DALLAS — Few teams were playing better than Baylor at the conclusion of last season. The Bears won their final four games, averaging 48 points while knocking off then top-ranked Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
A poor start prevented Baylor from having a truly memorable year, but the Bears enter the upcoming season with high expectations. They were picked to finish fifth in the media’s preseason Big 12 poll and received two first-place votes. Along with preseason Player of the Year Lache Seastrunk, who boldly considers himself a Heisman Trophy contender, the Bears were one of the most intriguing teams on Tuesday at Big 12 media days.
Then they showed up with fancy new helmets — gold chrome ones that reflect light like mirrors — and everyone’s focus shifted.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Baylor coach Art Briles said while pointing at one of the helmets. “You got style, you got attitude, you got effort. You have an image, and our image is we’re going to play fast, we’re going to be fearless, and we’re not going to worry about what other people think, because we know who we are and we know what we’re going to do.
“So the new uniforms and all that stuff, it’s tied in with presenting the image that we are at Baylor, and that’s being really good football players and really good students at a really good university.”
Things certainly are looking up for Baylor right now. They have momentum, new uniforms, a new stadium on the way and an explosive offense. Seastrunk is one of the top running backs in the nation and Tevin Reese has breakout potential at receiver.
The Bears will be breaking in new quarterback Bryce Petty, but the junior seems ready to wear that shiny new helmet.
“His expectations are to win every game,” Briles said, “and be the best quarterback in the United States of America.”
No huddle, no apology — Alabama coach Nick Saban has been an outspoken critic of fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Saban has cited player safety, and last season he offered a pretty simple — if vague — appeal for change.
“I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking is this what we want football to be,” Saban said.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who uses a breakneck offense with the Mountaineers, fired back on Tuesday at Big 12 media day.
“Yeah, I’d tell him to get over it because it’s not going to change,” said Holgorsen, who also helped pioneer the spread offense as an assistant under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. “It’s going into the NFL, for crying out loud. There’s people being hired in the NFL that have the background in college football to be able to create a little bit more parity.
“[I] don’t see it changing any time soon. So you’d better learn to adapt to it.”
Explaining the targeting rule — It wasn’t quite the Zapruder film that Walt Anderson showed the media on Tuesday morning. But it was a video presentation that was certainly dissected and second-guessed.
Anderson, the Big 12’s coordinator of officials, attempted to clarify the new targeting rules that are being implemented into college football. As part of the new rules, officials have the discretion to eject players that are whistled for “targeting”, a word that encompasses a handful of movements and football plays.
“What we’re really trying to do,” Anderson said, “is change certain types of behavior out on the football field to the extent possible with a contact sport and avoid unnecessary hits to the head.’’
Anderson said officials have been taught to view targeting in four categories: A Launch, where players leave their feet and move upwards toward an offensive player; a Thrust, which is similar but does not involve a player leaving his feet; a Strike, where a player uses his forearm or shoulder to intentionally deliver a blow to the head; and a Crown of the helmet hit, where a player lowers his head and uses his helmet to deliver a blow.
The push for stricter rules has intensified in recent years as research and studies into concussions have shown the potential dangers and long-term risks of head injuries.
“The game is certainly, from the standpoint of focus and attention, is somewhat under attack now,” Anderson said. “As you will see with some plays, probably rightfully so. It’s those types of unnecessary hits to the head that are clearly avoidable that really create the biggest problem.”
Punting a priority — Iowa State was nearly a unanimous pick to finish ninth in the preseason Big 12 media poll, so the Cyclones obviously lack talent compared to the league favorites.
With standout linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott out of eligibility, this might finally be the year Paul Rhoads fails to keep the Cyclones in contention for a bowl game.
But the Cyclones will have an advantage over most opponents at one position — punter.
Senior punter Kirby Van Der Kamp, who has a career average of 42.8 yards and pinned teams within their own 20-yard line 29 times last season, is one of the top punters in the nation. He was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist last season and could win the honor this year.
“We believe we’ve got the best punter in college football, Kirby Van Der Kamp,” Rhoads said. “If you really analyze him and what he’s done, pinning people inside the 20 with a very small amount of touchbacks. Simply stated, I think he’s the best there is in college football.”