the SEC to play its first conference championship game in football.

Up to that point, Arkansas was a long-time member of the Southwest Conference. Read More »

Kirk Schulz excited about West Virginia

For the second time in a few weeks, Kansas State president Kirk Schulz proudly welcomed a new member to the Big 12 today.

This time, he welcomes West Virginia, a university out of the Big East that has won two BCS bowl games and recently went to the Final Four.

“They immediately bring very competitive athletic programs to the conference,” said Schulz, who serves as the chair of the Big 12′s expansion committee. “They are consistently the top football program in the Big East. Under coach Bob Huggins they have been outstanding in men’s basketball, as well. They have been successful in other sports. They bring a lot to the table, immediately.”

Schulz also said West Virginia will be a nice academic fit with the Big 12.

The Mountaineers won’t, however, be an easy geographical fit for the Big 12. When the conference added TCU, it added a school from within its footprint. No matter where you are, it’s easy to get to Fort Worth for a game. But Morgantown, W. Va.? That’s a different story.

“It clearly is a concern,” Schulz said. “Part of the conversation we had was really focused around the additional travel time we would face with them in the conference, but at the same time we felt that the other positive attributes about West Virginia were more important than the travel considerations.

“… As a conference, we’re competing against the Pac-12 and the SEC. The only way to do that is to bring in the strongest programs that we can. That’s what we’ve done.”
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Where K-State stands with realignment

While Kansas State athletic officials remain committed in their efforts to save the Big 12, at least one possible contingency plan seems to be developing should the Wildcats’ current conference crumble: The Big East.

A source told me today that the Wildcats currently view a move to that conference, especially if rival Kansas is involved, as an acceptable backup option should its current league crumble.

The source stressed the meaning of the word “backup,” though. A move to the Big East would put considerable travel demands on K-State’s athletic teams, and mean less television money than they are set to receive in the Big 12.

While making multiple trips to the East coast would be doable two or three times a year for football, it would be a headache for every other sport. Having in-state rival Kansas to play, and possibly Missouri would help ease those travel concerns.

But all sorts of different scenarios could play out in this current round of conference realignment (everything from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the Pac-12 and Texas to the ACC has been reported) and they would need to play out in a very specific way for K-State to seriously ponder membership in a new conference.

The top priority remains helping the Big 12 expand after the expected loss of Texas A&M. Should any combination of the Oklahoma schools, Texas or Texas Tech jump to the Pac-12 shortly after, there are differing opinions on whether the Big 12 could be rebuilt. But I’m told K-State also considers that a possible backup option.

The main thing K-State administrators seem to be in agreement on is that no matter what conferences look like when the smoke clears, the Wildcats will be a member of a BCS conference. Everyone I’ve talked to insists that.
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K-State issues statement on Big 12

Kansas State officials said they were committed to the Big 12 when Texas A&M was considering a move to the SEC, and their stance hasn’t changed now that the Aggies are officially on their way out of the Big 12.

“K-State remains fully committed to the Big 12 Conference and continues to be excited about its future,” said K-State president Kirk Schulz and athletic director John Currie in a joint statement.

“There is great solidarity among the nine league institutions and an eagerness to achieve the stability our students, fans and alumni deserve. We remain actively engaged with our conference administration and fellow presidents and athletic directors in proactively determining our next steps.”

Big 12 Board of Directors Chairman and University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton released a similar statement this afternoon.

“The chancellors and presidents of the Big 12 are committed to keeping our conference competitively and academically strong,” Deaton said. “We have a process in place that enables us to move aggressively regarding the possible expansion of the conference and to assure our members and student-athletes that we will take advantage of the most productive opportunities in the best interests of all.”

And here’s one more statement from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe:

“The presidents and chancellors of the nine remaining member institutions are steadfast in their commitment to the Big 12. As previously stated, the Conference will move forward aggressively exploring its membership options.”

Regent feels ‘real good’ about Big 12 future

When the Kansas Board of Regents meet in Arcadia on Monday for their annual three-day retreat, Dan Lykins is certain conference realignment will be discussed.

Lykins, a Topeka attorney and Kansas State alum who serves on the board, said he is looking forward to hearing about the topic from both K-State president Kirk Schulz and Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

As long as Texas A&M is considering a move to the SEC, he says the status of the Big 12 “is a critical issue that the regents are very concerned about.”

However, he is feeling much better about the league’s future than he was during last summer’s conference realignment scare, when he openly wondered at times if the Big 12 was going to survive.

Though he and the other regents have not been actively involved in any realignment discussions, such as the conference calls that Big 12 athletic directors and presidents participated in Saturday afternoon, he says administrators from both K-State and KU have kept them informed.

So far, he likes what he hears.

“No one can force Texas A&M to do anything,” Lykins said. “Right now, it’s in their corner. So it’s a waiting game. But I feel comfortable that whatever happens, KU and K-State will still be in the Big 12 and will continue working together to make this a better conference … I feel real good about what’s going on.”