In a conference as tightly contested as the Big 12 should be in 2013, a number of decisions and developments leading up to week 1 could have major consequences.
No pressure, Big 12 coaches.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen Bob Stoops surprisingly opt for a redshirt freshman quarterback and Gary Patterson play coy with his starting lineup. Mike Gundy now has to find a new starting left tackle in addition to juggling two QBs he knows can win Big 12 games. And Mack Brown, well, no one really knows what to expect from his talented but underachieving squad.
No Week 1 games will count in the Big 12 standings, but there are plenty of games for national prestige, chiefly TCU’s and Oklahoma State’s neutral site games against SEC West teams. If the Big 12 is going to back up Stoops’ bold talk in the offseason concerning the SEC, Week 1 would be a good time to clear up any misconceptions.
Elsewhere, nearly every other Big 12 team is guarding against an upset. Oklahoma and Kansas State will face a pair of teams that have shown they’re not intimidated my major conference competition.
Big 12 Week 1 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday, unless noted.
1. LSU vs. TCU in Arlington (9 p.m, ESPN)
Who’s going to play and when will be the theme early for TCU and LSU. Horned Frogs’ coach Gary Patterson says he’s confident in using both quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin. Both will be on the field for the coin flip, whatever that means. Pachall has been the favorite to reclaim his starting spot since spring practice, but Boykin, who rushed for 417 yards last season, brings an added dimension. Patterson also returned star defensive end Devonte Fields (10 sacks last season) to the depth chart as an alternate starter, though the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Fields is not likely to play. Les Miles was similarly vague on running back Jeremy Hill, who will play, but it’s not clear how much. Once the personnel is settled, TCU will hope its quarterback tandem, running back Waymon James and an experienced receiving corps has an edge over a rebuilding LSU defense.
2. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Oklahoma State was Athlon’s pick to win the Big 12. But the Cowboys were ranked outside the top 15 and were closely bunched with Oklahoma, Texas and TCU in the national top 25. In theory, a Big 12 favorite should be able to handle a second-tier team in the SEC West, but there are plenty of question marks for Oklahoma State. Two new coordinators will be in play for Oklahoma State. On offense, Mike Yurcich, a former offensive coordinator at Division II Shippensburg, will juggle a pair of quarterbacks in Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh who have more Big 12 wins than he does. The Mississippi State defense has a new coordinator of its own in Geoff Collins, who was an assistant on last year’s staff but intends on using a more blitz-centric scheme.
3. ULM at Oklahoma (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Trevor Knight gets his first career start for Oklahoma, so that will be the focal point on the offense (more on him in the pivotal players section). Instead, the Sooners’ defense will be worth watching in its second season under Mike Stoops. ULM’s Kolton Browning was magical against Arkansas, Auburn and Baylor to start last season. OU’s defense wasn’t quite as bad as those three teams, but the Sooners ranked sixth in the Big 12 in yards per play.
4. Texas Tech at SMU (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Few games this season will have more pass-offense oriented minds in one stadium with new coach Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech and June Jones and Hal Mumme at SMU. Texas Tech’s passing game, though, may be in question. Receiver Jakeem Grant let slip that quarterback Michael Brewer had missed practice time with a back injury. Freshman Davis Webb had been taking first-team snaps, Grant said, but Kingsbury wouldn’t reveal if Brewer, Webb or freshman Baker Mayfield would take the first snaps against SMU.
5. North Dakota State at Kansas State (Friday, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Kansas State is coming off a Big 12 title and back-to-back major bowl appearances, but North Dakota State has reason to brag, too. The Bison have won two consecutive FCS titles and are Athlon’s preseason No. 1 in that division. New Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters faces a defense that led the FCS in scoring defense the last seasons while the K-State defense takes the field with only two returning starters. K-State won’t be able to pencil in a win against a North Dakota State that has defeated two FBS opponents by at least two touchdowns in the last two seasons (Minnesota and Colorado State).
6. New Mexico State at Texas (8 p.m., Longhorn Network)
Texas should make easy work of New Mexico State, but this will be a critical season for the Longhorns. A week before facing BYU’s standout defense on the road, the Texas offense will be under the microscope as Major Applewhite unveils a new up-tempo approach against New Mexico State. And two weeks later, the defense with a healthy Jordan Hicks at linebacker will be in focus against Ole Miss.
7. Wofford at Baylor (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Baylor shouldn’t have too much trouble with Wofford, but this will be the debut of quarterback Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback for the Bears. Wofford runs the option, which may at least make things for a Baylor defense that struggled last few seasons.
8. William & Mary at West Virginia (noon, Fox Sports 1)
The West Virginia offense enters a new era with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey gone. With Andrew Buie likely to redshirt, the running back position — and the direction for the offense as a whole — is in the hands of Houston transfer Charles Sims. The next question is at quarterback where Florida State transfer Clint Trickett and Paul Millard are listed as co-starters.
9. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (8 p.m.)
Iowa State is hopeful a move to the Pistol formation will jumpstart the offense. Teams have tried it with mixed success over the seasons, but Iowa State at least went to someone familiar with running out of the formation. New offensive line coach Chris Klenakis was an offensive coordinator at Nevada under Chris Ault, the coach who devised the Pistol in the first place.
Big 12 Week 1 Pivotal Players
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
The redshirt freshman quarterback is a pivotal player for the entire season for Oklahoma. Knight passed short-yardage specialist Blake Bell and sophomore Kendal Thompson to take hold of the starting quarterback spot last week, but Knight began to impress coaches as a stand-in for Johnny Manziel during practice for the Cotton Bowl. After a quarterback run of Landry Jones, Sam Bradford and Jason White, Oklahoma will have a quarterback who can make plays in the ground game for the first time in a long time.
Oklahoma State’s left tackle
Offensive tackle has been a position of strength for the Cowboys in recent seasons, but they will need to make a sudden adjustment with a season-ending knee injury to starter Devin Davis. Parker Graham started at left tackle last season but was moved to guard. The other potential replacements are Michael Wilson, a redshirt freshman, and Chris Grisbhy, a junior college transfer who has been on campus for a year. Whoever the Pokes choose, he’ll be under pressure against an underrated Mississippi State defensive line led by rising star end Denico Autry.
The Horned Frogs’ linebackers were a question mark before returning starter Joel Hasley left the team. TCU has tried to get more athletic at the position against the spread offenses in the Big 12, moving former safety Jonathan Anderson to one of the starting spots. The adjustments for Big 12 offenses might not help against LSU’s physical run game.
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
As noted, Pachall and Boykin have been mentioned equally for TCU, but it’s tough to imagine the Horned Frogs defeating LSU or winning the Big 12 without Pachall in his 2011 form. Pachall will face two standout safeties led by Craig Loston against LSU, along with a pair of younger cornerbacks that should be more seasoned than when they struggled in the bowl game against Clemson.
John Hubert, RB, Kansas State
Hubert hasn’t exactly been a game-breaking tailback over the last two seasons. Kansas State’s offense has been equally dependent on Collin Klein. Klein is gone, and the Wildcats have gone with Jake Waters over Daniel Sams, who is skilled as a runner. It’s up to Hubert to anchor the run game alone.
Big 12 Week 1 Predictions Grid
Texas Tech (-5.5) at SMU
North Dakota St (+13) at Kansas State
William & Mary (+32) at West Virginia
Mississippi St (+12.5) vs. Oklahoma St
ULM (+21) at Oklahoma
Wofford (+28) at Baylor
Northern Iowa (+9.5) at Iowa State
Iowa St 24-13
Iowa St 24-14
Iowa St 34-17
Iowa St 33-13
New Mexico State (+42) at Texas
LSU (-4.5) vs TCU