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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.

Iowa State TE survives being hit by car, albeit with 103 stitches

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The college football world was rocked by tragedy over the weekend, and it appears another football program narrowly averted its own heartbreak as well.

Thursday evening, the Springfield News-Leader reports, Chase Allen was hit by a vehicle outside of the Iowa State practice facility.  Allen managed to jump just prior to impact, although he landed on the car’s windshield, shattering it.

From the News-Leader:

Allen said he had a large amount of broken glass in his back, but managed to avoid hitting his head or suffering any bone injuries.

Allen popped up and was taken to an emergency room by some of his Iowa State coaches.

Allen took 103 stitches on his back after being cut by shattered windshield glass.

“The coaches were there with me in the E.R., and I’ll be cleared when the stitches heal up. (It) could have been so much worse,” Allen said.

According to an ISU official, the tight end should be at least cleared in part for the start of summer camp early next month.  It’s likely Allen will be held out of full contact, at least for the early portion of camp.

Allen came to Ames this summer after signing with the Cyclones this past February as a three-star recruit.  He was rated as the No. 6 player at any position in the state of Missouri and the No. 26 tight end in the country.  In 247Sports.com rankings, only one 2016 signee ranked higher than Allen — offensive tackle Sean Foster.

Cal to give away bobblehead of Marshawn Lynch celebrating on injury cart

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 21: Marshawn Lynch #10 of the California Golden Bears celebrates by driving a golf cart on the field after an interception by Desomond Bishop secured the 31-24 victory in overtime against the Washington Huskies on October 21, 2006 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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This is real, and it’s spectacular.

In 2006, Marshawn Lynch continued creating the legend that would ultimately morph into “Beast Mode” when, following an overtime win over Washington in which his 22-yard touchdown run proved to be the game-winner, the then-Cal running back decided the best way to commemorate the victory was by commandeering an injury cart and driving it around the Memorial Stadium turf.  Lynch’s “Ghost Ride the Whip” became legendary in the Bay Area…

… and now it’s being commemorated by the Golden Bears in bobblehead form:

That bobblehead will be handed out at the Nov. 5 game against Washington as Cal celebrates the 10th anniversary of the win. And, suffice to say, I want one. Badly.

Car accident will likely sideline Texas RB Roderick Bernard for all of 2016

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 5:  A fan waves a large Lonhorns flag during the game between the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks and the Texas Longhorns on September 5, 2009 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. The Longhorns defeated the Warhawks 59-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Car accidents have been a sad theme in college football this past week, and, unfortunately, it has continued.  Fortunately, though, this latest one didn’t involve a fatality.

According to a tweet from Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, the high school coach of Texas’ Roderick Bernard confirmed that his former player was injured in a car accident earlier this month.  As a result, the coach expects Bernard to miss the entire 2016 season.

There were no details as to the nature of the injuries sustained by Bernard, nor has UT addressed the player’s status moving forward.

As a true freshman in 2014, Bernard served as the Longhorns’ primary kick returner before sustaining a knee injury (torn ACL)) in the fifth game that ended his season prematurely. He returned for the 2015 season after missing spring practice rehabbing the knee and played in 10 games, primarily on special teams.

This past spring, hBernard, a three-star 2014 signee, moved from wide receiver to running back.

Packers already talking another Wisconsin game at Lambeau Field

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 16:  Fans are seen outside of Lambeau Field before the Green Bay Packers play against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 16, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin has yet to play one game at an iconic NFL stadium, but their upcoming hosts are already anxious for Round 2.

UW will open the 2016 season Sept. 3 against LSU at the home of the Green Bay Packers, historic Lambeau Field.  Tuesday, athletic director Barry Alvarez confirmed that the Packers would “love” for the Badgers to play another game — or games — at the stadium.

“We’ve visited. (The Packers) would love it,” Alvarez said according to madison.com. “(Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy) has talked to me about, he gets heat all the time from his chamber of commerce in Green Bay that they’d love more activities in the stadium. They tried concerts, and he said the field is built for football. They’d like to get more games up there. We’ve talked, and I know they’d be interested in it, so we’ll see what happens.”

It has previously been reported that the Packers are interested in hosting the Big Ten championship game at their home, although that seems unlikely to happen.

The upcoming opener was officially announced in October of 2013, and will become the first-ever meeting at Lambeau between two FBS teams.  It will also serve as just the fourth college game ever played there.  As the release announcing the game stated, “St. Norbert College twice hosted Fordham University at Lambeau Field in a Vince Lombardi Memorial Game, winning both contests. The Green Knights defeated the Rams 14-10 on Nov. 20, 1982, and 18-9 on Nov. 19, 1983. St. Norbert also hosted Mankato State College on Oct. 29, 1960, defeating the Indians, 29-14.”

UW will make in the neighborhood of $3 million for the first-ever contest.