CFT predicts: the Big 12

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For the past two years, the Big 12 was dead. Or, so we thought.

But, throw in an interim commissioner, a new TV deal and a postseason partnership with the SEC, and suddenly the Big 12 is the cool conference in an ironic way that only a hipster would understand.

The additions of TCU and West Virginia help. What the Big 12 lost in TV markets and footprints with Missouri and Texas A&M, it gains in recent on-the-field success with the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Big 12 should shake out.

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

1. Oklahoma (last season: 10-3; won Insight Bowl)
From injuries to departures to losing defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Clemson, Oklahoma has experienced plenty of turnover this offseason. But, Oklahoma also returns quarterback Landry Jones and leading rusher Dominique Whaley, and new DC Mike Stoops is a solid replacement for Venables too. OU’s schedule this year is manageable, though perhaps its two toughest tests could come against the Big 12’s two newest members: at West Virginia on Nov. 17 and at TCU to close out the regular season.  If the Sooners can stay healthy — that’s already an issue along the offensive line — there’s little reason to think Bob Stoops‘ (pictured, with QB Blake Bell) team won’t win the Big 12.

2. West Virginia (last season: 10-3 in Big East, won Orange Bowl)
Placing the Mountaineers to finish second in the Big 12 is a bit risky, but we’re betting with house money, right?. Hanging 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl helps — points aside, it was the most cohesive WVU looked on offense all last year — and returning nine offensive starters helps even more. Still, the Mountaineers have two very important questions left to be answered: how will a young defense fare under new co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson, and can the team rise to the occasion in the face of stiffer competition? Remember, this is a team with a recent history of struggling unexpectedly against weaker opponents.

3. Texas (last season: 8-5; won Holiday Bowl) 
Texas’ Holiday Bowl win over Cal gave the Longhorns some momentum heading into 2012 and there’s a lot of upside in Austin. Until that upside is reached, though, I’m going to put the Longhorns at No. 3. In fact, Texas is still about a year away from realistically competing for a conference title. David Ash looks like he’s the guy at quarterback despite what Mack Brown says and the offensive line should be better. The Longhorns are scary talented on defense, but I’m not sold on the offensive consistency yet.

4. TCU (last season: 11-2 in Mountain West; won Poinsettia Bowl)
The Horned Frogs could easily have been No. 3 or even has high as No. 2, but given the offseason attrition, I’m going to put them at No. 4. Like West Virginia, I’m curious to see if TCU can succeed against better competition. The Frogs are 5-5 against Big 12 opponents under Gary Patterson, with a few of those wins coming against Baylor when the Bears were … not so good, shall we say.  That said, there are few coaches in college football better than Patterson, who is a big reason why TCU is even in the Big 12 to begin with. Though I don’t expect TCU to win the Big 12 in their inaugural season, I’m never one to count out Patterson.

5. Kansas State (last season: 10-3; lost Cotton Bowl) 
I’m going to have to agree with ESPN’s Big 12 blogger David UbbenThe Wildcats are the Big 12’s wild card, equally capable of either another 10-win season or a .500 record. Not coincidentally, K-State is my No. 5 team. Last year, K-State made a habit of pulling out close games, winning eight by a touchdown or less. This year’s schedule is a coin flip too. Bill Snyder‘s team has to play at Oklahoma (the Sooners almost never lose at home), at Iowa State (don’t laugh), at West Virginia, at TCU and at Baylor. Back is quarterback/tough guy Collin Klein, who needs to improve his passing game if he’s to become a true dual-threat.

6. Oklahoma State (last season: 12-1; won Fiesta Bowl) 
2011 was a memorable year for the Cowboys. Mike Gundy guided his alma mater to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford after winning the first Big 12 title in school history. But boy, oh boy, does Oklahoma State lose some firepower with the departures of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Replacing Weeden will be true freshman Wes Lunt, who faces a backloaded schedule with games vs. West Virginia and at Oklahoma.

7. Texas Tech (last season: 5-7) 
The Red Raiders return plenty of starters on offense and should finally have a healthy backfield again with the return of Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington; injuries were unforgiving to Texas Tech last season. I like Tech’s home schedule too and Lubbock can be somewhat of a Twilight Zone for opponents. Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas … I get the feeling Tech’s going to knock one of ’em off at home.

8. Baylor (last season: 10-3; won Alamo Bowl)
Oklahoma State loses some key playmakers, but Baylor loses more in Heisman winner RGIII, receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway, all of whom were statistical leaders in their respective positions. 2011 was a dream season for Baylor, but it’s back to reality in 2012. The Bears’ defense needs to get significantly better too under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. I like Art Briles, but he has a lot to work on this season.

9. Iowa State (last season: 6-7; lost Pinstripe Bowl)
By now, you should know I’m an unabashed Paul Rhoads homer. If for nothing else, the man grows a hell of a mustache. That said, it pains me to predict that 2012 will be a rough season for the Cyclones. There’s no frontrunner at quarterback, but ISU does have two All-America candidates at linebacker in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. The schedule is balanced and you know the Cyclones are going to give some team much better than them a scare, if not a check mark in the loss column.

10. Kansas (last season: 2-10)
Charlie Weis will get some immediate help in his first year with the Jayhawks thanks to Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist. Beyond that? Ouch. Kansas can’t get much worse, but road games at Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia won’t make getting better much easier. Weis may get it turned around eventually, but I don’t see it happening, or being anywhere close to happening, this season.

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.