2014 BIG 12 SEASON PREVIEW
By Trey McLaughlin
College Football Contributor
RattleandHumSports.com is proud to be gearing up for our fourth season covering the Big 12 Conference. We will be kicking off the season in Fort Worth, TX next Saturday when TCU hosts Samford University at 6:00 PM CDT. From there we head south to Waco as the 2013 Big 12 Conference Champion Baylor Bears Christen their new $260 million home, McLane Stadium, which will seat 45,140 fans but is expandable to 55,000.
Our fall of football continues with key conference clashes throughout the season, as we cover the race to “One True Champion” being crowned in December. With that being said we are excited to present our Rattle and Hum Sports 2014 Big 12 Conference Preview.
We have some very exciting announcements on the way regarding radio programming featuring the conference, and will be posting stories and additional team previews as gameday approaches. Until then, agree or disagree with our preview and predictions via the social networks and share your thoughts from Facebook to Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn and several other social outlets our publication is proud to influence. Most of all thanks for your continued support and keep Hummin’.
(teams listed in order of predicted finish)
2013 Record: 11-2 (7-2)
Key departures: Gabe Ikard (C), Jalen Saunders (WR), Trey Millard (FB)
Key returners: Trevor Knight (QB), Sterling Shepard (WR), Eric Striker (LB)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 8 vs Baylor
Preseason AP Poll Ranking: 4th
The Oklahoma Sooners had a very good 2013 campaign that was capped off by their 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. That win has thrust them into the national spotlight as contenders for one of the first four FBS playoff slots in January. If they want to reach their lofty goals, the Sooners will have to find consistent QB play, something that haunted them much of last year on their way to finishing 93rd in passing offense among FBS schools. If the Sugar Bowl performance by Trevor Knight is any indication as to what is coming in 2014, they’re going to be just fine.
The one thing the Sooners should be able to bank on is their defense continuing to be one of the best in the conference. They return many of their key playmakers including LBs Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander. The Sooner defense finished 22nd in the nation in scoring defense in 2013, allowing 22.1 points per contest.
This conference should come down to the November 8th showdown in Norman between Baylor and Oklahoma. While Baylor will be very competitive this year, it’s hard to imagine Stoops will let this game get away while playing on home turf. They should be able to take care of business and represent the Big 12 in the first ever FBS College Football Playoff.
2013 Record: 11-2 (8-1)
Key departures: Lache Seastrunk (RB), Eddie Lackey (LB), Tevin Reese (WR)
Key returners: Bryce Petty (QB), Antwan Goodley (WR)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma
Preseason AP Poll Ranking: 10th
The Baylor Bears shot into the national spotlight in 2013 by scoring more than 70 points per game over their first four games behind Bryce Petty and Art Briles high-powered offense. This year, Bryce Petty returns as a Heisman-hopeful with many of his favorite targets still available including WRs Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood. While they will miss Lache Seastrunk in the backfield, Shock Linwood has plenty of experience to fill the void, carrying more than 120 times last year with a 6.9 yards per carry average.
On the other side of the ball, their defense was fast and electric, but clearly had some major holes that were exposed in several games including the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl where they gave up 52 points to Central Florida. If they want to see their success continue, they have to be better on defense without two major leaders in S Ahmad Dixon and LB Eddie Lackey. Can they replace those leaders and get better? Their season may depend on it.
Expectations have never been higher in Waco as they come off their first ever Big 12 Football Championship. They move into their new stadium and look to repeat and build on what they accomplished last season. This year they will have a major target on their back, but they shouldn’t have any problem competing at the top of the Big 12.
Kansas State Wildcats
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
Key departures: John Hubert (RB), Tramaine Thompson (WR), Ty Zimmerman (SS)
Key returners: Tyler Lockett (WR), Jake Waters (QB), Ryan Mueller (DE)
Key 2014 game: Oct. 31 vs Oklahoma State
Preseason AP Poll Ranking: 20th
In 2013, Kansas State rode their 26th-ranked defense to an 8-win season. If they want to improve on that this year, they’ll have to get better QB play from Jake Waters as he won’t have RB John Hubert to lean on in the backfield and no great option to replace him. Tyler Lockett will still make big plays, but he can’t be asked to carry the entire load.
On defense, the Wildcats will return 1st-Team All-Conference selection Ryan Mueller on the defensive line, but they may have a major hole in the secondary with S Ty Zimmerman leaving. Bill Snyder prided his recruiting class this season on several junior college transfers, and much of his season may depend on how well they pan out.
At the end of the day, Bill Snyder will get the best out of his team, but this team clearly is a tier below Oklahoma and Baylor, although they should be a strong candidate to compete for the third place slot.
2013 Record: 8-5 (7-2)
Key departures: Jackson Jeffcoat (DE), Mike Davis (WR), Anthony Fera (K/P)
Key returners: Malcolm Brown (RB), Johnathan Gray (RB), Cedric Reed (DE)
Key 2014 game: Sept. 13 vs UCLA
After a disastrous start to the 2013 season, the Longhorns turned it around and came one win in Waco away from being Big 12 Champions. That doesn’t even mention that they secured a win over the Sooners in the annual Red River Rivalry Game. Now, it would be nice to say that expectations aren’t too high and that Charlie Strong has time to implement his systems and ramp up, but that’s never the case in Austin. Expectations are always high, so Strong better bring his A-game.
Luckily for him, he’s got a QB with experience in David Ash, but he’s lost top WR target and big play threat Mike Davis, and Jaxon Shipley has been shut down indefinitely with a hamstring injury. But even if the passing game isn’t stellar, the Longhorn’s two-headed running attack returns with both Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown coming back. The two of them led the Longhorns to nearly 200 yards per game on the ground last season.
On the other side of the ball is where the Longhorns really need to improve. They struggled last year in many games against the run and finished 57th in scoring defense. If they want to get back to the top of the Big 12 and back into the national spotlight, Strong has to help the defense improve.
With a tough non-conference game hosting UCLA early, the Horns may only be looking at another eight-win season, but that’s not a bad foundation to build on in the post-Mack Brown era.
TCU Horned Frogs
2013 Record: 4-8 (2-7)
Key departures: Devonte Fields (DE), Jason Verrett (CB), Casey Pachall (QB)
Key returners: Trevone Boykin (QB), B.J. Catalon (RB), Chucky Hunter (DT)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 7 vs Kansas State
While the Horned Frogs only grabbed four wins in 2013, they weren’t that bad. Gary Patterson’s group couldn’t seem to win any close games last year as they lost 7 times after being within one score in the final period, with 4 of those losses coming by 3 points or less. So, the margin between 4-8 and 8-4 isn’t that wide in Fort Worth.
In the off-season, Gary Patterson added major firepower to his offense by adding Matt Joekel via transfer from Texas A&M and a new offensive look brought on by Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meachem. With Joekel coming in and Trevone Boykin and B.J. Catalon returning, this revamped offense should have plenty of firepower to compete in the Big 12.
With the loss of Devonte Fields and Jason Verrett on defense, TCU probably is a tier below the top guns in the conference, but they should be able to grab seven or eight wins this year and compete for the third slot in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2013 Record: 10-3 (7-2)
Key departures: Justin Gilbert (CB), Josh Stewart (WR), Clint Chelf (QB)
Key returners: Desmond Roland (RB), Jhajuan Seales (WR), J.W. Walsh (QB)
Key 2014 game: Sept. 25 vs Texas Tech
Despite losing their final two games in 2013, the Oklahoma State Cowboys had their third 10-win season in the last four years including the massive 49-17 win over Baylor in Stillwater. As they turn the calendar to 2014, many of their key pieces fall out of the picture including QB Clint Chelf, RB Desmond Roland, and WRs Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart.
On offense, the reigns will either be handed back to J.W. Walsh, who is 6-2 as a starter for the Cowboys, or given to Daxx Garman, the former walk-on. And, despite losing several play-makers, they do add a potential play-maker in WR Tyreek Hill, who was named Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
On the defensive side, Mike Gundy loses cornerstone Justin Gilbert, which will add even more question marks for this young team. That should give plenty of opportunity for other players to step up such as DE Emmanual Ogbah, who is emerging to be an impact player on the Cowboy defense.
With so many question marks coming into the 2014 campaign, it’s hard to see the Cowboys reaching the same level as they did in 2013, but they should expect to win 8 games and set themselves up well for a run at the conference title in 2015.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2013 Record: 8-5 (4-5)
Key departures: Jace Amaro (TE), Eric Ward (WR), Will Smith (LB)
Key returners: Davis Webb (QB), Jakeem Grant (WR), Kenny Williams (RB)
Key 2014 game: Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State
No team had a more up-and-down season in 2013 than the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Red Raiders rode a soft non-conference schedule and a favorable beginning of Big 12 Conference play to a 7-0 start and a Top-10 AP Poll ranking. However, they would finish the regular season with 5 straight losses before bouncing back in the Holiday Bowl to beat a very competitive Arizona State team, 37-23.
So, to improve on their 8-win season Kliff Kingsbury added six junior college transfers on the offensive and defensive line alone including Rika Levi, a 340-pound DT that specializes in stuffing the running lanes. This should help to improve a defense that was often gashed in the running game and gave up more than 30 points per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kingsbury has some tinkering to do with the Red Raider air attack as Davis Webb will lose his top two pass-catching targets in All-American Jace Amaro and WR Eric Ward. Those two racked up more than 2000 yards and 15 TDs last season. They will, however, return RB Kenny Williams in the backfield.
Overall, the Red Raiders bring back some key pieces, but it may not be enough to surpass the performance they had last year. The Big 12 will be very crowded competing for the third spot, and unfortunately, the Red Raiders will most likely be on the outside looking in.
West Virginia Mountaineers
2013 Record: 4-8 (2-7)
Key departures: Charles Sims (RB), Darwin Cook (SS), Will Clarke (DE)
Key returners: Clint Trickett (QB), Mario Alford (WR), Daryl Worley (CB)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 1 vs TCU
The West Virginia Mountaineers enter their third year in the Big 12 still seeking a winning season within the conference. They come into the year with something to build on in Senior QB Clint Trickett. Trickett was the third QB to get a start last season, and he entered the scene with a bang, leading the Mountaineers to a 30-21 upset over Oklahoma State in Morgantown. Hopes were high, but Dana Holgerson’s group dropped six of their final seven games.
While you’d like to think the Mountaineers would get off to a better start with the QB situation not up in the air, it’ll be a tall order. They host two top 5 opponents (Alabama and Oklahoma) in the first four games, with a trip to Maryland in between. However, if Holgerson and company can manage a couple of wins through that gauntlet, they should be able to grab enough wins to get into a bowl. Their final two road games at Texas and at Iowa State may be the difference.
Iowa State Cyclones
2013 Record: 3-9 (2-7)
Key departures: Jeremiah George (LB), Jacques Washington (S)
Key returners: Sam Richardson (QB), Quentin Bundrage (WR), Aaron Wimberly (RB)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 22 vs Texas Tech
After playing in a bowl three of the previous four years, the Cyclones managed just three wins in 2013. Paul Rhodes team had no impressive wins, only managing to beat Tulsa, Kansas and West Virginia. While they’d like to turn it around, it surely won’t be easy. The Cyclones ranked 110th last year in scoring defense last season, surrendering 36 points per contest, and they’ll have big shoes to fill for LB Jeremiah George and S Jacques Washington.
However, on the offensive side, they should be better. Rhodes added Mark Mangino to his staff as the Offensive Coordinator, and Monday he announced that Sam Richardson would be the starting QB in Week 1. The Cyclones also return TE E.J. Bibbs and WR Quenton Bundrage while adding a few WRs in recruiting that could make an instant impact.
All in all, the Cyclones won’t be competing at the top of the conference, but they could get back to bowl eligibility if they can win a few key games including a trip TCU and a home game with Texas Tech.
2013 Record: 3-9 (1-8)
Key departures: James Sims (RB), Jake Heaps (QB)
Key returners: Montell Cozart (QB), Tony Pierson (WR), Ben Heeney (LB)
Key 2014 game: Nov. 8 vs Iowa State
With another rough season in 2013, the Jayhawks really only had one bright spot, snapping their 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over West Virginia. This year, they look to build some momentum and start working their way back into contention, but realistically, they’re at least a few years out from that happening.
However, Charlie Weis did make some changes this off-season by removing himself from the Offensive Coordinator role and giving the reigns to John Reagan, the former Rice OC. Reagan will look to utilize Montell Cozart’s running and passing abilities in an up-tempo offense. While this will help to improve things, don’t expect much noise from the Jayhawks. Their opportunities for conference wins should be limited to Iowa State and TCU at home.