It looks like we’re going to have the Big 12 around for a while after all. We weren’t too sure about that on multiple occasions within the past few years, but for the time being, it seems as if the alliance will endure. At least until further notice.

That did not seem likely back in the summer of 2010 when the first of a pair of raids on the conference from the then-called Pac-10 threatened the equivalent of hostile business takeover. A midnight attack from the coast orchestrated by commissioner Larry Scott had threatened to annex Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado into the Pac and leave a smoldering crater in what was once the Big 12. The process moved quickly until A&M, under the urging of former football coach Gene Stallings (who suggested the Ags ought to explore the possibility of the SEC before making any jump to the Pac), hit the brakes on the project and Texas pols became involved to slow the process.

The Pac-12 would make another stealth attack within the next year, however, after adding Colorado (which was looking for an escape route out of the Big 12) and Utah, with the Big 12 further weakened by defections of Nebraska (to the Big Ten), plus A&M and Missouri (to the SEC). This time, Texas, Texas Tech, and the two Oklahoma schools were targeted by Scott, and a deal looked imminent until a snag developed between the Pac-12 and Texas’ Longhorn Network.

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Without Texas as part of any deal, the Pac-12 would retreat. Meanwhile, what was left of the Big 12 alliance coalesced around the Longhorns, realizing its future as a viable conference was effectively tied to Austin. The remaining Big 12 members would continue to give Texas their blessing with the Longhorn Network, while the league would settle at ten schools by adding West Virginia and TCU to replace the four departed members. New and lucrative TV contracts were signed as the Big 12 would also ink a new commissioner, former Iowa and Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby.

Although the Big 12's TV package isn’t quite as profitable as the Big Ten and its various ventures, and the payout scale is skewed to the power schools such as Texas & Oklahoma (unlike the Big Ten model, which splits its TV revenues equally among all partners), the league appears on much firmer footing these days. Especially since the rumors of Texas’ interest in moving to another conference have slowed to a trickle.

For that, the Longhorn Network has actually provided a plus for the Big 12, as it has effectively kept Texas anchored to the loop, without as many related concerns within its current conference as it would if moving elsewhere (note the Pac-12 scenario as detailed above). Although it was said a couple of years ago that the ACC would gladly accept Texas and let it keep its own cable TV network (as the ACC would effectively do when affiliating with Notre Dame, and allowing the Irish to keep their TV deal with NBC), and rumors of Big Ten interest continued to float, for the time being it best serves the Longhorns to stay rooted in the Big 12.

The Longhorn Network, however, remains a work in progress. A joint venture with ESPN, Texas is slowly coming to the realization that its network has little or no appeal outside of old SWC territory, and the chance to get on the more-lucrative basic cable TV packages in multiple states, as has the Big Ten, is going to remain elusive. For all of the bluster from Austin, the Horns apparently remain more of a regional, not national, brand. At some point, Texas and ESPN are going to have to decide if their joint venture has any future outside of the Lone Star State. It is becoming apparent that the Longhorn Network might not be the cash cow that Texas and ESPN had once envisioned. Keep an eye on future developments.

(In the meantime, Kansas has recently entered into a unique lower-tier deal with online ESPN3, a development which could have its own ramiifications on the college landscape. We'll address further in an early-autumn editorial.)

So, for the moment, the Big 12 sits at a neat and tidy ten teams, with no immediate plans (at least publicly stated) to expand back to twelve members, although insiders suggest that developments could change at the drop of a hat. The motivation to get back to twelve is also tied to a lucrative conference championship football game (as the loop held from 1996-2010), but the remaining league members have slowed that process while giving the nationwide conference shuffle a chance to settle down before making the next moves.

Another consequence of a still-existing Big 12 is that the chances of four “super leagues” of sixteen members each, as first discussed on these pages over three years ago in our widely-referenced “Big 64" editorial and echoed by others over the past few years, is all but eliminated with a healthy Big 12. Under most of the “Big 64" scenarios, the Big 12 would be broken up with its highest-profile members enlisting elsewhere. But as long as Texas, Oklahoma and the rest stay aligned in the current configuration, those "Big 64" projections are unlikely to come true.

Nonetheless, a next move or two is still on the drawing board. Sources suggest that the Big 12 is likely to make another run at BYU, as it did when adding TCU. The Cougs and their nationwide following would make a worthy addition, and the Big 12 could accommodate some of the intricacies (including no Sunday games) involving the Provo bunch. Sources report to keep a close eye on this situation, as BYU (which left the Mountain West to go independent in football, and to the WCC in other sports, in 2011) might be looking to make a move once the existing BCS formula is changed following the 2013 gridiron campaign. The Cougs, who have their own arrangement with ESPN, have had some scheduling problems in football since leaving the MWC and could be looking for a new affiliation.

Insiders also say to keep an eye on a move eastward by the Big 12, perhaps targeting Cincinnati, which is looking for an escape route out of the newly-named American Athletic Conference (AAC) after the breakup of the old Big East. While the Bearcats would probably prefer a move to the ACC, sources say they would also jump at the chance to join the Big 12. The opportunity to schedule games vs. major foes at the NFL Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, as Cincy has done on occasion in recent years, as opposed to the school’s 35,000-seat on-campus Nippert Stadium, puts the Bearcats in play. It would also provide a more-nearby regional rival for West Virginia, which, though not exactly around the corner from Cincinnati, would still appreciate a closer-by member in the league.

Another possibility would be UConn, like Cincy also looking for an escape route out of the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Sources report that the Huskies believe they have a better shot than the Bearcats at a future call from the ACC, which would be UConn’s unquestioned top choice, but the Big 12 could still become involved as well as it contemplates a possible northeast wing of the league that could also add to the TV reach of the loop.

One recently-discussed option for the Big 12 that seems mostly closed at the moment is Florida State, which was rumored to be disenchanted with the ACC’s new TV package and had been rattling the saber regarding a possible conference switch. But since remaining ACC schools recently assigned their TV rights to the league, any move by the Seminoles or other ACC members in the near future would seem pretty remote. There are some other possibilities (Boise State, perhaps, or maybe a Houston or SMU from the new AAC, although neither of the latter two add any TV sets from territories the Big 12 already controls) on the horizon as well. Stay tuned for further developments during what we believe will be only a temporary pause in the conference-shuffle game.

Until further notice, then, the Big 12 sits at ten teams, while, interestingly, the Big Ten has twelve members (and next year it will have 14). Go figure in this conference naming game where numbers in the label never matter! But if we had to bet, we’d say that the Big 12 will get back to its proper twelve-team membership within the next few years. Which route or routes the Big 12 might take to add any new entries remains the mystery.

Following is our 2013 Big 12 Preview, in order of predicted finish, as provided by our Senior Editor, Chuck Sippl. Last season’s straight-up, pointspread, and over/under results are included. -- Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

TEXAS (2012 SUR 9-4; PSR 6-7; O/U 7-5-1)...Despite success in relative terms, Texas has been saddled with disappointment since its loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game of the 2009 season. The Longhorns have gone 5-7, 8-5 and 9-4 since, way below annual expectations in the Lone Star State. Making matters worse have been three straight losses to rival Oklahoma. The 63-21 defeat to OU last season was worse than it looked, as the Sooners led 36-2 at the half (the Longhorns scored only via a defensive conversion return) and piled up 677 yards!

Texas went into 2012 with what was considered to be one of the nation’s strongest defenses. But, due partly to key injuries, the Longhorns ended as one of the worst-tackling teams in UT history, giving up 29.2 ppg and 4.6 ypc. But it was the stretch of four consecutive conference games vs. Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Baylor that turned out to be a revelation for Mack Brown and Co. Facing those four straight uptempo attacks (the Longhorns went 2-2), Texas gave up 36, 48, 63 and 50 points: 49.25 ppg.

After reflecting upon the regular season, Brown and staff came to the same conclusion as so many head coaches in the past few seasons. Uptempo is the way to go on offense. It was the fast-and-furious pace of those four aforementioned attacks that helped tear up the UT defense. As Brown points out, “What we’re seeing is defensive coordinators can’t call defenses. They look at their wristbands and call the defense, and the kids are looking down, and the ball is being snapped.” The effect, says Brown, is “You can’t substitute and you really can’t call defenses.” Whether it’s a pass-oriented spread, zone-read option, quick-hitting Pistol, conventional no-huddle, or any other attack variation, offensive schemes usually work best when they work quickly against a tiring defense unable to substitute. So, get ready for the Texas uptempo offense, with co-offensive coordinator/QB coach Major Applewhite saying the plan is for the Horns’ to have 85 offensive snaps per game. Last year, they had 68.5.

For the past two seasons, Brown has been focusing on re-establishing the Longhorns’ physical nature after Texas had lost some of its taste for power football during the halcyon years of the Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Now, with his OL and RB corps rebuilt, and with jr. QB David Ash having two years under his belt, the Horns should have a pretty good chance at making their new scheme work.

Ash (now with 18 career starts) was named the clear-cut No. 1 QB even before the start of spring football. Ash had decent overall numbers last season (67.3%, 2699 YP, 19 TDs, 8 ints.). But most of his turnovers came either at crucial times or when the Horns were in scoring territory. Sr. Case McCoy (71.1%, 6 TDs, 3 ints.) proved his value as a reliever last season. But the 6-3, 223 Ash (not a great pure passer in the NFL sense) is stronger, an excellent leader, and he gave a sign of things to come with two late TD passes to help defeat Oregon State 31-27 in December’s Alamo Bowl.

Despite his success building the Austin program into one of the richest (if not THE richest) in the nation, Brown found himself under pressure in the last few weeks of 2012, so that Ash-led comeback vs. the Beavers was of significant import. Now, with 19 starters (plus kicker) returning, Brown appears to have his Longhorns ready to make a solid drive for the Big 12 title.

All OL starters return, plus proven former blue-chip RBs soph Johnathon Gray (701 YR in 2012), jr. Malcolm Brown (324 YR, 5.3 ypc), and the more powerful Joe Bergeron (567 YR 16 TDR). Jaxon Shipley (59 recs. LY) & Mike Davis (57 for 939 yards) provide a solid WR nucleus. 5-10 soph RB/WR Daje Johnson is likely to see more action TY at wideout due to the crowded backfield and the departure of world-class burner Marquise Goodwin. A surprise in spring was the speed dimension provided by soph CB Duke Johnson, who might see some dual duty in 2012.

Nine starters return on defense, including DE Jackson Jeffcoat, whose injury absence in the last seven games was a key factor in the decline of the unit. Also returning is jr. LB Jordan Hicks, who missed 10 games with a hip injury. There is size, depth and loads of potential in the UT front four, experience and depth at LB (seven have started, including MLB Steve Edmond with 103 Ts LY and emerging soph Dalton Santos), and proven ball-hawking ability in the secondary. Jr. CB Quandre Diggs (might move to nickel-back TY) had 4 ints. LY, sr. CB Carrington Byndom had 3, and safeties Adrian Phillips & Josh Turner 2 each. Few teams in these days of spread attacks return such a group of veteran DBs with demonstrated ball skills.

With only four Big 12 teams returning their starting QB this season, balanced Texas can justifiably be rated the league preseason favorite. But in order to emerge as the postseason champ, the Longhorns are going to have to make their new uptempo offense work and also beat Oklahoma for the first time in four years.

OKLAHOMA STATE (8-5 SUR; 8-5 PSR; 8-4 O/U)... After winning the Big 12 in 2011 and rolling to a 12-1 mark, OSU fell back to the middle of the pack with a 5-4 record in league play. The main reasons for that decline were inexperience and injury at QB, plus a defense (81st overall) that did not get enough key stops in the offensive-oriented Big 12. But just about everything seems in place for a rebound in 2013, a season that will begin with many of the league’s teams having question marks at QB. Some might put OSU in that category. But not so fast. The Cowboys have two QBs with impressive stats in partial-season trials, those being 6-1 sr. Clint Chelf (15 TDs, 6 ints., 5 starts LY) and 6-2 soph J.W. Walsh (13 TDs, 3 ints, 3 starts, 10 appearances). Chelf, a gunslinger type who needs to be a bit more careful with the ball, held a slight edge after spring, but HC Mike Gundy says he’ll wait until August before naming his starter for OSU’s opener vs. tough Mississippi State at Jerry Jones World in Arlington. The speedy Walsh, although possessing an unorthodox release, is elusive (290 YR) and scores strong on the intangibles.

With 15 starters back overall, insiders in Stillwater indicate that the athletic Walsh—if he doesn’t start—will be armed as a backup with big package quick-hitting short-yardage plays. And the already-uptempo OSU offense, which is loaded at receiver, will be attacking even faster this season under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich from Shippensburg State (Pa..), where his QBs were runners as well as passers.

New defensive coordinator Glen Spencer (co.-d.c./LBs in 2012) has plans for the 2013 Cowboy defense to blitz more often, cover tighter, and increase LY’s total of 22 takeaways. Spencer has seven returning starters—eight if you count Tyler Patmon, a sr. CB/N-B transfer from Kansas who is eligible immediately after 28 career starts with the Jayhawks. One key will be sr. CB Justin Gilbert, a pro prospect who had no ints. LY after 5 as a soph in 2011. In the Big 12, where offenses have reigned supreme in recent years, victories on defense can often be measured by a key takeaway or just by holding a potent foe to a FG instead of a TD. OSU must play Texas in Austin, but gets rival Oklahoma in Stillwater. Monitor the Cowboys early to see if they have successfully replaced departed valuable P/PK Quinn Sharpe.

OKLAHOMA (10-3 SUR; 6-7 PSR; 7-5 O/U)...Change is in the air in Norman, on both offense and defense. Bob Stoops, who owns part or all of eight Big 12 championships and one national title in his 14 years in Norman, has been known in the past to adapt his offense to his personnel. So, say good-by to the often-devastating, no-huddle, pass-first attacks of the Jason White, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones types. And remember that Stoops won his national championship with finesse-throwing lefty Josh Heupel at QB, and a Big 12 crown with QB turned WR turned QB Paul Thompson under center.

This season, it seems certain that 6-6, 260 bull-dozing Blake Bell (24 “Belldozer” TDR the last 2 years) will get the first chance at QB, orchestrating a modified Sooner offense that will be more run-oriented, not just because of the hard-to-bring-down Bell, but also because of a veteran OL (4 of 5 starters back), three quality sr. RBs (Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch), and deluxe sr. FB/H-B Trey Millard. The Sooners were careful in the spring not to reveal too much about the altered attack (Heupel is the offensive coordinator), which will hammer first, but then strike for big plays, as Bell has demonstrated a nicely-accurate deep ball to exploit a good group of WRs led by sr. Jalen Saunders (62 recs. LY) and soph Sterling Shepard (45). Bell (9 of 16 passing LY) is likely to hold off promising 6-1 RS frosh Trevor Knight as long as Bell avoids turnovers and demonstrates improving accuracy. Offense OU will have.

Defense is a bigger concern going into 2013, as only 4 starters return from a Sooner unit that gave up 25.5 ppg and had only 16 takeaways (100th in the nation, tied with the likes of Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Air Force). New defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the former HC at Arizona, tried to combat the many uptempo spreads in the Big 12 by using fewer LBs and more DBs on the field, but the result was a “soft” Sooner defense that gave up 5.2 ypc. So look for the LBs—led by speedy sr. Corey Nelson and emerging sop Frank Shannon—to get more playing time. 6-2 soph CB Cortez Johnson is a transfer from Mike Stoops’ former U of A team and will pair with 6-1 sr. Aaron Colvin (4 ints. LY) to give OU a pair of athletic CBs with much-coveted height. The biggest question on defense is in the front four, where jr. DE Chuka Ndule (5 sacks LY) has been moved to DT, and where 6-6, 324 soph Jordan Phillips is being counted upon to develop as a reliable run-stuffer.

With the defense looking for so many new starters, it will be incumbent upon Bell and his offensive mates to avoid turnovers, possess the ball, and generate enough TDs while the OU stoppers develop. Oklahoma has won three straight vs. Texas, by scores of 28-20, 55-17 and 63-21. And it’s very hard to win the Big 12 without beating the Longhorns. UT is much more experienced at QB and on defense this season, so—on paper—the 2013 edge vs. Oklahoma goes to the Longhorns. And maybe to Oklahoma State as well.

TCU (7-6 SUR; 5-8 PSR; 4-8 O/U)...It didn’t take too long in this offseason for TCU (7-6 last year) to be become a popular “tabbee” as one of the surprise teams for 2013. And why not? The unsophisticated analysis for the forthcoming season shows 6 returning Horned Frog starters on offense, 9 on defense, plus punter and kicker. Moreover, sr. QB Casey Pachall has re-enrolled in school after leaving the team after the fourth game last season to undergo alcohol and drug rehab.

But coach Gary Patterson, now in his 13th season calling the shots in Fort Worth, cautions that everything is not so obvious. First, it’s not certain that Pachall—who was leading the nation in QB rating and had TCU 4-0 when suspended following a drunken driving arrest—will return at the same level. Pachall is a bit of a free spirit who went through a long period with no workouts, no throwing, no weight-lifting, no practice, and no games. The coach also points out that there is no warranty that the QB’s problems are forever behind him. Says Patterson, “I don’t think he’s any different than any other person who’s dealt with this.” Anyone who has dealt with the demons of addiction knows Patterson speaks the truth.

Finally, Patterson points out it’s not a certainty Pachall will be the team’s starting QB. After all, talented 6-2 soph Trevone Boykin took over after Pachall’s surprise departure last season, starting the last nine games (3-6 SU). In fact, Boykin had begun practice the week of Pachall’s departure working at RB to help out at that position due to injuries. Forced into a surprise start, Boykin suffered 3 ints. in a 37-23 home loss vs. Iowa State. But one week later, with a full week QB prep, Boykin had 4 TD passes and no turnovers in a 49-21 victory at Baylor. For the season, Boykin hit 57.2% for 2054 yards, with 15 TDs vs. 10 interceptions, adding 417 YR. While he lacks Pachall’s pocket-passing acumen and accuracy, Boykin can be expected to improve were he to start this season. Patterson also likes the potential of 6-3 RS frosh Tyler Matthews, a multi-talented passer.

Still, insiders believe 2013 QB job in Fort Worth is Pachall’s to lose. His career numbers (only one full season as a starter) are outstanding: 66.4%, 36 TDs, only 8 interceptions, 15-2 as a starter. And Patterson loves senior QBs, with their ability to handle bigger offensive packages, to check out of low-percentage plays, to minimize turnovers, and to anticipate when receivers will break into the open. One other element favors Pachall—TCU opens the season vs. rugged LSU at Cowboys Stadium!

The TCU supporting cast of skill players offers the promise of improvement. Sr. RB Waymon James looked good in spring. He gained 875 YR (7.2 ypc) in 2011, but played only two games last season before a knee injury. 5-9 soph B.J. Catalon (582 YR, but no TDRs), who saw more playing time than Patterson would have preferred due to attrition at RB, now returns with valuable experience. And Nebraska transfer Aaron Green is now eligible. Green was a five-star recruit from San Antonio who originally signed with the Huskers to play with his brother, CB Andrew.

The talent appears to be deep enough at WR, where jr. Brandon Carter, soph LaDarius Brown and Jr. Cam White combined for 84 recs. and 13 TDC last season. The OL returns three starters. But sr. Eric Tausch has been moved from LG to C, and projected new starting Gs Joey Hunt & Jamelle Naff have one combined start. On the plus side, 6-7 jr. Tayo Fabuluje & 6-6 soph Aviante Collins proved to be quality bookend tackles in 2012.

Nine starters are back on Patterson’s pet 4-2-5 defense, one of the first schemes specifically designed to put more speed on the field to deal with the many spread passing offenses, zone-read plays, Pistol attacks, and such. The Frogs picked off 21 passes last season, but gave up an uncustomary 36 points or more four times (all in league play). The secondary returns intact, led by CB Jason Verrett (6 ints. LY), sr. FS Elisha Olabode (71 Ts, 4 ints., LY), and valuable 6-1, 215 jr. SS Sam Carter (63 Ts, 3 sacks, 4 ints.). There’s quality, depth and versatility up front, led by soph DE Devonte Fields (10 sacks LY; Big 12 Defensive POY, but suspended the first two games TY) and DTs Davlon Pierson & Chucky Hunter (3½ sacks each). The defensive concern is at LB, where hustling Joel Hasley (6-1, 223; 79 Ts in 2013) is an undersized former walk-on. Jr. Marcus Mallet will be asked to replace departed to LB Kenny Cain.

Patterson says his two main areas of concern are the interior of his OL and his LBs. Of even bigger concern perhaps should be Games One and Three—vs. LSU (in Arlington) and at Texas Tech. Game Five is at Oklahoma; Game Seven at Oklahoma State. Yes, the Big 12 might be down just a bit this season. But there are few gimmes in league play. TCU was a regular power in the Mountain West Conference, but 2012’s campus drug arrests, team suspensions, and football injuries left the Horned Frogs 4-5 SU in their first year in the stronger Big 12. One thing is sure. Visitors to upgraded Amon G. Carter Stadium should be duly impressed by the new bronze statue of an eight-foot horny toad outside one entrance (some critics complain the fearsome horned frog might later cause nightmares for some children!). Let the public be warned!

BAYLOR (8-5 SUR; 9-4 PSR; 8-4 O/U)...Baylor ended last season as one of the nation’s hottest teams. The explosive Bears covered the spread in their last six games (5-1 SU), averaging 45 ppg. And that was one year after the departure of sensational Heisman Trophy-winning QB Robert Griffin III. With sr. Nick Florence at the controls of Baylor’s uptempo spread, the Bears were romping down the stretch, making UCLA’s athletic defenders appear like so many ducks in a shooting gallery as BU literally raced to a 35-10 halftime lead in the Holiday Bowl (won by the Green and Gold by a final of 49-26).

Florence (4309 YP, 33 TDP, 13 ints.) broke some of RG III’s single-season records while orchestrating HC Art Briles’ sometimes unstoppable spread. But Florence is gone, and the QB duties go 6-3, 235 jr. Bryce Perry (7 of 10 as LY’s backup), a bright shining star in this spring’s practice. And if there is one thing that Briles has proven in his five years at Houston and now five at Baylor, it’s that he has designed and refined an offensive system that befuddles all but the best defenses.

To be sure, the Bears are not yet a finished product, lacking a similarly-effective defense (119th of 120 teams on third down LY) in a league loaded with offensive firepower. The Bears had gone 16 years without a bowl game until 2010 and 19 years without a bowl victory until 2011. There were 15 straight losing seasons until the Green and Gold went 7-6 in Briles’ third season.

Now, with an exciting offense, steadily-improving recruiting, and a fancy new stadium under construction, the inspirational Briles has turned his ascending group of private-school true believers into a factor amid the mostly big, richly-financed, state-backed programs in the Big 12. Perhaps most importantly, the Bears now have a bigger, deeper, more-experienced defense! In 2012, BU gave up 37.2 ppg. But there were signs of development nevertheless, with the Bears grabbing 18 interceptions for the season and collecting six sacks in the Holiday Bowl.

Now, after last years’ development, plus this year’s incoming transfers and recruits, the always positive Briles thinks he’s got what he needs to make a run at first place. Says the coach, “One of the first things we noticed in the spring was the depth of our football team. We have Big 12-quality depth right now, and that takes a while to develop. We’re not getting there. We’re there! We have good people across the board at least two deep.”

That statement includes the defense as well as the offense. Eight starters return on the defensive side, including former starting CB Demetri Goodson (the one-time starting point guard of Gonzaga hoops), who was awarded a hardship year after suffering an arm fracture in the fourth game last year. He joins sr. CB Joe Williams, who had three interceptions. And sr. CB K.J. Morton is back after missing half of 2012 with a groin injury. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is switching athletic sr. Ahmad Bradshaw from nickel-back to SS, allowing Bradshaw to help out in coverage. Sr. Sam Holl (85 Ts, 3 ints. LY) moves from S to the nickel-back/LB spot.

With that type of experience in the secondary, Bennett is hoping for an improved pass rush so that Baylor can play more tight coverage, resulting in more interrupted opposing drives. The Bears’ 4-2-5 is solid at LB with the return of jr. MLB Bryce Hager (124 Ts LY) and sr. OLB Eddie Lackey (104 Ts, 4 ints.). So Briles is hoping his deeper DL rotation can get the job done all season long. And he might be right. Sr. DE Chris McAllister had 6 sacks last year. Soph DE transfer Shawn Oakman from Penn State is 6-8 and reportedly a “freakish” athlete. 6-3, 235 speed rusher Terrence Lloyd had 4 sacks LY. A couple years ago, the interior of the Baylor DL was so thin that the Bears ended the year with DEs playing DT. No more.

Yes, new starting jr. QB Bryce Perry is likely to go through some growing pains. But the early schedule (home games vs. Wofford, Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe) is quite workable. Plus, the strong-armed, pocket-passing Perry is now in his fourth year in Briles’ system, and he will be supported by arguably the best RB duo at Baylor in years. Jr. speedball Lache Seastrunk (whose recruitment by Oregon caused the Ducks some trouble) raced for 1012 YR last season in part-time duty, slashing through defenses spread out to cover Baylor’s big-play WRs. 220-pound sr. Glasco Martin (889 YR and 15 TDR last season) will alternate, with an emphasis on power duties.

The Bears will miss quick-striking wideout Terrance Williams (97 recs., 1832 yards) and reliable Lanear Sampson (52 recs.). But 5-10 sr. Tevin Reese (53 recs., 957 yards, 9 TDs) is eager to be the No. 1 guy, and when did Briles not have an impressive group of burners not ready to step in? Look for 6-6, 275 sr. TE Jordan Najvar (10 catches LY) to have an expanded role.

Depth on the OL took a hit when sr. starting RT Troy Baker suffered a torn ACL in spring, leaving only two of five starters returning up front. Projected starting C Kelvin Palmer might be moved out to T to replace him. But there’s a chance Baker might be able to return later in the season. And Briles says 6-5, 335 sr. LG Cyril Richardson is simply the best OLmen in the country, with complete domination on every snap.

With the Big 12 down a bit this season (due to the loss of a slew of top QBs), it would be no surprise to see Baylor competing for a while for first place! The Bears were 4-5 in league play in 2012, but they did beat both Kansas State and Oklahoma State. If Briles’ new QB and WRs come through as expected, the deeper, more-talented defense (which allowed 42 points or more six times LY) might surprise some of the Big 12 powerhouses.

Worth noting...With its explosive offense, Baylor is 26-9-1 OVER the total the last three years; 11-2 vs. the spread at home the last two years.

KANSAS STATE (11-2 SUR; 9-4 PSR; 7-5 O/U)...Kansas State faces a rebuilding season after last year’s Big 12 title team (tied with Oklahoma at 8-1; lost 35-17 to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl). But the offense should be okay despite the loss of unorthodox QB Collin Klein. The 6-5 Klein had a loping stride and looping delivery, but he was a first-down and TD machine, with 23 TDR and 16 TDP, while hitting 65% of his passes vs. defenses usually loaded in an attempt to contain the Wildcat option game. However, the inside word from Manhattan is that one shouldn’t look for too much of a dropoff from last year’s potent 38.8 ppg on offense. “Little Big Man” RB 5-7 John Hubert (947 YR and 15 TDR in 2013) is back to pace the ground game, 4 of KSU’s starting 5 “big uglies” return in the OL, and big-play WRs and return men Tyler Lockett & Tramaine Thompson are back to burn defenders caught peeking too long into the Wildcat backfield. Jr. Lockett enters the campaign with four kickoff return TDs already on his resume'.

That brings up the question as to who will be playing QB, and coach Bill Snyder is not saying...for now. Super-quick soph Daniel Sams (6 of 8 passing, 235 YR, 7.3 ypc) saw some useful spot duty last season, but he couldn’t definitively separate himself from better-passing early-enrollee juco Jake Waters in the spring. The competition for No. 1 will resume in August.

The bigger concerns are on defense, where nine starters have completed their eligibility, including A-A LB Arthur Brown, DE Meshak Williams (10½ sacks), and a pair of CBs (Nigel Malone & Allen Chapman) who each snared 5 interceptions. The 2012 group helped KSU go +19 in turnover margin. Now, the front four starters must be replaced. But the steady Snyder who (will be 74 in October) is not one to complain. He’s built up many platoons during his 21 years in the Little Apple. There were nine early enrollees for spring practice this season, six of them jucos, including DE Devon Nash & CB Nate Jackson. Look for them to be in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Sr. LB Tre Walker and sr. S Ty Zimmerman (38 career starts) will be the anchors of the re-constructed defense. Four 300-pounders (or close to it) stood out in the DL in spring, including sr. Chaquil Reed, soph Travis Britz, RS frosh Demonte Hood, and true frosh Matt Seiwert. Many a team would love to have similar talent “in bulk” at its disposal.

Says Snyder about the holes to be filled on defense, “We have what we have....We’ve been here before.” Snyder signed a new five-year contract (laden with perks and incentives) this winter. Ticket sales in the small Kansas outpost of Manhattan are robust. Snyder, born in 1939, says he took the K-State job in the first place because of the people, stayed because of the people, and returned because of the people. In the last two seasons, the Wildcats are 21-5 straight up and 18-4 vs. the spread. K-State is very unlikely to repeat as Big 12 champ this season. But take care in underestimating Snyder and his Wildcats vs. the spread.

WEST VIRGINIA (7-6 SUR; 5-8 PSR; 6-6 O/U)...Dana Holgorsen has the knack for offense. He’s proven that as an assistant at Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State, and in his two years as HC at West Virginia. In his first two seasons in Morgantown, his quick-striking Mountaineers have averaged 37.6 ppg and 39.5 ppg, respectively. Now, the personable HC must prove he can construct a creditable defense after WV gave up 26.8 ppg in 2011 in its last season in the Big East and then a belt-busting 38.1 ppg last year in its first season in the offense-rich Big 12.

Despite the fact that the Mounties have only three returning starters on offense, few experts doubt that WV will again present a potent offense. After all, Holgorsen QBs the last seven seasons (Graham Harrell at Texas Tech, Case Keenum at Houston, Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State, Geno Smith at WV) have produced a total of 281 TDP vs. only 77 interceptions (40.1 TDP vs. 11 ints. per season). WV has lost LY’s one-two-three punch of QB Geno Smith, WR/RB Tavon Austin & WR Stedman Bailey to the NFL, plus three OL starters to graduation.

But WV is once again loaded with WRs (including 6-2 sr. Ivan McCartney, who has rejoined the team after leaving after eight games LY; 6-3½ juco Kevin White gives Holgorsen a big WR like he used at Okla. State). Quick smurf RBs 5-9 Andrew Buie (850 YR in 2012) & 5-8 Dustin Garrison (207) will be joined by the wonderfully-named 217-pound juco Dreamius Smith. Only two starting OLmen return, but one is 6-5, 335 LT Quinton Spain. Plus, Holgorsen has snagged Stanford’s OL/TE coach Ron Crook (a WV native) to rebuild the Mountie unit and provide a little more ball control. The main offensive speculation in Morgantown surrounds the starting QB. Jr. Paul Millard (9 of 19) was the backup last season. 6-5, 234 RS frosh Ford Childress possesses the Weeden-type size and strong arm. But most insiders expect the job to go to skinny Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, who is eligible immediately after impressing for two seasons backing up EJ Manuel.

Still, there remains the question of the porous Mountie defense, where six starters return from a platoon that allowed 61 TDs from scrimmage and collected only 10 ints. in 13 games. Hope comes in two forms. First, the fact that so many underclassmen played last season, when WV was sliced and diced for 51 ppg in its Big 12 games excluding offensively-challenged Iowa State and Kansas. And, second, that this is the second season under defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, whose hybrid 3-4 defense of 2012 was a change from the unorthodox 3-3-5 that was a remnant of the previous Rich Rodriguez/Bill Stewart regimes. However, the stop unit could be in big trouble again if something major happens to key returning playmakers 6-7 sr. DE Will Clarke, burgeoning soph LB Isaiah Bruce (94 Ts as a RS frosh LY), and last-line defenders Ss Karl Joseph (104 Ts) and Darwin Cook (75 Ts).

Trust Holgorsen to quickly build another point-producing offense in 2013. But the Mounties still appear too short on defense to improve much, if at all, from their 4-5 SU mark in Big 12 play last season.

IOWA STATE (6-7 SUR; 6-7 PSR; 4-8 O/U)... Respected coach Paul Rhodes (born ten minutes from campus) and the faithful Iowa State faithful continue to fight the good fight against the many bigger, richer schools in the Big 12. Under Rhodes, the Cyclones have logged “signature” victories in each of his four years—at Nebraska in 2009, at Texas in 2010, vs. undefeated No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State in 2011, and against both TCU (ending the Horned Frogs’ 12-game winning streak) and Baylor in 2012. Rhodes’ ISU teams have gone to bowls in three of his four campaigns. Still, due to a lack of depth and of marquee players, the Cyclones have gone 7-6, 5-7, 6-7, and 6-7 in his four seasons. Among Rhodes’ colleagues, that four-year mark of 24-27 at ISU is considered outstanding. And higher-profile schools have been inquisitive.

Rhodes’ efforts in Ames have not gone unappreciated. Cyclone home games averaged a record 55,274 last year. 30,000 cardinal & gold fans traveled to Memphis last New Year’s Eve for the Liberty Bowl. And season-ticket sales have topped 40,000 for this year. But Rhodes’ warriors will have to go some to make it to the postseason in 2013.

Only 5 starters return on offense; only 4 on defense. The QBs in Iowa State’s modified Pistol offense this season are soph Sam Richardson (4 games, 2 starts, 58.2%, 8 TDs, 1 int. in 2013) and RS frosh Grant Rohach. (Former starter Jared Barnett has transferred to Illinois State.) Verily, those two have lots to prove in a year of outstanding QBs across the entire landscape of college football. ISU is deep at RB (JC All-American Aaron Wimberly is aboard to help quick smurfs James White & Shontrelle Johnson, plus power guy Jeff Woody). And Rhodes has built another serviceable OL. But the WR group is lacking in both quality and quantity. The defense boasts its usual, quick, ball-hawking secondary (6-1, 220 S Jacques Washington—90 Ts & 3 ints. LY—appears to have an NFL future). However, much rebuilding is required in a front seven that generated only 15 sacks last season. The front four must replace three starters. Plus, outstanding ISU LBs Jake Knott & A.J. Klein, who combined for the massive total of 708 career tackles, have departed.

Iowa State has to run as fast as it can to merely stand still in the Big 12, especially since the return of Bill Snyder at Kansas State and with Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and, now, Texas running their offenses at warp speed. Throw Rhoads a fish if he gets the Cyclones to the postseason in 2013.

TEXAS TECH (8-5 SUR; 6-7 PSR; 8-4 O/U)...Mike Leach departed amid controversy in 2009. And not many in Lubbock were sorry to see Tommy Tuberville leave in the 2012 offseason for Cincinnati. Arriving back “home” to take over is former Red Raider QB Kliff Kingsbury, he of the 43 games under Spike Dykes/Mike Leach and of the shower of TT and Big 12 passing records. Kingsbury (34 on August 9) has never been a HC, but he has been well schooled in the spread passing game, working with then-assistant Dana Holgorsen at Houston and moving last year with Cougar HC Kevin Sumlin to A&M, where Kingsbury was the playcaller for Heisman Trophy-winning RS frosh QB Johnny Manziel. But it is unlikely Kingsbury can come anywhere close to repeating that Manziel miracle in his rookie head-coaching year with TT, which hasn’t topped more than eight wins since 2008 and was 20-17 in three seasons under Tuberville (plus a 34-31 bowl win under Chris Thomsen over Minnesota).

First of all, Kingsbury will be breaking in a new starting QB. That is expected to be 6-1, 185 RS soph Michael Brewer, who made 9 appearances off the bench last season, hitting 34 of 48 with 4 TDs vs. 0 interceptions. Brewer can also run a little bit, which means Kingsbury might use a few of the plays employed last year at A&M that took advantage of Manzeil’s mobility. 6-4 true frosh QB Davis Webb enrolled early, impressed in spring, and is more like the lanky 6-3 Kingsbury when the latter played. But it will be an upset if the freshman were to win the job in August.

While the Red Raiders accumulated a decent quartet of RBs under Tuberville (5-9, 219 jr. Kenny Williams, 5-8 soph DeAndre Washington, 5-7 RS frosh Quinton White), pass-happy Tech hasn’t produced a 1000-yard rusher for more than a decade. Plus, the OL returns only two starters, is loaded with sophs, and is smaller than in the peak years of Mike Leach. TT in recent years has developed lots of prolific receivers (Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, Danny Amendola, etc.), but this year’s group lacks the overall proven ability of many units of the past, with sr. Eric Ward (82 recs., 12 TDs), 6-5 TE Jace Armstrong (24 recs., 4 TDs), and 5-6 soph smurf Jakeem Grant (33 recs. LY) being exceptions.

The defense returns 8 starters, but it is still undersized in several areas and collected only 11 takeaways LY, leading to a team turnover margin of -13. One of Tuberville’s goals at Tech was to develop SEC-style speed and depth on defense, which he felt were needed to keep the Red Raiders from wearing down under the assault of the many relentless attacks in the Big 12. He came closer to collecting the needed speed than he did to accumulating the necessary size and depth. 6-0, 202 sr. nickel-back Tre Porter moves to FS this year in the new 4-3 hybrid scheme installed by Matt Wallerstedt (LB coach at A&M LY, but previously a defensive coordinator), the fifth d.c. for Tech in the last five years! But sr. CBs 5-9, 159 CB Olaouwa Falemi & 5-7 Bruce Jones will not be intimidating many wideouts in the Big 12. DE is a strength thanks to srs. Kerry Hyder & Dartwan Bush (6 sacks each). But DTs Delvon Simmons & Dennell Wesley (two sacks each) need more help inside if TT is to reduce LY’s allowance of 32 ppg and 4.4 ypc.

TT supporters believe the arrival of alum coach Kingsbury (plus a slew of former Raiders he has hired as assistants) will put an end to the divisiveness that has afflicted Tech over the last few years. But let’s not forget that Leach clamored for a bigger recruiting budget in order to attract more of Texas’ best out west to Lubbock. Tuberville wanted improved weight-room equipment and an indoor practice facility (breezy Tech is the only Big 12 school without one). Kingsbury (who will call the plays TY) is full of optimism, but is also a realist when he says, “I think you’ll find out very quickly you’re not as smart as you think you are if you don’t have the right guys running the plays. It’s about players, not plays.” Going into autumn, Texas Tech doesn’t appear to have enough good ones, big ones, and experienced ones to challenge for much more than a low-echelon bowl berth. And a potentially murderous second half of the schedule (at WV, at OU, Oklahoma State, K-State, vs. Baylor (in Arlington), at Texas) might put that out of reach.

KANSAS (1-11 SUR; 5-7 PSR; 4-7 O/U)... Jake Heaps and the Jucos. That could very well be the title of a promotional video for the 2013 Kansas football season. And such a video might be much needed in Lawrence following last season’s 1-11 record, with the Jayhawk Football Nation starved for victory after 11 straight losses followed its 31-17 season-opening victory over FCS representative South Dakota State. Over the last three years, Kansas is 6-30.

2012 was the team’s first season under former New England Patriot offensive coordinator and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. A year ago Weis promised to restore pride in the flagging KU program, whose last Big 12 victory in football was November 6, 2010 vs. Colorado, which is no longer even in the conference (KU’s last win vs. a current league member was Oct. 10, 2009 vs. Iowa State). 2012's one-year import of oft-injured senior QB Dayne Crist from Weis’ Notre Dame teams turned out to be a failure, as the pocket-locked passer proved to be too slow, too prone to turnovers, and too poorly supported to add much lift to the leaden blimp that Kansas football has become. After six games, the much quicker but poor-passing 5-10 redshirt frosh Michael Cummings was tabbed to take over as the starting QB. In these days of video-game offense, Cummings (45.7% for the season) was able to produce only 456 yards passing with 3 TDs vs. 4 interceptions in eight appearances in 2012.

Meanwhile, the overworked Jayhawk defense was permitting 36 ppg, allowing six league foes to surpass 40 points. That’s where many of this year’s junior college transfers come in. In order to provide an immediate talent influx to the roster, Weis and defensive coordinator Dave Campo searched the JC ranks, with an eye-opening 19 jucos signed for this coming season. The majority of them on defense.

If there were any bright side to 2012, it was the 1013 YR produced by RB James Sims despite missing the first three games due to suspension. Sims now returns for his senior season to provide a base for the offense, which finished 22nd in rushing (212 ypg), but a very weak 117th in passing. Help is expected to be on the way from Heaps. He is the junior transfer from BYU with the live arm who was once ranked by some as the top-passing high school QB in the country. Heaps took flight from Provo in 2011 amid a combination of sky-high expectations, youthful inconsistency, and stiff competition for the starting job. Now he finds himself in charge of Weis’ QB-friendly offense, with a solid runner in his backfield, but with a team that had no WR with a TC catch in 2012!

In two seasons at BYU, Heaps completed 57% with 24 TDs but a lofty 17 interceptions. However, the QB was a standout on KU’s scout team during his 2012 transfer year. And Heaps can hardly be worse than damaged-goods transfer Crist, who ranked 116th of 116 QBs last season with enough attempts to qualify.

KU’s OL and WR support might be another matter, however. Only 2 of 5 starters return up front, and two JC transfers (LG Ngalu Fusimalohi & RG Mike Smithburg) were penciled into the starting lineup after spring practice. Weis is trying to use every resource at his disposal to provide Heaps with enough quality WR targets after LY’s QB duo of Crist/Cummings totaled 7 TDP vs. 13 interceptions.

2012's second-leading rusher Tony Pierson (760 YR, 6.5 ypc; 21 recs.) will be spending lots of time at receiver in this season’s revamped, better-balanced offense. So will slippery 5-10, 172 soph Tre Parmalee (7 recs.), who was used mainly as a returner LY. Weis has high hopes for 6-3 juco Rodriguez Coleman and 6-2 Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, who add size to the equation.

Although only four starters return on defense, the front seven should also be improved, thanks to the juco additions (Weis likes 6-3, 310 Marquel Combs), redshirt freshmen (6-3, 286 NT Tyler Holmes flashed potential in spring), and some worthy returnees (sr. DE/DT Jordan Tavai started every game LY). LB is one of the better units on the team, as MLB Ben Heeney (112 Ts LY) will push for all-league honors.

The major questions on defense involve the secondary, where talented jucos Dexter McDonald and Cassius Sendish are already penciled in at CB, and RS frosh Tevin Shaw at safety. However, Weis says there is now enough raw talent at DB that respected defensive architect Campo (former Dallas HC) has the flexibility and freedom to do much more scheming and substituting vs. the varied explosive spread offenses in the Big !2.

It can be dangerous for teams to load up on so many junior college players, but Weis contends he has a three-year plan at every position. And the frank and self-deprecating coach says he will very likely dip heavily into the juco pool again next year. But with a sound running game (96% of 2012's rush yards return), improved passing offense, and deeper defense, Kansas will be much more difficult to beat this season, and certainly much, much tougher to blow out. The Jayhawks have a good chance to snap their 21-game Big 12 losing streak. And the blowouts will fewer. Still, it will be a surprise if KU can contend for even one of the many low-rung, bowl-for-bowl’s sake affairs.

NOTEWORTHY: Kansas has been regularly tortured by Kansas State under Bill Snyder; KSU is 16-1 SU in the series under Snyder, including Wildcat covers in all four meetings since Snyder’s return in 2009.


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