By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
With the conclusion of Big 12 football media days in Dallas, the big question that seemed to not get answered was who was going to be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
But, the bigger question should be whether anybody is going to show up and play defense this season.
Not surprisingly, both Gundy and Stoops bobbed-and-weaved around the starting quarterback issue. After all, these media day gatherings are typically prime territory for coach speak, offering little that is truly newsworthy.
So, we are left with OSU — picked to finish first this season by the media — going into the preseason with Gundy refusing to declare a starter, even though early in the spring he gave the nod to Enid’s Clint Chelf, only to backtrack, saying it was going to be a battle between senior Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh.
Stoops played the same noncommittal card, refusing to declare a starter between Blake Bell, whom Stoops insists can actually throw the football, sophomore Kendal Thompson or redshirt freshman Trevor Knight.
And while offense gets the attention, the defensive shortcomings of the Big 12 overall, and at OSU and OU in particular, should be the real concern.
Last season, the Cowboys allowed an average of 29.2 points per game, but if you take out that ludicrous opening day 84-0 win over woefully overmatched Savannah State, that number goes up to 30.6 points per game.
The numbers don’t look much better on the OU side of the ledger. The Sooners gave up 25.7 points per game and both teams yielded better than 350 yards per game.
Gundy opined the days of dominating defenses may be gone and any time a team is held under 25 points per game, it should be considered a good defensive showing.
Except, that is, if there is any real design of succeeding beyond winning the Big 12, such as claiming a national championship.
The SEC, and specifically, Alabama, have shown defense still is key to winning. The two-time defending champion Crimson Tide have allowed a combined 14 points in winning their two BCS titles; a 21-0 shellacking of LSU in 2012 and a 42-14 beatdown of Notre Dame in 2013. In fact, in winning seven straight BCS titles, the SEC has given up an average of 15 points per game.
If OSU is to parlay its preseason status as a Big 12 title favorite into being a national title contender, it will need to be able to stop somebody and develop a ball-hawking mentality.
When the Cowboys won the Big 12 for the first time in their history in 2011, they had 44 takeaways. Last season, they had half that number and it showed as they trudged their way to a rather disappointing 8-5 season. It cost Bill Young his job as defensive coordinator and it puts new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer — who is in his sixth season at OSU after spending the past five seasons coaching the defensive line — squarely on the hot seat.
Likewise, OU’s defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, is going to have to show the Sooners can improve on last year’s performance that saw them give up 30 or more points five times in 2012.
Wild West-style shootouts make for fun entertainment, but unless OSU and OU can corral opposing offenses, they will have to content themselves with limiting their goals to merely shooting it out for a conference title.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.