Though the Big 12 is a conference rich of legendary championship teams and Heisman-trophy winners, it is also one that is looking to get back on track after boasting only one national champion in the last twelve years. However, in 2013 the conference returns a number of teams poised for postseason glory, and with them star players that could singlehandedly change the college football national landscape. But until then, here is my preview of the Big 12 Conference in 2013.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys
After destroying Purdue 58-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2012, the Oklahoma State Cowboys enter the new year with a boost of confidence, returning a Big 12 best 19 starters including a passing game that was ranked seventh in the nation last year. Senior quarterback Clint Chelf and wide receiver Josh Stewart will combine to form the best offense in the conference in 2013, but if the defense (returning 8 starters) improves on an average 2012 then this team could be having national title aspirations by November. The Cowboys last won a BCS Bowl Game in 2011, and they could be there again by way of a noticeably easy Big 12 slate. Tough games against Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma are all at home, so look for Oklahoma State to overacheive in the coming year.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
Senior quarterback Casey Pachall’s performance will decide how far the Horned Frogs go in 2013, but playmakers such as running back B.J. Catalon and wide receiver Brandon Carter will help his case. Texas Christian may have to rely on Pachall, but a defense that is returning nine starters may be another strongpoint of the team. Defensive end Devonte Fields will be the undisputed leader of the squad and may be the best of the Big 12, but look for defensive backs such as Kevin White and Sam Carter to vastly improve the secondary. The schedule may be too tough to win the Big 12 in 2013 (games @ Oklahoma, @ Oklahoma State, and @ Kansas State), but look for TCU to be a major contender next year.
3. Texas Longhorns
Texas is another Big 12 team that will rely on their quarterback, Junior David Ash, for their success. But like other teams in the conference, skill position players such as running back Johnathan Gray and wide receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will make this offense a great one. On defense, only six starters return but fortunately one of those is sack-master defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat will lead a defense that may struggle against some of the better offenses in the Big 12, but expect the Longhorns to post another respectably impressive season in 2013.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
After the departure of Landry Jones, Oklahoma will search for their next great passer, and junior Blake Bell (the ‘Belldozer’) will fill in for the role. The ‘Belldozer’ has scored eleven rushing touchdowns in his first two years of eligibility, but the Sooners’ next task will be turning him into an elite passer. Senior Damien Williams will get the bulkload of the carries in 2013, but Oklahoma will need to find a new top receiver after graduating their top two from last season. There will also be questions on the defense, as only four starters return to a squad that allowed over 25 points per game a year ago. Defensive back Aaron Colvin is the top returning player on the defense, but he will have to turn elite to guard some of the better receivers in the conference. Overall, Oklahoma could be a slight letdown from their 2012 form, but look for them to remain a pretty tough competitor in the Big 12.
5. Baylor Bears
Nick Florence may be gone, but Baylor’s next big offensive playmaker is running back Lache Seastrunk. Seastrunk is a darkhorse Heisman contender due to his amazing breakaway speed, and fits the Big 12 perfectly with his overall explosiveness and athleticism. The Bears may have an inexperienced quarterbck in Bryce Petty, but he has a reliable number 1 target in wide receiver Tevin Reese. Like most other Big 12 teams, their weakness is the defense, and Baylor will get scored on often in 2013. Seven returning starters will help their case, but that is only to a defense that allowed 37 points a game in 2012. Baylor may not have the talent to win the Big 12, but at least look for them to win some big games in the upcoming year.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
After winning the Big 12 and cracking the BCS in 2012, K-State will have one of the severe dropoffs in college football. Running back John Hubert returns for the Wildcats, but serious questions remain in the passing game. Sophomore Daniel Sams will lead the inexperienced quarterback, and Tyler Lockett is the only returning receiver with over 75 yards of offense from 2012. The defense will be even worse, after returning a FBS-worst one starter, and the Wildcats will desperately look to their underclasssmen for production. A strong coaching staff and a great running game will help Kansas State win some games in 2013, but they will be nowhere near their 2012 form.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
After having the 2nd-best passing offense in the nation last year, first-year starting quarterback Michael Brewer and wide reciver Eric Ward will have huge expectations. Luckily for the Red Raiders a strong running game led by Kenny Williams will emerge, but overall this could be a very turnover-prone offense. 8 starters return on defense, but this squad will have to drastically improve if they are to compete with some of the elite Big 12 offenses. Like most years Texas Tech’s offense will be their staplepoint, but overall I don’t expect this team to compete with the top of the Big 12.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
After the departure of Geno Smith and Tavon Austin to the NFL, West Virginia’s offense will rely heavily on quarterback Paul Millard and running back Andrew Buie. But even if the Mountaineers are able to repeat their 2012 offensive output, they will have to dramatically improve on a defense that was ranked 117th in the nation last year. This will be a tough task, but it is one of the many struggles the team could face in 2013.
9. Iowa State Cyclones
Despite finishing 9th in the Big 12 last year, the Cyclones qualified for bowl season, and could be improved after returning top running back James White. However, the bad news is that they will have virtually no experience anywhere else. At quarterback, Sam Richardson starts, but he will have to prove himself without much help at receiver. The defense also lacks a big playmaker, and the coaching staff will have to find one in the four returning starters. Iowa State will likely be at the same place they were in the Big 12 standings last year, as I do not expect them to improve much from 2012.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
At the doormat of the Big 12 are the Kansas Jaywaks, who failed to win a conference game in 2012 and could be in the same position in 2013. Senior running back James Sims is really the only thing Kansas fans have to look forward to this year, as they return almost no experience on offense. On defense, only four starters return to a defense that was lackluster a year ago, and not much improvement is expected. Although the Jayhawks cracked the BCS not too long ago, look for them to be at the bottom of the Big 12 in 2013.