Oklahoma Leads Early Big 12 Conference Rankings
Texas was down (by Texas standards) for the fourth straight season, Oklahoma was the modern day version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, TCU finished far below expectations and Baylor won its first-ever Big 12 title, thanks to a last-minute blunder by Oklahoma State.
And while some big names have moved on from the collegiate level, we’re going to see a similar conference outlook heading into the 2014 season.
Check out my early Big 12 Conference rankings:
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Which Trevor Knight will we get? If it’s the one that earned Sugar Bowl MVP honors by ripping apart Alabama’s defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns, then Oklahoma is on the fast track to a College Football Playoff appearance – because the defense is going to be nasty (especially the front line). But if it’s the Knight we saw in every other performance – including the recent spring game drubbing – then the Sooners are in trouble.
2. Baylor Bears
Although he loses highly-productive weapons like Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, quarterback Bryce Petty returns to what will still be an explosive offense. Coach Art Briles has done an excellent job building depth around him – especially within the receiving corps – so there’s no doubt Baylor will have one of the best scoring offenses in the country once again. However, the question remains: How will the defense respond after watching 10 seniors from last year’s two-deep clock out?
3. Kansas State Wildcats
This Kansas State squad is looking more and more like the 2012 version when Bill Snyder’s Wildcats won 12 games and made a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Jake Waters developed as a quarterback throughout the course of last season and looked very crisp during the team’s recent spring game, and he’ll have a top-quality offensive line to throw behind. As usual, the defense should be stout, but the JUCO transfers – Snyder is famous for turning coal into diamonds – must produce. He must also try to find a capable running back to replace three-year starter John Hubert, but the extremely talented freshman Dalvin Warmack could be a perfect fit.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
After being picked by many to win the Big 12 title last season and then making everyone look silly by winning four games, TCU can really only go up from here. There’s a healthy quarterback battle that will likely enter late August between Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel, Trevone Boykin and a pair of freshmen, and the offensive line has looked solid, but how will the offense react to a scheme change? Gary Patterson is switching to an up-tempo style, which could do one of two things: pay dividends throughout the year or implode from the get-go. Another major note is that former Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields is back and healthy after missing most of 2013 with a foot injury.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The 2014 version of the Oklahoma State Cowboys features a very young roster, thus meaning a shaky, inconsistent season awaits. J.W. Walsh is the undisputed starting quarterback, but hasn’t proven himself just yet. JUCO transfer Tyreek Hill should be his top weapon at RB/WR, but there are huge question marks at every other unit. And of course, per usual, the Cowboys’ secondary raises some concern.
6. Texas Longhorns
We know this: Charlie Strong is going to bring back a sense of physicality to the Texas football program. Everything else is an unknown. Whether it be David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, or possibly USC transfer Max Wittek under center come fall, we don’t know what exactly we’ll get from any of them. What we do know is that the receiving corps should be strong, while running back Malcolm Brown will be a centerpiece to the offensive focus. We also know that defensive linemen Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown (different guy) will be anchoring a line that will have to really make up for a questionable linebacker unit – a position that has plagued UT over the last few years.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Whether Texas Tech moves forward from its 8-5 season or takes a step back will be solely determined on how well the defense progresses this summer. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt will rely on a few JUCO transfers to take over his defensive line, and a number of freshmen to handle the back seven. Quarterback Davis Webb looks really good right now, but what happens if he goes down? The Red Raiders don’t have another QB on the entire roster!
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia could easily have the best set of running backs in the conference, but that won’t matter if they can’t get some sort of consistency from their quarterbacks. Clint Trickett enters as the favorite to win the starting position, but wasn’t very impressive during his eight appearances last season. The Mountaineers have ranked ninth and last in scoring defense in their two seasons as a member of the Big 12, and now it’s new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s job to take the next step and keep moving forward.
9. Iowa State Cyclones
We could see only one quarterback get real playing time for Paul Rhodes in 2014, because sophomore Grant Rohach has outplayed his counterparts and looks much improved from his freshman debut. If and when he wins the job this August, he’ll have an experienced offensive line and the best batch of pass-catchers Iowa State has seen in years. So where’s the problem? Well, an inferior defensive line and inexperienced back seven could factor in as a huge issue. It’s also known that the Cyclones have struggled to put points on the board, and although Mark Mangino’s arrival as OC should help, it’s not going to drastically turn things around (at least not right away). It also doesn’t help that ISU plays in the Big 12.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
One positive note is that Charlie Weis enters May already knowing who is starting quarterback is: Montell Cozart. He’ll have former Miami (Oh.) star wide receiver Nick Harwell (who has looked like a real playmaker this spring) to throw to, but has a gaping hole to deal with in the backfield that was left by Kansas’ go-to-guy the last three years, James Sims. I expect the Jayhawks to be better in Weis’ third season at the helm, but that doesn’t always translate to more wins.
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