Big 12 Football: Dark Horse Candidates That Will Be Factors in Title Race
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The Big 12 preseason poll has the Oklahoma State Cowboys winning the conference this season. But of course, as is with any preseason rankings, this poll needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Which team not in the top four of the Big 12 preseason poll is most likely to win the league?
Six of the 10 teams in the Big 12 received first place votes. And last season, it was the Kansas State Wildcats that won the league despite being picked sixth in the preseason poll.
This year, there are darkhorse teams that can have a major impact in the race for the Big 12 title.
Here's a look at some of them.
The Red Raiders are always a scary team in the Big 12.
And with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury in town, this could finally be the year that Texas Tech gets back to the elite level that Mike Leach had the team at.
Last year, Kingsbury helped take Texas A&M from virtual insignificance to one of the best teams in the country. He also had Johnny Manziel, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, under his tutelage.
With Texas Tech's ability to score points in a hurry, the Red Raiders are always a threat to pull off a huge upset. Last year, Texas Tech ranked second in the country in passing yards per game (355.9) and was 20th in points per game (37.5).
Under Kingsbury's no-huddle system, the Red Raiders shouldn't slow down on offense despite losing quarterback Seth Doege.
The biggest indication that the Red Raiders may take huge steps this season are the eight returning starters they have on defense. The best defender in Lubbock is defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, who made the preseason All-Big 12 team.
Last season, the Red Raiders ranked 38th in total defense. With so many guys coming back, they should improve on that end as well.
Texas Tech also plays some of its toughest opponents at home, including the Oklahoma State Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs. Their matchup against the Cowboys is the second leg of a two-game road trip for the Cowboys, so the conference's top-ranked team could be due for a loss.
Despite being ranked seventh in the preseason conference poll, the Red Raiders are a dangerous team that have the potential to really shakeup the Big 12.
There are only two teams in the country that have started the last two seasons 6-0. One of them is the Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of the last two national titles.
The other team is the Kansas State Wildcats.
After two seasons that saw the Wildcats finish second in the Big 12 and make the Cotton Bowl in 2011, then win the league and make the Fiesta Bowl in 2012, Bill Snyder is gearing up his team for another run.
The biggest question marks surrounding this year's team revolve around whether or not Snyder can replace nine starters on defense and whether he can find a suitable replacement for Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein.
Despite losing so much, the Wildcats still earned a first-place vote in the preseason conference poll.
A lot of that has to do with the playmakers on offense that the Wildcats possess. There's running back John Hubert, last year's leading rusher for Kansas State with 947 yards. Despite not hitting the 1,000-yard mark, Hubert still averaged five yards per carry.
There's also wide receiver Tyler Lockett, a preseason All-Big 12 kick returner that will also be a valuable target for whoever takes over for Klein.
Ultimately, this team is one that doesn't beat itself and is therefore always a tough team to face. The Wildcats committed the fourth-fewest penalties per game in the country last year (3.77).
And Bill Snyder is one of the best coaches in all of college football. He's sure to put a team on the field that will create a stir in the league.
Despite a rough start to the 2012, during which the Baylor Bears lost five of their first six Big 12 games (the only win coming against lowly Kansas), the Bears showed last year that they could shakeup not just the league but the entire country.
They did that with a win over then-top ranked Kansas State on Nov. 17. That win knocked the Wildcats out of the race for a national title berth and allowed the Oklahoma Sooners to grab a share of the Big 12 title.
The Bears finished 2012 on a four-game winning streak including its win over the Wildcats and a Holiday Bowl win against UCLA.
The Bears have lost quarterback Nick Florence, but they have running back Lache Seastrunk returning and he could be Baylor's second Heisman Trophy winner in three years.
Seastrunk racked up 637 yards in his last four games last year and put himself among the elite running backs in the country.
The biggest concern for Baylor will be its defense. Last year, the unit ranked 119th in total defense. But with preseason All-Big 12 linebacker Bryce Hager and six other starters returning, the experience should pay off with improvement.
Baylor scores a lot of points in a conference known for its high-octane offenses. That certainly makes them a threat to beat anybody. If they can exceed expectations of being picked fifth in the preseason poll, then the Bears could shakeup the nation yet again.
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