10 teams, 9 conference games, 1 champion. It is shaping up to be another competitive year in the Big 12, and I'm going to do my best to predict how the final standings will shake out.
It may be difficult to hold off the stronger competitors in the conference for the Baylor Bears (read: Oklahoma), but I see them winning the Big 12 again in 2014. The toughest test for Baylor this season, when you look at the schedule, would have to be against the aforementioned Sooners, as that game will take place in Norman. Outside of that match-up, however, Baylor does not have a very difficult schedule at all. Bryce Petty is the best quarterback in the Big 12, and just like in 2013, he will lead the high-powered Bears offense to top-marks in most statistical categories and a berth in the College Football Playoff this season (speaking of the high powered offense, watch out for Shock Linwood to have an even bigger season in 2014 as the featured back; he very well could lead the conference in rushing while his QB leads the league in passing).
With Trevor Knight under center this coming season, the Oklahoma Sooners are primed to have some improvement in their air attack, their biggest weak spot offensively last season (finishing ninth in the Big 12 with just 199.1 YPG in 2013). Brennan Clay and Damien Williams, last season's top two rushers for the Sooners, have moved on to the NFL however, and ground-threat Blake Bell has moved from quarterback to tight end. These changes in personnel could lead to a reversal of sorts for Boomer Sooner, improving the passing game while simultaneously regressing on the ground. Oklahoma does have a favorable schedule, facing Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State at home, yet I firmly believe that Baylor is the better team, relegating OU to second place again.
#3: Kansas State
Look for the Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett to be explosive again in 2014 for the Kansas State Wildcats. The K-State offense, which finished fourth in scoring in the conference last season, will be returning 10 starters, however the defense will only be returning 4 starters. Tom Hayes will have to make sure his defensive squad maintains their level of play from 2013 (third in the Big 12 in both scoring defense and total defense) despite all of the turnover in the lineup if they want to contend with the likes of Oklahoma and Baylor. The Wildcats' defensive squad, despite the mostly positive defensive numbers, have got to do a better job of keeping team from scoring in the red zone this coming season, after allowing opponents to score on just under 91% of red zone possessions last year. K-State was a disciplined team that controlled the ball last season; if those trends continue, a solid defense would make Kansas State a very dangerous team throughout the season.
#4: Oklahoma State
Clint Chelf is out of the picture, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are J.W. Walsh 's team now. Unfortunately for Walsh, OSU's schedule is a tough one, led off by taking on the defending National Champions, the Florida State Seminoles, at AT&T Stadium. Add on to that the fact that they have to travel to Norman, Waco and Manhattan, and it shapes up to be a tough road ahead for the Cowboys. Fourth in the conference may be a bit optimistic this year for OSU, but if they can keep up a high scoring average like they did in 2013 (39.1 PPG), they will be able to finish fairly well.
While I would usually call this a bad reason for a prediction, but I honestly have a bad feeling about the Texas Longhorns this coming season. On the plus side for UT, almost all of their hardest match-ups will take place in Austin, as they will be hosting UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma in 2014. On the negative side of things, Texas has a new coach coming in, Charlie Strong, who is going to have a lot of pressure to perform very well very quickly. Texas is a much different program than Louisville, and it will be a season-long storyline: will Strong be able to succeed with one of college football's biggest programs? You also have to consider the quarterback situation. David Ash is set to start, but you have to wonder if he will be able to stay healthy and if he'll be able to match scores with the best in the Big 12 (the Longhorns only finished sixth in conference last season in scoring offense). Their top two rushers are back from last season, but many questions still exist on both sides of the ball. It's only a hunch, but I think a repeat of their 8-4 record from 2013 would be overachieving in 2014.
#6: Texas Tech
The Texas Tech Red Raiders will be hosting Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor this season. While their schedule is tough, it's very favorable to only have to face two of the Big 12's best teams on the road (that being Oklahoma State and Kansas State). Having said that, you need to have a good team to make that home field advantage mean anything. The Red Raiders will have eight starters returning this season on offense, a unit which finished third in the Big 12 in scoring offense. On the other hand, four starters will be returning on defense, a unit which finished seventh in both total defense and scoring defense. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt will have to coach his squad to a better performance this season to remain competitive.
Trevone Boykin will lead the TCU Horned Frogs into 2014 under center, and the team has plenty of questions as we head into the season. Plenty of players will be returning for the Horned Frogs, including the aforementioned Boykin, as well as their top two receivers and rushers from 2013. It's on the defensive side of the ball where TCU wins games, however, and eight starters will return this season to a defensive unit that was second in the conference in total defense. The defense will have to continue playing at a high level, but offensively TCU has to play better in 2014 if they want to compete consistently. If the Horned Frogs cannot improve upon their 2013 8th ranked scoring offense (in the Big 12), it will be a long season in Fort Worth.
KU has finished last in the Big 12 every year since 2009; they're due for a better finish, right? The Kansas Jayhawks are looking to improve upon their three total wins and one conference win from 2013, and I really think it can be done. The non-conference schedule should see two wins for Kansas, and in conference I firmly believe that KU can pull off two wins, including one on the road at West Virginia. The team is missing two running backs now, including projected starter Brandon Bourbon, but I've been sipping the Montell Cozart Kool-Aid this off-season and I think he can help this team win games (assuming he gets some help from the offensive weapons he has left). I do not have as high of hopes as some KU diehards do, but I think 2 wins in the Big 12 and an 8th place finish is a reasonable expectation for a Jayhawks team that still has plenty of questions that need to be answered.
#9: West Virginia
It isn't likely that the West Virginia Mountaineers start off 2014 on a good note, as they will be taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide in their first game. Add on a game at Maryland to end their non-conference slate and it's not too difficult to imagine a lot of turmoil in Morgantown headed into the Big 12 season. Clint Trickett will lead the Mountaineer offensive attack next season, a group that finished seventh in scoring last season in the Big 12, a group that also is also bringing back seven starters from last season, hopefully (for their sake) adding some positive veteran experience. The conference schedule for WVU is not awful, but it will not make a difference if they do not end up playing well, a trap I can easily envision them falling into.
#10: Iowa State
Sam Richardson will attempt to keep the Iowa State Cyclones out of the basement of the Big 12 this year, but I do not see it happening (which may or may not be due to my hopefulness for KU to not be in that same situation). In terms of scoring last season, the Cyclones' offense was second worst in the conference. Not to be outdone, the defensive unit was last in the conference, allowing 36 PPG. Aaron Wimberly will be back, providing some more help to the ISU offense, but the team just does not have enough to escape the last place this season. Another team that may end up starting off the season on a bad note, the Cyclones face North Dakota State in week one; the three time defending FCS National Champions who defeated Kansas State last year. This team needs a lot of help, but I do not think they will get enough to avoid a last place finish.
What do you think? Where do you think the teams of the Big 12 will finish this season? Let us know in the comments.
Statistical rankings courtesy of the Big 12 Conference.