Gary Patterson

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

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.