CFT Predicts: the Big 12

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big 12. 

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig TenPac-12

1. TCU (Last year: 7-6; lost to Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Thanks to injuries, dismissals and attrition of various varieties, the Horned Frogs tossed a lot of young players into their first Big 12 fire and still managed to win seven games. Included in the list of new faces was quarterback Trevone Boykin, who played out the final two months of the season while Casey Pachall dealt with substance abuse issues. Of all the success Gary Patterson‘s had in Fort Worth, 2012 may have been was his best coaching job, and a young defense buckled down in the final month of the season.

So why are they picked here?
Most of them youngins mentioned above are back. The offense should be fine no matter which quarterback, Pachall or Boykin, takes the field. And they’ll have options at their disposal too. Running back Waymon James averaged nearly 10 yards per carry in two games before going down with a season-ending knee injury. In that vein, TCU’s backfield had its fair share of injuries, but when healthy, it should flourish alongside a solid receiving unit.

And that defense? It should be the best in the conference with just about everybody coming back (minus linebacker and second-leading tackler Joel Hasley).

Anything else?
Some departures just before, and around the start of, preseason camp have put a dent in the offensive line and linebacker units. Defensive end Devonte Fields will miss some early-season action as well. But Patterson is well-respected around these parts and he’s shown as recently as a year ago that he can coach around injuries. Also, the Horned Frogs have some intriguing road games at Oklahoma (Oct. 5), Oklahoma State (Oct. 19) and Kansas State (Nov. 16) that should provide tough tests. Going to Lubbock in the early portion of the season (Sept. 12) and Ames in November (Nov. 9) aren’t always picnics, either.

2. Texas (last year: 9-4; beat Oregon State in Alamo Bowl)
What happened last season?
Texas experienced about as many ups and downs as a nine-win team could possibly go through in one season. The Longhorns got taken to the woodshed (again) by Oklahoma and still couldn’t find a way to beat Kansas State, but a come-from-behind win against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl cleansed the football palate just enough to make the offseason bearable. The offense, led by quarterback David Ash, was inconsistent and the defense exhibited too many breakdowns in fundamentals and tackling. 

So why are they picked here?
That’s a handsome question considering there wasn’t a lot praise being doled out in the 2012 recap. But the simple answer is Texas brings back among the most experienced group of starters not just in the Big 12, but in the country. There’s no denying the skill position talent on offense, where receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley should be complemented by the deepest backfield in the conference. If the defense can improve even a little — getting Jordan Hicks back should help — this team has the potential to be dangerous.

Anything else?
Yeah, about that Mack Brown. Two BCS championship appearances (and winning one) would normally eliminate Brown from being mentioned as a concern, but media members in Big 12 country didn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in him when they picked Texas to finish fourth in the conference this year. I’m a little more convinced Texas will ascend to the top, or near the top, of the Big 12, which should be wide open this year. But if Brown can’t make it happen this year, it’s hard to see him hanging around much longer.

3. Oklahoma State (Last year: 8-5; beat Purdue in Heart of Dallas Bowl)
What happened last season?
For a moment, Oklahoma State thought it was Maryland or something with the way quarterbacks were dropping with injuries. But Mike Gundy and staff still coached three signal callers — Clint Cheilf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt — to throw for over 4,200 yards passing at 34 touchdowns. In a way, OSU’s season shared some parallels with TCU. Though the Cowboys won eight games, the fewest since 2007, it might have ranked among Gundy’s better coaching jobs in Stillwater.

So why are they picked here?
The Cowboys lose running back Joseph Randle but return plenty of key guys on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators, on the other hand, are entirely new — well, sort of. Glenn Spencer takes over full responsibility on the defense while Mike Yurcich makes a big jump from the Division II level to lead the offense. Trying to mesh with both could be an adjustment, but Spencer has familiarity on his side and Gundy is still the mastermind for the Pokes’ offense.

Anything else?
The Cowboys are preseason Big 12 favorites, but they’ll need to do a better job of closing out close games this year. The schedule sets up nicely for the Cowboys with key games against TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma being played at home. 

4. Oklahoma (Last year: 10-3; lost to Texas A&M in Cotton Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Sooners scored a lot of points on their way to a shared Big 12 title, but in three losses, Oklahoma looked just as stagnant by scoring an average of 15 points per loss. OU also lost not one, but two home games in 2012, something that’s never happened under head coach Bob Stoops. A blowout loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl is probably not how quarterback Landry Jones wanted to end his career with OU, too. Just a guess.

So why are they picked here?
Oklahoma loses some key offensive figures, none perhaps more important than Jones. Regardless of whether “Good Landry” or “Bad Landry” showed up, Jones played a lot of games for the Sooners and put up some career passing records. Receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown are gone as well. The defense, which was pedestrian at best last season and lacks depth along the defensive line, enters Year 2 under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

Anything else?
Bob Stoops surprised just about everyone when he named Trevor Knight, not Blake Bell, the Sooners’ starting quarterback. Knight becomes the third straight redshirt freshman to start for the Sooners, but Bell will likely be a part of the offensive game plan in some capacity.

5. Kansas State (Last year: 11-2; lost to Oregon in Fiesta Bowl)
What happened last season?
K-State’s BCS title hopes were derailed in a big way when the Wildcats got utterly embarrassed by Baylor with just a few weeks left in the regular season. Even with that in mind, 2012 was a huge success for a program projected to finish in the middle of the conference. Instead, KSU won a share of the Big 12 and Collin Klein was a Heisman finalist.

So why are they picked here?
You’d think by now I’d stop doubting Bill Snyder, but that requires learning from your mistakes and everyone knows that’s an overrated quality anyway. Klein is gone and either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters will need to step up alongside running back John Hubert and receiver Tyler Lockett. Losing Arthur Brown on the defensive side of the ball is a huge departure too, but safety Ty Zimmerman is back.

Anything else?
The Wildcats have some crucial games back-to-back at two points during the season: a pair of road games at Texas and Oklahoma State, and a pair of home games against TCU and Oklahoma in November. Even splitting those four games would be considered a success.

6. Baylor (Last year: 8-5; beat UCLA in Holiday Bowl) 
What happened last season?
[/Throws to Terrance Williams for a touchdown]. The Bears were able to put up tons of points, but they couldn’t always stop the other team. Baylor lost four in a row midseason before going on a roll and winning five of their final six games — including dismantling UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. Baylor wasn’t always victorious, but damn if they weren’t entertaining.

So why are they picked here?
Baylor was left out of both the preseason USA Today coaches poll and AP poll, but many believe the Bears were the biggest snub. Running back Lache Seastrunk is getting some preseason Heisman love, however. Replacing playmakers hasn’t been an issue for Art Briles, arguably one of the best recruiters in the state of Texas. Bryce Petty figures to put up some big passing numbers, mainly to Tevin Reese. In a conference of uncertainty, about the only thing anyone can count on for sure is that Baylor will be a fun team to watch again.

Anything else?
Art Briles is hilarious and awesome and you only wish you were related to him.

7. Texas Tech (Last year: 8-5; beat Minnesota in Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas)
What happened last season?
The Red Raiders started the season hot with a 6-1 record before losing four out of their last five regular season games (and needing overtime to beat Kansas). Tommy Tuberville then bolted for Cincinnati, of all places. Tuberville never quite fit in with the Lubbock crowd, but departing for an American Athletic Conference school (then Big East) was surprising.

So why are they picked here?
Enter Tech’s former quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, who takes over the Red Raiders program after serving as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator. This is a natural fit for TTU, but how Kingsbury fares in his first year as a head coach remains to be seen and makes this team one of the bigger wildcards in the conference. There’s plenty of firepower on offense with the return of receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro, and running back DeAndre Washington should be healthy again after missing all of last season with an injury. However, getting the ball to those playmakers could be a challenge as Tech still has to replace Seth Doege at quarterback.

Anything else?
Besides the quarterback spot, the defense will be an area to watch as the Red Raiders switch to a 3-4. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, including defensive linemen Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush. If the offense struggles to get going under Kinsgbury for whatever reason, the defense may have to take control.  

8. West Virginia (Last year: 7-6; lost to Syracuse in Pinstripe Bowl) 
What happened last season?
I don’t know. Things were going fine until the Mountaineers went to Lubbock, and then everything came unhinged and the whole damn thing just flew off the tracks into a thousand pieces.

So why are they picked here?
West Virginia loses quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey — all to the NFL. Trying to replace that sort of production isn’t going to come easy and there weren’t many bright spots on WVU’s roster outside those three. WVU needs a quarterback to emerge out of the Clint Trickett/Ford Childress/Paul Millard race, but adding Houston transfer Charles Sims to the running back rotation definitely helps. Dana Holgorsen has a track record of success wherever he’s been, but 2013 could prove to be his biggest challenge to date.

Anything else?
There are plenty of questions for the Mountaineers, but namely, can the defense improve? Karl Joseph is a name to watch at the safety position after a stellar freshman campaign, and Travis Bell has been moved to corner to help a unit that was torched time and time again last season. The defensive coaching staff has gone through some significant changes. Will that yield results?

9. Iowa State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Tulsa in Liberty Bowl)
What happened last season?
Well, you know Paul Rhoads. Give him a top-25 opponent and he’ll pull out a victory once a year. The Cyclones managed to knock off TCU (just days removed from suspending starting quarterback Casey Pachall, mind you) in October on their way to a 6-7 season. Wins didn’t come easy down the stretch, but ISU found some consistent quarterback play in Sam Richardson.

So why are they picked here?
We love Rhoads here at CFT, so it’s hard for us to give ISU such little respect. The linebacker unit loses two key players in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who were the heart and soul of that defense in 2012. Richardson showed promise in a couple of starts late in the season, but needs to make the next jump as a possible full-time starter.

Anything else?
The running game has to improve. James White and Shontrelle Johnson combined for 1,000 yards and four touchdowns last year.

10. Kansas (Last year: 1-11) 
What happened last season?
Charlie Weis called last year’s team a “pile of crap.” There is simply no other way I can recap the 2012 Jayhawks with the same level of effectiveness.

So why are they picked here?
For as wide open as the Big 12 projects to be this year, Kansas may actually be the biggest wildcard. Weis signed 15 junior college players in February, so this team figures to be almost completely different from the year before. Is that a good thing? Well, it can’t possibly get any worse.

Anything else?
Can any wide receivers emerge for the Jayhawks? Not a single wide receiver caught a touchdown pass last year and Miami (OH) transfer Nick Harwell will not be eligible to play until 2014. Good luck, Jake Heaps.

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John Taylor‘s prediction:

1. Oklahoma State
2. Oklahoma
3. TCU
4. Baylor
5. Texas
6. Kansas State
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

John’s Big 12 champ: Oklahoma State

Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings dismissed after Instagram tirade against Vols coaching staff

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The 2017 season just can’t end quick enough for Tennessee.

Proving that there have been much better days on Rocky Top, the school has reportedly and unexpectedly dismissed wide receiver Jauan Jennings from the team on Wednesday evening — just hours after the junior went on a tirade against the current coaching staff and posted it to his social media accounts.

Jennings reportedly went off earlier in the day at the staff and called them several choice, NSFW names in videos posted to his private Instagram account.

The receiver was somewhat of a surprise return to practice recently as it was expected he was going to miss the rest of the season after being injured in season opener against Georgia Tech. Jennings enter the year as an All-SEC third team selection in the preseason but was limited to just three catches for 17 yards the first half of the Vols’ first game.

Jennings could transfer to another school as he has a redshirt year available and likely would be able to receive a medical redshirt as well. Declaring for the NFL Draft seems the more likely scenario however but one thing is for certain: a return to Tennessee doesn’t look like it’s in the cards after Wednesday’s actions on both sides.

Arkansas names advisory committee for athletic director search to replace Jeff Long

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Arkansas needs a new athletic director so they’re doing what every enterprise in college athletics does when they need to get something done: form a committee.

The school announced on Wednesday that they had formed a seven person search committee to find the Razorback’s next athletic director after firing Jeff Long last week from the same position. Julie Cromer Peoples will continue to serve as the interim AD while Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz finds the next permanent name for the position.

The committee is quite a diverse group, headlined by LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis (who golfed for the school). Women’s track coach Lance Harter, Board of Trustees chairman Ben Hyneman, professor Gerald Jordan, architecture school dean Peter MacKeith, Razorback Foundation member Rick Massey, and former quarterback turned booster Bill Montgomery.

“I sought to assemble a committee representative of the university, spanning past and present in our academics and athletics history, with knowledge and perspective about Arkansas, and, notably an appreciation of the source of pride the Razorbacks are for the state of Arkansas,” Steinmetz said in a statement. “I have great faith in the approach that each of these advisors will bring to the process and I’d like to thank these folks for their time in this endeavor.”

It remains unclear what, if any, input the committee will have regarding the future of head coach Bret Bielema. His tenure was widely linked to that of Long’s and rumors have already surfaced that the school will quickly let the coach go and begin a full court press to land Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to replace him.

First up though is the team’s final game, which comes at home against Missouri on Friday. Arkansas, sitting at 4-7 on the season, has already been eliminated from bowl contention so the outing will be the team’s last before the future direction of the program gets decided.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco says league is being disrespected by Playoff selection committee

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Mike Aresco has gone full Rodney Dangerfield.

The AAC commissioner made the rounds with several national media folks on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after seeing a three-loss Mississippi State team jump the conference standard-barer Central Florida in the latest College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s Top 25 rankings. Not only is the American commish claiming that the Knights aren’t getting a “fair shake” by the committee as part of the disrespect shown toward his league, he’s also not happy that one-loss South Florida isn’t even making the cut for the top 25.

“I just don’t think our league is garnering the respect it deserves, period… I feel strongly about it. The evidence is in,” Aresco told ESPN. “We’ve tried to prove for five years how good our conference is. What do we have to do is my question, to prove that we’re a really good league, especially at the top? I just don’t like the notion that, well, strength of schedule, I don’t like to see UCF behind three- and two-loss teams, and I think they can play with anyone. I just don’t know what more we can do.”

Aresco later expanded on his comments and said UCF should be in the top 10 and ahead of two-loss teams like Ohio State.

The fact that Aresco is sticking up for his league and his teams are no surprise but the public way he is going about criticizing the selection committee is a much different tack than previously employed. The AAC remains all but a lock to secure the annual Group of Five bid, which should go to the conference champion among No. 15 UCF, No. 20 Memphis or unranked USF (which would have a chance to beat both of the others in the next two weeks).

CFP executive director Bill Hancock issued a very generic statement in response to Aresco’s comments but his latest salvos should make for some interesting questions next Tuesday when chairman Kirby Hocutt goes in front of the cameras to explain the next set of rankings.

Amid Jimbo Fisher rumors, Florida State continues to explore facilities upgrades

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Jimbo Fisher turned interest from LSU to be their head coach into one of the biggest coach-friendly contracts in the country. Could he be leveraging the same kind of interest from Texas A&M into further facilities upgrades? It appears so.

Hot on the heels of Houston Chronicle report that said Fisher is the top target to replace the eventually deposed Kevin Sumlin in College Station, the Orlando Sentinel says that the Seminoles are exploring a number of different options to give the football program their own sport-specific facility on campus.

“You have no idea,” Fisher told the paper on Monday when asked about the importance of a centralized complex. “Their days are strung out … the schedules they’re on and what they’re asked to do. When you’re wasting time in between, you’re wasting development time for them.”

The Sentinel reports that there are two leading options for the program, the first of which includes a renovation of the team’s current home, the Moore Athletic Center, that would also result in other Seminoles sports moving to a different area for office space and training facilities. The other option would include a brand new football complex that would be built right next to the current indoor practice facility. Things are still in the planning stage at this point but it certainly sounds like things are getting fast-tracked given everything that is going on in the college football world in Tallahassee and beyond.

Whether Fisher leaves or not, it’s pretty clear that Florida State will be looking to build a new football facility for the simple fact that they need to keep up with their peers in the state. Florida is set to break ground in December on their new facility and Miami should have their new indoor facility ready to go by the start of next season. Even USF has laid the groundwork for a $40 million project that will include the latest and greatest for the Bulls football team.