Go ahead. Pick the winner of the Big 12 before the season starts. With all the questions at quarterback across the league, you can go ahead and try to pick the winner – but you had about the same chance at picking the Heisman each of the past three seasons.
Yeah. Tell me, non-K-State fans, that you had the Wildcats taking the conference last year. And those of you Kansas State fans, tell me that you would have picked an 11-1 regular season as anything other than a best-case scenario.
Fans of teams can make arguments for no less than five – and as many as seven – teams to win the Big 12 this season. But isn’t that what makes this fun?
2012: 8-5, 4-5 Big 12; Won Holiday Bowl
Consecutive bowl wins and impressive offenses are creating something rarely found in Waco, Texas: Expectations. QB Nick Florence is gone. That’s OK. Coach Art Briles did a reasonably good job in replacing the last guy, who brought home the Heisman Trophy in 2011. He figures to keep the chain alive this year with QB Bryce Petty. The Bears could have another Heisman contender this year in RB Lache Seastrunk, who rushed for 1,012 yards last season despite waiting seven games before getting 10 carries in a game. Apparently all it took for Briles to give him a shot was four consecutive conference losses.
Before Baylor can actually contend, though, it will have to find a way to play defense. Give the Bears this much: They were consistent. To the tune of 37.2 points allowed per game. That average ranked 113th in the nation. More teams scored 40 or more points (six) on Baylor than teams that scored 22 or fewer (one).
If nothing else, the Bears should pick up non-conference wins quickly and with relative ease. Louisiana-Monroe showed it can hang with beat the big boys, but Baylor won in Monroe last season – albeit in a hotly contested game. Once the Bears get into Big 12 play, it simply isn’t easy to find wins. Briles has proven he will, though, which means Baylor will likely again earn the same “playing above its head” mantle it has carried over the past several seasons.
What constitutes a successful season? Three consecutive bowl games – two of which Baylor won – mean “success” is an evolving term for the program. Is making a mid-tier bowl game enough for fans anymore? In a season that figures to feature strong teams up and down the league, eight regular-season wins – and a third consecutive victory over Texas Tech or beating Texas in the regular-season finale – would mark a strong season.
2012: 6-7, 3-6 Big 12; Lost Liberty Bowl
Huge losses on the defensive side of the ball mean coach Paul Rhoads might have his toughest task yet in Ames. As always, Rhoads will rely on guile and toughness to steal wins the Cyclones didn’t find before he took the helm.
He has some of the key ingredients to help him try to climb the Big 12 ladder – namely a strong run game headlined by RBs James White and Shontrelle Johnson. If those two can help Iowa State win the time-of-possession battle and alleviate pressure off QB Sam Richardson, the streak of bowl appearances could remain intact. This young defense might need time to gel. If it does, the offense will have to carry the load early.
Iowa State’s non-conference schedule does it no favors. An FCS game against a formidable Northern Iowa team followed by a rivalry game against Iowa and a bowl rematch against a game Tulsa program creates a challenging preseason. Like Art Briles at Baylor, Rhoads has proven he will find surprise victories. How many is the question.
What constitutes a successful season? With the challenges Iowa State faces early, a simple return to a low-tier bowl game would mean it fared well. Winning the CyHawk Trophy always goes a long way toward fan approval. The Cyclones have won the last two in the series and have won three straight just twice since 1900. A 3-0 non-conference record – which, as noted earlier, would be an accomplishment – would mean Iowa State needs just three league wins. That would be the most advisable path.
2012: 1-11, 0-9 Big 12; No bowl
It wasn’t so long ago that Kansas actually competed for Big 12 titles and made an Orange Bowl appearance. To Jayhawks faithful, though, it must seem like ages since Mark Mangino waddled the sidelines. Since 2008 – the year before Mangino was fired for rampant misconduct – Kansas has won just two league games.
The Jayhawks at least had a few close calls in their first year under coach Charlie Weis. They almost stayed within one possession of Oklahoma State and Texas – which they had against the ropes. Kansas also forced Texas Tech into overtime in Lubbock. QB Jake Heaps provides hope for a turnaround this season, though that might be the blue “Foolish Ambition” flavor of Kool-Aid speaking. RB James Sims gives Weis a reliable weapon. The defense played well at times last season and, with returning LBs Ben Heeney and Jake Love, it has a chance to take another step forward in 2013.
The Jayhawks’ non-conference schedule is manageable. The game at Rice is hardly a gimme, but it’s a game they could certainly win. A final non-conference tune-up against Louisiana Tech looks troublesome before Kansas enters the league slate.
What constitutes a successful season? Winning a conference game, for starters. There isn’t a single team Kansas would be favored to beat if the season began today. Forget bowl games. Moving in the right direction would be a massive step forward for Weis’ program. How hot Weis’ seat is will certainly be debated if the Jayhawks get off to a slow start. Considering they fired Turner Gill after just two seasons, though, it would seem foolish to pull the plug again that quickly. If Weis can go 2-1 in the non-conference slate – it opens with South Dakota – and win two Big 12 games, Kansas fans should be pleased.
2012: 11-2, 8-1 Big 12; Lost Fiesta Bowl
Even with the loss of QB Collin Klein and several key defensive pieces – including LB Arthur Brown – the Wildcats have the ability to contend at the top of the Big 12 again this year.
Of course, their ability to do so starts with the offense and someone capably filling Klein’s shoes. His successor has yet to be named, but all indications are coach Bill Snyder has solid options from which to choose.
Oh, K-State lost All-America CB Nigel Malone and his talented position-mate Allen Chapman as well. So the Wildcats will need to replenish the defense quickly. Snyder, as he’s been known to do, relied heavily on the junior college ranks. QB hopeful Jake Waters topped Rivals’ JUCO QBs rankings and CB Nate Jackson will get every opportunity to be a huge contributor this season.
Talented – and oft-underutilized – RB John Hubert should take on a bigger role this season to help both the quarterback and defense settle into place.
Don’t overlook the Louisiana-Lafayette team sandwiched between a couple patsies on K-State’s schedule, but the Wildcats should sweep their three non-conference opponents. A Big 12 opener at Texas, followed by a road game at Oklahoma State, will go a long way toward determining whether they can retain their league crown.
What constitutes a successful season? Snyder has set the expectation of winning championships in the Little Apple. Yes, the Wildcats lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but the schedule sets up for them much better in 2013 than in 2012. If Kansas State can sweep – or split – its first two conference games, it closes with five of seven games at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The only road games in that stretch are at Texas Tech and a season finale at Kansas. There are many questions facing the Wildcats, but a successful season ends with them lifting more hardware.
2012: 10-3, 8-1 Big 12; Lost Cotton Bowl
Don’t cry too much for coach Bob Stoops because of all the talent he lost from last year. He always has playmakers on both sides of the ball stockpiled and ready to emerge. This season should be no different.
The question all fans want answered is who will take snaps this season. Blake Bell, used as a situation quarterback over the past two years, seems like the logical choice to replace Landry Jones. However, Bell failed to claim the position during spring practice. Can he throw the ball well enough to keep defenses honest? Losing two big-time receivers is troubling, but less so when filling that void with someone like WR Jalen Saunders, who came on late last year to the tune of 33 receptions for 456 yards and three TDs over the final four games.
Defensively, the Sooners will need to reload – something that hasn’t been problematic in the past. They replace three-quarters of their secondary. The lone returner, CB Aaron Colvin, is a superstar in the making. The biggest questions are upfront along the defensive line.
Non-conference home games against Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa aren’t guaranteed wins, but Oklahoma has no excuse to lose to them. A road game against Notre Dame looks significantly more winnable now with Irish QB Everett Golson no longer with the program. The conference slate is back-loaded with potentially decisive road games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State to end the year. By then, a youngish team will have had time to mature.
What constitutes a successful season? For anyone who thinks conference championships aren’t considered a rite of passage in Norman, go check out an Oklahoma message board at halftime when the team disappoints in a Big 12 game. It doesn’t matter that the Sooners replace a ton of talent on both sides. They are supposed to place that many players in the NFL each year and they’re supposed to bounce back better than the previous season each time. Of course, that doesn’t make Stoops’ job easy. Plus he has to play the Big 12 schedule and doesn’t get to feast on the dregs of leagues like the SEC. Oklahoma fans will expect a conference championship – not a shared title, but an outright title – this season. Nothing less will suffice.
2012: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12; Won Heart of Dallas Bowl
Despite starting three different quarterbacks last season, the Cowboys managed to win eight games last season and easily could have beaten Texas and stolen road games from Oklahoma and Baylor. Mike Gundy is among the best coaches in the Big 12 and will have his team ready to make another run at a league championship again in 2013.
Replacing RB Joseph Randle is no easy task. Jeremy Smith will get the first crack at it.
Oklahoma State seems primed to run an entirely different defensive system this season, which will be a welcome sight to many fans. Coordinator Glenn Spicer is poised to run a variety of coverages, blitzes and schemes at some of the best offensive minds and powers in college football.
The Cowboys are just two years removed from a near-miss for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. They weren’t dramatically worse in 2013, but had to break in players at key positions after big personnel losses QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon. A year of seasoning should do players such as QB Clint Chelf well.
Opening with a neutral-field game against Mississippi State is hardly taking on Savannah State to start. The Cowboys are favored to win the game big (11.5-point favorites). Following with games against UTSA and Lamar hardly signals a murderer’s row. Oklahoma State’s conference slate lines up fairly well with no obviously treacherous three-games-in-three-weeks stretch.
What constitutes a successful season? While winning the conference would be nice, so would a nine-win season resulting in a Cotton Bowl appearance. Oklahoma State is – and should be – among the favorites to win the Big 12. Ultimately, a home win over Oklahoma teamed with a share of the conference title should be plenty to tie over the fan base.
2012: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12; Lost Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
A talented defense laced with players ticketed for Sunday careers should keep TCU in the Big 12 race this season. Big 12 Defensive Player of the year DE Devonte Fields returns along with a loaded secondary. This was a defense that dominated at times in 2012, such as it did in a Thanksgiving victory over Texas. However, the unit lacked consistency – as evidenced by a confounding loss to Iowa State and a blowout defeat at Oklahoma State.
No matter how well the defense plays, TCU must do more offensively. The return of QB Casey Pachall should do plenty to bolster that effort. He left the program four games into the season last year to get his personal life back on track. Now he’s back and ready to emerge among the elite triggermen in a league full of them. More importantly, the Horned Frogs need to develop a nasty streak in the run game that will allow them to physically wear down opponents.
Starting the season with LSU – even if in your own backyard – is never an easy challenge. The two will square off in Cowboys Stadium to open 2013. Non-conference games against Southeastern Louisiana and SMU are far less daunting. TCU’s road schedule in the Big 12, however, is brutal – starting with a Thursday night clash with a suddenly energized Texas Tech team. The Horned Frogs also play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road.
What constitutes a successful season? This team is strong enough, from a talent perspective, to contend for the Big 12 championship. It’s been years since fans have questioned TCU’s ability to match up with the best in the nation – much less a major conference. However, the program is still growing accustomed to the week-after-week grind found in the Big 12 that wasn’t experienced in the Mountain West. October – with road games at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and a home tilt with Texas – will make or break TCU’s season. With an awfully difficult schedule, eight regular-season wins and a bowl victory would be a strong season for the Horned Frogs.
2012: 9-4, 5-4 Big 12; Won Alamo Bowl
A funny thing happens when fans give up hope that a decreasingly popular coach will be removed from his post – expectations lower for even very talented teams. That’s at least what has happened at Texas. Ask the Burnt Orange Nation and you will hear, largely in disgruntled tones, that Mack Brown has a job for as long as he wishes to have one.
Winning a conference title, of course, would make those displeased fans scarce. Don’t think for a second that Texas doesn’t have a roster good enough to make that happen. Nineteen starters return for a team that, frankly, underachieved to go 5-4 in the Big 12 last season. The Longhorns should feature one of the nation’s top rushing attacks, headlined by super sophomore RB Jonathan Gray. QB David Ash showed flashes of brilliance – and inconsistency – in 2012. If he can show more of the former and less of the latter, this will be a dynamic offense capable of out-gunning the best in an offensive-oriented league.
Defensively, Manny Diaz must motivate – or scheme – a talented group into far better production. For last year’s Texas defense to rank 74th in scoring defense was stunning. With the number of former five-star recruits and future NFL draft picks suiting up on Saturdays, there’s no excuse for a repeat performance.
Non-conference games at BYU and against Ole Miss have the potential for tough tests. Ultimately Texas should win both. Arguably, the Longhorns’ toughest three games are at home (Kansas State and Oklahoma State) or on a neutral field (Oklahoma).
What constitutes a successful season? Longhorns fans seem to indicate a bounceback season with a trip to the Cotton Bowl would be welcomed. Fool me once… Texas doesn’t want to finish in a tie for the league title. It doesn’t want to look up at any program in the standings. Brown has gone 13-12 over the past two seasons. Still, with a schedule that favors the Longhorns and a talented roster returning plenty of starters, nothing less than an outright conference championship should be considered a good season in Austin.
2012: 8-5, 4-5 Big 12; Won Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Many Tech fans were pleasantly surprised when Tommy Tuberville bolted for Cincinnati in early December last year. The excitement only grew when former QB Kliff Kingsbury linked the program back to the good ol’ days when Mike Leach’s aerial assault lit up opposing defenses and scoreboards alike.
There wasn’t much to like about a ho-hum 2012 season. The high-water mark came in an upset over a West Virginia team that was later exposed as a fraud of a national – and conference contender. A 1-4 finish – with overtime needed to beat Kansas at home – did little to galvanize the program’s fan base.
Seth Doege is gone, but new QB Michael Brewer provides reason for optimism – especially under the tutelage of Kingsbury. It would be nice for Brewer to get help from his run game. Leading rusher RB Kenny Williams returns, as does leading receiver WR Eric Ward.
Now: Can Kingsbury provide the defense Tuberville – known as a defensive-minded coach – never could?
A relatively simple non-conference slate of SMU, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State should help build confidence early. TCU might walk into a buzzsaw when it visits Lubbock for an early Thursday night game as well. Tech needs to get its wins early. A season-ending six-game stretch featuring both Oklahoma schools, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas will not be easily navigated.
What constitutes a successful season? This will be a season of transition – again – for the Red Raiders. Kingsbury has proven himself as a coordinator, helping Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy last year at Texas A&M, but he could have growing pains as a head coach. If Tech’s defense isn’t substantially improved, it could be a long second half of the season. Winning eight games with a win in, say, the Alamo Bowl should be considered a success this season.
2012: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12; Lost Pinstripe Bowl
The amount of offensive firepower West Virginia graduated last year is mind-boggling. Even with QB Geno Smith, WR Steadman Bailey and WR/RB Tavon Austin, though, the Mountaineers couldn’t score enough to offset a putrid defense. Dana Holgorsen’s team must reload on one side of the ball while rebuilding on the other – all at 100 mph as the team continues its turbulent course into the Big 12.
There is not starting quarterback – at least not officially – at this time. Florida State transfer Clint Trickett seems a good bet, but he has yet to take a practice snap in Morgantown. RB Andrew Buie will provide balance in the run game for whoever runs the offense.
Things can’t get much worse defensively for the Mountaineers this season. They finished 117th of 124 teams in scoring defense, allowing 38.1 points per game. At one point, six consecutive teams scored 39-plus points on West Virginia.
William & Mary and Georgia State hardly present challenges to West Virginia. A road game at a potentially improved Maryland team could prove difficult. More tough road games at Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and TCU mean the Mountaineers will need to learn to win away from Milan Puskar Stadium.
What constitutes a successful season? With as much talent as West Virginia lost, teamed with a defense that suffered through a disastrous campaign a year ago, expectations aren’t – and shouldn’t be – high. The Mountaineers have a proud program and would not enjoy going from consistently competing at the top of the Big East to being a middling team in the Big 12. Truth is, that might just be reality again this season. So much transition likely means seven wins – regular-season or total – would mark a strong season.
Topics: Baylor Bears, Big 12, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders, West Virginia Mountaineers