The college football season is literally right around the corner, which means it’s time to preview another conference. Today, I’ll break down what’s going to happen in the Big 12.
Big 12 Projected Order of Finish
4. Oklahoma State
5. Texas Tech
7. Kansas State
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
Yes, I realize that this choice goes against the grain a little bit. After all, the media overwhelmingly picked Oklahoma to win the conference championship, and the Coaches’ Poll lists the Sooners as the third-best team in the country. Who could blame them after watching OU demolish Alabama in the Sugar Bowl?
However, instead of picking the conference champion based on one game, I decided to look at each team’s entire body of work, which is why the Bears get the nod. Baylor demolished fellow top contenders Oklahoma (41-12) and Texas (30-10) last season, proving that the Bears were the best team in the league in 2013.
That will be the case again this year. The Bears return plenty of experience from last season’s championship squad. Sure, it needs to replace a few starters on defense, but Baylor has one of the best defensive lines in the country, anchored by Jamal Palmer (11 TFL, 5 sacks), Shawn Oakman (12.5 TFL. 2 sacks), and Beau Blackshear (6 TFL, 2.5 sacks). Their ability to create negative plays will keep opposing offenses behind the sticks, preventing them from sustaining drives.
Offensively, Baylor will pick up right where it left off last year. The three-headed monster of Bryce Petty (4,200 yards passing), Shock Linwood (882 yards, 6.8 ypc), and Antwan Goodley (1,339 yards receiving 13 TD) will cause all sorts of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Expect them to finish in the top four nationally in scoring offense for the fourth consecutive season.
Surprise Team of the Conference: TCU
A couple of weeks ago in my 5 Teams With Losing Records Who Will Go Bowling in 2014 piece, I wrote that I expected the Horned Frogs to flip their 4-8 record into an 8-4 mark this season. The Horned Frogs return eight starters from a very underrated defense that ranked 25th nationally in total defense last year. On the other side of the ball, Doug Meacham (Houston) and Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech) take over as co-offensive coordinators, which will give the offense more of a wide-open look than it’s had in the past.
This new type of explosiveness will help TCU score just a few more points, which will ultimately make the difference this season, despite the loss of defensive end Devonte Fields. Remember, the Frogs lost three of their last four contests by a field goal or less, meaning that they could have won all three with just one more big play.
Biggest Disappointment: West Virginia
After dropping 70 points on Clemson at the end of the 2011-12 season, many expected the Mountaineers to compete for the Big 12 title. That hasn’t happened. After two years in the conference, West Virginia is just 6-12 in league play, including a 2-7 mark a year ago. While the Mountaineers will be a much better team in 2014, the season opener with Alabama makes it extremely likely that they’ll miss a bowl for the second straight season, since the Big 12′s depth makes it hard for West Virginia to expect anything more than four league wins. Relatively speaking, that’s still a huge disappointment.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
The reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is my favorite to win the award again this season. Finally getting a chance to shine in 2013 after waiting patiently behind Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, Petty threw for 4,200 yards with an amazing 32/3 TD-to-INT ratio. He was especially impressive in the fourth quarter, completing 63.4 of his passes with five TDs and zero picks. He also ran for 14 TDs, giving him a total of 46 for the year.
By comparison, that total is more than 60 FBS teams scored last season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State
The anchor of the KSU defense, Mueller was one of the most disruptive players in the Big 12 last season. As a first-year starter, Mueller made the most of his opportunity, recording 11 sacks (8th best in the nation) and 18.5 TFL. He also broke up six passes and forced four fumbles.
Newcomer of the Year: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
Note: It’s uncertain which position Hill will play this season. He could very well become a hybrid back.
This was a tough call to make. After all, Kansas receiver Nick Harwell had an outstanding career at Miami (OH), and finished in the top 15 nationally in receiving yards in 2011 (2nd) and 2012 (14th).
While Harwell’s resume is impressive, I’m giving the nod to Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill. In two seasons at Garden City Community College, he caught 70 passes for 1,270 yards and rushed for 1,027 yards. Whether he ends up playing running back, receiver, or both – as he did in JUCO – Hill is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches the ball because of his blazing speed.
If you want to check out Hill in action, click here to see highlights from his JUCO career. In the clips where he’s wearing No. 24, the quarterback is now-Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
Coach of the Year: Art Briles, Baylor
This is an easy call to make, since Briles will have guided the Bears to back-to-back Big 12 titles. With a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Briles will become to first coach in school history to lead Baylor to consecutive 10-win seasons.
Associate Editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan discussed their picks for the Big 12 and Pac-12 on College Sports Weekly on Tuesday night. To listen to their in-depth analysis – mixed in with a little humor – click here.