Big 12 Football: Dark Horse Teams That Could Shake Up the Big 12

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2013

Big 12 Football: Dark Horse Teams That Could Shake Up the Big 12

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    Heading into the 2013 season, there are several dark-horse teams in the Big 12 that could cause some chaos to the traditionally top-tier teams in the conference. 

    Coming off a red-hot finish to the 2012 season, the Baylor Bears could conceivably be the team to beat despite having a new signal-caller at the reigns. 

    Then teams like the Kansas Jayhawks, while they won't compete for the title, could play spoiler as they continue to build the program back up. 

    With that said, here are the dark-horse teams to look out for in the 2013 season.

Baylor Bears

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    Last season, the Baylor Bears ended as arguably the hottest team in the entire nation. And that was after starting just 4-5. 

    It started with a win over the Kansas State Wildcats, who at the time were the top ranked team in the BCS and just two wins away from going to the national title game. 

    The team then rattled off three straight wins to end the season against Texas Tech, then-No. 23 Oklahoma State and UCLA, with the latter being in the Holiday Bowl.

    Statistically, the Bears were one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country. They finished fourth in the country in scoring (44.5 points per game) and fourth in passing. 

    But after two years of a prolific passing attack behind quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, the primary offensive threat in 2013 will be running back Lache Seastrunk. 

    Seastrunk's coming out party came against the Wildcats, where he rattled off 185 yards on just 19 carries. He finished the 2012 season with 1,012 yards rushing. 

    Much of the success in Waco will ride on whether upcoming quarterback Bryce Petty will be able to grasp the fast-paced offense or not. With three non-conference games against Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, Petty will have time to grasp the offense without too big a risk of losing a game. 

    Defensively, the Bears were awful last year and everybody knew it. They gave up over 37 points per game, which ranked 113th in the country. But with seven starters coming back on that unit, you have to think that a year of experience will make a huge difference. 

    This could finally be the year that the Bears make that next step forward and hoist up a Big 12 title, something that RGIII and Nick Florence couldn't do. 

Kansas Jayhawks

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    If there's any team that's poised to play spoiler in the Big 12 in 2013, it's the Kansas Jayhawks. They haven't won a game in Big 12 play since 2010, and you better believe that will change this season as Charlie Weis enters his second year of rebuilding. 

    Last season, the Jayhawks came oh so close to upsetting Texas and Texas Tech. A last-minute drive by the Longhorns after Mack Brown yanked starter David Ash and put in Case McCoy saved Texas, while the Red Raiders put away the Jayhawks in overtime. 

    While it's simply hard to believe that the Jayhawks will go three straight seasons without winning even a single game in conference play, there are concrete signs that things are turning around in Lawrence. 

    One of the biggest announcements this offseason from Weis came in late May, when it was revealed that Kansas landed transfer wide receiver Nick Harwell, the NCAA's second-leading receiver in 2011. Because of the graduate-transfer rule, according to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, Harwell will be eligible to play immediately. 

    Don't expect the Jayhawks to be competing for a title or anything. Or to even have a winning record. Or a .500 record. Or even a decent losing record. 

    But, you can expect them to spoil a Big 12 team's season in 2013 with a huge upset. Maybe even two. 

Kansas State Wildcats

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    While it's hard to imagine that the reigning Big 12 champions would have to play a dark-horse role the following season, the Kansas State Wildcats may have to. 

    With so many starters leaving the team, including 10 departures on defense and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, the Wildcats have some rebuilding to do in 2013. 

    But what coach in the entire country is better at building a program back up after losses than Bill Snyder? (The answer is nobody, by the way). 

    The Wildcats have quality players on offense, including running back John Hubert. Kansas State also has one of the best offensive lines in college football and has five starters returning from that group. 

    The big question mark this offseason in Manhattan is how to replace Klein. 

    Currently, last year's backup and redshirt sophomore Daniel Sams and Jake Waters, a junior college pickup, are battling it out for the starting job. At the spring game, both guys looked impressive, but neither stood out as better than the other. 

    The consensus is that, with all due respect to Klein, both Sams and Waters can throw the ball better than Klein. 

    That will open up a lot of different options for Snyder and his offense, which already has quality receivers in Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. 

    For the past two seasons, Kansas State was one of just two teams in the country to start off 6-0, with the other being Alabama. So expect the Wildcats to come out hot again in 2013. 

    And you'll never out-coach Snyder. He'll always give the Wildcats a chance to win. Expect this team to be extremely competitive in 2013. 

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    There's a new sheriff in Lubbock, Texas, and his name is Kliff Kingsbury. 

    One of the all-time greats to ever set foot on the gridiron for the Texas Tech Red Raiders is now running the show on the sidelines. And with the Red Raiders anxious to take a step forward in the Big 12, you better believe that Kingsbury won't pull any punches his first season. 

    The task at hand won't be easy, though, for the new head coach. His first assignment will be replacing Seth Doege, one of the best quarterbacks in the program's history. 

    Michael Brewer is the projected starter right now, per David Ubben of ESPN. But whoever takes over at QB will have an easy target in Eric Ward. 

    Ward is one of the best receivers in the nation after hauling in 82 passes for 1,053 yards and 12 scores last year. He'll certainly make the new quarterback's job much easier. 

    While defense isn't much of a specialty in Lubbock, that could change under Kingsbury. And with eight starters returning on that unit, the Red Raiders defense could be one of the best in the conference. 

    Over the past few seasons, ever since Mike Leach was the coach, the Red Raiders have had one of the best passing attacks in the country and can put up points in a hurry. Don't expect that to change with the new head coach. 

    Anytime you have an offense that can score the way the Red Raiders do, the ceiling is always high. With 13 returners on the team and an anxious new head coach, expect Texas Tech to surprise a few people in 2013 and possibly finish as one of the top teams in the Big 12.