Big 12 Football: Way Too Early Power Rankings for 2014 Season
It's that time of the year again. Time to begin counting down the days until the 2014 season, doing anything possible to look ahead.
That means ranking teams way, way too early without so much as a single regard to injuries, suspensions and the like. That's what the offseason is for, though.
With 2013 in the rear-view mirror, here's how Big 12 teams rank to start the next season. Keep in mind that all teams are either overrated or underrated, depending on your respective team allegiance.
(All stats courtesy of the NCAA.)
2013 Record: 3-9
In the end, the grand JUCO/transfer experiment head coach Charlie Weis employed did little to help Kansas get back to .500.
The Jayhawks need to figure out which quarterback, Jake Heaps or Montell Cozart, gives them a better chance to win. Cozart is more gifted athletically, but he needs to develop as a passer. He definitely needs to get better in the offseason as he has a lot of upside.
Running back James Sims is gone, so it should be the Tony Pierson show from here on out.
Kansas has some good defenders, such as linebacker Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. However, those guys can't be asked to stay on the field the entire game.
9. West Virginia
2013 Record: 4-8
Head coach Dana Holgorsen's leash is getting shorter. The lack of depth to compete in the Big 12 is not entirely his fault, but he does need to finish better than 4-8. Ideally, the Mountaineers need to get back to the postseason for Holgorsen's job to be 100 percent secure.
What West Virginia needs is better quarterback play. Former Florida State QB Clint Trickett carried the torch for most of the season, but he'll be coming off surgery for a torn labrum. Barring a comeback, redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who had lots of potential, is out of the mix after reportedly being suspended for the spring.
Losing your best offensive player, running back Charles Sims, doesn't help either.
The Mountaineers defense was actually better than the stats indicated and should be decent again. However, like Kansas, that unit simply cannot continue to stay on the field as much as it did a season ago. That was a big reason for all the injuries the defense sustained.
8. Iowa State
2013 Record: 3-9
For as bad as things were for the Cyclones, there are some building blocks for head coach Paul Rhoads. Quarterback Grant Rohach ended the season on a high note in a come-from-behind victory over West Virginia. Rohach finished the season with 1,208 yards passing and eight touchdowns.
Additionally, running back Aaron Wimberly and receiver Quenton Bundrage are actually nice skill players who can give the offense some explosiveness. Bundrage led all receivers on the team with 676 yards and nine touchdowns. He has all the qualities of a star receiver.
With former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino joining the staff as offensive coordinator, Iowa State should be better on offense by leaps and bounds. But the defense has to pick up the slack, too, after finishing 112th against the run.
2013 Record: 4-8
The Horned Frogs' offense needs a boost after finishing as one of the worst scoring teams in the Big 12 in 2013 (87th nationally.) To fix that, head coach Gary Patterson brought in Doug Meacham (Houston) and Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech) as co-coordinators.
In addition to figuring out who will play quarterback and settling on an offensive line, the Frogs' wide receivers need to step up after a lackluster season. There's tons of size and potential with the receivers, though, especially if quarterback Trevone Boykin makes the switch to that position.
The defense should still be excellent, despite cornerback Jason Verrett graduating. If the offense can get things turned around, the ceiling for TCU is the highest of any team in the conference.
6. Texas Tech
2013 Record: 8-5; Beat Arizona State 37-23 in Holiday Bowl
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, but you could have made a compelling case for Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro. The junior led the conference with 1,352 receiving yards—and now he's gone to the NFL.
Replacing Amaro and senior receiver Eric Ward isn't ideal, but the Red Raiders have tons of talent at the receiver spot. Who gets those receivers the ball will be important to watch. With Baker Mayfield transferring, the quarterback competition should come down to Davis Webb and Michael Brewer.
Seven seniors depart on defense, including linebacker and leading tackler Will Smith.
5. Oklahoma State
2013 Record: 10-3; Lost 41-31 to Missouri in Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma State has a lot of turnover heading into 2014. The Pokes lose quarterback Clint Chelf to graduation, though sophomore J.W. Walsh has starting experience. The receiving group takes a major hit with the losses of seniors Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, and junior Josh Stewart.
Those are three of the Pokes' top four wide receivers. It wouldn't be surprising, then, to see Oklahoma State continue to run the ball with junior Desmond Roland.
The Pokes' secondary, which was one of the best in the conference, loses cornerback Justin Gilbert and safety Daytawion Lowe, along with middle linebacker Caleb Lavey. There are so many good players to replace on defense at every level; defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is going to have his work cut out for him next season.
2013 Record: 8-5; Lost 30-7 to Oregon in Alamo Bowl
New head coach Charlie Strong was an interesting hire to replace Mack Brown, but he has some nice pieces to work with in his first year.
It starts with quarterback David Ash, who returns from a season-ending concussion. Ash has all the physical tools to be successful, but he's lacked consistency. Shawn Watson, who will reportedly serve as the 'Horns' quarterbacks coach (if he's not the offensive coordinator), developed Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into a top draft pick.
There's a lot of talent on Texas' offense, but the concern will be the offensive line. It hasn't been physical enough in recent years, and there will be four new faces along it next season. That's where new offensive line coach Joe Wickline should help.
Defense, on the other hand, should be the cornerstone for the '14 Longhorns. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat is gone, but the rest of the D-line is back.
2013 Record: 11-2; Lost 52-42 to Central Florida in Fiesta Bowl
Baylor had national championship aspirations after starting the season 9-0, but finished 2-2 with a loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Still, it was a history-making season for the Bears, who won their first Big 12 title.
Quarterback Bryce Petty has already said he's coming back, but the biggest returning star is head coach Art Briles, who was connected to the Texas job.
Briles is considered one of the best coaches in the country, and he'll have a chance to prove it in 2014 with the departing star power. Three offensive linemen, including guard and unanimous All-American Cyril Richardson, are gone. So, too, are running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.
The Bears' defense loses seven seniors, including safety Ahmad Dixon. Baylor finally has the depth and talent to overcome the losses, but this year's team was special. It will be interesting to see if Briles really does have a football machine running in Waco.
2. Kansas State
2013 Record: 8-5; Beat Michigan 31-14 in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
No Big 12 team was hotter in the second half of the season than Kansas State. The Wildcats won six of their final seven games after starting 2-4. The good news for K-State fans is that some key members of that team are coming back.
It starts with quarterbacks Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. The pair made the two-quarterback system work for Bill Snyder's team, though Sams could see his role in the offense expand next season. If leading receiver Tyler Lockett chooses to come back, it would be a huge boost for the passing game. Running back John Hubert must be replaced, however, as do three offensive linemen.
Defense could be interesting. Safety Ty Zimmerman is gone, but defensive end Ryan Mueller, who had a legitimate case for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, should be back.
2013 Record: 11-2; Beat Alabama 45-31 in Sugar Bowl
If anyone needed another example of what a good bowl performance can do for preseason expectations, look no further than Oklahoma.
The Sooners' upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was the best bowl win for any team outside the BCS National Championship. It also served as a platform for Oklahoma's Trevor Knight.
Knight, who began the season as a run-first quarterback, threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He returns as a redshirt sophomore in 2014 along with a young, but talented, group of skill players who will need to grow up quickly. Among them is running back Keith Ford and receiver Sterling Shepard.
Oklahoma's defensive front seven comes back and should be among the best groups in the Big 12.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter@BenKercheval.