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

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.