With all the highs and lows of the 2013 Big 12 football season still very fresh in our minds, it’s a good time to take a way-too-early peek through the long lens at what we might expect for the 2014 season.
Next season, which actually will be the first in 18 years out from under the BCS umbrella. Welcome in the long anticipated College Football Playoff system, from which, I’m afraid, we can expect much of the same mental anguish and heartache over which four teams best deserve to be in college football’s version of the Final Four.
As far as the Big 12 is concerned, the just-ended 2013 season was one of the more closely contested in the Big 12 era. Right down to the final weekend of the regular season, three schools had a legitimate shot at winning the conference crown, and as many as five teams were title contenders as late as eight games into the season.
Only two teams in the conference (Oklahoma State and TCU) lose starting quarterbacks following the 2013 season, and in both cases there is a solid replacement with gane experience in the wings. And speaking of the quarterback position, Oklahoma may have as many as five quarterbacks competiting for the position come spring practice in another couple of months. That assumes that Baker Mayfield, a freshman walk-on who started a half-dozen games for Texas Tech this past season, does, in fact, transfer to Oklahoma and walk on at that program as he indicated in December he was going to do.
After redshirt freshman Trevor Knight’s sensational performance in the Sooners’ magical Sugar Bowl win over mighty Alabama, it’s difficult to understand how Mayfield would see himself bettering his situatiion and his chances of playing by transfering to OU, but we will just have to wait and see how this ultimatley plays out.
Looking ahead to next season, I would not be surprised to see another tight conference race in 2014. For anyone who might be under the impression that Baylor sensational 2013 season was a one-time aberration not to be duplicated in 2014, I am sorry to disappoint you. Baylor was more than very good in 2013, and the Bears will be again in 2014. The Bears have some holes to fill on defense, but the heart of their nation-best, high-scoring offense, quarterback Bryce Petty, is back in 2014 for another run.
Baylor also will move into its new $250 million football stadium next fall after 63 years at Floyd Casey Stadium, located about four miles from the Baylor campus. The new 45,000-seat stadium will include many of the modern features and electronic communications technology found in today’s college stadiums and is conveniently located on campus along the Brazos River.
Oklahoma ended the 2013 season with a huge momentum swing, including back-to-back road upsets of Kansas State and Oklahoma State, capped off with perhaps the year’s biggest upset in defeating two-time defending national champion Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners return nine starters on defense and many of the key playmakers on offense next fall.
The main issue on offense will be replacing top wide receiver Jalen Saunders as well as running backs/return specialists Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. The Sooners have talented sophomore Keith Ford ready for more prime-timce action at running back, and last weekend OU landed the nation’s top running back recruit in Joe Mixon out of Northern California. After redshirt freshman Trevor Knight’s outstanding performance at quarterback in OU’s Sugar Bowl win, the dual threat from San Antonio will undoubtedly be No. 1 on the depth chart going into spring practice.
The Sooners have been projected as a top-10 team to begin the 2014 season by many national experta, and OU has a schedule that favorably supports that early forecast with home games next season against Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
The eyes of Texas and the rest of the college football world will be watching closely to see what happens in Austin, Texas, with a new head coach on the sidelines for the first time in 16 years. Charlie Strong has taken over the head football job at Texas after four seasons at Louisville, the last two of which were a couple of the best seasons in program history.
Strong’s last two Louisville teams went 23-3, including a BCS Sugar Bowl win over Florida a year ago. What impact Strong’s presence will have on recruiting and restoring UT football among the blue bloods of college football remains to be determined, but he clearly stated that as his chief goal at his introductory press conference early this week.
Oklahoma State loses senior quarterback Clint Chelf, but has junior J.W. Walsh ready to step in. Walsh saw quite a bit of action in 2012, his freshman season, and at the beginning this past season. He completed 67 percent of his pass attempts in 2012 and threw for 1,500 yards, but backed up Chelf most of the 2013 campaign. The Cowboys will lose quite a few key contrubutors off of its defense, including All-Big 12 defensive back Justin Gilbert, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey and defensive tack Calvin Barnett. They also lose running back Jeremy Smith and receivers Josh Gordon, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore, but leading ground gainer Desmond Roland will return for his senior season.
Coming into the Big 12 two seasons ago, TCU brought with it a sterling football resume that included three straight Mountain West Conference championships. The Horned Frogs have had their troubles their first two seasons in the Big 12. There will be a new starting quarterbacl for the Frogs in 2014, and it probably won’t be junior Trevone Boykin. TCU has a trio of young QBs who will be battling it out for the starting spot. As for Boykin, you’re likely to find him full time at wide receiver next season. Look for TCU to get stronger on offense next year now that they have brought in new offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who moves over from an assistant’s job at Texas Tech.
Texas Tech appears set at quarterback for the immediate future with sophomore Davis Webb. With former Red Raider QB in his second season as head coach, you can expect the Red Raiders to continue putting up points and sling the ball all over the field. Tech needs to be able to play more consistent defense and finish out the season better than it has the past two years. After starting off the 2013 campaign with seven consecutive wins, the Red Raider dropped their final five games of the regular season before defeating Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. In 2012, the Red Raiders lost four of their final fivc games in the regular season.
Kansas State is another team that should be better in 2014 than it was in 2013. The Wildcats lose some key performers on both sides of the ball, but they will have wide receiver/return specialists Tyler Lockett back creating big headaches for opposing defenses as well as starting quarterback Jake Waters. Most of all, K-State has the dean of Big 12 coaches, Bill Snyder, on the sideline foir another season, which all but guarantees that the Wildcats will be as competitive as ever and a difficult out for every team in the league.
That leaves West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas. Unfortunately, 2014 is going to be another long season for these schools. West Virginia gets to kick off its 2014 season against Alabama. You think the Crimson Tide might be looking to take out some revenge on the Big 12? Then the Mountaineers open their Big 12 season several weeks later at home against Oklahoma. Kansas and Iowa State will again battle to avoid the conference cellar and will be fortunate to win three league games between them as competitive and talented the rest of the Big 12 is.
Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 Football Projections
- Oklahoma Sooners
- Baylor Bears
- Kansas State Wildcats
- Texas Longhorns
- Oklahoma State Cowboys
- TCU Horned Frogs
- Texas Tech Red Raiders
- West Virginia Mountaineers
- Kansas Jayhawks
- Iowa State Cyclones