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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

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As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big 12 Conference.

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG 12

1. Oklahoma (Last year: 11-2; beat Alabama in Sugar Bowl)
Will the real Oklahoma Sooners please stand up? Questions surround one of the most talented teams in college football. Will Trevor Knight be the quarterback that shredded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, or will he revert to the player that couldn’t initially beat out Blake Bell (who converted to tight end) to become the team’s starting quarterback? Will wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham receive a waiver from the NCAA to play this season? How will the Sooners overcome the losses of their top tackler, Frank Shannon, and five-star freshman Joe Mixon? And, historically, the Sooners have a penchant to disappoint after being named a preseason Top 5 team. The program will enter this season ranked fourth overall in the AP Poll and third in USA TODAY’s Coaches Poll. Despite these questions, the Sooners are still the favorites to win the Big 12. Oklahoma returns eight starters to a defensive unit that was the Big 12’s best last season. The group is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker, who is one of the most feared defenders in the country. Knight is the key on offense, but the quarterback will benefit from an experienced and talented offensive line. Both of the team’s starting offensive tackles as well as left guard Adam Shead return for another season. The Sooners’ ability to win up front on both sides of the ball will give them a decided advantage each week. Oklahoma will need it, because the team may have to go undefeated to be a part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor (Last year: 11-2; lost to UCF in Fiesta Bowl) 
Despite Oklahoma’s status as the favorite to claim a Big 12 crown, it’s a wide-open race and the Bears have just as much chance to win a conference title. Whereas the Sooners will rely heavily on a strong defense and an improving offense, the Bears will continue to score points in bunches and hope they can stop opponents at least once or twice per game. The biggest advantage the Bears have among their conference rivals is the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions during his first full season as a starter. Petty should be even better during his second season as he continues to grow in all phases of the game. The Bears also lay claim to the most talented group of skill position players in the conference. Five of the team’s top six receivers from last year return, while running Shock Linwood will get an opportunity to show how explosive he is as the team’s new starting running back. The Bears will score points in bunches. It will fall on the defense to makes sure they don’t surrender more points than the team’s offense can score. College football is more offensive driven than its ever been, but we’ll give Oklahoma a very slight edge over Baylor due to the old adage, “Defense wins championships.”

3. Texas (Last year: 8-5; lost to Oregon in Alamo Bowl)
Everything Texas does this season will be under a microscope. New head coach Charlie Strong will be scrutinized at every turn. How the team responds to Strong, both on and off the field, will be compared to the program’s former coach, Mack Brown. Strong has already made a statement during the offseason by suspending or dismissing numerous players. Everyone will be anxious to see whether or not this new-found discipline in the locker room will eventually translate to the field. In four seasons with the Louisville Cardinals, Strong was 37-15 overall with an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators in 2012. What Strong inherits in Texas is a far more talented roster than he ever had in Louisville, and his Cardinals finished No. 1 overall in total defense last season. Strong, a former defensive coordinator, should be giddy with the talent he now has on the defensive side of the football. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Cedric Reed are as good of an inside-outside defensive line tandem as can be found in college football. On offense, meanwhile, the team will will rely on quarterback David Ash again. Believe it or not, Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12. But this will be a run-first team with the talented Malcolm Brown and the recovering Jonathan Gray running behind a big and athletic offensive line. Texas has enough to compete for a Big 12 championship if it finally puts everything together on both sides of the football.

4. Texas Tech (Last year: 8-5; beat Arizona State in Holiday Bowl)
The Red Raiders did their best disappearing act a year ago. Kliff Kingsbury‘s squad started 7-0 and was ranked as high as 10th overall before the team faded down the stretch. Texas Tech lost five straight to end the team’s regular season but bounced back with a 37-23 victory against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl. The losing streak showed the Red Raiders weren’t ready to play against the big boys of the Big 12. However, the win in the bowl game showed the team’s resiliency and growth during the month the team had to regroup and grow with the extra practices. And the Red Raiders will continue to build their program under Kingsbury. The biggest growth should come on the offensive side of the ball. Texas Tech already had the best passing offense in the conference last year, and it should be even better in 2014. Davis Webb enters his first full season as starter. Webb threw for over 400 yards in four games and finished with 20-to-9 touchdown-interception ratio. Both of his offensive tackles and center return along the offensive line. And each of the wide receivers expected to start received plenty of playing time last season. The defense is another matter altogether, but this is a team built to win games with its passing game and offensive explosiveness. Kingsbury has made his mark in a very short time as a head coach, and his team should be expected to impress during his second season with the program.

5. Kansas State (Last year: 8-5; beat Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Everyone will know whether or not the Wildcats are for real this season by Sept. 18. On that day, Kansas State will host the Auburn Tigers. The clash of styles will make for an highly intriguing game. The reason this game is so important for the Wildcats is because the teams they lost to last season either ran the ball very well or operated with tempo on offense. The Tigers do both, and they do both very well. The game is Manhattan, and Kansas State will be prepared very well by the ageless Bill Snyder. This is a program that is built around playing fundamental football and winning close games. Three top offensive linemen may have left the program after last season, but the team should still be very good up front with B.J. Finney at center and Cody Whitehair at left guard. They’ll be blocking for a quarterback, Jake Waters, who will be going into his second season as the team’s starter. And Tyler Lockett is one of the most dynamic wide receivers and return men in the nation. This is a team that could very well finish much higher or lower in the standings. It’s all dependent on whether or not the ball bounces in their favor, because they don’t have a player the caliber of Collin Klein to carry the team to the top of the conference.

6. TCU (Last year: 4-8)
It’s been a rough transition to the Big 12 for the Horned Frogs. The team is 11-14 since making the move. The program lost a combined 13 games the previous six seasons. However, this year’s squad is regarded as the most talented since it entered the league. Last season, the Horned Frogs’ defense played at a high level and finished second in the league. The biggest story line of the offseason, though, was the potential return and eventual dismissal of Devonte Fields. The defensive end was voted the Big 12’s preseason Defensive of the Year even after missing nine games last season due to injury. Fields, who was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012, was a game-changing talent and his presence on the field will be missed greatly. The team also lost one of the best cornerbacks in school history when Jason Verrett graduated and went on to become a first-round selection in May’s NFL draft. Despite these losses, this unit is still talented, particularly at linebacker. Both Jonathan Anderson and Paul Dawson return. And head coach Gary Patterson always has that side of the football prepared to play at a high level. It’s on the offensive side of the football the Horned Frogs are expected to experience the most growth. While a starter has yet to be named at quarterback, Trevone Boykin should be more comfortable behind center after starting nine games last year and Matt Joeckel is a talented transfer from Texas A&M. The team can always lean heavily on its skill positions. Running backs Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon as well as the team’s top receiver, Josh Doctson, are back. TCU may not return to the level of winning it experienced prior to becoming a member of the Big 12, but the team should be much better than 4-8 during the upcoming season.

7. Oklahoma State (Last year: 10-3; lost to Missouri in Cotton Bowl)
It’s difficult to place the Cowboys this low in the standings. After all, the program has won at least 10 games three of the last four years. It’s been seven years since Oklahoma finished this low in the Big 12 standings. The biggest concern for this team is experience. Both sides of the ball will be overhauled after losing a total of 14 starters. It isn’t just how many starters the Cowboys lost, but who they lost. Justin Gilbert was an elite cornerback and returner. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett could be dominant at times. The team’s top three tacklers from last season are gone. Three of the team’s top four receivers graduated. And the offensive line will have four new starters, while senior Daniel Koenig will transition from right to left tackle. Head coach Mike Gundy will still find ways to manufacture points due to his dynamic offensive scheme, but this is simply too much talent for a team to lose and still hope to be legitimate contenders.

8. Iowa State (Last year: 3-9)
Three years ago, Iowas State head coach Paul Rhoads was considered one of the top coaching candidates in college football. The Cyclones rewarded him with a 10-year contract worth $20 million. The Cyclones are 9-16 since then, and the team is coming off a 3-9 season. Two of those wins came at the end end of the season when quarterback Sam Richardson wasn’t in the starting lineup. Yet, Richardson won this summer’s quarterback competition. The rest of last year’s starting offense remains virtually intact. Plus, Richardson will now have a legitimate No. 1 target at wide receiver in freshman Allen Lazard. Despite the positives on the offensive side of the ball, the Cyclones’ defense was the worst in the Big 12 last season. The program simply doesn’t have the athletes on that side of the ball to compete against the explosive offenses they face this season.

9. West Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
It’s a make-or-break season for West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. The team has gotten progressively worse each season Holgorsen has been at the helm of the program and tensions are building in Morgantown. Holgorsen’s entire program is built around his offense. An offense which disappointed in 2013 and finished 62nd overall in yardage per game. That level of production simply isn’t good enough when the defense continues to be an issue for the Mountaineers. The defensive coordinator position has been a revolving door under Holgorsen’s supervision. Former Penn State coordinator Tom Bradley was hired as a senior associate head coach during the offseason. Bradley’s inclusion to the staff is a last-ditch attempt to get a woeful defense on track. If it doesn’t and Holgorsen can’t revive his offense — and it doesn’t seem likely — there will be major changes within the program.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
At this point, what is there to say about Charlie Weis‘ tenure at Kansas? It’s a failed experiment. Yes, the team improved by two wins during Weis’ second season and finally captured a conference victory for the first time in three years. But Weis’ plan to inject talent into the roster with a plethora of junior college additions and transfers didn’t do nearly enough to close the gap with the rest of the teams in the Big 12. All is not bleak, though. The Jayhawks return 17 starters. The team has officially given the reins to quarterback Montell Cozart, who decided to stay in-state to be the future of Jayhawks football. His growth at the position will play a major part in Kansas’ improvement this season. The team also has a solid edge-rushing duo in junior Ben Goodman and senior Michael Reynolds. Overall, It’s difficult to win at this basketball school. And it’s even more difficult to establish a long-term winning culture. After a quick peak at the schedule, it’s hard to project this team winning more than three or four games even in a best-case scenario.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley suggests no long-term revival of Gators-Hurricanes

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07: Quinton Dunbar #1 of the Florida Gators is tackled by Stacy Coley #3 of the Miami Hurricanes during a game  at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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The Florida Gators play Florida State every year, and that appears to be the only school from the ACC Florida will continue to play annually. Sorry, Miami.

Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley was a guest on WRUF in Gainesville, where he was on to discuss a number of various Florida sports topics. Among them, of course, was a question about the future of the Florida-Miami series, if you can even call it a series these days. Foley did not leave much room for the possibility of a long-term series with the Hurricanes.

“No, I do not see them on our schedule on a regular basis,” Foley said. “I think when you’re asking your football team to play eight games in this league and Florida State? That’s a tough slate. This league is obviously as good as it gets, and Florida State is as good as it gets.”

SEC schools are locked to an eight-game conference schedule and must schedule one opponent from another power conference each year. The ACC has a similar rule, and Florida and Florida State each meet their respective conferences’ scheduling rules with their annual series at the end of the regular season. Miami has no such power conference rival to work with, so the Hurricanes are forced to look elsewhere to satisfy their scheduling requirements.

Florida and Miami are scheduled to open the 2019 season against each other in Orlando, but that is the only game in the foreseeable future for a pair of power conference programs that once played on an annual basis until 1987. Since 1987, Florida and Miami have played just six games, including a pair of postseason bowl games.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

Michigan’s epic summer of satellite camps is here

Jim Harbaugh
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Here’s hoping Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are getting plenty of rest and relaxation this Memorial Day weekend, because the next month is going to be very busy for them. With the start of June just days away, Michigan’s month-long tour of satellite camps is about to begin with 38 stops over 21 states and two countries.

And yes, this is going to cost Michigan a few pennies, but it will be a small price to pay in the long run if it means Michigan will build the kind of dominant program they expected when they hired Harbaugh for the kind of money they did. Michigan already spent $350,000 for the spring break spring football trip to IMG Academy, and now that the trip to Australia is back on for Michigan, the cost will continue to soar. The Detroit Free Press mapped it all out and suggested the satellite camp tour will cover roughly 50,000 miles between stops in the United States, Australia and American Samoa. Of course, not even Harbaugh is making every stop on that tour. For example, he will not be heading to Australia, while a pair of assistants will.

Harbaugh and company will be spanning the nation to work at camps in Connecticut, New Jersey, Alabama, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and many more. Among the programs Michigan coaches will work alongside include Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Baylor is also hosting one of the camps Michigan will be represented. In March, now former Baylor head coach Art Briles was the guest keynote speaker at a coaching clinic hosted by Harbaugh and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

One thing we do suspect is this. Wherever Harbaugh goes will generate buzz and draw interest. It could be a very fun month.

Mike Riley bringing rape victim at Oregon State to speak to Huskers

Mike Riley
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Nebraska head coach Mike Riley is taking an interesting approach to addressing the impact of sexual abuse to his football players in Lincoln. Riley will bring in a former victim of a gang rape incident at Oregon State, which occurred under Riley’s time at the Pac-12 program. Brenda Tracy

Brenda Tracy was allegedly raped in October 1999 during her freshman year at Oregon State by four men, two of which were football players at Oregon State. The charges were later dropped and the two Oregon State players served one-game suspensions by Riley.

Doing the right thing is the key,” Riley said on Thursday, according to Sports Illustrated. “What I’ve learned is that some things that are not negotiable about the opportunity to be on a team. One of those is certain kinds of assault, and one of them is anything to do with guns.”

Considering no charges were ever pursued and the players each served a simple one-game suspension, it stands to reason Tracy would have some animosity toward Riley, who she also blames to an extent. Riley previously invited her to speak to his team while at Oregon State and is now coming through on his promise to allow Tracy to share her story with his new football program at Nebraska.

I despised that man,” Tracy told The Oregonian, speaking of Riley. “I hated him with every cell in my body. This is a coach who victimized me, and now I’m going to stand in front of his football team and tell them how I felt.”

It should be a very powerful message, and it sounds like one that every college football program should consider hearing if possible. In the wake of recent findings at Baylor and a disturbingly growing list of sexual assault cases involving college football players, why not hear how a victim’s life can be impacted by the poor decisions of young men?

“I think kids have to always understand it’s about choices,” Riley said. “The other basic thing to understand is how you treat people. It’s one more piece. I really appreciate Brenda reaching out, stepping out to do this. I think it will be a real-life thing. I think that’s what players need to know about. There’s people’s lives involved here and how it affects them.”

Last November saw a trio of Nebraska players (Tommy Armstrong, Trey Foster and Jordan Westerkamp) connected to an alleged rape incident, but no charges were filed following an investigation by officials due to a lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Four-star OL JP Urquidez says he will not enroll at Baylor

during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
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Continuing an unfortunate trend for the Baylor football program over the course of the last week, Class of 2016 offensive lineman JP Urquidez announced he will not be enrolling at Baylor tomorrow morning as originally planned. Urquidez made the announcement via Twitter.

Rivals rated Urquidez as a four-star prospect out of Copperas Cove, Texas. The recruiting service ranked him the ninth-best offensive tackle in the country in the Class of 2016 and the 24th top player overall from the state of Texas. Urquidez sent a message of support to the recently indefinitely suspended (with the intent to terminate) Art Briles once the news became official.

Urquidez joins fellow Class of 2016 recruits of Baylor Patrick Hudson (another four-star offensive lineman) and four-star running back Kameron Martin in deciding not to enroll in the first summer session at Baylor. Others could soon join them as reports suggest four-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay already wants to move on to another program as well.

Baylor’s Class of 2016 ranked 17th in the nation according to Rivals, but in the wake of this latest scandal news the Bears are already seeing key ingredients of that class looking elsewhere at the final hour.There is not a whole lot that can be done by Baylor other than allowing those players a release from their

National Letter of Intent and offering them best wishes on their way out.