Big 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#66 Iowa State Cyclones

NATIONAL FORECAST

#66

Big 12 PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Paul Rhoads, 27-36 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Mangino | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wally Burnham

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 66 Iowa State.

Previewing Iowa State’s Offense:

The good news here is that Iowa State has 10 starters returning on offense. The bad news is that last year’s offense ranked 96th in the nation with only 363.0 yards per game. Still, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has plenty of quality pieces to work with, including two experienced quarterbacks in Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. Rohach ended last season by throwing for 300-plus yards in wins over Kansas and West Virginia and is the favorite to win the starting job.

Iowa State should be in good shape at running back with Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy as the featured backs. Wimberly is the more proven of the two, but durability is an issue for his 5'9", 174-pound frame. Nealy has simply been the victim of a crowded backfield over the course of the last two seasons and could be due for a breakout year.

Wide receiver is a position of strength for Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones. Junior Quenton Bundrage, an All-Big 12 candidate, caught nine touchdown passes last year. The addition of true freshman Allen Lazard and South Florida transfer D’Vario Montgomery provides two new talented targets. Tight end E.J. Bibbs was second on the team in receptions a season ago. With Mangino calling the shots, expect Bibbs, a second-team All-Big 12 performer last year, to see an even larger role this season.

A plethora of injuries last season should help Iowa State’s offensive line develop in 2014. The Cyclones started nine different combinations in 12 games last season. Senior Tom Farniok is one of the top centers in the Big 12. 

Previewing Iowa State’s Defense:

Veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has his work cut out for him with this group. Only five starters return from a unit that ranked 105th nationally in total defense in 2013.

Defensive end Cory Morrissey will be forced to carry a large load of responsibility up front after fellow seniors Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed from the program in the spring.

The Cyclones have numbers at linebacker but not much experience, as the majority of players competing for time are underclassmen. Luke Knott will return after undergoing groin/hip surgery in the offseason. Despite missing half of the season, Knott still recorded 45 tackles during his rookie campaign. Jared Brackens is an undersized but athletic strong-side linebacker who fits nicely against Big 12 offenses.

Rhoads is high on sophomore Nigel Tribune, who will lead the secondary at cornerback. Two veterans, Sam Richardson and Kenneth Lynn, will combine to man the opposite side. Newcomers will occupy both safety spots. 

Previewing Iowa State’s Specialists:

After relying on Kirby Van Der Kamp for the last four seasons, Iowa State will hand the punting duties over to a true freshman in Colin Downing. Ranked as the top kicker/punter in the state of Wisconsin, Downing chose the Cyclones over Penn State. After going 13-of-18 — including 10-of-11 inside 40 yards — on field-goal attempts last season, Cole Netten will kick once again for the Cyclones.

Final Analysis

Iowa State must improve significantly on both sides of the ball if it hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing three-win season. With Mangino on the staff, there is legitimate hope for better production on offense. There are some nice pieces at the skill positions for the former Kansas head coach to work with. Defensively, however, there are major issues. The staff will be relying on several junior college transfers — always a dangerous proposition. If the Cyclones want to reach a bowl game in 2014, they will have to do it by simply outscoring the opposition.  




Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#41 Texas Tech Red Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#41

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Smith, Matt Wallerstedt

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 41 Texas Tech.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense:

With both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, it’s quarterback Davis Webb’s time to shine at Texas Tech. He had a huge performance in the Holiday Bowl against a stout Arizona State defense, and he’s established himself as the program’s quarterback of the future. The sophomore from Prosper, Texas, looked poised and confident in the spring, cementing his place as the alpha male on offense. Webb has also gained about 20 pounds since the end of last season, and it’s helped add noticeable zip to his throws.

Things look to be improved on the offensive line in 2014 as well, as the Red Raiders will return essentially four of their five starters in the trenches, including All-Big 12 tackle Le’Raven Clark. On top of that, the Raiders will add two junior college transfers — Dominique Robertson and Shaquille Davis — who could play their way into the starting lineup.

Kenny Williams, who rushed for a team-high 497 yards in 2013, was moved to defense in the spring, making junior DeAndre Washington the favorite to start at tailback. True freshman Justin Stockton will contribute right away.

Outside receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro leave big holes in the receiving corps from last fall, and a few young stars are looking to fill their shoes. Bradley Marquez has been moved inside to Y — where Amaro caught over 100 passes last year — and sophomore Reginald Davis looks to be a burgeoning star on the outside at the Z spot.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
A number of starting defenders have graduated, and an influx of junior college talent is looking to play immediately on the line and in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Keland McElrath has already arrived on campus, and three more junior college transfers will arrive in June. These newcomers will add size to the line as well — their average weight is just over 300 pounds. That’s a marked improvement from last year, and defensive co-coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is hoping it will help shore up a run defense that allowed 228.4 rushing yards per game in conference play.

Senior inside linebacker V.J. Fehoko, a transfer from Utah, impressed in the spring, and he established himself as an emotional leader on defense in quick fashion. Williams’ move from running back to outside linebacker has been smooth, and it appears that the senior has filled an important need for 2014.

Cornerback Justis Nelson and safety J.J. Gaines are proven players, but questions remain at the other two spots in the secondary. Jalen Barnes, Keenon Ward and junior college transfer Josh Keys will fight to start at the other safety spot, while Thierry Nguema, Tyler Middleton, and La’Darius Newbold battle it out at corner.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists for 2014: 

Kicker Ryan Bustin will return for his final year on the South Plains, and he’s looking to improve on a fantastic junior season in which he broke Tech’s single-season kicking record with 23 field goals (in 27 attempts). Taylor Symmank will take over punting duties this fall, and the junior impressed with his distance during the spring.

Final Analysis 

Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.




Unpublished

Unpublished

Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#39 TCU Horned Frogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#39

Big 12 PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson, 120-44 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sonny Cumbie, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dick Bumpas

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 39 TCU. 

Previewing TCU’s Offense for 2014:

TCU hopes its beleaguered offense will get a boost from the up-tempo, no-huddle attack installed by new offensive co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The Horned Frogs also hope new quarterback Matt Joeckel, who transferred from Texas A&M in April, can step in and help run the show in 2014, his final year of eligibility.

Joeckel allows TCU the option to move Trevone Boykin back to receiver, where he was often an effective playmaker in 2013 when he wasn’t starting at quarterback.

TCU has speedy running backs B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green returning, and both should thrive in the new system.

Reinforcements were an offseason priority for the line, which struggled a year ago, and the receiving unit is looking to rebound from an inconsistent and unreliable 2013.

Previewing TCU’s Defense for 2014:

Eight starters return to a unit that finished a close second in the Big 12 in total defense a year ago. And that doesn’t include end Devonte Fields, who missed the last nine games with an injury. If Fields returns to his freshman glory — when he was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year — the Frogs’ defensive line, which includes standout tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter, should be one of the strongest in the league.

All-America cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode must be replaced, but TCU returns experienced corner Kevin White and safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett to a secondary that was among the best in the Big 12 in 2014. TCU intercepted 19 passes in 2013, tied for second-most in the league. Since 2012, the Frogs have 40 interceptions, second most in the nation behind Oregon’s 43.

The linebackers, a source of consternation before the season a year ago, turned out to be a reliable unit. Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson return, as does TCU’s leading 2013 tackler Paul Dawson. Dawson started the last seven games, including the last five alongside Anderson, who was moved from safety to linebacker before the ’13 season.

Previewing TCU’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry return as reliable third-year starters. Oberkrom made 14-of-18 field-goal attempts last season and has made 79 consecutive extra points, tying a TCU record. Perry averaged 40.3 yards per punt and placed 29 of 80 inside the 20-yard line. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper provide an experienced kickoff return duo. Catalon averaged 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, second-most in the Big 12. Echols-Luper’s 13.4-yard average on punt returns ranked third in the league and 16th nationally. 

Final Analysis

It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#37 Oklahoma State Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#37

Big 12 PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 77-38 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 37 Oklahoma State.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense:

Uncertainty at quarterback has become a recent trend at Oklahoma State. J.W. Walsh, who has spent time on and off as the starter, used a strong spring to reestablish himself in the eyes of coaches. Always touted as a leader and a “winner,” he showed improved judgment and accuracy throwing the ball, offering hope that he’s growing into the role. Walsh’s mobility is also a plus behind an offensive line that is rebuilding and counting on the healthy return of its projected starting tackles, Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett.

So Walsh, who entered spring in competition with former Arizona transfer Daxx Garman and true freshman Mason Rudolph, makes sense on many levels. “He’s going to be our guy,” says senior Daniel Koenig, the Cowboys’ most veteran lineman. “He has to be.”

If Walsh and the guys up front develop, there are plenty of playmakers to keep OSU’s productive offense rolling.

Power back Desmond Roland emerged as a force a year ago, taking over the starting job midseason and finishing with 811 rushing yards, a 4.6 per-carry average and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Receiver may be the team’s greatest strength; it’s a position stacked with talented breakout candidates, including three — Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman — who started hinting at their upside as youngsters in critical roles a year ago. The Cowboys added a fascinating wild card in junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, who literally has world-class speed as a track standout and is being pegged as a combo running back and receiver.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Defense:

The Cowboys made great strides on defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer, who successfully implemented an aggressive and attacking style that was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

Well, that was fun. Spencer now faces a massive overhaul, after losing seven senior starters and several other key backups. “The fun part about it is, I think this young group is really hungry,” Spencer says. “They’re hungry to show what they can do. They’re hungry to learn. And as a coaching staff, we can hammer in the core principles and values of what we believe in.”

There are valuable cornerstones, beginning up front with tackle James Castleman and end Jimmy Bean, two returning starters on a deep and promising line. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, two juniors, have already played a lot in their careers and project as all-conference candidates. So in the pass-happy Big 12, the Cowboys bring rushers and cover men — must-haves.

Still, inexperience at linebacker and safety is a major concern. Ryan Simmons fit in as this group’s pup a year ago, starting 13 games as a sophomore and finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles. Suddenly, he’s cast as the veteran and a leader. Kris Catlin and Seth Jacobs, who have worked up through the program, and junior college addition Devante Averette are in play for the other two starting jobs.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists:

The Cowboys uncharacteristically struggled in the kicking game a year ago, mostly because of the inconsistencies of kicker Ben Grogan and punter Kip Smith. Both are back, so the hope — and need — is that they’ve improved. New return men must be identified, although Hill and his dazzling speed have coaches excited his potential on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis

Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.




Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#4 Oklahoma Sooners

NATIONAL FORECAST

#4

Big 12 PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Bob Stoops, 160-39 (15 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jay Norvell, Josh Heupel | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Stoops

With 16 starters and a favorable schedule, Oklahoma is poised for a run at college football’s national title. The Sooners ended 2013 on a high note by defeating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The victory over the Crimson Tide provided plenty of offseason momentum and showcased the development of quarterback Trevor Knight. The sophomore is the x-factor for Oklahoma in 2014. If Knight takes the next step in his development, his emergence will add to a team that has one of the nation’s top defenses, as well as a favorable path to an undefeated record.

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Previewing Oklahoma’s Offense for 2014:

Oklahoma played three quarterbacks last year against Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. Then Trevor Knight provided clarity for the position, producing a breakthrough performance in a stunning Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, whom he torched for 348 yards and four touchdowns, walking off with the Most Valuable Player trophy and walking into 2014 as the No. 1 quarterback.

Knight will still have to prove he can be consistent, an issue that plagued him as a redshirt freshman a year ago. But the belief inside the program is that the Sooners have something special in Knight, a dual-threat operator who’s been creating a buzz since arriving on campus. Knight will be pushing those around him, too, as the Sooners move ahead without their top rushers, receivers and linemen from 2013.

At Oklahoma, there’s a “next up” mentality. And it’s in play again, amid a sense that there’s a cast of playmakers ready for their shot. Sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford are former premium prospects working to earn the feature running back role, yet both will have to hold off incoming freshman and five-star recruit Joe Mixon — a tantalizing combination of speed and power.

Sterling Shepard gives the Sooners a proven and productive receiver who’s ready to thrive as the primary target. Beyond Shepard, inexperience is a concern, although coaches are confident reliable receivers will emerge, including at tight end, which gets renewed emphasis in the passing game.

The offensive line loses All-America center Gabe Ikard, yet the unit is experienced and anchored by senior tackles Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Oklahoma Sooners for 2014:

 

Previewing Oklahoma’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The front seven projects to be among the best in the Big 12, if not the nation. On the line, there’s talent and depth, headlined by first-team All-Big 12 end Charles Tapper, who produced 5.5 sacks a year ago as a sophomore. Linebacker may be the team’s greatest strength, starting with Eric Striker, who led OU with 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss. He’s an attacking and disrupting presence whose energy flows through the entire defense. “He’s not only a great player, he has a great feel for the game, and that’s what great players do,” says defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

Dominique Alexander, the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013, also returns after finishing second on the team with 80 tackles. The biggest concern exiting spring was the status of leading tackler Frank Shannon, who was facing possible disciplinary action for an alleged sexual assault.

In the secondary, youngsters will be under fire to hold up the back end, and perhaps, the defense overall. Cornerback Zack Sanchez returns off a Freshman All-America season that saw him lead the team in passes defended. And there’s optimism that OU’s next wave of defensive backs have simply waited their turn.

Previewing Oklahoma’s Specialists for 2014:

Michael Hunnicutt made 24-of-27 field goal attempts in leading the Sooners in scoring last fall when he was a semifinalist for the Groza Award. Jed Barnett averaged 41.7 yards per punt, with more than a third of his boots downed inside the 20. There’s a search for return men, but several candidates are on hand, with Mixon and Shepard offering intriguing possibilities.

Final Analysis

The pulse of a program changed dramatically with wins over in-state rival Oklahoma State and Alabama at the end of last season. Reasons for optimism are plenty, from Knight to a talented cast of playmakers and a stout defense to a schedule set up to accommodate ambitious goals.

These Sooners can win. And win big.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Oklahoma No. 4

1. Trevor Knight’s development
No, we aren’t expecting to see the same Trevor Knight that gashed Alabama’s secondary for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl, but he should continue his development in 2014. Although the performance against Alabama was clearly Knight’s best game last year, he also played a big role in Oklahoma’s 41-31 victory over Kansas State by accounting for 253 total yards and two scores. Even with the turnover at receiver, Knight is set to show major improvement as a passer and will continue to hurt defenses with his legs.

2. An elite defense?
Oklahoma’s defense allowed 5.4 yards per play in Big 12 games last season and finished No. 2 in the conference by allowing 22.1 points per game through 13 contests. With eight starters back (nine if Frank Shannon returns to the team), the Sooners should have one of the nation’s top defenses. The front seven is loaded with talent, and the return of tackle Jordan Phillips will help improve a run defense that struggled at times in 2013. Replacing Aaron Colvin is coordinator Mike Stoops’ biggest offseason priority, but sophomore Zack Sanchez is ready to step up into the No. 1 role. With speed, talent and depth, Oklahoma will have one of the nation’s best defenses in 2014.

3. The schedule
Outside of Florida State, the team with the easiest path to an unbeaten record among programs in a power conference has to be Oklahoma. The Sooners host Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor and play Texas in Dallas. The toughest road games would appear to be against West Virginia and TCU, as well as a matchup at Texas Tech one week after hosting Baylor. Without a tough non-conference game or road date against a top-25 team for 2014, the Sooners have a favorable path to college football’s playoff.

4. A consistent winner at Oklahoma
The Big 12 picks meeting at Athlon Sports featured healthy debate between Baylor and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot in the conference. The edge went to the Sooners, and a big reason why was the overall consistency and recruiting level of the program. Oklahoma has won at least 10 games in seven out of the last eight years, and Bob Stoops is one of the nation’s best coaches. Outside of Texas, the Sooners have the best roster (according to recruiting rankings) in the Big 12). Baylor should be one of the nation’s top 10-15 teams in 2014, but the Bears have to reload on defense and replace standout guard Cyril Richardson. With an edge in talent, a favorable schedule and a rising star at quarterback, Oklahoma should reclaim the top spot in the Big 12 this year.

5. Special Teams
Special teams are often underrated or forgotten in preseason predictions. The Sooners have one of the nation’s top kickers in Michael Hunnicutt, and punter Jed Barnett averaged 41.7 yards per kick last year. Jalen Saunders will be missed on punt returns, while Roy Finch departs as the top kick returner. However, incoming freshman Joe Mixon could help in this department, and top receiver Sterling Shepard may replace Saunders as the top punt returner.

The Debate

Baylor or Oklahoma: Who Wins the Big 12 Title in 2014?

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