The Big 12 is the toughest BCS conference to predict for 2013.
With the departure of most of the league’s top quarterbacks from 2012, there’s no clear favorite for first-team All-Big 12 honors, which also leads to uncertainty as to the conference’s No. 1 team.
Oklahoma State is Athlon’s pick to win the Big 12, but a strong case could be made for Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor. The Cowboys lost three of their Big 12 games by a touchdown or less last year, and Clint Chelf is settled at quarterback after the transfer of Wes Lunt. Joseph Randle will be missed at running back, but Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland is a capable one-two punch.
Blake Bell replaces Landry Jones as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, and all eyes will be watching to see if the Belldozer can transition from a part-time to full-time offense. The Sooners have plenty of weapons around Bell, which should help to ease the transition of the new quarterback. Oklahoma’s biggest issue is a defense that returns only four starters and is very thin on depth on the line.
Texas may have the Big 12’s most-talented team, but the Longhorns are just 11-15 in the conference over the past three years. If quarterback David Ash continues to make strides as a passer, and the defense proves it can stop the run, Texas could win the Big 12.
TCU, Kansas State and Baylor are all worthy of top-25 consideration. The Horned Frogs regain the services of quarterback Casey Pachall and return nine starters on defense. However, the schedule is very challenging with road dates at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Baylor must reload at quarterback, but the defense made progress late in the year, and running back Lache Seastrunk should be one of the nation’s best. Kansas State lost a handful of key players, but Bill Snyder always keeps the Wildcats in Big 12 title contention.
With Kliff Kingsbury returning to Lubbock, Texas Tech could be the Big 12’s most-interesting team in 2013. If quarterback Michael Brewer picks up where Seth Doege left off, the Red Raiders should have one of the league’s top offenses once again.
West Virginia has a massive rebuilding project on offense, as quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin must be replaced. The defense ranked last in the Big 12 in points allowed last year and was a major focus throughout the offseason.
Iowa State is projected to fall just short of bowl eligibility, but the Cyclones shouldn’t be counted out for the postseason. Kansas will be relying on a handful of junior college transfers to spur improvement. However, winning a game or two in Big 12 play could hinge on how good BYU transfer quarterback Jake Heaps performs.
Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2013 Predictions
Texas has a talented roster. Why are the Longhorns picked third in the Big 12?
Texas might have the highest ceiling of any Big 12 team, but it’s hard to jump on the Longhorns’ bandwagon based on their recent history of underachieving. They have been average at best at the quarterback position in the past three seasons, and their defense was record-setting bad in 2012. The roster is loaded with 4- and 5-star talent
How did the projected Big 12 champion end up outside the top 15?
We knew that it would be difficult to sort out the top four teams in the Big 12. We also knew that for the first time in recent memory the team that we picked to win this league wasn’t going to be in the discussion to be our preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Simply put: The Big 12 has solid depth in 2013, but it’s unlikely that any team in the league will emerge as a legitimate national title contender. Oklahoma State, our pick to win the conference, is ranked No. 16 overall — the lowest we have ranked a preseason Big 12 favorite in the 17-year history of the league.
Can West Virginia survive the loss of so much talent on offense?
It’s going to be tough. West Virginia lost a ton of firepower — its starting quarterback and two 1,200-yard receivers — from a team that struggled down the stretch in 2012. Dana Holgorsen should find a way to piece together a respectable offense, despite the personnel losses, but the Mountaineer defense will have a tough time — once again — slowing down the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. It could be a long year in Morgantown.
Doesn’t Kansas State deserve the benefit of the doubt?
You’d think that we would have learned our lesson after picking Kansas State to finish ninth and sixth, respectively, the past two seasons. And even though Bill Snyder has made a habit of exceeding expectations at Kansas State, the 2013 Wildcats might have a tough time elbowing their way into the top four of the Big 12. The offense should be in decent shape, even with the loss of Heisman finalist Collin Klein. Daniel Sams, the backup QB last fall, is an ideal fit for the K-State attack. The defense is the big concern. The Cats must replace nine starters from a unit that gave up 24 points or more in five of its last six games. Kansas State, at least on paper, looks like a fringe top-25 team at best.
Texas has a talented roster. Why are the Longhorns picked third in the Big 12?
Texas might have the highest ceiling of any Big 12 team, but it’s hard to jump on the Longhorns’ bandwagon based on their recent history of underachieving. They have been average at best at the quarterback position in the past three seasons, and their defense was record-setting bad in 2012. The roster is loaded with 4- and 5-star talent, but there is nothing to suggest that this will be the season that Mack Brown gets things turned around. Sure, Texas will be good — we are predicting a 9–3 record in the regular season — but Texas fans want more than good. They want a national championship. And that doesn’t appear likely in 2013.
How did Casey Pachall’s return factor into TCU’s ranking?
Pachall is a huge part of the equation at TCU. Had he played the entire season (and played well), it’s very likely that the Horned Frogs would have been our pick to win the Big 12 in 2013. But he didn’t play the entire season. He only made it through four games before taking time off to deal with a substance abuse problem. He was back with the team in the spring and is expected to reclaim his role as the starting quarterback, but there are no guarantees that he will return to form. TCU can still be a very good team with Trevone Boykin at quarterback, but to be elite, the Horned Frogs need Pachall, the more gifted passer, to take the majority of the snaps in 2013.
2013 Big 12 Team Previews
Big 12 Notebook
OU Soaring Above Big 12
Oklahoma was in a state of rebuilding when the Big 12 Conference was born in the mid-’90s. Then Bob Stoops rolled into Norman. And the Sooners have been rolling ever since. After sharing last season’s conference championship with Kansas State, OU has won eight Big 12 titles: 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012.
That’s five more than No. 2 Texas. Since 2000, the Sooners are 87–19 in Big 12 play, good for an .821 winning percentage. The Longhorns are next at .745 (79–27).
Nationally during that span, among BCS conferences, OU owns the best conference winning percentage, followed by Ohio State at .788, Texas, Virginia Tech at .740 and Oregon at .739.
Last year, Longhorns coach Mack Brown was talking tough, pushing the promise of smash-mouth offense and ground-it-out game plans as the way back to prominence for his program.
Well, that didn’t last long. After last season’s shift in philosophy, Texas has a new direction: play fast and loose.
It’s an approach Brown has seen work for conference foes like Oklahoma State, Baylor and West Virginia. And it’s something he saw — and liked — from his own squad in rally mode against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, when the Longhorns went no-huddle, up-tempo in the second half of a 31–27 comeback victory.
“It was invaluable,” Brown told reporters in the spring. “It was really, really important to send the message to our fans, our kids and our recruits that we’re still fighting.”
Cowboys On The Road, Again
For Oklahoma State, major facility renovations have enhanced Boone Pickens Stadium to the point that players and coaches enjoy all the comforts of home — and then some.
So forgive the Cowboys if they get a little homesick.
OSU ended the 2012 season with a road trip and will open 2013 away from home for multiple weeks again, a span of five games. For a program now used to winning and winning big, that’s an unusual schedule quirk. And it’s partly why Cowboys coach Mike Gundy flirted in the job market with openings at Tennessee and Arkansas, trying to gain more control of who and where his team plays.
OSU had little to say about the way 2012 ended, with visits to Oklahoma and Baylor, followed by an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. But Gundy was opposed to playing Mississippi State in Houston, preferring a more manageable game in Stillwater. And after that game, the Cowboys head back out the next week for a game at Texas-San Antonio.
While spanning two seasons, it amounts to one of the longest road trips in OSU history and the first five-game stint away from home since a stretch bridging the 1988-89 seasons, when the Cowboys closed one year at Iowa State, then played Texas Tech in Tokyo, Japan, before a Holiday Bowl date with Wyoming in San Diego. To open 1989, OSU visited Tulsa and Ohio State.
Snyder’s Rebuild Still Going
The rise of Kansas State’s football program under Bill Snyder, dubbed the Manhattan Miracle, is now in its second stage, with Snyder’s return from retirement ultimately paying off with a Big 12 championship last fall.
Phase 3 is well underway, as well, with a major renovation at the facility fittingly named Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The project involves a reconstruction of the west side, which when finished will feature premium seating with outdoor suites, club and loge seating, a massive lounge and enhanced facilities for athletes in 16 sports.
The cost: $75 million.
Construction crews have been working around the clock, and ahead of schedule, to get the stadium ready for K-State’s Aug. 30 season opener against North Dakota State.
Old: Todd Monken; New: Mike Yurcich
Monken is now the head coach at Southern Miss. Yurcich is making the move from the Division II ranks, where he served as the offensive coordinator at Shippensburg (Pa.) University the past two seasons. The Red Raiders averaged 529.9 yards and 46.8 points per game in 2012.
Old: Bryan Harsin; New: Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt
Harsin is now the head coach at Arkansas State. Applewhite has been on the Texas staff since 2008. He was the assistant head coach and running backs coach from 2008-10 and the co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach from 2011-12. Wyatt has been the wide receivers coach the past two seasons. Applewhite will call the plays.
Old: Neal Brown; New: Sonny Cumbie, Eric Morris
Brown is now the offensive coordinator at Kentucky, where he played wide receiver in the late 1990s. Cumbie, a former quarterback at Texas Tech, coached the Red Raiders’ outside receivers last season. He called the plays in Texas Tech’s 34–31 win over Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl after former coach Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati. Morris, also a former Red Raider, served as the inside receivers coach at Washington State last season, working for his former head coach, Mike Leach.
Old: Art Kaufman; New: Mike Smith, Matt Wallerstedt
Kaufman followed Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati and is now the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator. Smith, a Lubbock native who started 45 games at linebacker for Texas Tech from 2001-04, was the outside linebackers coach for the New York Jets last season. Wallerstedt was the linebackers coach at Texas A&M last year, where he worked with new Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. Previously, he had stints as the defensive coordinator at Air Force and Wyoming.
Old: Joe DeForest, Keith Patterson; New: Keith Patterson
DeForest was stripped of his coordinator duties in the offseason but will remain on the staff and coach the West Virginia safeties. Patterson will serve as the Mountaineers’ lone defensive coordinator.
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