Are You Ready For Some Football? Our Big 12 College Football Preview
By: John Kocurek, Guest Contributor *
The Big 12 is in a transition period. After all, the conference may not even exist in a year’s time. Several of the traditional powers are in flux as well, searching for answers on the field to fend off the new threats. If I had to pick a final order today, which I don’t but I’m going to anyway, this is how I would guess the season plays out.
OU and WVU both have strong returning QBs with plenty of experience, and at least one terrific threat at the skill positions. OU gets the nod due to, well, having played in the Big 12 before.
Landry Jones is not the player that Sam Bradford was, or even close, but he’s been through the ringer with pretty good success and that experience will immediately separate Oklahoma from the other Big 12 teams hoping to compete for a title. He’ll have a strong stable of runners next to him, and a defense that should be able to rush the passer and play tough against the run up front.
The questions on offense involve a reshuffled lineup at offensive line, and finding a way to replace Ryan Bryoles, something they struggled to do last year after his injury. Oklahoma is blessed with a talented group at receiver, but not necessarily a consistent one. The run game and Jones’ ability to move his team will determine the effectiveness as the season wears on.
OU’s secondary is the question mark on defense, as it has been ever since the Big 12 started throwing the ball. Bob Stoops likes to put big, physical players on the back end, and those players don’t always have the easiest time covering the better receivers in the conference. Some team, some where, will limit the run game and hit enough plays over top to beat Oklahoma this year, but OU still has the most returning experience at key positions, and their rivals all have significant questions marks.
2. West Virginia
WVU will have the best QB/WR combo in the league, and with their obliteration of a solid Clemson team in their bowl game, expectations are sky high for the Mountaineers. However, moving to a tougher, unfamiliar conference should present enough road humps along the way to trip them up from being real threat to the conference in their first season.
The offense should be explosive, lead by 7th year senior Geno Smith, but playing defense in the big 12 is tough for the nation’s best teams, so we will simply have to wait and see how WVU responds to the challenge.
Texas might have the best secondary in the country, the best defensive line in the country, and the best running back unit in the country. Nothing else matters for this team, however, until they figure out the QB situation. Case McCoy, aside from a goofy scramble against A&M, hasn’t shown much ability to be a top flight QB, and David Ash is a still raw youngster forced into action by a combination of ineptitude and transfers. Ash has the higher ceiling, but skill in 2014 won’t win any games this year.
Texas has the talent to win every game it plays, but it also has enough questions marks (QB, OL, WR, depth at LB) to where it could lose almost any of them, as well.
4. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State should have played LSU for the national title last season. A great offense lead by a pair of first-round draft picks, and the nations most underrated defense combined for a legitimate title contender. One turnover filled night in Ames, IA let Nick Saban snake his way into another championship appearance.
OSU’s defense will always be solid under coordinator Bill Young, but head coach Mike Gundy announced a true freshman as starter at QB, and has seen off last year’s best players. OSU will not fade away, but 2012 will almost certainly be a rebuilding year.
5. Kansas State
Bill Snyder is a magician. Give him any 6’1, 190 pound kid and he’ll turn the player into a solid contributor. KSU football in the Snyder era has been highlighted by tough, intelligent play, and the kind of unwavering relentlessness usually found in starving predators.
Talent will always be the big issue in Manhattan, but Snyder manages to find guys like Arthur Brown and Daniel Thomas, and surround them with solid role players. KSU is not a team that will beat themselves, so they have the ability to beat anyone at any time.
Utah went 6-6 in their first season in the Pac 12. Utah was just as good as TCU, and went into a worse conference. I’m not saying TCU will win 6 games, as they also return a talented, experienced QB and most of their defense, but playing a good team every week is much different that saving yourself for the 2 or 3 real teams you might play during the season.
Is Casey Pachall is up to it, TCU can potentially finish in the top half of the standings, particularly if some of the other more established names falter along the way. It is much more likely that Gary Patterson will need to spend a few years recruiting a higher caliber player to get TCU into the groove of BCS football.
7. Iowa State
Iowa State might have the best coaching staff in the conference, only nobody knows because they have to play with players that nobody else wants. They scored upsets over Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State in recent years, proving that no matter how good you think you are, you can’t sleep on the Cyclones.
They run a deliberate, effective shotgun option offense that can bleed anybody who is unprepared, and their defense will always be in position to score turnovers against lazy QB play. ISU won’t be favored often, but if history holds, one of the top 3-4 teams in the Big 12 will lose to them this year.
What happens when you take the engine out of the Ferrari? You’re left with a $700k rickshaw. Baylor had the season of a lifetime last year, winning ten games and a bowl while their QB won a Heisman and put a face on a program that only ever accomplished something through the shady recruiting efforts of legendary coach Grant Teaff.
Art Briles will be able to capitalize on last season . . . eventually. The recruiting will pick up since Briles now has much more to sell. Until then, however, Baylor is going to struggle. They boasted one of the worst defenses in the country last year, and lost every significant player they had on offense, including three record breakers and the best player in school history. This season will not go well for Baylor, but the future is bright.
9. Texas Tech
Texas Tech fired Mike Leach three seasons ago, one season removed from Tech’s best team in history. They are now directionless and languishing on the bottom of the conference standings for the foreseeable future. I would like to take a moment to point out how counter-productive egos are in leadership positions.
You had one of the best coaches in the country! What were you thinking?
Kansas has nothing worth boasting about, aside from a new coaching staff that will be starting from scratch. Any win they achieve this year will be a huge upset.
*John Kocurek is a native Texan who is currently coaching football at the college level in California. He has coached both high school and college football. John will be back with more analyses of Big 12 football throughout the season.
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