There are a lot of teams in the running for conference bragging rights in the Big 12 this year. Will Texas finally turn the corner after a 3-year downturn? Will Oklahoma State win their second title in 3 years? Or will Oklahoma remain the team to beat?
Here's my OFD season preview for the conference allergic to defense.
Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Returning Starters: 19
Predicting this conference was no fun because I didn't want to pick Texas to win it, but I felt like I didn't have a legitimate enough alternative that would convince myself, let along anyone else. Still, if the Longhorns aren't really good this year you can close the book on Mack Brown. Right? 8 wins just can't be good enough, and 9 wins would be pretty debatable. They lose two really good defenders in safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Alex Okafor but literally everyone else on the defense returns---including studs defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks who missed the bulk of 2012 with injuries. Quarterback David Ash has brought some long awaited stability to his position and should improve. The running back corps is led by two former number one recruits, both top receivers return, as does the entire offensive line. They do travel to BYU and also play an improving Ole Miss team so I could see them dropping one of those non-league games. Even though I have them as the top team I still think they lose a couple games in conference but still hold on to the league title. There should be plenty of parity in the Big 12 this year.
Record: 10-2 (7-2)
Returning Starters: 15
The Cowboys were the media's preseason pick to win the conference and I don't have a big problem with that. As you can see I have the 2013 season coming down to a tie-breaker for first place and I honestly feel like there could be a four-way tie by December. Heck, the media picked Texas fourth! Oklahoma State's situation at QB should improve and that's a scary scenario in their system, although the loss of productive running back Joseph Randall could hurt a lot. Randall was a baller. There's lot of depth on defense so improvement looks likely there as well. Can they return to their 2011 explosive ways on this side of the ball? The thing with Oklahoma State is that they are pedestrian on the road under Gundy (22-20 overall) but their schedule faces games away against UTSA, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Texas. They should be no worse than 4-1 on the road, and I think they'll run Mississippi State right out of the gym in week 1 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Record: 9-3 (7-2)
Returning Starters: 11
Oklahoma Summer Opponent Preview can be read HERE. Yet another team that is tied for first place in the conference, but I think Texas is due for a win against the Sooners. Watch out for that tricky start to the season against Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia, and Tulsa. The Mountaineers might be the weakest of that bunch and it wouldn't surprise me if one of those teams catch OU sleeping while they break in a new quarterback.
Record: 8-4 (6-3)
Returning Starters: 16
TCU had a rude welcoming to the Big 12 last season going 7-6 overall and just 4-5 in league play. That was the most losses for the Horned Frogs in nearly a decade. So it goes when you step up to the major conference level, right? TCU does have 9 starters coming back on defense and that should make head coach Gary Patterson very happy. I am concerned that TCU gave up 20+ points 7 times last year while only doing so 12 times in the previous 4 seasons. Again, the step up in competition should give you pause to how good this defense can be when they have to prepare for 8 quality offenses instead of 2. However, if quarterback Casey Pachall stays clean their offense should get a major boost. They do have to open against LSU at Cowboys Stadium and I have losses against the top three teams ahead of them in conference, but I think TCU wins out the rest of their games.
Record: 8-4 (5-4)
Returning Starters: 12
Baylor has recruited well enough to weather the loss of 9 starters even if two of them are quarterback Nick Florence and wide receiver Terrance Williams. Of course it helps to have Heisman candidate Lache Seastrunk back at running back too. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Bears move up and win 10 games (particularly if teams like OU or Texas don't prove to be a step above the rest of the conference) but I doubt it's likely. They're defense is just so, so bad. Do you realize Baylor has given up 30+ points in 39 out of their last 65 games? That's 60 percent of the time! And it's not getting better because last year they gave up 30 or more 8 times! Here's the thing though...they're probably going to start 7-0 and easily break into the Top 15 with OOC games against Wofford, Buffalo, and ULM (although again watch out for the Warhawks!) and they begin league play with West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Kansas. If Baylor can do better than 1-4 down the stretch Art Briles may have done his best coaching job to date, and no doubt with increased attention to fundamentals.
Record: 6-6 (3-6)
Returning Starters: 13
The hot-shot young coach Kliff Kingsbury takes over at Texas Tech which is good for his career except Johnny Manziel didn't come with him to Lubbock. What KK is bringing back to Tech is the Air Raid offense, although the Red Raiders threw the ball a ton last year anyway. He'll have to replace a quarterback, the top two receivers, and three offensive linemen so it won't be easy having a high flying offense right out of the gate. A bunch of defenders are back although I wonder how much emphasis Kingsbury will put on that side of the ball. The schedule is super soft with non-leagues games against SMU, Stephen F. Austin, and Texas State so it shouldn't be too difficult to win 6 games. A week three Thursday night matchup against TCU could be critical. If they win that game the Red Raiders could start the season 7-0.
Record: 5-7 (2-7)
Returning Starters: 10
Bill Snyder continues to nourish his team with fresh vampire blood and he'll have to provide an extra large dose of the good stuff this year for Kansas State to finish in the upper half of the conference. The Wildcats were merely +12.2 in conference yards per game for 2012 (Phil Steele, FTW) and an even more abysmal -106 yards per game the year before, yet somehow, K-State is 15-3 over the past two seasons in the Big 12. I don't see that
luck vampire blood working in 2013. Super leader and quarterback Collin Klein is gone and the defense is returning only 2 starters from a year ago. How many teams have to replace their entire front seven? The good news, besides the presence of vampire blood, is that the JUCO national player of the year Jake Waters takes over at quarterback and of course 5 of the 9 open spots on defense should be filled by additional JUCO players. The offense is actually in good shape (entire offensive line is back plus most skilled players) so if Waters is a dynamic athlete in his first year in Manhattan the Wildcats might just surprise.
Record: 4-8 (2-7)
Returning Starters: 10
Things are about to get real dicey down in Morgantown for Holgo. The spread offense guru just went 7-6 with 3 of the best offensive skilled players in the country and they are all gone for 2013. As are 5 other starters from their offense. The defense returns a few good players but that whole unit stunk last year giving up 20+ points to every team not named Kansas or James Madison. Perhaps Florida State transfer Clint Trickett keeps the Holgo offense humming but what's that going to get them? Luckily, they get Texas and Oklahoma State at home and the non-conference schedule is friendly with William & Mary, Georgia State, and a neutral site contest in Baltimore against Maryland. They'll have a shot against the lower tier teams in the league but I doubt this is a bowl team.
Record: 3-9 (1-8)
Returning Starters: 9
If there's a coach who truly deserves the Doing Good Things™ tag it is Paul Rhoads. The guy took over a program that had won 9 games in 3 years---including just 2 wins the year before he was hired---and he's won at least 5 games in every season since 2009. He's also proven his team can deliver a major upset almost every season too. That's why I don't like predicting such a low number of wins for 2013 but things don't look very rosy for the Cyclones. Their quarterback STEELE JANTZ is gone as are the top three receivers. Five players in the defensive front seven will be first time starters. They do get games against Texas, Oklahoma State, and TCU at home so watch out for an upset in there. I probably should boost them to 2 conference wins but I'm not.
Record: 2-10 (0-9)
Returning Starters: 8
Are you buying stock in Kansas? Nowhere to go but up? A pair of really good running backs in James Sims and Tony Pierson? Schematic Advantage taking root in Weis' second year? Nope, not buying it. Tons of new starters need to be found and the talent level is still really low for major conference standards. As many as 13 JUCO's are projected to start which could be a good thing but could also completely backfire under the leadership of Chuck Weis. The schedule also does them no favors as they play 3 out of the top 4 projected teams in the league on the road. I also think they lose on the road to a really veteran Rice team which really isn't all that crazy because the Owls beat Kansas last year too.