BY MICHAEL LEESE
I expect Big things from the Big 12 this season! All 10 teams feature quarterbacks with experience, and that should improve the reputation of the conference, which has taken a hit the last few years. Oklahoma has been the one consistent team in the league, with four double-digit win seasons in a row.Baylor brought a spotlight to the conference the last three seasons, going 29-10, and featuring a Heisman Trophy winner. But perennial power Texas has failed to record a double digit win season since 2009, and in the last three years, the conference has lost Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri to other conferences. But this year could be special. Baylor’s Bryce Petty is an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and many forecasters have Oklahoma and Baylor making College Playoff bowl games.
BAYLOR The success of the Baylor football program over the last few years has been amazing. In 2008, Art Briles took over a team that had been pretty much a doormat. His high-flying offense and his ability to develop a quarterback has put Baylor on the football map! This year, the Bears will open a new stadium on campus. Quarterback Bryce Petty has the keys to the Bear offense and he will welcome back plenty of firepower. Six of the top seven receivers return, along with a stable of solid running backs. The only question mark on offense is the front wall as only two starters return. Last year the Baylor defense also played a large role in the team’s success. This season that unit takes a big hit with the loss of seven starters. I think it will be tough for the Bears to overcome those losses. The schedule is favorable, I see the Bears starting 8-0!
IOWA STATE The Cyclones enter the 2014 season with high expectations. Head coach Paul Rhodes welcomes back ten offensive starters including quarterback Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. The entire offensive line returns as does Running Back Aaron Wimberly who is primed for a 1,000 yard season. Overall I see dramatic improvement over last years 24.8 PPG. There is work to be done on the defensive side of the ball, but solid recruiting on that side should start to pay off now. I think a win over Iowa and an upset or two in conference play is on the horizon. The Cyclones should be going bowling this season.
KANSAS Charlie Weis was brought in three years ago to turn around a program that had been floundering, going 5-19 in Turner Gill’s two years at the helm. The result have been even worse, as the Jayhawks have gone 4-20 since Weis arrived. This is a “make it or break it” year for Weis. He has his most experienced team with 17 starters returning! Nine starters return on defense which could be the strength of the team. Even with all of the experience, I believe the Jayhawks are still in rebuilding mode and will struggle again this year.
KANSAS STATE The Wildcats’ schedule is very tough, as they host Auburn in a non-conference game and travel to Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU in league play. Jake Waters returns at quarterback after having a solid season both running and throwing the pigskin. Super Receiver Tyler Lockett returns and should be an All-American. But the loss of the top two rushers in John Hubert and Daniel Sams will be difficult to overcome, and the defense also took a major hit in the front seven. Kansas State relies heavily on JUCO recruits and Coach Bill Snyder has gone to the well one more time as his top four recruits all played at that level last year, and all four figure to gain starting berths. But I just love what Snyder does as a head coach, and I predict the Wildcats get to their fifth straight bowl!
OKLAHOMA Bob Stoops returns for his 16th season walking the sidelines. He brings back nine defensive starters from a team team that allowed only 22.1 PPG last season. On offense, Trevor Knight took control down the stretch last year and now comes to fall camp with a firm grasp of the offense! I am concerned about the loss of a couple of top notch receivers, but feel that Duron Neal and Derrick Woods should be high impact newcomers! It seems the Sooners always find a way to lose a game they shouldn’t. This year, I believe that with the returning players and soft schedule, the stars will align. They host Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. The toughest road game appears to be a battle at Texas Tech in November. Look for the Sooners to be part of the College Football Playoff.
OKLAHOMA STATE The Cowboys have had double digit win season in three of the past four years. But after last season, the Cowboys lost an amazing 32 lettermen! They have only eight returning starters and face a schedule that is brutal. They open the season against No. 1 Florida State, and have road games at TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma. Mike Gundy is a solid, veteran coach who will surely get the most of this bunch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a six win season and a bowl invite. I just have to call this a rebuilding year in Stillwater!
TCU Since Texas Christian joined the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have struggled to a 6-12 conference record. This year will be different, as 16 starters return, eight on each side of the ball. Matt Joeckel a Texas A&M transfer should beat out Trevone Boykin at quarterback, and the skill positions are loaded with high quality athletes. The defense looks to be loaded as eight of the top nine tacklers return. I expect much more production on both sides of the ball. The Frogs should go 3-0 in non-conference and face both Oklahoma and Kansas State at home. Look for a big turnaround over last seasons 4-8 mark!
TEXAS Charlie Strong comes to town from Louisville where the Cardinals went 23-3 the last two seasons. Known as an outstanding recruiter and motivator, he’ll need to bring both to the table in his first year. He has already cleaned house, dismissing several players to this point! The defense could be among the leagues best as eight starters return. It’s worth noting that a couple of suspended players are performers in the secondary. David Ash returns under center and will have a very deep and talented corp of running backs to carry the load. I look for Malcolm Brown to have a breakout season! Jaxon Shipley the leading receiver has been plagued by injuries in the spring and fall camps. If he is out for an extended period, that could hurt the passing game. Too many questions need to be answered for me to get on the Longhorns band wagon,, but I could see them winning as many as nine games.
TEXAS TECH Kliff Kingsbury was a miracle-maker in his inaugural year as head coach last season. The Red Raiders jumped out to a 7-0 mark and a No. 10 ranking, before they hit the skids down the stretch. The Red Raiders bounced back with an impressive bowl win over Arizona State. The offense was powerful and nine starters return including Davis Webb, who was the key component under center last year. They do lose Tight End Jace Amaro who had an amazing season and has taken his talent to the NFL. The defense remains a major concern! Gone are seven starters from a team that surrendered big yards and 30.5 PPG. I see the Red Raiders getting an upset or two and losing games they shouldn’t.
WEST VIRGINIA Prior to last season the Mountaineers had 11 straight winning seasons. The loss of Quarterback Geno Smith proved to be huge, as the Mounties didn’t have an answer, with three different quarterbacks struggling. Clint Trickett was named starter and he did throw for seven touchdowns last season. The Mounties also welcome Running Back Rushel Shell, a transfer from Pitt, where he had 851 yards as a true freshman before sitting out last season. The top three receivers return, so the offense should improve over last seasons output. The defense should also be better led by a strong linebacking corp. The problem is a very tough schedule. The Mounties open up with Alabama and face Maryland in non-conference, and have four tough road games in league play.
How they’ll finish
- OKLAHOMA 12-0 9-0
- BAYLOR 10-2 7-2
- TCU 8-4 5-4
- KANSAS STATE 7-5 4-5
- TEXAS TECH 7-5 4-5
- TEXAS 6-6 4-5
- OKLAHOMA STATE 6-6 4-5
- IOWA STATE 6-6 3-6
- WEST VIRGINIA 2-10 1-8
- KANSAS 2-10 0-9