2014 CFN Preview: The Big 12
Big 12 Preview
By Pete Fiutak
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To be fair, it wasn’t all that long ago that the question was whether or not there’d still be a Big 12 at all.
Texas was rumored to be courted by the Big Ten – which was never going to happen – and Oklahoma was supposedly flirting with just about everyone, including two Kardashians. Baylor, Iowa State and maybe Kansas and Kansas State were at least thrown out there as possibly moving over to the Mountain West, and Missouri and Texas A&M were shopping around.
Of course, Texas ended up staying put, Oklahoma didn’t go to the SEC or the Pac-12, and the league survived and advanced, but there were some huge hits taken in the process.
The top teams were still good, and the emergence of Baylor as a fun powerhouse has helped, but the Big 12 is like a team trying to get out from under NCAA sanctions – there’s no depth.
The Pac-12 taking Colorado was a hit to the history of the Big 12, losing Nebraska to the Big Ten was a body blow, and it was particularly painful to not only lose Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, but to see them each turn in special performances with an East title for the Tigers and a Heisman for the Fighting Manziels. So while it’s not healthy to lament about what might have been – and again, the Big 12 did survive and didn’t whither into the problems of the Big East or even the WAC – it’s hard not to think of what the league would be like right now with the Huskers, Tigers, Aggies, and even the Buffs, still around.
It’s not helping the cause that the new additions aren’t exactly adding much so far., and they haven't stepped in to fill the void left by the departed former Big 12ers. West Virginia initially brought over a fun offense, but that’s been fizzling, and TCU has remained tough defensively, but it’s not scaring anyone in its first few years in the new league - these two need to do for the Big 12 what Mizzou and A&M did to help the already nasty SEC.
How can the Big 12 find programs that bring more bang for the buck? The league could probably have any Conference USA team or American Athletic team it wants, but would it make sense to expand geographically and go after UCF and/or South Florida? Does it help in any way other than market size to bring in Houston? After not getting Louisville – somewhat surprisingly – does Cincinnati make sense, or is it time to look on the other side of the country and bring in BYU and all its devoted fans and followers. Boise State? San Diego State? Anyone? Who cares who the league gets to get back up to 12?
The 13-person College Football Playoff committee might.
If all things are equal in the new landscape of the Power 5 conferences and their autonomy, the Big 12 loses out to the other four conferences with conference championships. Even if an Oklahoma or a Texas turns in a juggernaut year, 13-0 beats 12-0, and 12-1 as a star runner-up – or 11-1 like an Alabama of last year – still might do more than an 11-1 Big 12 champion. And it doesn’t help that this is a bit of a down year.
Oklahoma has the juice coming off its Sugar Bowl shocker against Alabama, but suspensions, expectations and a tough schedule could be too much to overcome. Oklahoma State’s reloading, Texas is undergoing a transition, and Baylor and Kansas State, while terrific, don’t quite stack up to the stars of the other top conferences (although, watch out for Auburn’s trip to Manhattan).
This is where West Virginia and TCU are supposed to make up the tough midsection, but instead there’s not too much of a buffer between the still-new Big 12ers and the programs just struggling to put something consistently great together.
Perception counts now more than ever, and while this might be a Power 5 league, it’ll quickly see where it is in the pecking order if the other four conferences do their part. Miss out on the playoff once, and watch the expansion timetable get moved up. Until then, enjoy the weekly offensive show.
- People love, love, love to put stock into the big, shocking bowl performance of the previous season. Bowl games are self-contained entities. Oklahoma came up with a stunner against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but this was the same team that needed a minor miracle against Oklahoma State just to get into the BCS fun, and was weird in a loss to Texas and miserable in a blowout loss to Baylor.
- When was the last time Oklahoma lost fewer than two games in a season? 2004.
- The Frank Shannon suspension doesn’t help the cause no matter what, but it’s Oklahoma. There are other really, really good players ready to step in and pick up the slack.
- Trevor Knight can’t just be above-average.
- It’ll be interesting to see how Texas, as a program, continues to spin this. Everyone still likes Mack Brown, and no one seems to want to trample on his legacy or what he did for a program that hit the skids of mediocrity before his arrival, but Charlie Strong’s need to make the team tougher and more disciplined suggests that the Longhorns were soft and a bit loose.
- Call this simply a case of a monster football team needing a change. It’s not that Brown was bad, it was just time for a new way of doing things.
- Strong’s toughest job this year? Developing the No. 2 quarterback.
- The West Virginia running game could be dominant, even if Alabama won’t make it seem that way in the opener.
- Texas Tech won’t win the conference, but the offense will go back to the Mike Leach days when it could tag someone on the right day, and there will be nothing an opposing Big 12 defense can do about it.
- And there will be those days when Davis Webb throws for 428 yards and the offense only manages 17 points in a blowout loss.
- Too soft to make the call of TCU QB Matt Joeckel earning All-Big 12 honors, but he’ll be close. Don’t be shocked in any way if he turns out to be the Big 12’s second-best quarterback behind Petty.
- 8,036 yards of total offense and 681 points later, Baylor still doesn’t seem to get much in the way of respect. Losing to UCF didn’t help the cause, but this offense isn’t going to be stopped this year. It’s going to take a massive offensive effort to beat the Bears.
- In the two losses, Bryce Petty threw for 359 yards and two scores against Oklahoma State, and went for 356 and two touchdowns against UCF.
- Iowa State and Kansas will be better, but outside of playing each other, they’ll be underdogs against everyone else.
- Is it okay to say that Kansas State will be sneaking up on everyone? That’s sort of hard to do at this point considering all the recent success, but this is a Big 12 champion-caliber team.
- The problem for the Wildcats? Three of the final four games on the road. Even if West Virginia and TCU aren’t superpowers, those are going to be nasty November games to deal with.
- Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill will be the most fun player in the Big 12 this year.
- Yes, Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett will put up some big moments, too.
- The Big 12 won’t be represented in your inaugural College Football Playoff.
Coach on the Hot Seat
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia - There are different types of hot seats. Charlie Strong can't fall flat on his face early on at Texas. Paul Rhoads could really use a winning season at Iowa State. And then there's ol' Chuck Weis, who needs to show some sign of life at Kansas at a miserable first two years. Holgorsen, though, falls into a different category. No one was Iowa State seens to have any interest in seeing Rhoads go, and Strong can blame a rough first year - if there is one - on the culture and trying to change it, but Holgorsen started out rough with a strained relationship with former head man Bill Stewart, set the bar high with a 10-3 first year and an Orange Bowl appearance, and then pffffffffft - the air went out of the baloon going 6-12 in Big 12 play. 6-6 keeps him around, but anything else might mean a change.
5 Non-Conference Games the Big 12 had better take very, very seriously
1. North Texas at Texas, Aug. 30
2. North Dakota State at Iowa State, Aug. 30
3. TCU at SMU, Sept. 27
4. Central Michigan at Kansas, Sept. 20
5. Toledo at Iowa State, Oct. 11
Team That'll Surprise
TCU - The defense learned what life was like without Devonte Fields last year, and it should be fine going foward this season. The big difference will be an offense that'll do more down the field and be more explosive. Former Texas A&M Aggie Matt Joeckel should be the answer at quarterback, and with just enough talent returning across the offense, the pop will be there. This won't be Baylor in terms of lighting up the scoreboard, and it would be nice if Fields was still around, this should still be an eight-win team.
Team That'll Disappoint
Oklahoma - The bar is raised high after the Sugar Bowl victory. This will be a very, very good team that will be front and center in the hunt for the Big 12 title - as always. However, it's still Oklahoma and it's going to pull an Oklahoma and biff a game or two it probably shouldn't. Can Trevor Knight be the Sugar Bowl Trevor Knight for a full season? Will the skill players step up on offense, and will the defense be fine without Frank Shannon? Probably, on all counts, but anything less than an appearance in the College Football Playoff will be a major disappointment. Anything less than a Big 12 championship will be a disaster.
Game of the Year …
Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8 - The Sooners used to throttle the Bears on a regular basis, but everything started to change a few years ago with a Heisman-cinching performance from Robert Griffin III, and a 41-12 Bear blowout last year in Waco. Baylor has Oklahoma's Big 12 title, and if Bob Stoops and company want it back, they can't lose their third game in four years in the series.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. LB Ben Heeney, Sr. Kansas
2. SS Sam Carter, Sr. TCU
3. C Tom Farniok, Sr. Iowa State
4. RB Desmond Roland, Sr. Oklahoma State
5. OT Le'Raven Clark, Jr. Texas Tech
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. OT Spencer Drango, Jr. Baylor
2. CB P.J. Williams, Jr. Florida State
3. LB Eric Striker, Jr. Oklahoma
4. WR/KR Tyler Lockett, Sr. Kansas State
5. CB Quandre Diggs, Sr. Texas
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. DE Shiro Davis for Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
2. CB Ashton Lampkin for Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
3. CB Ranthony Texada for Jason Verrett, TCU
4. OG LaQuan McGowan for Cyril Richardson, Baylor
5. WR Reginald Davis for TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech