The Big 12 was up and down last year, but the conference is expected to bounce back with a stronger campaign this season.
It was hard to tell whether the offenses were really good or the defenses were really bad in 2012. Only 10 teams play in the Big 12, but of those 10, seven finished top-25 nationally in points per game.
Stats like that are sometimes misleading, inflating the numbers of certain athletes past what their skill truly reflects. Meanwhile, as in any conference, a number find themselves on the other side of the spectrum, hopelessly undervalued by fans and media alike.
Here's a look at three overrated and underrated Big 12 players in 2013:
Texas enters 2013 with high hopes, delusions of program-restorative grandeur. According to Phil Steele, they are the most experienced squad in college football, and Steele himself projects them as America's fourth-best team.
The defense will be better and the offense is loaded—both up front and at the skill positions. But still, until David Ash proves he can be a true No. 1 quarterback, the Longhorns cannot relive their glory days in 2013.
Though recruited like a true No. 1, and often treated like a true No. 1, David Ash has never quite translated his reputation to the field. At least not in substantive doses.
His final numbers looked OK last season (2,699 yards, 18 touchdowns, 153.3 rating), but his good games were offset by too many poor performances. Great college quarterbacks, the kind who lead their teams to BCS bowl games, don't post three stinkers like this in one season:
There have been questions, too, about his disposition, about whether or not he's vocal enough to properly lead a team. Between that and that crippling inconsistency, the bad might outweigh the good for Ash, who must improve greatly to get this team where it wants to go.
Just because Casey Pachall isn't poorly rated doesn't mean he can't be underrated. People think highly of the troubled TCU signal-caller, just not as much as they should.
He earned his way off of the team in 2012 after getting arrested for a DUI in October. But Pachall took responsibility for his off-field issues, dis-enrolling from school and seeking some guidance for his problems. Now he's back with a vengeance, and those who are sleeping on TCU's offense could be in store for a massive wake-up call.
His career passing efficiency of 163.1 is the highest among active college quarterbacks, above even Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and two-time national champion A.J. McCarron. In June, CBS Sports polled a panel of FBS coaches, looking for players whom they considered underrated. Here's what an opposing coach said of Pachall:
Very talented, good athlete, good thrower, helluva competitor. The competitor part, he's kind of like Collin Klein, who's not fastest in the world, not a great thrower, but a helluva competitor. Loves to play. Pachall is similar…If he's truly out of the doghouse, he's as good as anybody in our conference.
In his first career start, Pachall completed 64 percent of his passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. He was the second-best quarterback on the field that day but went toe-to-toe with his counterpart, playing him to a near draw in a 50-48 loss.
That man was Robert Griffin III, a man who has enjoyed his fair share of success in the subsequent two years. Pachall took a disparate path, but if he has truly reformed himself in 2013, there's no reason he can't find redemption.
Williams is being hailed as an All-American candidate after gaining 1,266 yards from scrimmage in 2012. But while those statistics aren't undeserved, per se, they might be slightly misleading.
After transferring to Norman from Arizona Western College (JUCO), Williams had to fight his way past Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay on the Sooners depth chart. But in time, he endeared himself to head coach Bob Stoops, especially with his big frame and ability to help as a pass-blocker.
But therein lies the deception of Williams' talent. He's really only a threat on passing downs, which makes him a good fit in Oklahoma's system but a tad overrated as a player and prospect.
According to Football Outsiders' S&P rankings, Oklahoma was the seventh-best team in college football on passing downs last year. (Passing downs being defined as: second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go.) By contrast, the Sooners were just 43rd in the nation on standard downs, below the likes of Army, California and Central Florida.
No other team among the top 22 offenses had a lower efficiency on standard downs, the snaps where your running back is of utmost importance. Those are the downs where a running back is supposed to move the chains, to keep you from needing a passing down to begin with. Williams did not prove to be that guy.
There's also the issue of competition. Williams only topped 50 rushing yards in just six games last year, and all but one of those (at TCU) came against sub-quality defenses. UTEP and Florida A&M are small-conference schools, while Texas, Baylor and West Virginia allowed an average of 177 rushing yards per game.
Williams is a serviceable halfback in a system tailored to his strengths. But an All-America candidate he is not.
Tyler Lockett was a bit underused as a receiver last season, but he found a way to make his presence felt nonetheless. He averaged an NCAA-best 32.8 yards on kickoff returns, taking two back for touchdowns, including one from 100 yards out.
He still managed to contribute in the passing game, too, catching 44 passes for 687 yards. That rounds out to an average of 15.6 yards per catch, seventh in the Big 12 last season and sixth among players returning in 2013.
With the loss of Collin Klein as a do-it-all threat under center, Lockett will be counted on to become an even bigger part of the offense. His 44 receptions last year were good for a man of his role, size and stature, but he'll be expected to improve upon those numbers in a big way.
If his juggling catch from the Wildcats' spring game be any indication, Lockett is poised for a breakout year, both locally and on a national stage.
Hager led the Big 12 with 124 total tackles last year, and he did so as a sophomore to boot. A classic overachiever who makes the most of limited physical tools, it's hard not to applaud him for becoming a serviceable college linebacker.
But that's just the thing. Hager does have limited physical tools, and at times he—like the rest of Baylor's defense—is exploited because of it. There's a reason he was barely recruited coming out of high school, there's a reason he couldn't get on the field as a redshirt freshman and there's a reason Baylor's defense, even with Hager's gaudy tackle numbers, wasn't any good in 2012.
Those impressive stats are partly a product of Hager's ability, but they are also a product of the limited skill around him. Someone has to bring down opposing ball-carriers, and on a defense as passive and exploitable as Baylor's, Hager is sometimes just the man cleaning up the mess.
He isn't a bad linebacker by any stretch of the imagination. But Hager's defense ranked second-to-last nationally—again: nationally—in total defense last year, and he's still being talked about as an All-American candidate. That makes him (at least) a little bit overvalued.
Jason Verrett gets most of the love in TCU's secondary, and Elisha Olabode usually takes all the residual credit when he's done. It's hard to call that an injustice—both men are highly deserving of the praise—but it often causes the Horned Frogs' other defensive backs to go overlooked.
Chief among them is strong safety Sam Carter, who enjoyed a magnificent sophomore year in 2012. His stats rang true across the board: 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 13 passes defended, three sacks, three interceptions and one fumble forced.
Carter is a do-it-all safety on a unit so good that not much needs to be done. He'll never lock down opposing receivers like Verrett, and he might not return interceptions to the house like Olabode. But Carter is every bit the vital cog as his peers, and he's a big reason TCU's secondary is considered the best in America.