College Football Preview 2014-2015: Previewing the Big 12
Ranking the Big 12: Click on Top 25 teams for complete in-depth previews.
1. Oklahoma Sooners (11-2 in 2013) National Rank: 4
The Sooners struggled to find a consistent quarterback in 2013 before redshirt freshman Trevor Knight unleashed a 348 yard, four touchdown performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He is the X-factor for Oklahoma this year, but talent does return elsewhere. Sterling Shepard is his top option in the passing game, the O-Line returns a lot of experience, and the defense could take even bigger steps under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. The defense will be led by rapidly improving junior linebacker Eric Striker, versatile pass rusher Geneo Grissom and cornerback Zack Sanchez. The offense could become even more lethal if Dorial Green-Beckham, who was kicked off of Missouri, is ruled eligible. If Knight can play like he did against Alabama the whole year, and a running back can step up, the Sooners will win the Big 12 and fight their way into the CFB Playoff.
2. Baylor Bears (11-2 in 2013) National Rank: 11
Art Briles and Baylor will have a lot of pieces returning from last year's offense, that was absolutely dominant. Senior Bryce Petty returns at quarterback and could be a real Heisman candidate after throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns. He will also have sophomore running back Shock Linwood, senior receiver Antwan Goodley and junior left tackle Spencer Drango to help him. Defensively, the Bears won't get much respect, despite having a Top 30 unit a year ago. Eight starters are gone, but senior linebacker Bryce Hager returns, giving Baylor some real leadership. Spencer Roth is back at punter, giving the special teams a real star and an All-American threat.
3. Kansas State Wildcats (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: 19
The Wildcats ended 2013 on fire, winning six of their last seven games, including a huge bowl victory over Michigan by nearly three touchdowns. Senior Jake Waters takes over at quarterback full time, after Daniel Sams moved to wide receiver. Sams could be a real deep threat for K-State, but the most dangerous Wildcat on offense is senior receiver Tyler Lockett, who is also a weapon as a returner. The return of senior receiver Curry Sexton means the Wildcats could have their best passing offense ever under Bill Snyder. Defensive end Ryan Mueller is maybe the conference's best pass rusher.
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
It was a weird first season for Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders. First, they teased the nation by starting off 7-0 before losing five straight games to backend into the Holiday Bowl. But in the Holiday Bowl, they dominated Arizona State and found their quarterback in Davis Webb. The sophomore was so impressive in that game that Michael Brewer, Baker Mayfield and Clayton Nicholas all decided to transfer. Webb will have two dangerous receivers to throw to, in Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez, while D.J. Polite-Bray is a breakout candidate on the outside. While the defense loses a lot, Kenny Williams made the move from running back to linebacker, giving TTU a proven athlete. With a pretty soft non-conference slate, Texas Tech could be very dangerous, especially if Webb can continue to improve as a quarterback.
5. Texas Longhorns (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Charlie Strong has a tough job on his hands; taking the Longhorns from an average team back up to a powerhouse very quickly. Fans are expecting big things, but Strong is smartly trying to lower expectations. David Ash is great when healthy at QB, but injuries have been so common for him. If he can't start, the position could be left to either raw Tyrone Swoopes or true freshman Jerrod Heard. The good news is that the offense does have some other nice pieces, including senior running back Malcolm Brown, senior receiver Jaxon Shipley and proven linemen Dominic Espinosa. The defense will also take big steps, defensive end Cedric Reed and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown are both very stout, while the secondary will be strong. The non-conference schedule is rough (meetings with UCLA and BYU) and with no proven QB right now, the Longhorns ceiling could once more be around eight wins.
Mike Gundy certainly has developed a winner in Stillwater, but this team will probably take a major step back in 2014. Gone are much of the receiver corps, the offensive line is full of losses and the defense said goodbye to cornerback Justin Gilbert and a number of other experienced players. J.W. Walsh has split time at QB the past couple years, but with Clint Chelf graduated and Wes Lunt off to Illinois, he is the man for the Cowboys. Senior running back Desmond Roland will have to step up big time, while do-it-all JUCO transfer Tyreek Hill could see action at either running back or receiver. On defense, senior linemen James Castleman is one of the few proven players returning, as the secondary loses nearly everyone.
7. TCU Horned Frogs (4-8 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
While the Horned Frogs got very bad news when former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields left, they should still be very improved after last year's issues. Fields might be gone, but the defense will be very good, with the return of Chucky Hunter at defensive tackle and senior Sam Carter back at safety. The offense was a huge problem last year, but help arrives in the form of Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. Joeckel is the favorite to win the quarterback competition, which would push Trevone Boykin, who has played significant time the last two years, to either running back or receiver. Head coach Gary Patterson hasn't forgotten to coach; the Horned Frogs are going to be a team to reckon with in 2014.
8. Iowa State Cyclones (3-9 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Cyclones' offense has been just downright bad the last few years. The good news is that Iowa State brought in former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino at offensive coordinator, a guy who should certainly spark ISU's offense. He will have some stuff to work with, including senior running back Aaron Wimberly, who ran for 567 yards in 2013, along with tight end E.J. Bibbs and wide receiver Quenton Bundrage. The defense loses seven starters from a team that really struggled to stop the run in 2013. The secondary does have a nice piece in junior Sam E. Richardson and it looked very improved this spring. At quarterback, sophomore Grant Rohach will likely take over the position over Sam Richardson, who saw significant time last season.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers (4-8 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Not having a proven quarterback or any proven receivers is not a good recipe for a team that relies heavily on their aerial attack. Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, a senior, is going to start at QB after three players saw action at the position in 2013. His top option at receiver will likely be senior Kevin White. The running game will lose Houston transfer Charles Sims, but Pitt transfer Rushel Shell has the talent to take over and play well. The defense will have six starters returning, including junior linebacker Isaiah Bruce and cornerback Ishmael Banks in the secondary. It could be very improved, but it was so bad in 2013, it has a very long way to go.
10. Kansas Jayhawks (3-9 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Jayhawks had their best season since Todd Reesing was at quarterback in 2007 and 2008, but they still went just 3-9. This is probably their most talented team in a long time, with senior playmaker Tony Pierson back at receiver, along with senior tight end Jimmay Mundine returning. Quarterback will likely be manned by sophomore Montell Cozart, with Jake Heaps transferring once more. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell will give Cozart and the Jayhawks another weapon to work with in the passing game. Defensively, nine starters are back, including tackling machine Ben Heeny at middle linebacker, along with cornerback Dexter McDonald. While this team is the strongest they have been in years, Kansas still certainly has a long way to go to reach a bowl.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Newcomer of the Year: Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma (if ruled eligible)
Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Coach on the Hottest Seat: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Breakout Player of the Year: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
All-Big 12 Team
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
TE Jimmay Mundine, Kansas
OL Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL B.J. Finney, Kansas State
OL Quinton Spain, West Virginia
OL Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
OL Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
DE Cedric Reed, Texas
LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
S Sam Carter, TCU
S Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
P Spencer Roth, Baylor
Returner Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma