College Football: 2013 Big 12 Conference Football Predictions
The Big 12 will not have the mojo it's had over the past decade this season. There is no clear-cut BCS title contender from the conference and no one is sure who will come out with the Big 12 title.
Oklahoma State could be the front-runner with Oklahoma losing Landry Jones at quarterback and Texas not showing it’s true potential the past few seasons. The TCU Horned Frogs could even be a dark horse contender with quarterback Casey Pachall back and a talented defense.
There are so many questions surrounding the Big 12 right now, but will the nation be surprised by season’s end?
Here is how the Big 12 Conference will shape up this year:
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Prediction: 10-2, 7-2 (Tied-first in Big 12)
After winning a Big 12 Championship and reaching their first BCS Bowl game in 2011, the Cowboys went 8-5 and struggled defensively last season. This year, though, there are high expectations for Mike Gundy’s squad.
The Oklahoma State offense was explosive last season and was ranked in the Top Five in the nation in scoring (45.7 points per game) and in total yards (547.0 yards per game).
First year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich should have plenty to look forward to. The quarterback situation got interesting last season with quarterbacks Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf, all getting starts. Both Lunt and Walsh went down with injuries leaving third-stringer Chelf the last five starts of the season and a potential starting job this year. Chelf threw for 1,588 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.
The backfield loses two-time All-Big 12 running back Joseph Randall, so the responsibility lies with senior Jeremy Smith, who rushed for eight touchdowns last season. The passing game will continue to be lethal with receivers Josh Stewart, who recorded over 1,000 receiving yards last season, Blake Jackson and Charlie Moore all back. The line should also benefit with an experienced group returning.
As explosive as the offense was last season, the defense was almost quite the opposite. The Oklahoma State defense was one of the worst at defending the pass (280.0 yards per game) and gave up 28.2 points per game.
An advantage for new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is that seven starters return. The line consists of last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and James Castleman. The linebacking unit will be in good hands with seniors Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis.
The secondary must improve from last season, and will likely do so with team leading tackler senior safety Daytawion Lowe returning. Lowe had 75 tackles and two interceptions. The secondary also returns two of it’s top tacklers from last season in senior safety Shamiel Gary and cornerback Justin Gilbert.
The Cowboys open the season with a tricky game against Mississippi State in Houston, then have two easy games before heading to West Virginia on Sept. 28.
Their home games in October against Kansas State and TCU will be key to staying in the Big 12 race because from mid-November to early December it will be tough with an away game at Texas and two home games against Baylor and Oklahoma.
The season finale against Oklahoma could be what decides the Big 12 champion. Expect the Cowboys to take the Big 12 and play in their second Fiesta Bowl in three years.
Prediction: 9-3, 7-2 (Tied-first in Big 12)
Oklahoma was supposed to be a national title contender last season, but coughed up an early season game against Kansas State, which cost them the automatic Big 12 bid to the Fiesta Bowl. They still shared the conference title, but losing three games is not acceptable at Oklahoma.
For the first time in years, there are uncertainties about this Sooner team. There are questions at the quarterback position with Landry Jones gone, and the defense needs to step up after last year’s performance.
Blake Bell, also known as the Belldozer, has rushed for 24 touchdowns in two seasons in short-yardage situations, but this year we will find out if he can run the offense for an entire game and be an efficient passer. Bell should be the starter when it’s all said and done, but Trevor Knight is still in the battle as well. Kendal Thompson was a part of the three-way battle before fracturing his right foot on Thursday.
The backfield will be talented with senior running back Damien Williams, who rushed for 946 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last season, along with senior running back Brennan Clay and fullback Trey Millard.
The Sooners were the fifth best passing team in the country last year, but both of their top receivers, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, are gone. There is a lot of potential though with Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard. Up front, the line only loses starter Lane Johnson and returns potential All-American center Gabe Ikard.
The offense had to score more points to win games at the end of last season. Just four return from a Sooner defense that gave up an average of 37.8 points in its last five games. With a league that relies so much on airing it out, expect defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go with five defensive backs most of the time.
The defense will be led by All-Big 12 senior cornerback Aaron Colvin, who recorded 61 tackles and led the team with four interceptions last season. The linebacking unit only returns Corey Nelson, but the defensive line has the most questions surrounding it. There is no proven talent besides junior Chuka Ndulue, who will play tackle instead of end this season.
Sept. 28 is where the nation will find out what this Oklahoma team is made of when it travels to Notre Dame.
A fourth straight win over Texas on Oct. 12 should put them in good position to contend for another Big 12 title, but they will have two tricky road games at Baylor (Nov. 7) and Kansas State (Nov. 23), before playing for the conference title and a BCS Bowl bid at in-state rival Oklahoma State.
Prediction: 9-3, 6-3 (Tied-third in Big 12)
There has been improvement since uncharacteristically going 5-7 in 2010. This is the year where Mack Brown and company need to finally compete at the national level and contend for a Big 12 title. There are no more excuses in Austin with 19 returning starters and the most experienced quarterback in the conference coming back.
The Longhorn offense averaged 35.7 points per game last season and was just average in a score heavy Big 12. Texas lost co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Arkansas State, so former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite will now take over and implement a no-huddle, fast-paced, spread offense.
This is junior quarterback David Ash's year to finally shine.
Ash is 10-3 as a starter, but has shown inconsistency. He struggled in three games last season, which included games against Oklahoma, Kansas and TCU. Ash still had a decent season, though, as he passed for 2,699 yards and led his team to a comeback win in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State.
With high expectations from Ash this season, a receiving corps consisting of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley should thrive. The running game returns sophomore Johnathan Gray, who rushed for 701 yards and three touchdowns last season, and junior Malcolm Brown. The best part of the offense may be its offensive line, where all five starters are back, including senior left guard Trey Hopkins.
Words can’t even describe how awful the Longhorns were on defense last season. They gave up more yards per game than any Texas Longhorn defense ever had—5,244 yards to be exact. You can assume defensive coordinator Manny Diez will have his troops improved and ready to go this season.
The line lost defensive end Alex Okafor to the NFL, but will have Jackson Jeffcoat back from a torn pectoral muscle injury, which forced him to miss the last seven games of last season.
The linebacking unit will benefit with All-Big 12 candidate Jordan Hicks returning after going down with an injury just three games into the 2012 season. The linebacking unit will also have last year’s second leading team tackler Steve Edmond, who recorded 103 tackles and five tackles for loss last season.
The secondary will miss Kenny Vaccaro, but have Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips back.
The Longhorns' non-conference games in September against BYU and Ole Miss could be difficult.
The conference opener at home against Kansas State is a biggie. The ‘Horns are 0-5 against the Cats since 2006.
Other critical midseason games will be against Oklahoma, who have beaten Texas in the past three meetings, and TCU, who upset the team at home last November.
If the Longhorns can somehow be 5-1 in Big 12 play when they host Oklahoma State on Nov. 16, they could have a chance to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2009.
TCU Horned Frogs
TCU Horned Frogs
Prediction: 8-4, 6-3 (Tied-third in Big 12)
The Horned Frogs' Big 12 debut could have been worse than a 7-6 finish. It’s unlike this TCU program to lose any more than two games a year, but starting quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested for a DWI and left the team for treatment.
There was also a lot of youth, as well as injuries that affected last year’s season. Things should change drastically this season for Gary Patterson’s squad, though.
Sophomore Travone Boykin played most of the season under center, but gunslinger Casey Pachall has returned to the program for his senior year and should play a big part in TCU’s success this season. Pachall threw for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games last season, before the incident occurred.
The running game will be stellar with senior Waymon James back after suffering a knee injury in the second game of last season, along with Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and TCU’s leading rusher from last season B.J. Catalon. Pachall will have targets LaDarius Brown, Florida transfer Ja’juan Story and Brandon Carter to pick from.
The talent of the line is a mystery at the moment.
The TCU defense was 16th in the nation last year and first in the Big 12.
Nine starters return, including 2nd team All-American cornerback Jason Verrett and strong safety Sam Carter. The secondary will be talented, along with the defensive line which returns Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Devonte Fields, who recorded 10 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last year. Fields will miss the first two games this season because of disciplinary reasons. The linebacking unit could have problems with depth.
An opening game in Arlington against LSU could be a momentum changer heading into the 2013 season. October will be brutal with away games at Oklahoma (Oct. 5) and Oklahoma State (Oct. 19), along with a home game against Texas (Oct. 26).
Chances of surviving all three games will be slim, so wins against Kansas State and Baylor in November will be necessary if they want any chance of competing for a conference title.
Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State Wildcats
Prediction: 8-4, 5-4 (Fifth in Big 12)
What does the “young” Bill Snyder have up his sleeve this season after going 21-5 in two seasons? No one could have imagined Kansas State being just one win away from playing for a national championship, as well as winning its first Big 12 title since 2003 last season.
The offense loses it’s heart and soul in Heisman finalist quarterback Collin Klein. The quarterback battle for this season is between sophomore Daniel Sams, who has speed and backed up Klein last season, and Jake Waters, a talented passer who was the NJCAA Offensive Player of the year for Iowa Western CC.
The offense returns talented senior running back John Hubert, whose rushed for a combined 1,917 yards and 18 touchdowns in his last two seasons, and dangerous receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
The offensive line may be one of the best in the country with all five starters back, including center B.J. Finney and 6'9" All-Big 12 left tackle Cornelius Lucas.
The Wildcat defense ranked first in the Big 12 last season in points per game as they only surrendered 22.1. It will be a lot more challenging this season with just two starters returning.
Third team All-American senior safety Ty Zimmerman will have to put the defense on his shoulders and make more plays than he has ever needed to. The other returning starter is junior cornerback Randall Evans, who had 76 tackles last season.
Blake Slaughter will return at linebacker after redshirting last season and the defense could benefit from junior college transfers.
Bill Snyder’s Wildcats won’t be challenged until week four when they travel to Texas. That game should give us an idea of where their season is headed.
Games at Oklahoma State and at home against Baylor in October are critical to staying in the Big 12 race. Back-to-back home games in November against TCU and Oklahoma will determine if they will play in a higher tier bowl game or not.
Prediction: 7-5, 4-5 (Sixth in Big 12)
Art Briles has changed the culture at Baylor by taking the Bears to three consecutive bowl games and having talented quarterbacks, such as Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Don’t think the Bears can sneak up on anyone anymore.
There are big shoes to fill at quarterback for redshirt junior Bryce Petty. Griffin and last year’s starter Nick Florence are both one and two in career passing yards at Baylor. Petty knows the system, but has not started a game since high school and only has 10 completions for 140 yards and one touchdown while at Baylor.
The backfield has 1,000-yard rusher junior Lache Seastrunk, who claimed he was going to win this year’s Heisman Trophy in December. Senior Glasco Martin will be in the backfield to complement Seastrunk—the dynamic duo are known as Thunder (Glasco) and Lightning (Seastrunk).
The receiving corps is led by Tevin Reese, who had almost 1,000 yards in receiving last season, and Levi Norwood.
The line suffered a major setback when right tackle Troy Baker tore his ACL in the spring. This will cause some shake-up up front, but it will still have 2nd Team All-American guard Cyril Richardson and left tackle Spencer Drango.
Baylor had the second worst defense in the country last season, as it gave up 502.2 yards per game. Teams also put up 37.2 points per game on the Bears defense as well. How can anyone forget their game against West Virginia when they lost 70-63 and gave up a school-record 807 yards last season? There should be improvement with seven starters returning, though.
The defensive line will also be solid with defensive ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister. There was a switch in the secondary this spring as Sam Holl will now play the nickelback position and Ahmad Dixon will be at safety. Seniors K.J. Morton and Joe Williams will lead an experienced group of cornerbacks.
The Bears should be undefeated when they head to Kansas State on Oct. 12. A win over the Wildcats would likely put Baylor at 7-0.
November to early December will make or break this team’s season though, with games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. The Bears will be a lock for a fourth consecutive bowl game.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Prediction: 7-5, 4-5 (Seventh in Big 12)
The Texas Tech fan base finally has something to cheer about with the hire of former Texas Tech gunslinger Kliff Kingsbury, who comes in from College Station after running a dangerous offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. It will take a few years, but don’t be surprised if Kingsbury turns the Red Raiders into the talented team they were when Mike Leach was at the helm.
The Texas Tech offense put up an impressive 37.5 points per game and 495.9 yards per game last season with Seth Doege under center. With Doege gone though, the success of the offense will be on the shoulders of sophomore Michael Brewer. That is if incoming freshman Davis Webb doesn’t beat him out.
Whoever wins the starting job will have a talented target in senior wide receiver Eric Ward, who many thought would head to the NFL after putting up over 1,000 receiving yards and scoring 12 touchdowns last season. With so much emphasis on the passing game, the running game will have depth and include potential 1,000 yard rusher Kenny Williams.
Two starters will return up front.
Eight starters return to a Red Raider defense that was one of the best in the Big 12 last season. The defense, though, will have it’s fifth new defensive coordinator in five years with Matt Wallerstedt, who came with Kingsbury from Texas A&M.
There will also be a 3-4 defensive scheme being executed this season. Basically the entire defense front returns, which consists of All-Big 12 defensive end Kerry Hyder and middle linebacker Will Smith.
The secondary is bare with all four starters gone from last season. Bruce Jones will take one of the cornerback spots and Tre’ Porter and J.J. Gaines will take over the safety positions.
Texas Tech could be 7-0 heading into their game at Oklahoma on Oct. 26—that is if they can knock off in-state rival TCU on Sept. 12. The back end of the Red Raiders' schedule is brutal with games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas. Kingsbury will have at least seven wins in his first season and his team bowl eligible.
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia Mountaineers
Prediction: 6-6, 3-6 (Eighth in Big 12)
West Virginia appeared to be a threat in its Big 12 debut last season by starting off 5-0, which included a road win at Texas. It got ugly though, as the the Mountaineers lost their next five games.
This will be a challenging season for third-year head coach Dana Holgorsen with the loss of quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey on offense. His defense also needs to improve and there was a shake-up with the coaching staff as well.
The running game returns Andrew Buie and will have JUCO transfer Dreamius Smith as well. The receiving game loses it’s two best receivers in West Virginia history (Austin and Bailey) and will have to rely on an inexperienced group led by sophomore Jordan Thompson, who only recorded 13 receptions for 85 yards last season.
The line returns junior left tackle Quinton Spain, but other than that, the line will have to replace both guards and it’s center.
Keith Patterson, who was promoted to defensive coordinator, will have his hands full with a Mountaineer defense that gave up 38.1 points per game and 312.5 passing yards per game last season.
West Virginia’s best defensive player from last year and potential All-Big 12 sophomore safety Karl Joseph is back in the secondary, along with Darwin Cook. The linebacking corps with be led by sophomore Isaiah Bruce and the defensive line will be headed by tackle Shaq Rowell and end Will Clarke.
The Mountaineers must win all of their non-conference games, which includes a date with Maryland in Baltimore, to even have a chance of making their 12th consecutive bowl game. West Virginia needs to sneak at least one win in between Sept. 28 and Nov. 9. Their best bet is at Baylor or home against Texas Tech.
Their last two games of the season against Kansas and Iowa State should be winnable. It will be another mediocre season for this West Virginia squad, but going .500 with a rather inexperienced offense will have to do.
Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State Cyclones
Prediction: 5-7, 2-7 (Ninth in Big 12)
Fifth year head coach Paul Rhoads has surprised many by taking Iowa State to two consecutive bowl games. It’s something that had not happened since 2004 and 2005 when Dan McCarney was still the man in charge.
Rhoads is doing special things in Ames, but has not won more than three conference games in any season. This year is going to be a real test without All-Big 12 linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott on the defensive side. The Cyclones also have to get through a brutal schedule.
Sophomore Sam Richardson will likely be the starter after stepping in at the end of last season. Richardson passed for eight touchdowns and just one interception in three games, but he could be challenged by redshirt freshman Grant Rohach.
The running game should improve because of the depth they have with James White, Shontrelle Johnson back from injury, Jeff Woody, DeVondrick Nealy and talented JUCO transfer from Iowa Western CC Aaron Wimberly.
Iowa State’s top three receivers are gone, which leaves senior tight end Ernst Brun as the most experienced target, but sophomore wide receiver Quenton Bundrage could be a potential threat. Most of the offensive line is back including center Tom Farniok and guard Ethan Tuftee.
The Cyclone defense held opponents to 23.9 points per game, which was the third best in the Big 12. Expect a big year for middle linebacker Jeremiah George, who recorded 87 tackles last season.
The secondary will have experience with safety Jacques Washington and cornerback Jansen Watson. The line could be the biggest weakness with just one starter returning.
Right out of the gate Iowa State with have three toss-up non-conference games against FCS opponent Northern Iowa, Iowa and Tulsa.
They will need to stay perfect before entering a hostile conference schedule. The Cyclones always sneak in an upset victory every year, but that one big win along with a win over Kansas won’t be enough to be bowl eligible again.
Prediction: 4-8, 1-8 (10th in Big 12)
At least things can only go up from here after Charlie Weis’s Jayhawks went an embarrassing 1-11 last season.
You can’t really blame Weis for trying to bring in recruits with his team being a “pile of crap” reference at Big 12 media day. Between Turner Gill’s two years in Lawrence and Weis’s first year, the Jayhawks are a combined 6-30. Expect Kansas to be in the Big 12 cellar again, but at least win a few games this year.
Kansas brought in Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist to start last season, but he didn’t quite pan out. This season, BYU transfer Jake Heaps will be under center and could be a big boost for a passing game that was one of the worst in the country last season.
The running game, which ranked third in the Big 12 last year, will be led by 1,000 yard rusher and All-Big 12 senior running back James Sims. Tony Pierson will also be useful in the backfield, but will be used in the receiving game as well.
The receiving corps will include Andrew Turzilli, who had 17 receptions for 287 yards last season, and Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay. The offensive line will be the weakest part of the offense with basically no starter returning from last season.
Talented junior middle linebacker Ben Heeney, who had the third most tackles in the Big 12 last season with 112, will be one of the few starters returning for the Jayhawk defense. The defense will rely heavily on the JUCO transfers that Weis brought in. Kansas recruited one of the top JUCO transfers in defensive tackle Marquel Combs, along with his teammate Marcus Jenkins-Moore, who will play linebacker.
The Jayhawks have a chance to start off 3-0 with wins over South Dakota, Rice and Louisiana Tech, but it will be all down hill from there. At most, Kansas gets one win in Big 12 play this season. The Jayhawks have not won a conference game since 2010.