Big 12 Preview
The SEC is the nastiest top-to-bottom league in college football – Kentucky isn’t all that bad – but with the bottom improving, the Big 12 might be able to turn this transitional phase into a wild and crazy season full of crazy twists and turns.
At the very least, it should be as unpredictable as 2012.
Even if you saw Kansas State coming as a possible BCS title contender, and even if you picked Baylor to upset the Wildcats on November 17th, no one could’ve foreseen a 52-24 whomping with 580 yards of Bear offense.
Even if you thought Oklahoma was going to beat Texas, 63-21? How about TCU over Texas or, after West Virginia lit up Baylor and Texas, Texas Tech holding Geno Smith and the boys in check in a 49-14 Red Raider victory?
Oklahoma State struggled one week in a 20-14 win over Kansas, and the next week it ramped things up with 625 yards in the win over an Iowa State team that bounced back to thump Baylor in a shootout a week later.
This season could be even more fun on a week-to-week basis considering Texas, and, sort of, Iowa State, are the only two teams in the league returning their starting quarterbacks, and with so much uncertainty all across the league.
Kansas should be more entertaining with all the returning experience, and Iowa State is always Iowa State with the ability to rise up and shock a team or two on the way to a bowl game. West Virginia is revamping and reloading, but it’s still going to put up huge numbers in shootout after shootout.
And those are the likely weak links in the chain.
From Texas Tech’s new, young coaching staff to Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback situation, and from the Oklahoma offense to the Baylor defense, there’s lots of question marks and plenty of concerns, but overall the level of play should be even higher for the conference that’s been closer than any other over the last few years to challenge the SEC’s BCS championship dominance.
Kansas State would’ve played Notre Dame for the national title had it not melted down against Baylor, and Oklahoma State probably should’ve faced LSU for the 2011 championship. Throw in Texas in the 2010 loss to Alabama and Oklahoma in the 2009 loss to the Florida Tebows and the Big 12 has been really, really close to the pin in four of the last five seasons.
Can a loaded Texas team give the conference its first national title since Vince Young finished the drill in 2005? Will Oklahoma ramp up the offense again and be more consistent to get to its fifth championship game in the BCS era? Can Kansas State go on without Collin Klein, or will Oklahoma State get back to the level of two seasons ago?
2014 should be phenomenal for the Big 12, but 2013 will be pretty amazing, too.
Team That'll Surprise
Kansas – With a ton of returning experience, running back James Sims, and an improved quarterback situation with former BYU superstar recruit Jake Heaps about to take over, the Jayhawks should be even more competitive in the second season under Charlie Weis. While going 1-11 with the lone win over South Dakota State is hardly a positive, five of the losses came by a touchdown or less with painfully close defeats to Texas and Texas Tech that should’ve gone the other way. KU will win a few of those this season.
Team That'll Disappoint
Oklahoma – Just when you think the Sooners have put it all back together and are on the verge of something BCS championship special, out will come the inexplicable gaffe. OU has the talent, athleticism and pop to beat Texas, win at Notre Dame, and potentially start out the year 10-0, but late road games at Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State could ruin the fun just as the title talk starts to kick in.
Game of the Year
Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 12 – Oklahoma State should be really, really good, Kansas State will be strong again, and anyone in the league can beat anyone else at any time, but the Longhorns and Sooners are the stars of the conference. Texas will already be in for a fun first part of the season with a road trip to BYU and home games against Kansas State and Ole Miss to deal with, while Oklahoma will be in some wild and crazy shootouts against ULM, West Virginia and Tulsa to go along with showdowns against Notre Dame and TCU. After last year’s 63-21 debacle, this could be a make-or-break moment for the Mack Brown era.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. RB James Sims, Sr. Kansas
2. WR/KR Tyler Lockett, Jr. Kansas State
3. WR/KR Josh Stewart, Jr. Oklahoma State
4. C Gabe Ikard, Sr. Oklahoma
5. CB Jason Verrett, Sr. TCU
Coach on the Hot Seat
Mack Brown, Texas – Imagine this. If you win nine games, it’s probably not enough to keep your job. Even more unrealistic, it’s probably not good enough for some fans to go 10-2 if those two losses are to Oklahoma and TCU. Last year Texas went 9-4 with an excellent Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State – a terrific season by almost any reasonable standard – but it wasn’t good enough considering it’s Texas. Brown revived the monster, and now he’s being eaten up by it.
5 Games the Big 12 had better take very, very seriously
1. Texas at BYU, Sept. 7
2. ULM at Oklahoma, Aug. 31
3. Louisiana at Kansas State, Sept. 7
4. Kansas at Rice, Sept. 14
5. SMU at TCU, Sept. 28
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Sr. Texas
2. OG Cyril Richardson, Sr. Baylor
3. CB Jason Verrett, Sr. TCU
4. QB Casey Pachall, Sr. TCU
5. C Gabe Ikard, Sr. Oklahoma
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Kansas State QB Jake Waters or Daniel Sams for Collin Klein
2. West Virginia QB Paul Millard or Ford Childress or Clint Trickett for Geno Smith
3. Baylor QB Bryce Petty for Nick Florence
4. Oklahoma QB Blake Bell for Landry Jones
5. Iowa State LB Jeremiah George for A.J. Klein
- Okay, Texas, this is it. There’s absolutely no excuse. With around 20 returning starters, depending on the alignment and special teams, as much four and five-star talent as anyone in America, and with so much uncertainty throughout the rest of the league, it’s Big 12 title or bust.
- Remember how Vince Young couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, and then, all of a sudden, he became VINCE YOUNG? David Ash won’t make the same leap up, but he’ll be more consistent and more of a playmaker. If Texas makes a run to the BCS championship – or get close – it’ll be because Ash is more consistent.
- That, and the run defense has to hold up against anyone who even thinks about running the ball. The return of injured linebacker Jordan Hicks and end Jackson Jeffcoat will make a huge difference.
- All that can be reasonably asked of any BCS conference team is one non-conference game against another BCS conference team, though the AAC sort of shouldn’t count. Iowa State plays Iowa, Oklahoma faces Notre Dame (obviously not from a BCS league, but whatever), Oklahoma State plays Mississippi State, Texas plays Ole Miss, TCU plays LSU and West Virginia goes to Maryland. Okay, so SMU is technically a BCS conference team now, but come on, Texas Tech. Baylor is really stretching its legs against Wofford, Buffalo and ULM, while Kansas State’s nastiest non-conference game is Louisiana and Kansas faces Louisiana Tech and Rice.
- There is no real wrong answer for Oklahoma State at quarterback. The defense will be under the microscope to merely be decent, but the key stat to care about overall will be turnover margin. Above all else, being No. 1 in the nation in the stat was the key to the great run in 2011. The D might have been bombed on, but it made up for the problems with takeaways.
- Oklahoma might be really scary, really fast. Running back Damien Williams is in for a gigantic season, and Blake Bell will prove to be more than just the Belldozer.
- However, it could be nice if the Sooner defense could get into the backfield once in a while.
- There might not be a more fun team in college football than Baylor, but that’s only because the defense gives up yards and points as quickly as the offense can crank them out. Let’s just take a wee bit of a wait-and-see attitude on that D that’s supposed to be far stronger.
- Quarterback Daniel Sams, if it is Daniel Sams, will be every bit as effective as Collin Klein was for Kansas State. Go ahead and underestimate this team again.
- TCU quarterback Casey Pachall will quickly rise up the NFL draft charts. The past problems will be spun into a character-building positive going forward, and his 6-5, 230-pound size, mobility and starter-quarterback attitude will do the rest.
- Everyone in Lubbock is doing handsprings over new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, but at the end of the day, the Tommy Tuberville run wasn’t all that bad considering the tough situation he walked into.
- Tuberville won exactly as many Big 12 titles at Texas Tech as Mike Leach did.
- Iowa State has to at least split in tough early games against Iowa and at Tulsa, or the season might be over. The Cyclones will come up with an upset or two, but it’ll be a tall order to go 5-4 or better in conference play.
- West Virginia will thrive without the weight of any expectations. The offense is going to work and the defense won’t be quite the disaster many think it’ll be.
- It has to keep being reiterated. Kansas is going to be better – it has a real, live passing quarterback in Jake Heaps – and it lost to Rice by one last year, at Northern Illinois by seven, to Oklahoma State by six, to Texas by four and to Texas Tech by seven in double overtime. Everyone in the Big 12 mentally penciling in a win against the Jayhawks could be in trouble.