Meanwhile, on the college conference re-alignment front...

In recent years, that topic has usually involved the Big 12, which has been shuffling and juggling members with the best of them since 2010, the last year the league actually had twelve members. But after a period of adjustment, it looks as if, for the time being at least, the Big 12 is going to be happy to sit at ten members, at least until further notice. With such a lean and mean number, the Big 12 has had bigger pieces of its financial pie to divvy up among members.

At league meetings in June at Irving, Texas, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that most of the league members would rake in at least $20 million in TV revenues from the past year. While the Big 12 distribution formula is not quite the same as the Big Ten’s completely equal split among its members (newer members West Virginia and TCU, for example, are compensated at a lesser rate during a phase-in stage) , it is apparent that the league members are quite satisfied with the status quo. Which is some accomplishment, considering the league was close to disbanding a few years ago, when a raid from the then-Pac-10 almost annexed half of the league while other long-term members (Colorado, Nebraska, and eventually Texas A&M & Missouri) were plotting their own escape routes.

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Moreover, Bowlsby said that he expects each of the ten Big 12 member schools to receive $3 million more next year mainly because of the College Football Playoff, and by the time current TV deals with Fox and ESPN run their course in 2025, the per-school distribution will double.

“Our distribution revenue in the coming years will climb to $40 million per school,” Bowlsby said at the conclusion of the meetings. Which partially explains the comments by others, including league ADs Joe Castiglione (Oklahoma), Mike Holder (Oklahoma State), and Oliver Luck (west Virginia) that, for the foreseeable future, they prefer the “10-team model”for the loop.

While there is a certain neatness and scheduling ease to the current Big 12 set-up, where every teams plays each other during the football season., we would suggest those ADs and others will support the ten-team loop as long as it is their best bet to take home the most money. At the moment, it is not clear if adding two more schools would add to the bottom line revenues of the existing schools, although TV contracts, like those the Big 12 currently, has with ESPN and Fox Sports, would be negotiated upward with the addition of new members.

Another way to add revenue is with a conference championship football game, which the Big 12 held annually until Colorado and Nebraska left after the 2010 campaign. Since then,the loop has not met the 12-team threshold for a divisional set-up and title game as stated in NCAA bylaws. The league, however, is backing an ACC proposal to allow conferences to stage championship football games without the need of having divisions. The legislation might be voted on as early as this August during an NCAA board meeting.

So, short-term, at least, unless adding two teams is needed for a conference football playoff (which sources tell us the Big 12 would like to re-institute), the Big 12 looks in no hurry to expand..

The landscape, however, can always change quickly, and if the Big 12 did start to look around for at least two new members, there would be no shortage of applicants, as the Big 12 looks to have the only potential openings for schools looking to affiliate with a league that is part of the new "New Year's Six" bowl package and potential entry intio the playoff. The two schools most eager to enlist are probably BYU and Cincinnati.

In the Cougars’ case, AD Tom Holmoe has been having scheduling issues with BYU as a football independent, and with the demise of the BCS and new order emerging in college football, the Cougars are looking further and further away from any chance to get involved in the national title discussion. Moreover, football coach Bronco Mendenhall went public in June about the Cougars’ desire to joining a league...the Big 12 in particular.

"I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great," Mendenhall told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman earlier in June.

BYU offers some intriguing possibilities, including a nationwide support base, a 65,000-seat football stadium always filled to capacity, and a 23,000-seat basketball arena.. But the school’s LDS affiliation causes other issues which could surface in non-football sports, especially the no-activity-on-Sunday policy, and it is not the most convenient geographic fit. For that reason, if BYU wants to join a league for football, it might be best advised to look back to the one it abandoned in 2011, the Mountain West.

Cincinnati has also made no secret of a desire to align with the Big 12. The Bearcats, currently linked with the AAC, would provide a closer rival for West Virginia, currently the most far-flung of the Big 12 outposts, and is located within the nation’s 34th-ranked media market.

Another option could be UCF, an emerging power located in the middle of the nation’s 19th-ranked media market (Orlando) and providing the Big 12 an entree into the Sunshine State. Which was being discussed seriously a couple of years ago when Florida State (plus Clemson) were discussing a possible exodus from the ACC. Other possibilities could include UConn, which would really stretch the geographic footprint of the league, and USF, a potential partner for UCF and another entree into Florida. The Bulls, however, do not have much of an athletic pedigree and don't bring anything to the table except a good-sized market (13th) in the Tampa-St. Pete area.

At some point, we expect a couple of more dominoes to fall, and the Big 12 likely expands before it contracts. Not for a while, however. And when it does, the clues should be evident....simply, as Hal Holbrook’s “Deep Throat” (W. Mark Felt) character memorably said in All The President’s Men, “Follow the money.”

Following is our preview of the Big 12, courest Senior Editor Chuck Sippl. As usual, teams are presented in order of predicted finish, with 2013 straight-up and pointspread records, plus "totals" results, included...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor Editor

OKLAHOMA (2013 SUR 11-2; PSR 8-5; O/U 7-6)...After its 45-31 thumping of two-time defending champion Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, expectations are soaring again in Norman. This despite the obvious questions remaining going into 2014 at QB, RB, WR, and even on defense.

HC Bob Stoops and the Sooner Nation hope they have found their answer at QB for the foreseeable future in quick Trevor Knight, who fairly embarrassed the proud Crimson Tide defense in the Superdome, hitting 32 of 44 passes for 384 yards and 4 TDs with only one interception. Although Knight delighted the Sooner fans, it can honestly be said that he surprised even the Sooner coaches, who before that performance had seen Knight shine often in practice, but also struggle to hit fewer than 60% of his passes, with only 5 TDs vs. 4 interceptions. In fact, Knight started only five of OU’s games last season, with the other eight starts going to 6-6, 258 Blake Bell--the “Belldozer”--who has since been moved to TE, partly due to Knight’s progress and partly due to Bell’s own inaccuracy in the pocket when throwing downfield last season.

There will be lots of early pressure on Knight to continue his improvement, as the Sooner ground game is in rebuilding more going into 2014. Three of five starters return along the front line, but the top RBs going into August camp are all sophomores--Keith Ford (134 YR in 2013), Alex Ross (19), and David Smith (no attempts). None “blossomed” as had been hoped in spring ball. And that might open the door for 6-2, 215 true frosh Joe Mixon, rated by many as the top RB recruit in the nation.

Knight’s receiving group is also not fully established, with 5-10 jr. Sterling Shepard (51 recs. LY) now the veteran go-to guy. Jr. WRs Durron Neal and soph Derrick Woods had 15 recs. LY between them. Even though coaches have high hopes for those youngsters and for RS frosh K.J. Young and others, the youthful wideout group overall will take some time to mature along with soph QB Knight. HC Bob Stoops has indicated that with the likes of the athletic Bell and others at TE, H-back and FB, there is likely to be a receiving revival among those spots while the speed guys outside establish themselves. Plus, it will be no surprise if the now-sr. Bell continues to operate a special-situation, smash-mouth unit for short-yardage conversion purposes.

Last season’s humbling of Nick Saban’s Alabama defense in the Sugar Bowl came as a surprise in many respects, not the least of which was because the Sooner offense finished 90th (!) in passing in 2013. Thus, it is not crystal clear that Knight and his receivers will be clicking smoothly when they open 2014.

Thankfully, the defense may be another story to begin the season. While 2013 was a rebuilding year for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, this season he welcomes back nine starters, including DE Charles Tapper (5½ sacks LY), appropriately-named and multi-talented jr. LB Eric Striker (6½ sacks, 10½ TFL), ascending soph Dominique Alexander (80 Ts and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year), soph CB Frank Sanchez (2 ints. and a frosh A-A LY), sr. S Quentin Hayes (75 Ts and 2 ints. LY), and sr. nickel-back Julian Wilson (3 ints. LY), a valuable piece in OU’s often-used 4-2-5 scheme LY. Moreover, there is promising depth on hand at the DL and LB positions. The Sooners were 20th in total defense last year and finished +8 in turnover margins. However, in these days of wide-open, uptempo offenses, the Sooners must be a bit concerned after yielding 30 points or more five times in the team’s last eight games.

OU also returns one of the better kickers in the country, as sr. Michael Hunnicutt nailed 24 of 27 FGs in 2013.

Summary...Because of its experienced defense, and because its home games vs. fellow conference contenders K-State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, Oklahoma rates a slight edge in the Big 12 going into 2014. But, as Sooner offensive coordinator Josh Huepel states so obviously about still-developing soph QB Knight, “He’s by no means a finished product.” (Knight will have a new competitor at QB in 2015, when Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is eligible). And is THE GOLD SHEET the only entity concerned that the speedy Sooner secondary seems to mysteriously go walkabout for a game or two every season? If OU’s running game and WRs don’t come around as expected, Knight and the Sooners will likely find themselves in a wild scramble for the Big 12 title (and a possible spot in the four-team playoff).

BAYLOR (2013 SUR 11-2; PSR 9-4; O/U 9-4)... The Bears used the nation’s most prolific offense of 2013 to win their first Big 12 title, with their only stumble in league play a 49-17 blowout suffered at Oklahoma State. But even though Baylor has only eight starters back from last year’s dynamic team (No. 1 in the nation in total offense with 619 yards; No. 1 in points with 52.4 pg), the Bears’ program appears to be in very good hands and in very good shape.

Inspirational coach Art Briles is 44-32 in his six years at Waco; 29-10 in the last three years. Moreover, Baylor’s picturesque, new McLane Stadium comes on line this August, boosting the Bears of the Brazos to another level on the national scene.

After losing 14 starters from 2013, plus kicker Aaron Jones, one might expect a substantial decline at BU for this upcoming season. However, while there might be a dropoff from last year’s Big 12 champs, in might not be as precipitous as initially expected. Here’s a look on the bright side.

A bright group of skill players are back, including sr. NFL QB prospect Bryce Petty, who hit 62% of his passes for 4200 yards and 32 TDP in 2013, not to mention another 14 TDs rushing. Largely because Petty tossed only 3 interceptions all season, BU was a lofty +13 in turnover margin. On the ground, a late-season injury sustained by now-departed RB Lache Seastrunk helped spur the development of the appropriately-named, 5-8, 200 RB “Shock” Linwood (real name: Rashodrick), who ripped for 881 YR on 6.9 ypc. Fellow soph Devin Chafin (295 YR as LY’s No. 4 RB) is a bigger option (6-0, 220) with nearly the speed.

Lightning-quick HR-hitting WR Tevin Reese has moved on to the NFL, but sr. Antwan Goodley (71 recs., 13 TDC), sr. Levi Norwood (47 & 8), and soph Corey Coleman (35 & 2) are all back to provide Petty with a variety of targets in Briles’ signature spread offense, which arguably does the best job of putting stress on defensive coverages with its extremely-exaggerated wide WR sets, severely limiting the value of double-coverage attempts.

Jr. LT Spencer Drango is the only returning starter in the OL. However, there is one very nice advantage to a team that outscored its foes 208 to 64 in the first quarter (!) and 407 to 138 in the first half last year. That advantage is plenty of playing time for backups throughout the rest of the game. And, thanks to the major inroads Briles and his staff have made in recruiting in recent years, the projected new starters up front are big (e.g., 6-6, 385 LG LaQuan McGowan), talented, and well-trained.

The same is true on defense, where jr. DE Shawn Oakman (once at Penn State) has now grown to 6-9 and 275. He is looking to greatly increase the 2 sacks he registered in split-time duties last year. Same for jr. DT Beau Blackshear (2½ sacks). The anchor of the defense is now-sr. MLB Bryce Hager, who had 71 Ts despite missing the last four games with a groin injury. The greatest concern on defense is the secondary, where jr. S Terrell Burt (2 ints.) is the only returning starter. Once again, improved recent recruiting will help provide quality replacements, and don’t forget that Briles’ charges contributed 9 defense and special teams TDs in 2013. But in a conference loaded with potent offenses, you can count on the Baylor defenders being attacked early and often in 2014 through the air. Especially by foes that fall well behind on the scoreboard before intermission. Last year, the Bears gave up 23.5 ppg. A younger Bear stop unit this season will have to improve rapidly in order to do that well.

Summary...Baylor will be good; Baylor will be exciting again in 2014. Perhaps unbeatable at its sparkling new home (the Bears were 7-0 SU and vs. the spread in Waco LY). But the rebuilding Green and Gold defense will be fully tested on the road, where Baylor is a combined 7-6 SU and vs. the spread the last two seasons. Despite their hard-to-defend offense, the high-scoring Bears figure to absorb a few lumps on the road...lumps that will probably make a repeat Big 12 title more unlikely than likely.

KANSAS STATE (2013 SUR 8-5; PSR 8-5; O/U 5-8)...Bill Snyder (who will be 75 in October) has proven at least two things for certain at Kansas State. One, his low-key, no-nonsense, insistent approach can be successful with college players (Snyder is 178-80-1 in 23 years at KSU). And, two, that Snyder knows how to evaluate, recruit, sign, and train top junior college players more consistently and with better results than just about everyone else in the college ranks. It became clear nearly immediately in Snyder’s tenure in Manhattan that there were just not enough high-quality high school players in the Sunflower State--and for the then-awful K-State program to attract them--for him to have any chance for success in the “Little Apple” without help from the JCs.

So Snyder has usually peppered his roster with athletic and/or imposing junior college players. Many coaches who have tried to follow his model have failed, as many players who end up in junior college often have academic, injury-related, or off-field issues that kept them from getting a scholarship offer in the first place. But, partly by landing a group of highly-talented jucos just about every year, Snyder has been able to elevate his K-State program high enough to compete with the national powers in the Big Eight/Big 12 Conference for more than two decades.

Such could be the case again this year, as QB Jake Waters (Iowa Western Community College in 2011-12) is now a K-State sr. and in solo control of the reins of the Wildcat offense after dual-threat QB mate Daniel Sams of last season has transferred to McNeese State. Sams (807 YR, 11 TDR LY) was the most talented runner on the K-State team, even though now-departed smurf John Hubert scampered for 1048 yards from his tailback position. Waters (61%, 2469 YP, 18 TDP, 9 ints.; 312 YR, 6 TDR) developed steadily last season, and he has premium wideout Tyler Lockett (81 recs., 1262 yards, 11 TDs) back with him this season. Sr. Curry Sexton (39 recs.) is also back, but (not surprisingly) Snyder is counting on the rapid development of juco Andre Davis from California to become another high-quality target.

The big question in the Wildcat offense this season is at RB, where the loss of the small, but reliable Hubert opens the door for several candidates--all unproven. 5-7, 209 sr. DeMarcus Robinson had only 20 YR in 2013. 5-11, 203 soph Jarvis Leverett is reportedly talented, but has yet to see the field in a college game. Perhaps touted 5-9, 185 blue-chip true frosh Dalvin Warmack will be the eventual answer, although one must consider the low tolerance Snyder has for mistakes in execution.

The OL returns only two starters (sr. C B.J. Finney and jr. LG turned LT Cody Whitehair). However, jr. RG Boston Stiverson has starting experience, while 6-6 juco Luke Hayes appeared to have locked up the RT spot in spring.

More immediate help from the JC ranks is anticipated on defense, which returns only five starters. 6-4, 315 DT Terrell Clinkscales and speedy OLB D’Vonta Derricott are expected to contribute immediately upon their arrival in August. But there is a solid veteran cast upon which to build around. Sr. DE Ryan Mueller (11½ sacks LY) is a college success story, going from a one-time walk-on in Manhattan to now an NFL prospect. Sr. ILB Jonathan Truman (89 Ts LY) holds down the middle. And the secondary has two very valuable players in sr. CB Randall Evans (2 ints., 1 sack LY), who often moves to a LB/DB hybrid when K-State uses its nickel defense, and jr. S Dante Barnett (74 Ts, 4 ints. LY), who developed into a good ballhawk vs. the fast-paced Big 12 offenses.

All told, another 9-10 jucos are set to join the Wildcats this year. And the Manhattan fans are optimistic after seeing Waters develop steadily throughout 2013, when K-State won 6 of its last 7 games, including a one-sided 31-14 victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But perhaps the Purple faithful should temper that enthusiasm a bit, as the K-State defense was often overmatched in the team’s four conference losses, allowing 35 ppg vs. Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma.

Summary...Snyder, long known for his soft non-conference schedules, has an interesting Game Three contest this season vs. none other than 2013 national runner-up Auburn. Similar uptempo attacks were a problem for K-State last season (35 ppg allowed in four Big 12 losses), even though the Wildcats finished a respectable 31st in points allowed (22.9) overall and permitted only 3.9 ypc. Kansas State enters 2014 with an important question at RB, as a ground assault is needed to balance the attack and allow QB Waters to do his thing. The Wildcats figure to be a factor in the Big 12 race. But with five league road games and an unsettled situation at RB, it’s likely to be another winning year for K-State, topped by a second straight minor bowl.

TEXAS TECH (2013 SUR 8-5; PSR 6-7; O/U 8-4-1)...Former record-setting QB Kliff Kingsbury was warmly received in his first year back in Lubbock, going 8-5. And the popular passer held up pretty well, considering that 2013 was his first season anywhere as a head coach. However, Kingsbury--a former five-year assistant to Kevin Sumlin and Houston and Texas A&M--ran into some of the same problems that had plagued predecessor Tommy Tuberville during the latter’s tenure with the Red Raiders. Namely, as the schedule has toughened in recent years and as TT’s ranks thinned due to the inevitable in-season attrition, the Raiders have tailed off.

The facts are these. In Tech’s first six games of the last three seasons, the Red Raiders have been an impressive 15-3 straight up and 13-5 vs. the spread. In TT’s remaining games of the last three seasons, the Raiders are only 6-14 SU and 5-15 vs. the spread. The dropoff has been especially acute in the important games of November, as Tech is 0-12 SU in November the last three seasons (1-11 vs. the spread).

That kind of repeated decline explains the majority of offseason moves by Kingsbury and staff. Well familiar with the offensive side of things, they placed a renewed emphasis on defense after TT gave up 30.5 ppg in 2013 (87th in the nation), was a weak 98th vs. the run, yielded a generous 4.5 ypc, and collected only 8 interceptions. Complicating matters further for 2015, only three defensive starters from LY return.

Thus, the Red Raiders are likely the only team to move their leading rusher to OLB in the offseason. Kenny Williams, who rushed for 497 yards and 8 TDs, begins August as the team’s “Raider” LB, where it is hoped he can lend some impact to a unit the has been under-sized and undermanned in recent seasons. Williams, only 5-9, but now up to about 225 for his defensive duties, hopefully will give the unit some speed and playmaking ability that it has been too often lacking. Another playmaker with upward potential is 6-4, 240 jr. DE Branden Jackson, who had 4 sacks and 9 TFL as a soph. However, with the Tech DL undersized, Kingsbury is counting on a couple of jucos to mature quickly up front. 6-6, 290 DL Keland McElrath was an early-enrollee who impressed in spring. And incoming 6-3, 350 DT Rika Levi was the California JC Defensive Player of the Year.

Veteran returning LBs Sam Equavoen (70), Pete Robertson (60) and Micah Awe (58) combined for 188 tackles last season but lack imposing size. So does 5-11, 225 sr. transfer Sam Fehoko (via Utah). And the rebuilding secondary, which lost three senior starters, is also smallish except for promising 6-2 soph CB Justin Nelson (1 int. in three starts LY). Defensively, the Red Raiders had 19 total takeaways (80th in the country) in 13 games, helping to explain the team’s -14 turnover margin in 2013. Needless to say, an unsettled, vulnerable secondary can be a major hindrance in the pass-happy Big 12.

Offense is a different story for TT, as its Air Raid attack was second in the nation in passing with 393 ypg. The team’s 35.8 ppg ranked 23rd. Moreover, Kingbury, who got some starting action when he was a skinny freshman, sees a little of himself in tall and lanky 6-4 soph QB Davis Webb (62.6%, 2718 YP, 20 TDs, 9 interceptions). Webb (10 games, six starts LY) lost considerable playing time (due to illness & injury) to impressive true frosh QB Baker Mayfield, who has since transferred. At one point in 2013, illness had reduced Webb’s weight to just 168 pounds! But by the end of the season the slender slinger had put a grip on the starting job, lighting up the well-regarded Arizona State defense for four first-half TD passes and 403 total YP in the Red Raiders’ 37-23 upset in the Holiday Bowl. Webb later demonstrated improved arm strength and leadership in spring.

It’s in the complementary running game where TT needs a spark. Jr. DeAndre Washington (450 YR in 2013), who split time with now-LB Williams at RB LY, now must carry more of the load, although coaches have high hopes for darting 5-7 soph Quinton White and 5-8 blue-chip true frosh Justin Stockton. Still, LY’s 33 giveaways and 33 sacks yielded were too many, and TT’s 3.6 ypc gained were too few.

Although the Raider OL will probably be shuffled, enough talent and experience is on hand to get the job done. The receiving unit also has depth and considerable potential. However, Davis is likely to greatly miss the omni-present availability of 6-5 target Jace Amaro and the seasoned moves of 6-0 Eric Ward, as both have left Lubbock after combining for a monster 189 recs. and 15 TDC last season. Although leading returning WR Jakeem Grant (65 recs., 7 TDC) is elusive, Grant’s 5-6, 160 frame does not lend itself to season-long heavy usage. However the speed in this season’s WR group offers the promise of more vertical plays. Sr. PK Ryan Bustin hit 23 of 27 FGs LY, converting many a shorter drive into points.

Summary...Texas Tech will score plenty this season, but defense is likely to be a challenge again. The team’s previously-vulnerable defensive depth will be especially tested late in the season, as November games include contests against Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor. Will TT be able to reverse that 1-11 November pointspread trend? Not without a bit more run balance and with some needed newcomer help on defense. So even with an upset or two, it’s likely another minor bowl for the Red Raiders in 2014. Note: TT has lost five straight to Oklahoma State by an average of 28 ppg. This year’s game, on a Thursday night, is the conference opener for both teams. Note II: The combination of TT’s high-scoring offense and the wear and tear on its defense has produced a three-year over/under mark of 24-11-1 (no totals posted on two games.)

OKLAHOMA STATE (2013 SUR 10-3; PSR 8-5; O/U 5-8)...Oklahoma State has become one of the more successful programs in recent years. In nine seasons under fiery HC Mike Gundy, the Cowboys are a solid 77-38 (including 5-3 in bowl games). But in the last six years of his regime, the former OSU QB has fashioned a notable 59-19 SU mark, averaging 9.83 victories per season. That’s pretty tough to do in these days of uptempo, wide-open football.

However, Gundy (who turns 47 in August) faces a big challenge this season in the very competitive Big 12, with its seemingly unending stream of quick-hitting offenses. OSU returns only four starters on both offense and defense after losing the Big 12 last year because of a late, late (try 19 seconds) Stillwater setback to arch-rival Oklahoma in the Cowboys’ final regular-season game. From that team, an unusually-high 28 seniors have departed; seven of those were starters on defense, and all of those defenders earned some kind of all-Big 12 recognition.

On offense, Gundy’s dynamic, no-huddle attack has a good chance to be okay if only the Cowboys can get healthy and solidify their offensive line, which returns only two starters from last season—sr. Gs Daniel Koenig & Chris Grigsby. Soph Paul Lewis appears set to take over at center. But projected LT Devin Davis missed all of LY due to a knee injury in August camp, while projected RT Brandon Garrett is coming back from a lower leg fracture in last season’s Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri. Virtually all of the OL depth behind the starters is young and inexperienced.

If things do work out up front as hoped, this year’s Cowboy attack shouldn’t experience too much downturn from last season’s healthy production of 39.1 ppg. Although that was 14th in the nation, it represented the poorest showing for explosive OSU since 2009! QB J.W. Walsh--a redshirt junior who has previously battled injury and consistency problems in his career--appears ready to assume command of a greatly talented group of point producers. Despite those early-career difficulties, the now-veteran Walsh has a beneficial 18 games under his belt, not to mention a nice 22-to-8 TD-to-int. ratio. Although Walsh doesn’t have the strong arm of some recent OSU QBs, he has valuable elusiveness (584 YR) that puts rival defenses under tremendous pressure on the edge. Foes that lose containment of Walsh will pay dearly with big plays down the field.

Walsh demonstrated welcomed improvement in mechanics, accuracy and decision-making during spring. His backups this year will be Arizona transfer Daxx Garman, who played at Southlake, TX power Carroll High School, and 6-4 early-enrollee true frosh Mason Rudolph. Both are hard-throwing pocket-passing types.

As far as playmakers are concerned, OSU has a group that rivals those at high-scoring defending Big 12 champ Baylor, starting with 6-2, 210 RB Desmond Roland (811 YR, 13 TDR LY), a combo speed/power runner with the important ability to keep opposing front sevens from getting over-eager in their pass rush. Soph Rennie Childs (189 LY) is a promising backup, while juco sprinter Tyreek Hill is expected to display his impressive speed from both the RB and WR spots this season.

Meanwhile, the talent-laden OSU receiving group once again will create plenty of mismatches vs. opposing defenses, with emerging 6-2 soph Jhajuan Seales (39 recs. LY) flashing big-play skills seen before in the Cowboy offense from the likes of Dallas’ WR Dez Bryant and troubled Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon. Ready to help Seales are jr. Branden Shepherd, 6-4 soph Marcell Ateman, and 5-11 redshirt soph Blake Webb, who missed virtually all of LY due to a foot injury. The targets are there if the Cowboy OL gives its QB the time to spot them.

The defensive issues might be a bit more problematic for Gundy this season after the loss of so many veterans from 2013. The DL starters appear to be okay, thanks partly to jr. DE Jimmy Bean, a disruptor who had 4½ sacks as a soph. Sr. DT James Castleman has shown to be a solid run stopper, while former backup sr. DT Ofa Hautau has demonstrated a nice upside as one of the members of OSU’s growing Polynesian contingent.

It’s the inexperienced back seven where Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer must be concerned in the rowdy Big 12. Jr. MLB Ryan Simmons (67 Ts, 9 TFL LY) is a proven performer. But JCAA LBs Devante Averette and D’Nerius Antoine have been imported to Stillwater for an immediate talent boost in that platoon. In the rebuilding secondary, jr. CBs Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin have shown they can be starters in the challenging Big 12. But soph safeties Deric Robertson and Jordan Stearns will be tested early (OSU opens versus defending champ Florida State in Arlington) and often (five of Ok-State’s nine Big 12 games this season are on the road).

Summary...The quickness of QB J.W. Walsh might yield an extra benefit early this season, giving the OSU offensive line time to stabilize. But the rebuilding Cowboy defense is very unlikely to provide the takeaway ability it did in 2013, when Oklahoma State was such a useful +15 in turnover margin. Moreover, if there are any key injuries on the young stop unit, Gundy and d.c. Spencer might find themselves playing some kind of weird, unending game of defensive Whac-A-Mole in combating continuing issues of youth as they arise. It will be noted here that Gundy’s OSU teams are a fine 35-17 overall vs. the spread the last four years. But the Cowboys’ tough 2014 conference road schedule (November away games at K-State, Baylor, and Oklahoma) make a Big 12 title run very unlikely. Instead, it will be a “bowl game to build on” for OSU this season.

TEXAS (2013 SUR 8-5; PSR 6-7; O/U 5-8)... Expectations and reality. Those two concepts define quite a bit about how the public feels about a football team as it goes through the inevitable challenges of a long college football season.

For example, Texas, going into 2013, was quite upbeat, coming off a 9-4 campaign in 2012 and returning 19 starters. QB David Ash had become an ascending junior after showing considerable leadership in directing the Longhorns to a late 31-27 comeback victory over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. With defending Big 12 co-champs Kansas State and Oklahoma both replacing their starting QBs from 2012, expectations were high in Austin. But then reality caught up with the Longhorns in their second game of the season, as fast-paced BYU--led by hard-running QB Taysom Hill--shredded the UT defense for 679 yards, with a UT-record 550 of them on the ground in a 40-21 smashing in Provo. Worse yet, Ash suffered a concussion, left the game, and played only once more all season. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired, replaced by former d.c Greg Robinson, who had been hired in the offseason in Austin as a personnel analyst.

After the Longhorns lost at home to Mississippi the ensuing week, even upcoming victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma, and a solid 6-0 start in the Big 12 race, could not fully restore the confidence in the Longhorns, who were being thinned by a flurry of key injuries along the way. Late-season losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor finished UT in the conference race and the pressure continued to mount on well-liked coach Mack Brown, whose teams had gone 5-7, 8-5 and 9-4 since losing to Alabama in the 2009 season BCS championship game.

But it wasn’t just the disappointing UT seasons that got under the saddle of the Longhorn Nation. It was the rise of other programs in the Lone Star State. It was also the failures of prized Texas QB recruits, while other state high school QBs went elsewhere and flourished. And it was the flight of many top recruits to other programs. As a final measure of reality, no Longhorn players were selected in this May’s NFL draft. So, it might be said that either the incoming UT recruits were not as good as had been judged, or were not being “coached up” enough. Or both. Mack Brown’s strong hold within his own state was slipping, and he fairly gracefully stepped aside in December to move “upstairs.”

While Louisville’s Charlie Strong wasn’t the first choice of the UT administration (for a variety of reasons) to replace Brown, he might turn out to a good choice for the Longhorns in the longer term. This despite the immediately-obviously fact that Strong lacks Mack Brown’s wonderful speaking and public relations skills. Strong is unlikely to ever match Brown in that regard (which might leave the new UT coach at a disadvantage to smooth-talking regional types such as Bob Stoops, Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles, Gary Patterson, etc.). However, the new HC in Austin has shown to be “strong” at Louisville in some areas where Brown was not--namely, defense, QB development, and in coaching with an “edge.” Last year’s Cardinal team was No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in turnover margin, No. 16 in passing ypg, and No. 2 in third-down conversion (56%; ahead of Florida State). In the last two seasons, Strong's Louisville beat Florida and Miami-Florida in bowl games.

For sure, Strong has paid his dues. Twenty-six years as an assistant, including substantial stints under the likes of Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. Terrific success (37-15) in his four years at Louisville, which was 15-21 with no winning seasons the three previous years. Out-recruiting many bigger schools for the services of Miami, FL high-school star Teddy Bridgewater, and then guiding the shy, young Bridgewater into an assertive leader and Heisman Trophy candidate. All of Strong’s head-coaching years have been in the Big East/American Athletic Conference. While that’s not the Big 12/SEC, most of those who closely followed his teams believe Strong over-achieved. So there is a good chance the Texas job--one of the “biggest” in the nation--might not be too big for him.

However, Strong’s 2014 task in Austin might become a lot larger in a hurry if well-seasoned jr. QB Ash has his career interrupted again. Given a medical redshirt season after playing in only three games last year, the 6-3, 227 Ash enters 2014 with 21 career starts (63%, 30 TDs, 18 ints.). Ash will be operating under new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who has moved Strong’s QB-friendly offense to Austin. But Ash suffered a foot fracture in spring practice. He is expected to be ready in August. but there is no experienced sr. backup (such as Case McCoy last year) to take over the reins if he isn’t. The hope is that Ash will be able to stay healthy and employ his considerable experience and occasional escapability to keep the chains moving, playing ball-control along with a trio of seasoned RBs--sr. Malcolm Brown (904 YR LY), jr. Johnathon Gray (780 YR; off an Achilles injury), and powerful sr. Joe Bergeron (possible academic issues). If Ash’s concussion problems return, 6-4, 240 soph Tyrone Swoopes (5 of 13 LY) will likely get the first call, but his inexperience and dubious passing skills will make winning tough Big 12 games quite difficult.

While the OL needs some rebuilding with only two starters back, the 2014 talent is reportedly improved over recent years, and sr. C Dominic Espinosa (39 starts) is a solid anchor. Four of UT’s top five receivers return from last season, as well as good depth at TE. Clever sr. wideout Jaxon Shipley (56 recs. LY) is the go-to guy. Jr. Kendall Sanders (37 recs.) has shown steady improvement, while the Longhorn faithful will watch with great interest to see if Strong--a reported “players” coach,” but no hip-hop coach--can get through to immensely-gifted but still-erratic WR/RB/KR Daje Johnson, a big-play target still seeking to find his best spot on the team.

A little good injury luck would also help the defense, which returns starters at seven positions. One of those is sr. OLB Jordan Hicks, felled by an Achilles injury last year and limited by groin problems in 2012. When healthy, the 6-2, 244 Hicks was considered an NFL prospect. So is sr. MLB Steve Edmond, who suffered a lacerated liver late last season. Promising sr. Tevin Jackson is returning from a torn ACL. Meanwhile, jr. Dalton Santos (74 Ts LY; 10 TFL) blossomed as a soph in his chances last year.

Chris Rumph is the team’s new asst. HC and DL coach after three years at Alabama, and Rumph says he was pleasantly surprised by the group he has inherited. The Longhorns posted a robust 39 sacks LY, led by sr. DE Cedric Reed (10). Meanwhile, jr. DT Malcom Brown (68 Ts, 12 TFL, 2 sacks), sr. DT “Tank” Jackson (2 sacks), and soph DT Hassan Ridgeway (a “plus” upside) are among the better DT trios in the nation. It is up to Rumph, after studying under the exhaustingly-thorough Nick Saban, to figure out why UT was so generous in 2013 (26 ppg; 83rd vs. the run). And it’s up to new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford—a former DB in Austin—to figure out why the Horns had only 10 ints. despite those 39 sacks. Sr. CB Quandre Diggs is considered a top cover guy, and 6-2 sr. Mykele Thompson a wide-ranging safety, but the two vets combined for only a single pick in 2013.

Make no mistake, Strong has inherited more talent at Texas than he did at Louisville. But he needs some luck with some previously-injured key players (especially QB Ash) if the Longhorns are going to contend in the deep Big 12. There were few signs in spring that backup QB Swoopes (six appearances LY) is ready to lead UT to a deep run in the conference race.

Meanwhile, by stating to boosters in Jurgen Klinsman-like fashion something that should be obvious to most analysts (“We will not be in the national championship game.”), Strong unwittingly tugged on one of Bevo’s horns and got off on the wrong foot to many Texas Exes. And by appearing to be rushed and somewhat uncomfortable at other UT functions, Strong has already failed to win over many of the UT faithful that the well-spoken Mack Brown had so successfully cultivated. But let’s be honest. Few in the profession had the knack of saying all the right things as did Brown.

Summary...A defensive improvement under Strong in 2014 will be no surprise. But even with a good ground game, a Texas run at the Big 12 title isn’t likely to happen without QB Ash being able to play most or all of the season. (Would Strong turn to blue-chip frosh QB Jerrod Heard?) All told, it will probably be best for everyone if they don’t judge too harshly during Strong’s transition year. After posting a 7-2 record last season in league play, there is plenty room for optimism in Austin. But it’s probably going to be at least a couple of seasons before the Horns are knocking on the door of a spot in the playoffs.

TCU (2013 SUR 4-8; PSR 4-8; O/U 6-6)...After racking up a 77-13 record in seven years in the Mountain West Conference, TCU coach Gary Patterson was ready for another challenge when the Big 12 came calling a couple of years ago as the college conference tectonic plates began to shift. After all, Patterson had strong-armed, experienced QB in Casey Pachall moving into his junior and senior years, so the Horned Frogs appeared ready for the step up in class. Patterson has always spoken glowingly of the benefits of having an experienced, veteran QB. What Patterson was not ready for was for Pachall to miss 14 games in the next two seasons due to substance-abuse rehab and injury. Thus, making a go of it in the stronger, deeper Big 12 turned out to be much more of a new challenge than Patterson had prepared for.

Pachall, once an NFL prospect, was recently seen trying to revive his career in the CFL. Patterson, meanwhile, has had to fight his way through difficult 7-6 and 4-8 seasons at TCU, logging a combined 6-12 league mark in the very testing Big 12. And, going into 2014, Patterson has still been unable to solidify his QB situation, even though there appears to be a good chance he will be able to do so. That’s because 6-4, 240 sr. Matt Joeckel (eligible immediately) is transferring from Texas A&M after five appearances (one start) as Johnny Manziel’s backup last season. Joeckel (22 of 37 LY) has spent the last two seasons learning A&M’s uptempo spread attack, training that should come in handy for running TCU’s new offense.

After seeing his team out-gunned in several games in recent years, Patterson plans to fight fire with fire in 2014, hiring Doug Meacham from Houston and Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech as co-coordinators of TCU’s own new, uptempo Air Raid spread. However, Joeckel--already the owner of a business degree (not to mention being the twin brother of former Aggie A-A OT Luke)ill have to wait until August to begin doing business with the Horned Frogs.

Ideally, Joeckel will be able to quickly assume the starting QB spot, allowing multi-gifted QB/WR Trevone Boykin (22 career TD passes) to ply his talents at WR, where the 6-2 jr. had 26 recs. LY (21 in the last four games). WR has become a more important position for the Horned Frogs this season, with the new spread offense usually calling for four. And receiver was not a strength for TCU in 2013, as the unit was plagued not only by drops, but also by a low percentage of receptions on “50-50" balls. For example, jr. Josh Doctson is the leading returning receiver with only 36 catches. Sr. Brandon Carter had 31, but for 0 TDs and is battling some academic issues. Former reserve RB Jordan Moore, a one-time hurdler, was moved to the now more important WR position in the spring. Patterson used four scholarships this year on high-school wideouts with substantial potential (6-4 Emanuel Porter and 6-2 Corey McBride will get early looks).

There are also other areas of concern on the Frog offense, namely the OL, where at least two starters must be replaced on a shaky unit that was 110th in rushing last season, 87th in point production (25.1 ppg), and which mashed out only 3.5 ypc. The prototype linemen in the Houston/Texas Tech Air Raid offenses are tall and heavy, trained to absorb punishment while repeatedly holding off rushers for a few seconds so that the QB can locate the appropriate receiver vs. the particular defensive coverage. In spring, new OL candidates 6-4, 345 juco G Frank Kee and 6-5 RS frosh T Joseph Noteboom impressed. Plus 6-7, 315 sr. T Tayo Fabuluje, a one-time BYU transfer and TCU starter who did not play last season, has rejoined the team.

It turns out that 5-9 jr. RB B.J. Catalon (only 569 YR as the team’s top rusher in 2013)--often asked to carry too much of the load on the ground while he was still growing when a freshman and sophomore--might now be an ideal asset in the new offense as a small, quick type. Former Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and RS freshmen Trevorris Johnson & Kyle Hicks will also get a look, but must learn how to effectively pick up the opponent’s sixth rusher on blitzes.

While questions on the Horned Frog offense won’t be answered until August/September, Patterson appears to be entering preseason workouts with one of his better defenses, which should be formidable in the line, at LB, and in the secondary. Patterson and longtime d.c. Dick Bumpas--the masters of the 4-2-5 “anti-spread” scheme--return starters at eight positions, including DE Devonte Fields, who had 10 sacks as Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2012 before suffering a “lost” 2013 season due to suspension and injury. Returning starting DEs Terrell Latham (5 sacks) and James McFarland (3 sacks) developed steadily as sophs.

Meanwhile, three seniors--Phil Dawson, Marcus Mallett, and former DB Jonathan Anderson--will rotate at LB after combining for 227 Ts and 23 TFL last season. Consistent pressure up front, solid LBing, and deception in the secondary are reasons why TCU’s defense was 24th in yards LY, allowing only 3.3 ypc on the ground while collecting 32 sacks and 19 interceptions. Even though 2 of 5 starters in the secondary must be replaced, the Horned Frogs could improve some of those numbers this season.

That’s partly because 6-2 jr. Chris Hackett is on the verge of becoming one of the top defenders in the nation after collecting 88 Ts, 3 ints., 3 forced fumbles, and 2 sacks as an attacking soph safety in Patterson’s pet 4-2-5. Helping him out is now-senior Sam Carter, who had 5 ints. and 4 sacks LY. Sr. Kevin White (3 ints. LY) will hold down one corner, while well-regarded RS frosh Ranthony Texada is expected to become the next super-quick cover corner in the line of many Patterson has recruited and trained in the past.

Jr. P Ethan Perry and jr. PK Jalen Oberkrom (14 of 18 FGs LY) return to provide stability to TCU’s special teams.

Summary...Like a few other teams in the conference, the Frogs have an important question to be answered at QB. But if A&M transfer passer Joeckel can come through--not only stabilizing the new Air Raid offense but also allowing the 6-2 Boykin to become a needed big target at WR--TCU has a chance to surprise. Expectations are down a bit in Fort Worth after last year’s 4-8 mark caused a Patterson team to miss the bowls for the first time in nine years! But with a little help from the offense, this year’s Purple defense has the makings of one of the best in the Big 12. And this is one of the conference seasons that the Frogs have five league home games. Early-October contests vs. Oklahoma and at Baylor should be revealing as to TCU’s prospects come November.

WEST VIRGINIA (2013 SUR 4-8; PSR 3-9; O/U 6-6)...Things were not looking good for Dana Holgorsen at the end of 2013, and he knew it. But the likeable, high-strung head coach has done more about it than many outside of The Mountain State might have noticed.

First, a look at the negative. After a 7-6 record in the last season with sr. QB Geno Smith at the controls in 2012, WV slipped last season to 4-8. It missed the bowls for the first time since 2001. 2013 saw the team use three different QBs, finish 113th in the nation in third-down conversion (31.9%), 79th in scoring, and 101st in total defense while giving the ball away 32 times. The Mountaineers gave up 35 or more points six times. They lost 37-0 in a six-giveaway swamping in the rain at Maryland, and they lost 73-42 in a runaway in Waco, where the merciful Baylor Bears led 66-21 midway in the third quarter before easing up. To close its season, West Virginia blew a 17-point, 4th-quarter lead vs. Iowa State, losing 52-44 in triple overtime. In many ways that was a defeat representative of a lost 2013 season.

But, now, a look at some of the events that might portend a more positive 2014 in Morgantown. First, an early-season 30-21 victory over Oklahoma State last year that eventually cost the Cowboys a piece of the Big 12 championship. Second, three overtime losses in league play. With a few breaks, WV might have finished 6-6 in the regular season to keep its bowl string alive. And, lastly, it turns out that QB Clint Trickett--a summer transfer from Florida State last season—now has lots of playing time with the Mountaineers. Perhaps more importantly, it turned out that Trickett--who was often gutting it out last season with a “sprained” shoulder--was actually playing with torn labrum, which was repaired in the offseason by famous orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Trickett (seven starts LY) was named the team’s 2014 starting QB in June, but partly by default. 6-5 pocket passer Ford Childress (two starts LY) has transferred. It has been decided by the coaches that 6-2, 230 sr. Paul Millard (three starts LY) is best used as a backup. Juco QB Skyler Howard, brought in to compete for the starting job, was so unimpressive in spring that he is now expected to redshirt. True frosh blue-chipper William Crest arrives in August, but will have to work his way up the depth chart. Trickett, despite his shoulder injury, completed 53% with 7 TDs vs. 7 interceptions. And even though he now has the best knowledge Holgorsen’s version of the Air Raid offense, Trickett is a slender 6-2, 175 and unable to absorb any heavy punishment.

Thankfully for Trickett, he will be supported by a stronger, deeper WV team in 2014. Holgorsen, who spent nine years as an assistant in the Big 12, says it quickly became apparent to him upon his arrival in Morgantown that the Mountaineers lacked the depth to compete at a higher level when they joined the Big 12 two seasons ago. With fewer scholarship players, but with good quality, WV was able to win or share six conference titles in the Big East between 2003-11. But the Big 12 was another matter, requiring the Mounties to dip deeper into their roster, with more players seeing action each week. Holgorsen says TCU’s Gary Patterson has told him the same thing after moving up from the Mountain West. Even though Holgorsen says his team still isn’t at its full 85 scholarships, he is now much more confident after two straight robust recruiting classes. Says the head coach, who had his team practice in remote outposts Wheeling and Charleston this spring to build support, “We’ve got to win with good depth. I think we’re at that point right now.”

Although the valuable Charles Sims is gone, that depth is seen at RB, where soph Wendell Smallwood (221 YR LY) sparkled in the spring and was tabbed No. 1. That put him ahead of returning sr. Dreamius Smith, who had 494 YR LY. And ahead of touted Pitt transfer Rushel Shell (641 YR in 2012 as a Panther). And ahead of jr. Andrew Buie, who led WV in rushing in 2012 with 851 yards. And ahead of 5-8 jr. Dustin Garrison, who has eight career starts. Expect the coaches to employ multiple-RB packages at times in a variety of formations. Depth is also evident at receiver, even though 6-1 soph Dakiel Shorts (45 recs.) and 6-3 sr. Kevin Shorts (35) will be expected to increase their production. 5-8 sr. Mario Alford, once a RB, has shown big-play ability with 27 catches last year for a 20.4 average.

The OL returns only two starters, but is solid in the middle with sr. Gs Quinton Spann (6-5, 342) and Mark Gowinski, plus upcoming soph C Tyler Orlosky, who started three games LY and played extensively.

Coaching changes have come on defense, which collected only 16 sacks and 12 ints. last season, way too few for the defense (seven starting returnees TY) to have much impact in the offensively-potent Big 12. Safeties coach Tony Gibson has been promoted to defensive coordinator. And Tom Bradley, a 32-year Joe Paterno assistant caught up in the housecleaning at Penn State, is the new DL coach. The latter proudly boasts he has six players ready to rotate effectively in WV’s 3-3-5/3-4-4 hybrid defense. LB will be the strength, with jr. MLB Nick Kwiatkowski (86 Ts, 3 ints. LY) and sr. OLB Brandon Carlson (4 sacks LY) leading the way. Jr. OLB Isaiah Bruce is a two-year starter on the other side.

Holgorsen is most pleased by the development of his 2014 secondary, which he says is much faster than last year’s unit. While sr. CB Ishmael Banks and jr. S Karl Joseph are the veteran anchors, the stars of spring were 6-1 soph CB Daryl Worley (45 Ts LY as a frosh) and soph S Jeremy Tyler.

Summary...After its 5-0 start in 2012 in the final season of the Geno Smith era, West Virginia has won only 6 of 18 games. In two years in the Big 12, the Mounties are only 6-12 in league games. Both stats seem ominous as 2014 approaches. This is to say nothing of the fact that West Virginia opens this season in Atlanta against Alabama, which is coming off back-to-back losses to end last season. Still, it can be fairly said that the Mountaineers are in better shape going into 2014 than they were for 2013. Depth overall appears improved. QB Trickett is far more familiar with the offense. RB ability is substantial. WR talent is ready to be exploited. LB experience is widespread. And DB speed has been increased. All that being said, the excitable Holgorsen is well advised to keep the skinny Trickett healthy. West Virginia is the rather disconnected eastern outpost of the Big 12, with lots of 1200 to 1500-mile road trips and whose closest conference foe is in Ames, Iowa. But in this season’s conference rotation, the Mounties have five league home games. A couple of upsets might get WV back in the bowl picture. The Mounties should have a pretty good shot at that modest goal.

IOWA STATE (2013 SUR 3-9; PSR 6-6; O/U 7-5)...In Paul Rhoads’ five seasons at ISU, the Cyclone teams of the former local high school star have been well known for two things. One is for furious competition on the field. And the other is for roster limitations in terms of Big 12 quality and depth. Thus, only one winning season in the popular coach’s tenure, with last year’s 3-9 being his worst.

We’ll point out immediately that 2013’s 3-9 record could easily have been better, as the Clones suffered a controversial 31-30 early-season loss vs. Texas when a victory might have been enough to give ISU a fighting chance at .500. That excruciating loss to the favored Longhorns occurred after two pass interference penalties and two possible fumbles by Texas on the final drive in the closing minutes. On one “fumble,” ISU LB Jeremiah George apparently ripped the ball from Texas RB Johnathan Gray and was headed the other way. After a review that in the minds of many ISU fans confirmed the fumble, the Horns were given the ball. Texas scored shorrtly thereafter, setting up Rhoads for an emotional locker room rant, praising his players after the game. Iowa State went on to lose its next six games before it was able to stop the skid.

For sure, there were many other factors that fed the Cyclone skid. QB and OL injuries. Lack of punch at RB (only 3.5 ypc). A hard-trying defense that wore down due to a lack of ball control by the offense. Two major developments leading up to the 2014 season are providing hope at relatively-cozy Iowa State, which lacks the financial firepower to keep up with such well-heeled fellow state schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and even Kansas State. (“Church school” TCU has recently refurbished its stadium. And fellow “church school” Baylor has an eye-opening new stadium coming on line this season.)

Those two developments are 1) the addition of Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator, and 2) the addition of seven junior college recruits on defense in an effort to gird the ranks of the Cyclone stoppers. Mangino is the “ample” former head coach at Kansas who once led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory. Mangino’s regime ran into problems for a variety of problems a few years later, costing him his job after the 2009 campaign. But Mangino now gets a chance to rehabilitate his reputation while installing the quick-hitting, ball-control passing game that succeeded so well for him at Lawrence.

Soph QB Grant Rohach (8 games, 57% LY, 8 TDs, 7 ints.) held the upper hand in the QB battle at the end of spring, but jr. Sam Richardson (55%, 11 TDs, 7 ints.) was close behind after recovering from nagging injuries that limited him in 2013. 6-2 redshirt frosh Joel Lanning might also enter the picture due his arm, the strongest of the three. Six frequent starters return from an OL that used nine different combinations due to injury last season, allowing way too many sacks (37). Sr. C Tom Farniok and sr. RT Jacob Gannon are the anchors.

One problem last year with the Cyclone offense that finished 96th in yards and 89th in points (24.8 ppg) was the lack of punch at RB, where 5-9, 175 Aarom Wimberly paced the team with only 567 yards and only 4.0 ypc—tiny numbers in these days of pyrotechnics on offense. The rush attack is still a concern.

There is greater hope for improvement in the aerial game, where big-play WR Quenton Brundage (9 TDC LY) and productive TE E.J. Bibbs (39 recs.) return. Mangino will also have a couple of tall “toys” to play with in 6-5 transfer WR D’Vario Montgomery (via South Florida) and 6-5 blue-chip frosh Allen Lazard, who’s expected to see action early. Lazard, one of the top wideout recruits in the nation, chose ISU because his father Kevin played there in the 90s and partly because his brother Anthony is a walk-on LB.

Rhoads faces some major problems on defense, thus the seven juco defenders. Likely starting DLmen Rodney Cole (37 Ts LY) and 6-7 David Irving (two sacks in 2013) were dismissed from the team in spring. Sr. DE Cory Morrissey (two sacks) will lead the rush up front. JCAA LB Jordan Harris (124 Ts in JC LY) is expected to immediately add speed to the second line of defense, where soph Luke Scott (45 Ts in the first six games LY before a hip injury) is set to return.

The strength of the secondary will be at CB, where soph Nigel Tribune has demonstrated excellent coverage ability, joining juniors Kenneth Lynn & Sam E. Richardson in a quality QB rotation. On the downside, the safety positions in a big-play league will be inexperienced, and, therefore, vulnerable.

Summary...The Cyclones will be improved in 2014, but a 6-6 regular-season mark and a minor bowl game appear to still be out of reach unless Mangino can work some of his former magic with one of the ISU QBs. Rhoads’ teams are well-know for their effort, but some of the jucos will have to have an immediate impact in order to help a stop unit that allowed 36 ppg LY while collecting only 15 sacks and 8 interceptions. Note: Iowa State is 12-4 vs. the spread its last 16 games against in-state rival Iowa; 6-1 vs. the number in the Cyclones’ last seven trips to Iowa City (the site of this year’s game).

KANSAS (2013 SUR 3-9; PSR 4-8; O/U 5-7)...Charlie Weis is now 4-20 in his two seasons at Kansas; 1-17 in Big 12 play. Those four SU wins have been against So. Dakota State, South Dakota, Louisiana Tech, and West Virginia. At least those Jayhawk victories seem to show an improvement in degree of difficulty. But Weis will find himself in big trouble if he doesn’t soon at least make the KU program competitive in the Big 12, whose ten teams play a true round-robin schedule each season these days.

Yes, the Jayhawks are 8-10 vs. the spread in league play under Weis, but they are still fighting for league respect straight-up. Says Weis, “The first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500.” In that vain, major changes are in underway in Lawrence, the results of which won’t be known until August/September.

First, John Reagan--the offensive coordinator and OL coach of Rice’s deceptive, quick-hitting, and effective offense the last four years--has taken over the struggling KU offense, which last season ranked among the worst in the nation (118th of 123 teams in points; 117th in total yards; 117th in passing) under the tutelage of Weis and the direction of QBs Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart. After Reagan installed his new, multiple, no-huddle offense in the spring, Heaps (only 49% LY) saw the handwriting on the wall and took his passing talents to Miami. And, while 6-2 soph Cozart is an elusive runner with a good arm, his dubious accuracy (only 36.5% in seven appearances LY) leaves the door wide open in August practice for sr. Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel (will be eligible immediately), who failed to win the Aggies’ No. 1 job. Look for both to get a trial early in the season.

Weis admits that his receiving groups the last two years were weak. But things appear on the upswing. 6-1 sr. transfer Nick Harwell (via Miami-O.) had three 800+ seasons at Miami, including 1425 receiving yards as a soph. RB/WR Tony Pierson (only seven games LY due to concussion issues) seems ticketed for wideout in order to help preserve his longevity. Weis says the lights went on for rangy 6-3 jr. Rodriguez Coleman in spring, while sr. TE Jimmy Mundine (20 recs., 5 TDC) appears ready to improve TY after too many drops in 2013.

RB remains an issue in the new offense, although new o.c. Reagan will have a few options. 6-1, 225 sr. Brandon Bourbon (191 YR as a backup LY) offers size. Sr. Taylor Cox posted 464 YR in 2012. And juco DeAndre Mann, who had 1760 YR LY in JC, turned down Miami after being rated by many as the top juco RB in the country. Reagan’s OL teaching will be thoroughly tested, as only 2 of 5 Jayhawk starters return up front.

This year’s Kansas defense has far fewer issues than does its offense. Nine starters are back on defe

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