When the 2013 USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll was released last week it showed two things about the Big 12 for the upcoming season. First, that there isn’t a national power that is in the early contention for the national title, and second, that the conference is as deep as any for teams that are competing to win the Big 12 Championship Trophy.
Four teams, led by Oklahoma State at No. 14, are ranked within the Top 25 Poll and two are just outside within votes of making it into the party.
Following the Cowboys, Texas and Oklahoma are ranked just behind OSU at No. 15 and No. 16 respectively with TCU bringing up the final team from the conference ranked at No. 20. Kansas State is the first team out at a mythical 26 while Baylor is just a few spots behind them.
Breaking down the contenders from the pretenders in the league, you are left with the above mentioned six that could have a say come December in who will represent the conference. One think may be for certain though, the league is likely to see a shared conference champion like it did between Kansas State and Oklahoma last season — KSU getting the nod due to the head-to-head.
Starting from the top-ranked teams in the conference, here is a break down of the league’s best six teams to be on top at the end of the year.
No. 14 Oklahoma State Cowboys –
The Cowboys are the preseason conference favorite as voted on by the coaches and media released during the Big 12′s Preseason Media Day. Oklahoma State returns the most depth of any team in the league and has a favorable setup when it comes to the path to the conference crown.
Oklahoma State hosts four of its foes in the predicted top-6 in the league with home games against TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and the finale against rival Oklahoma. The lone road game is a November date in Austin with the Longhorns. Depending how the pins fall, both could have the potential of being at one loss, if not any.
Predicted finish for the Cowboys? -
With all things leaning towards the Cowboys when it comes to depth and games at home, the conference crown should make its way back to Stillwater this season.
No. 15 Texas Longhorns –
Voting in the Big 12 Preseason Poll, I am not a believer in what the Longhorns are offering this season. This is a team that got crushed by Oklahoma last season and lost a Thanksgiving game at home vs. TCU. David Ash is a mediocre quarterback that has yet to prove that he can lead an offense that has four and five star talent all over the field.
Johnathan Gray should be the teams leading rusher this season in his sophomore year and prove why he was the most highly touted RB in the state of Texas in some years. Gray led his high school to three consecutive state titles, including posting eight touchdowns in the championship game of his senior year.
Mack Brown and his co-defensive coordinators are going to have a tough time with a conference that is pass happy and could face big losses against its northern rivals Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
Predicted finish for the Longhorns? -
The Longhorns are a bust on my list when it comes to the top-6 in the league. Whether Texas has three or four losses is going to come down to if the team can defeat Baylor on the road in the final game of the season. Predicted losses are to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU.
No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners –
A team I am yet to be sold on is the Sooners, however, Oklahoma can go along way in settling any questions that those of us have when Blake Bell lines up behind center, takes the snap and hits someone over the middle for a passing touchdown. The Sooners lack experienced depth at the position but Bell is going to lead a Tebow-like offense that may be even better than what the Gators were able to do to win the National Championship.
However, Bell’s time may not be this year but the next when he heads into his senior year.
Where Oklahoma lacks experience at the QB position, it makes up in just about every position on the field. A strong offensive and defensive group is going to bring the heat week-in and weak-out.
Predicted finish for the Sooners? -
Picking Oklahoma to finish second in the preseason poll, the Sooners will likely have a chance to claim at least a share of the conference crown when it faces Oklahoma State. In what was at least in the top-5 games of the Big 12 last season, OT may decide who earns a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 20 TCU Horned Frogs -
A young and talented group of Horned Frogs are facing a year in question by who is going to start behind center. Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin are battling for the starting nod with Pachall being the experienced favorite. If Pachall is the starter, the Frogs passing game may be the best in the conference.
Questions are going to come up front for TCU though. A team that had been led by Andy Dalton at quarterback and a strong running game in recent history, may have trouble establishing that running game due to lack of depth on the offensive line. TCU is still building following its change from the Mountain West to the Big 12 and that may show with a lot of the team’s big games on the road.
Predicted finish for the Horned Frogs? -
If not for a gauntlet of big games on the road in 2013, TCU may have found itself higher on the preseason list. But luck was not on the Frogs side when this schedule came out. TCU travels to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season while hosting Baylor, Texas and Kansas State. TCU will likely have its best finish in the league though, with a spot around third or fourth.
No. 26 Kansas State Wildcats-
Collin Klein is gone and the Wildcats are the leagues biggest question mark on what this team is going to look like. Looking at recent history, Bill Snyder has been a mastermind in recruiting talent from the JUCO level. This was proven last year as two-year talent led the team to a conference championship.
However, as there isn’t much about what this team will be about until the season begins, its hard to pinpoint a finish any higher than where the Wildcats are now.
Predicted finish for the Wildcats? -
Much like West Virginia was last year, I expect a good team that may be exciting on the field. However, Kansas State is likely in a rebuilding year that is going to see another run at the conference in 2014. Predicted finish is fifth in the league.
No. 29 Baylor Bears-
Baylor may be the biggest wild card of all of the Big 12 favorites and contenders. Baylor ended the title aspirations of Kansas State with the year’s biggest and most unexpected upset of the season. The Bears put up a 52-24 win against the Wildcats that has raised expectations for what 2013 will bring.
Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin are going to be a one-two punch at running back and Bryce Petty is having early whispers of being on the Heisman list — this being for 2014.
What could be a run to where it hasn’t been in years, Baylor has to overcome games at TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Those road tests are going to go along way in deciding if this team is for real.
Predicted finish for the Bears? -
Baylor has been an up and down team over the years, winning the games it isn’t expected to, and losing the games that it is thought to be a coin flip in. A tough road schedule doesn’t do any favors and Baylor will likely drop its home games vs. Oklahoma and Texas. Baylor is likely a 7-5 team at the end of the season.