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

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.