Bevo, Texas' mascot
Nine teams in the Big 12 received bowl berths last season. With an incredible 90 percent of its teams playing in the postseason, the Big 12 has made a statement.
Oklahoma and Texas are the league's traditional powerhouses, but they are now being seriously challenged from their brethren. At Big 12 Media Day on July 22, Oklahoma State was selected by the media to finish first in the Big 12. Oklahoma finished second, TCU third and Texas fourth.
Is Texas really the second-best team in the state of Texas?
There are seven teams in the conference that can win the Big 12, including Baylor. Baylor? Yes, Baylor. The league's competition is at an all-time high. Parity reigns supreme. Every Saturday could be upset Saturday.
2013 is going to be a wild rodeo ride in Big 12 country.
The Horned Frogs went bowling last season despite a shocking roster change in October. Quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested on drunk driving charges and left the team to enter rehab. Trevone Boykin did an admirable job filling in but this year Pachall is the projected starter.
The offense will be very good as long as the interior line can give Pachall protection and open up some holes for the running game. B.J. Catalon will have to work on ball security if he wants more carries. The Horned Frogs did lose receiver Josh Boyce to the NFL, but Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story is eligible to play this year. At 6' 4" and 208 pounds, Story is a huge target.
The defense is what makes TCU shine. Defensive end Devonte Fields' name will be mentioned a lot this year. As a true freshman last year, Fields was named the AP's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Newcomer of the Year. Cornerback Jason Verrett will anchor the superb secondary. The unit also gets LSU-transfer David Jenkins. All four starters return, as well as their reserves.
TCU will find out just how good its defense is when it plays LSU in Arlington, Texas on August 31. Its schedule is very challenging. TCU plays Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road. The Horned Frogs do have two byes in November, but a road game at Kansas State precedes one and Baylor is sandwiched between both.
Losses: Texas. Toss-ups: LSU and Baylor.
Prediction: 10-2 or 9-3.
Oklahoma's quarterback dilemma has been the talk of the town. Who will replace Landry Jones? Breaking in a quarterback does not seem to be a problem for the Sooners. Remember when everyone thought Sam Bradford was irreplaceable?
Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight was named the starting QB, but don't be surprised if Blake Bell sees action as well throughout the year.
The Sooners are loaded on offense but the defense is a question mark. Cornerback Aaron Colvin—one of the best corners in the country—is the lone returning starter in the secondary. The line also has one returning starter—defensive end Chuka Ndulue. There is no doubt that Oklahoma has very talented players who will pick up where the others left off but an inexperienced defense in a league full of prolific offenses is concerning.
The Sooners' schedule is difficult. They play at Notre Dame, at Baylor, at Kansas State and at Oklahoma State. They also play Texas in Dallas.
Losses: Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. Toss-up: Baylor
All eyes are on Oklahoma State to win the Big 12. Perhaps one of the reasons why is because the Cowboys' losses to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor were by seven points or less. With an easier schedule this year, logic dictates that the Cowboys should improve upon their 8-5 record.
Offensively, the Cowboys should be loaded. They do not have running back Joseph Randle, but they still should be fine with Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. Clint Chelf looks like he will start at quarterback. Chelf may have won the job after a fantastic performance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. He'll have experienced receivers to throw to, but only if he can remain upright. Right guard Lane Taylor, center Evan Epstein and left guard Johnathan Rush have departed.
Oklahoma State lost linebacker Alex Elkins, its top tackler last season, but the depth in this corps is exceptional.
The Cowboys open the season with Mississippi State in Houston, Texas. The last time they played an SEC team in a non-conference game was in 2009—Oklahoma State beat Georgia 24-10. One difficult road game at Texas on November 16 accentuates an otherwise unremarkable schedule.
Losses: Kansas State, TCU and Texas.
Prediction: The Cowboys' schedule allows a potential 10-plus winning record, but the lower-tiered teams in the league are very capable of upsets. Kansas gave Oklahoma State a difficult time before losing 20-14. Baylor beat Oklahoma State 41-34. The Cowboys' defense has to improve. A 9-3 record is likely.
The Longhorns return 19 starters and they are projected to finish fourth in the Big 12 by the conference's media. That is not an indictment on the talent on the team. It's an indictment on the lack of trust in head coach Mack Brown.
The USA Today Coaches poll and the AP poll pegged Texas at No. 15, which is further evidence of the little faith in Brown.
The offense returns everyone but receiver Marquise Goodwin. Quarterback David Ash has had some problems with consistency and decision-making, but he also has a cannon of an arm. The running backs are extremely talented. There is no reason why Texas should struggle offensively.
The defense returns nine starters. Defensive tackle Alex Okafor and free safety Kenny Vaccaro have departed. End Jackson Jeffcoat returns after missing half the season due to injury. If the fundamentals, such as form tackling, are corrected, Texas could run the table. It cannot give up 63 points to Oklahoma and 50 to Baylor.
Losses: Ole Miss and Oklahoma. Toss-ups: Baylor and Texas Tech.
Prediction: 8-4 at worst, 10-2 at best.
Baylor was selected to finish fifth in the conference by Big 12 media in their annual preseason poll. The Bears received two first-place votes. Baylor is getting well-deserved respect.
Junior quarterback Bryce Petty has a lot of hype coming into the season. Last year, Nick Florence did an outstanding job filling the big shoes left behind by Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. Petty is expected to have a breakout season. Having running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin in the backfield will help take the pressure off of Petty.
Defensively, the Bears must improve. They allowed an average of 37.2 points per game and gave up an average 502.2 yards per game. The line returns its top tacklers, but it loses guard Nick Johnson and tackle Gary Mason. The linebacker corps looks solid and the secondary returns Joe Williams and Ahmad Dixon.
Baylor should not be tested until October 12 when they travel to Kansas State. Their schedule is backloaded with a tough five-game final stretch: Oklahoma, Texas Tech (in Arlington), at Oklahoma State, at TCU and Texas.
Losses: Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State. Toss-ups: Oklahoma and TCU
Prediction: Baylor should finish with at least seven wins. A 7-5 record is likely, but 9-3 is not out of the question.
Will Kansas State ever go through a season without shocking the so-called experts? Every year the Wildcats are projected to have a mediocre season and every year head coach Bill Snyder pulls the rug out from under the naysayers. This year Kansas State is picked to finish sixth in the conference.
The Wildcats return two starters on defense: cornerback Randall Evans and safety Ty Zimmerman. This should be very concerning, but Snyder has a tendency to reload with junior college transfers. Nate Jackson and Travis Green fit that bill and should start at free safety and cornerback, respectively.
Linebacker Tre Walker returns after missing five games due to injury. The rest of the defensive positions are filled with inexperienced players—not one lineman has a start on his resume.
Quarterback Jake Waters looks to be the starter and he could break some school records. Waters broke Cam Newton's junior college completion percentage record and was named the National Junior College Athletic Association's Offensive Player of the Year. Running back John Hubert and receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson also return.
The Wildcats will have three opponents—North Dakota State, Louisiana and Massachusetts—to warm up on before they play their first conference game at Texas. Trips to Oklahoma State and Baylor follow. If the Wildcats are 4-2, they will be in good shape.
Losses: at Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas. Toss-ups: TCU, Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Kansas may be bowling this year. Head coach Charlie Weis has stocked the cupboards with junior college transfers and has a proven commodity at quarterback. Jake Heaps transferred from BYU after throwing for 3,678 yards in 16 starts. Heaps may be the answer to Kansas' inability to sustain long drives.
The Jayhawks finished last in the conference in third-down conversions and red zone conversions. Heaps can give the offense some pop. Kansas also returns the league's most productive running back in James Sims. He rushed for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns.
The defense had its moments of brilliance. Kansas was down 21-14 to Kansas State after two quarters of play. The defense fell apart in the second half and Kansas lost 56-16. The Jayhawks lost five games by seven points or less.
The schedule is tough. Kansas plays nine consecutive games without benefit of a bye week. It plays Rice, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road.
Losses: Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State. Toss-ups: West Virginia and Iowa State.
Prediction: 6-6 including an upset of Kansas State on November 30. The Jayhawks will go bowling for the first time since 2008.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury
Kliff Kingsbury is the new head coach after Tommy Tuberville's controversial exit for Cincinnati last December. Kingsbury mentored Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel while he was Texas A&M's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012.
The offense will continue to be uptempo and exciting to watch. Kingsbury is likely to start a freshman at quarterback this year, given the fact Michael Brewer has been plagued with a back injury.
The Red Raiders' defense was one of the top two in the league and it returns eight starters. The secondary took some major hits. Two All-Big-12 defensive backs—Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson, as well as cornerbacks Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh are gone. The defensive line and linebacker units return almost intact.
The schedule is not too difficult. Opening conference play with TCU is not very desirable, especially since it is sandwiched between Stephen F. Austin and Texas State. Its schedule, like many Big 12 teams, is backloaded. Starting October 26, Texas Tech plays at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor (in Arlington) and at Texas.
Losses: TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State
Prediction: 7-5 which includes an upset of Texas.
Head coach Paul Rhoads
This year the Cyclones return six offensive starters and four defensive starters. This should equate to a losing season, but head coach Paul Rhoads consistently exceeds the so-called experts' expectations. The biggest reason for his success has been due to his defenses.
Not one of Iowa State's opponents last year scored more than 35 points. High-flying Oklahoma State scored 31 points, Oklahoma scored 35, Kansas State scored 27, Baylor scored 21 and West Virginia scored 31.
The defensive line will have to be rebuilt, so will the linebacker unit. Losing strong safety Durrell Givens and cornerback Jeremy Reeves will hurt the secondary, but cornerback Jansen Watson and free safety Jacques Washington return.
Stingy defense has kept the Cyclones in games, but without A.J. Klein or Jake Knott playing linebacker, the defense will struggle.
Quarterback Sam Richardson is going to feel immense pressure. For a program that is not known for quarterback play, this is a huge undertaking. Will Rhoads manage to surprise us again?
The schedule is a nightmare. The Cyclones' non-conference schedule includes Northern Iowa, Iowa and at Tulsa. Their road games are at Texas Tech, at Baylor, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma and at West Virginia.
Losses: Iowa, Tulsa, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma. Toss-ups: Kansas and West Virginia.
Prediction: A 2-10 finish seems likely, but the Rhoad's factor makes a 4-8 or 5-7 season possible. The Cyclones will upset Texas Tech and could walk away with victories against Kansas and West Virginia.
Through the first five games of the 2012 season, West Virginia looked like it could contend for the BCS Championship. The offense was unstoppable. Its defense, however, proved to a caveat. The Mountaineers beat Baylor 70-63 and Texas 48-45—football fans made fun of their defense, or lack of it. Then the wheels fell off. Two routs by Texas Tech and Kansas State exposed West Virginia as a fraud.
West Virginia finished the season with a 7-6 record. It dropped five consecutive games before righting itself with a 31-24 victory against Iowa State and a 59-10 rout of Kansas. Keith Patterson is now West Virginia's defensive coordinator. He'll have to improve the defense with seven returning starters.
Known for his offensive prowess, head coach Dana Holgorsen will be pushed to find an answer with only three returning starters on the offense. Running backs Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison and Dreamius Smith will see a lot of action, while West Virginia breaks in a new quarterback and rebuilds its offensive line and receiver corps.
The Mountaineers' schedule is not too difficult. They do travel to Oklahoma on September 14 and play on the road at Baylor, Kansas State, TCU and Kansas. They also play Maryland in Baltimore.
Losses: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Texas and Kansas. Toss-ups: Maryland and Iowa State.
Prediction: A 2-9 record is shocking, but there are so many offensive stars lost from last year's 7-6 team. West Virginia relies on its offense to win games and without that firepower, William & Mary and Georgia State look like the only winnable games.