The long, grueling offseason is underway. I'll do my best to make it go by quicker through the healing power of Q&A. We'll be doing this every Friday, so if you have a question about Big 12 football, tweet me @BenKercheval or email me at email@example.com.
Let's get to it.
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight surprised just about everyone when he threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl earlier this month.
Remember that Knight began the 2013-14 season as the starter but was known as a running quarterback who struggled with accuracy. By the time Oklahoma took the field in New Orleans, however, he was dropping dimes to his receivers.
It was a complete transformation for him as a passer. Sooners co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel deserves a ton of credit for developing Knight.
It's with that word—"develop"—that Knight's Sugar Bowl performance comes across as more of a preview of what's to come than a fluke. Knight actually looked good throwing the ball late in the season when he returned from a knee injury, and the Sugar Bowl was a culmination of how far he's come as a passer.
While it can be dangerous to put too much stock in a bowl game, Knight looks like he gave himself an edge in the quarterback competition for next season. Early Bovada numbers even have him at 25/1 odds to win the Heisman next year.
The expectations will undoubtedly be higher not only for Knight but for Oklahoma.
What gives Knight an advantage, though, is that he's already shown he can improve his game. The offseason is normally a time when media and fans alike question whether a player can elevate his game from one year to the next. To an extent, Knight has already answered that question.
He has the potential to be the best dual-threat quarterback in the Big 12, that's for sure. If there's one thing to be concerned about, it's whether Knight can stay healthy. He missed five games last season when he essentially injured himself out of a job in Week 2 against West Virginia. He later sustained an unidentified injury in the final game of the regular season against Oklahoma State.
Health, not development, will be Knight's biggest obstacle.
Interestingly enough, the Red River Rivalry (née Shootout) between Oklahoma and Texas hasn't decided a Big 12 champion since the conference settled on 10 teams in 2011. In fact, the RRR only determined the South Division champion about half of the time dating back to the good 'ol days of 12 conference members.
The Longhorns and Sooners will be facing two different levels of expectations next season. Oklahoma will have its eyes on another conference title and a College Football Playoff berth. Texas will say it has those same expectations, but head coach Charlie Strong is a wild card. Strong is a great coach, no doubt about it, but it's always hard to gauge results in year one under a new regime.
The '14 RRR probably won't decide next year's Big 12 champion. That said, there are a couple of interesting angles that could still make it a great game beyond the "throw out the record books" cliche.
Knight didn't play in last year's edition of the game, a 36-20 Texas win. Because the Longhorns struggled to defend dual-threat quarterbacks, Knight's absence remained one of the great mysteries of 2013. Of course, Texas has a new defensive staff, so who knows if/how that changes.
Additionally, Texas ran the ball down Oklahoma's throat. The Sooners' interior defense was shaky anyway, and the season-ending injuries to defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson only made it worse. Next season, Oklahoma's defensive front seven returns intact, and Texas will want to run the ball again. It should be an excellent matchup.
Now, to answer the second part of your question:
Baylor loses a ton of talent on both sides of the ball and at pretty much every position. The key returning starter is quarterback Bryce Petty.
Bears coach Art Briles said last November that, for the first time since he arrived in Waco at the end of 2007, his team had "Big 12 quality depth." (H/T The Dallas Morning News) That depth is going to be tested when Baylor introduces a lot of new starters.
It's not all bad, though: Plenty of backups/rotational players got playing time. That's what beating a team 70-10 will do for you. So the good news for Briles is that he's not throwing a bunch of new guys into the fire with nothing more than a good luck wish.
I don't see Baylor winning the Big 12 next year, but the last thing anyone should do is count out Briles. If the Bears repeat as conference champions, you'd have a hard time convincing me Briles shouldn't be named Coach of the Year given all he lost from a year ago.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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