The quarterback is usually the face of a football team. During conference media days, those faces are often difficult to find.
No Christian Hackenberg for Penn State. No Deshaun Watson for Clemson. No Anu Solomon for Arizona. Neither Cardale Jones nor J.T. Barrett for Ohio State.
Cautious coaches tend to lean toward rewarding upperclassmen with a trip to media day – even if that means leaving the quarterback behind. Part of the reason is that experienced seniors can be relied upon to stay on message.
”If we were just going to bring guys that maybe people think we should, then a lot of times, it’s unfair to the veteran players,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said at Big 12 media days.
College football’s media day madness hits the home stretch this week when the Big Ten and Pac-12 hold their preseason talkfests on Thursday and Friday. The American Athletic Conference is the last FBS league to go early next week.
At the Big Ten’s two-day event with 14 teams, five quarterbacks are scheduled to attend, but neither of the QBs who helped lead the Buckeyes win a national title will be there. Nor will Hackenberg, a junior and two-year starter who seems destined to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
As media days become made-for-TV events for conference networks, having the star quarterbacks appear is helpful to create a more intriguing show, but there’s nothing television executives can do to influence coaches’ decisions.
”We look at is as long as we have the head coaches, which we think are vital, we tend to gravitate towards them to get as much content as we can,” Big Ten Network executive producer Mark Hulsey said.
There is time to fill: The Big Ten tweaked its media day format this year, splitting the schools into two groups that will be available either Thursday or Friday, a move that makes it more TV-friendly. The Southeastern Conference expanded to a four-day format with the start of its network.
There are only three quarterbacks scheduled to attend the Pac-12 event in suburban Los Angeles. The Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 had a combined 14 quarterbacks at media days for 38 schools – little more than a third.
A dearth of solid returning starters is holding the number down.
In the Big 12, where only three quarterbacks attended media days, most teams will enter preseason with either a quarterback competition or a No. 1 with less than a season’s worth of starts. Oklahoma State sophomore Mason Rudolph, Baylor junior Seth Russell and West Virginia junior Skyler Howard are among the quarterbacks in the Big 12 who are stepping into the spotlight this season – even though they were shielded from it at media day.
”If things go well for Mason, he’ll get his time here,” Gundy said.
Same goes for Watson and Solomon, a couple of fast-rising sophomores.
Baylor coach Art Briles said picking who gets to go to media days is ”all about production,” and it is not as if he is hiding Russell from media attention.
”He’s going to be out there anyway,” Briles said. ”Just by his position, he’s going to get all he needs.”
Briles said he is not trying to keep Russell humble as much as he wants his players to understand they have to earn the perks.
On the flip side, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson is in a similar situation to Russell. The junior has lots of experience as a backup and big things are expected of him. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn broke the trend and brought Johnson to for SEC media days.
”It’s been a great blessing to be here,” Johnson said. ”It goes to show the coaches and players have great confidence in me.”
For some coaches, media day is a way to establish – or affirm – which players are the team’s leaders.
Wake Forest sophomore quarterback John Wolford, who started all 12 games last year as a freshman, was not among the players second-year coach Dave Clawson brought to Atlantic Coast Conference media days. Clawson, whose team has few seniors, took a couple of fifth-year seniors in linebacker Brandon Chubb and punter Alex Kinal.
”Brandon Chubb, how hard did he play last year? That kid’s a great representative. And he’s doing great academically. And he’s tried to be a great leader in our program,” Clawson said.
When the American Athletic Conference holds its annual clam bake and media day in Newport, Rhode Island, next week, Temple quarterback P.J. Walker won’t be among the Owls in attendance. Walker was in Newport as a sophomore last season when Temple coach Matt Rhule had few senior starters and wanted to showcase the future of his program.
This season there are more upperclassmen, and Rhule decided to lessen the load on Walker.
”We’ve made a conscious decision with P.J. to kind of pull back,” Rhule said. ”I really want him to focus on just doing his job. Playing football.”
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Schuyler Dixon in Dallas and John Zenor in Hoover, Alabama, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP