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Big 12 coaches focusing on games after uncertain offseason with A&M departure expected soon
After another uncertain offseason for the Big 12, there is finally some talk about playing actual games.
At least from the coaches.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville know there will be plenty of attention given to the future of the Big 12, which was hit this month with word that No. 8 Texas A&M is exploring a jump to the Southeastern Conference.
All that before the league plays its first games since Nebraska and Colorado left in July.
"I'm excited that we're starting so we can kind of get all this behind us," Tuberville said Monday. "Of course, there's going to be rumors and things flying around as we go through this season. For our players, especially for our seniors on every team in the conference, hopefully we can get down to business and enjoy the game of football."
All 10 league teams play their season openers this weekend at home. The last opener is Texas A&M's game Sunday against SMU, a team whose athletic director has publicly expressed an interest in becoming a Big 12 member.
The Big 12's first game this season is Friday night when Baylor, coming off its first winning season since 1995, plays No. 14 TCU, the defending Rose Bowl champ that has won 25 consecutive regular-season games. No. 1 Oklahoma goes against instate rival Tulsa and Texas Tech plays Texas State, which is making the transition from FCS to FBS.
Texas A&M could formally announce as early as this week that it is leaving the Big 12, though that wouldn't affect the Aggies' schedule this season.
"Well, changes are probably inevitable no matter who you are or what league you're in. Everybody's constantly looking for a different way to do something, so that's OK," Stoops said during the Big 12's first coaches' teleconference of the season. "The rest of us, we're going about our business, working hard and getting ready to play this week."
Even Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman insisted that his focus is on the upcoming season in the Big 12, not where the Aggies might be playing in the future.
Last week, Texas A&M formally informed Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe that the Aggies were considering all their options. The league's board of directors has since discussed the expected departure.
"Things happen. We can only control what we control and that's how we've prepared for the season," Sherman said. "We have a bunch of seniors on this team that will never play in that conference, and they really at this point could care less. They're concerned about winning this season, as are the rest of the guys on this team.
Sherman said the Aggies (9-4 last season) have developed of mentality "to live in the present and don't worry about that stuff." They are among the Big 12 favorites this season.
Texas A&M is one of only four FCS teams returning a 1,000-yard passer (Ryan Tannehill), a 1,000-yard rusher (Cyrus Gray) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Jeff Fuler).
Before a loss to SEC front-runner LSU in the Cotton Bowl in January, the Aggies had a six-game winning streak. They were also the first Big 12 team to beat Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas in the same season ' and did it over a span of only 19 days.
Longtime Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, going into the third season of his second stint with the Wildcats, was also there in the mid-1990s when the Big Eight Conference merged with some of the Southwest Conference members to form the Big 12.
Now the Big 12 is in flux for the second year in a row, and a move by Texas A&M could trigger a major shake-up in college sports.
Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) announced last year they were leaving the Big 12, which stayed together as a 10-team league only after Texas had considered offers from the Big Ten and the Pac-10. TCU is already headed to the Big East after this school year, and BYU is playing as an independent this season.
There are few secrets these days about other possible changes.
"With the social media, I mean everything is out there, whatever it is," Snyder said. "As far as some of the other things that have taken place in college football (in the past), we just didn't have the media exposure and so maybe there's a few things that have taken place that didn't get the exposure. ... I can't think of a time with maybe as much turmoil available to the public as there is now."
Starting this weekend, there can at least be conversations about what happened on the field, who won and who lost.
Baylor has the toughest opener in the league. Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas will all be significant favorites when they play Saturday.
"Hopefully, we can get into the season and it can be about the guys on the teams that are playing and not worried about conference affiliations or NCAA infractions or (off-field) problems," Tuberville said. "We can just play football and enjoy it, and get on with life."