While we are still in the talking season, the time of year in college football, when words speak louder than actions, I want to offer up my Big 12 preseason picks on how the upcoming football season will shake out.
Most national and regional media sources have the Oklahoma Sooners finishing first when all is said and done with the 2014 college football regular season, and I, too, agree with that majority assessment. But beyond the top pick, I share a different view on how the Big 12 teams will finish in the conference race this coming season.
Below is my prediction on the season outcome and a few words on why I feel the way I do:
Talking 12 Projected 2014 Big 12 Football Order of Finish
- Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1) - The Sooners are loaded on both sides of the ball this season, and the defense is the best in the conference. Offense is the calling card in Big 12 football, but it is defense that will win the ninth Big 12 championship for the Sooners. OU also is solid on special teams and grades out with an A for the coaching staff. If transfer wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is granted a waiver to play this season, OU’s passing offense will go up from a 5 or 6 to a 9 on a 10-point scale.
- Texas Longhorns (9-3, 7-2) – Charlie Strong takes over as head coach and the Longhorns will play more up to their talent level than in the past couple of years. The Horns have a lot of offensive weapons and they should be tough on defense, but the one large question mark is at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Whether David Ash will be able to recover sufficiently from the concussion issues he suffered last season is still in the air. Without Ash as the starter, Texas will have to go with an unproven but highly talented Tyrone Swoopes.
- Baylor Bears (10-2, 7-2) – Most of the experts are picking the defensing champs to challenge OU and finish second. The Bears arguably have the best quarterback in the Big 12 in Bryce Petty and, as always, a cast of fleet, able-handed receivers. They also have Shock Linwood, a Lache Seastrunk-like bruiser and slasher out of the backfield. Offense, no problem, It’s on defense that Baylor will fall short of repeating as Big 12 champions. I believe Texas will beat Baylor in Austin, and that Oklahoma will rebound from its loss last season at Baylor and beat the Bears in Norman, accounting for the Bears’ only two losses of the season.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-3, 7-2) – The Red Raiders will finally finish off a season strong. Among their wins will be an upset of Oklahoma in Lubbock. Sophomore Davis Webb proved in 2013 that he is a winner and is capable of being one of the best QBs in the conference. His backup, Baker Mayfield, transferred to Oklahoma, recognizing that Webb still has three years to shine as the Red Raiders main man. Coach Kliff Klingsbury likes what he has at running back so much that he moved last season’s top running back, Kenny Williams, to defense. Tech’s only conference losses will come against the two teams immediately ahead of them in the final standings.
- TCU Horned Frogs (7-5, 4-5) – Casey Pachall is finally gone, and Trevone Boykin has been moved to the slot to take better advantage of his speed. That means the Horned Frogs will go with someone entirely knew at QB. Matt Joeckel is certainly new to TCU, but he is better known as the backup the last two years to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn’t played all that much, but he does have game experience and three previous years as a college QB. B.J Catalon is a playmaker out of the backfield and in the return game, and you can always count on a Gary Patterson-coached team to be stingy on defense.
- Kansas State Wildcats (6-6, 4-5) - Next to the combination of Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley at Baylor, the hookup between Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters and Wide receiver Tyler Lockett is as good as they come in the Big 12. Look for the Wildcats to throw the ball more, and better, than they have in quite a few seasons under head coach Bill Snyder. Kansas State was one of the hottest teams in college football at the end of last season, winning six of its last seven games. The Wildcats’ road schedule is not very favorable, having to go to Oklahoma and TCU and close out the season at Baylor. Somehow, you get the feeling that Bill Snyder will find a way to improve upon preseason perceptions. Only, a ball-control, grind it out offense may not be the formula this time around.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-7, 3-6) – This may not be a rebuilding year for Oklahoma State, but it clearly won’t be a reloading year, either. J.W. Walsh is a known quantity at quarterback, although he lost his starting job a year ago. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors from the 2013 squad that finished in a three-way tie for second in the conference standings, and seven of those were defensive starters. Coach Mike Gundy still has a talented bunch returning, even if the majority weren’t starters last season. The Cowboys play with a winning attitude and they are highly representative of the competitive nature of their head coach, a former OSU quarterback. They will be a tough draw for every Big 12 team.
- West Virginia Mountaineers(4-8, 3-6) – West Virginia has not had the best of luck in its two seasons in the Big 12, going just 6-12 overall. And the outlook for 2014 isn’t much brighter. The Mountaineers missed the postseason in 2013 for the first time since 2001. The Mountaineers have already named senior and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, in his second season on the WVU roster, as the opening-game starter, which will be. – ugh! – against Alabama. As I wrote in article last week on the five best running backs in the Big 12, watch for Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell to put up big number in the running game for the Mountaineers this season. WVU has some talented wide receivers, but their contribution last season was far off the production once put up by the likes of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Safety Karl Joseph is the leader in defense.
- Kansas Jayhawks(2-10, 1-8) – This won’t be a banner year for the Jayhawks any way you slice it, but it will go down as the season they finally escape the Big 12 cellar, if only by virtue of a head-to-head victory over Iowa State. Head coach Charlie Weis may be on thin ice after his third season at the helm, but he just doesn’t have the horses or football fan support the other conference teams do. Second-year player Montell Cozart will be at the quarterback controls. Cozart is listed as a dual-threat QB, but his real strength is what he is able to create with his legs. The Jayhawks brought in a new offensive coordinator, John Reagan from Rice, but that will hardly make up for the fact that Kansas is far inferior to the other teams in one of college football’s strongest conferences.
- Iowa State Cyclones (2-10, 1-8) – Somebody has to finish last, and this coming season, the Cyclones will hold that dubious distinction. Iowa State does enter the 2014 campaign with some momentum, having finished the 2013 season on two straight victories. Offensively, the Cyclones aren’t as bad as their record might indicate, but coach Paul Rhoads is going to have to find a way to improve on a defense that yielded 6.3 yards per play last season. Iowa State does get Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home this season, which may not be much of a consolation in the win-loss column, but should help boost home attendance numbers.