With the August heat settling into the Big-12 south, fall camps are coming to a close. There’s just one week remaining before the first kickoff of the 2014 football season, and we have season previews for the ten Big-12 Conference teams. (Teams are ranked on predictions for the end of the year.)
After coming in second behind Baylor last year, the Sooners look prime to win their league-leading ninth conference title this season. Bob Stoops is entering his 16th season (160-39) at Oklahoma, and like always, will rely on a strong offensive line and defensive front. Stoops and the Sooners return 20 starters, including seven on offense and nine on defense. Oklahoma was voted to win the Big 12 receiving 47 out of the 56 first-place votes, and 548 total points in the preseason media poll. Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against mighty Alabama, the experienced Sooners should find themselves with another Big 12 Championship and a trip to the new College Football Playoff system.
Coach Art Briles enters his sixth season as Baylor head coach (44-32) and will look for seniors quarterback Bryce Petty and receiver Antwan Goodley to lead his high-powered offense to another 10-win season. Petty threw for 4,200 yards last season, and Goodley caught 1,339 of those yards. While the skill positions of quarterback and receiver are strong, the Bears only received nine first place votes (Oklahoma received the rest) in the media poll. The Bears have questions at offensive line, only returning two starters, and in their secondary where they have four new starters. If Baylor can plug these holes, they could be right there with Oklahoma come late November.
Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats finished 8-5 last year including a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over Michigan. Bill Snyder and Kansas State will look to grow on that this year. Snyder will have senior Jake Waters leading the offense. Waters played well last year throwing for almost 2,500 yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Snyder returns 11 starters this season along with some solid additions to the team. The Wildcats have a couple questions at running back and on the defensive line. Senior Demarcus Robinson and freshman Dalvin Warmack should see most of the carries. Snyder and Kansas State will look to take advantage of a strong passing game and talented secondary to lead them to a top tier finish in the Big 12.
The Charlie Strong era has begun in Austin. After being riddled with injuries last season, the Longhorns look to be fresh and ready to put their mark back on the Big 12. David Ash will return after suffering from concussions last season, and the Longhorns will have a very strong duo rushing the ball with senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray. Each rushed for over 700 yards last year. Their wide receiving core has been a little injured through fall camp, but nothing that is season threatening. The Longhorns will have to rely on freshman after the dismissal of five players and the suspension of three more. Strong will have the defense, led by defensive end Cedric Reed, ready to go when the Longhorns open play against North Texas. A Big 12 title is probably out of reach for the Longhorns this season, but another eight win season and a bowl bid is very possible.
Texas Christian Horned Frogs
TCU will look to rebound from a 2-7 conference record last season. Coach Gary Patterson enters his 14th season (120-44) and returns seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters. The Horned Frogs will display a new, fast-tempo offense this season, but a quarterback has yet to be named. Patterson said that he will choose between junior Trevone Boykin and senior transfer Matt Joeckel by the time league play starts, though Boykin figures to have an edge having split snaps last year with Casey Pachall. He has experience and also is quicker after dropping 15 pounds this offseason. Joeckel is a senior transfer from Texas A&M. In College Station, Joeckel learned to run the offense Patterson is trying to change to this year. Patterson may make his choice based on who can take care of the ball better. TCU had 26 turnovers in league-play last season, the worst in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs have tough Big 12 games early against Oklahoma and at Baylor, but could see themselves around eight wins if they do not get discouraged early.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
In his first season with Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury took the Red Raiders into the top-ten before skidding to an 8-5 finish. Davis Webb will be the clear cut quarterback for Kingsbury this year. Webb saw split time last season, but played well against Arizona State in the Red Raiders Holiday Bowl victory. For Webb to have a good year, the wide receivers will need to step up. The main worry for this team is the defense. While safeties J.J. Gaines and Keenon Ward are a bright spot, it will take a good pass rush for these two to shine. Texas Tech has a tough conference schedule that will make it tough to match the eight wins from last season. That being said, the Red Raiders should find themselves in a bowl game.
West Virginia Mountaineers
After a 4-8 (2-7) record last season, fourth year head coach Dana Holgerson is looking for improvement in his team. Fifth year senior Clint Trickett will lead an offense that ranked fifth in total offense last year in the Big 12. Trickett, who threw for 1,605 yards last season, should be a good leader for the Mountaineers offense. The defense ranked ninth last season in the Big 12, but should be better this season. With more depth, the defense will be stronger as a unit, not just individually. Although the Mountaineers had five ESPN top 300 recruits, Holgerson said he does not expect to rely on them to make a big impact on the team this season. With the tough Big 12 schedule, and an opening game against Alabama, West Virginia will be glad if they are bowling come December.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Entering his tenth season as head coach at Oklahoma State (77-38), Mike Gundy will be rebuilding his team after losing 28 seniors and returning only eight starters. A successful 2013 campaign ended rather bitterly for the Cowboys. They conceded the Big 12 title to Baylor after losing to Oklahoma in the last game of the regular season, then were defeated by former Big 12 member Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, leaving the Cowboys with a disappointing 10-3 record. Gundy will have a young team, but they have had good recruiting classes the past couple of years. The offensive line is the strength of the offense. Add in running back Desmond Roland who rushed for 811 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus redshirt freshman Ra’Shaad Samples, and the Cowboys should still put up some points. The defense will take a step back after leading the Big 12 in scoring defense. The secondary is the real weak spot. A 6-6 record would be a good season for the Cowboys, but do not be surprised if they are not bowling come holiday season.
Head coach Charlie Weis faces another rough season ahead with his Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas recently learned they have lost their top-two running backs, seniors Brandon Bourbon (ACL) and Taylor Cox (Achilles) for the season. They will be replaced by junior college transfer De’Andre Mann and freshman Corey Avery. This will force Weis to rely heavily on sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Cozart is a duel threat quarterback which will come in handy after losing half of his backfield. Cozart will receive help from Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Harwell is a playmaker at receiver and should help free up other skill position players for big plays. Overall, the Jayhawks face a tough season ahead and looks like another three-win campaign for Weis.
Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State will be near the bottom, if not at the bottom, of the Big 12 at the end of the season. Head coach Paul Rhoads enters his sixth season as a Cyclone, and hopes to find improvement out of newly named starting quarterback Sam Richardson. Richardson threw for 1,397 yards last season. He should have a couple weapons to throw to with tight end E.J. Bibbs and a solid receiving core lead by Quenton Bundrage who scored nine touchdowns last season. In the offensive powerhouse that is the Big 12, the Cyclones will struggle on defense. With a young team, it is hard to see Iowa State holding powerhouse offenses like Baylor and Oklahoma to under 40 points. Three wins might be all the Cyclones will be able to achieve this season.
That wraps up our preview of the Big-12 conference! What did you think of our predictions? Will Oklahoma be one of the four teams to make it to the inaugural college football playoff system? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!