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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.

Can Mike Sinlgetary save Baylor football?

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  A general view of play between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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In the days after Baylor rocked the football world with the firing of head coach Art Briles amid alarming controversy and the likely intent to wipe the slate clean after getting through the 2016 college football season, there is much anticipation to see who steps in to take over the suddenly startled Baylor football program. Whoever steps in to be the new permanent head coach in the years to come will do so knowing he is taking on an unenviable task at a program that has never had things come served on a silver platter.

Maybe Mike Singletary is just the man for the job?

Singletary’s name has come up at times in the recent days as the guessing game begins for figuring out who takes on the role of head coach of the Bears. Singletary should be Baylor’s next head coach, writes Jarrett Bell for USA Today. He is also already receiving some high praise and a recommendation from another familiar name in the football world, Pro Football Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow.

“Experience. Reputation. Ties to the school. He’s a good fit,” Winslow said. “They need to restore their credibility, as a school and with their football program. To do that, you need to change the whole culture.”

Hiring Singletary would be a drastic change of culture for the Baylor program, which has come under fire for operating under a terribly misguided football culture for the sake of winning games. Singletary is hard-nosed and would set a brand new tone and establish a new order at Baylor. Singletary has never coached in college football but has some experience at the NFL level. The former Super Bowl champion linebacker with the Chicago Bears was a head coach for the San Francisco 49ers for the 2009 and 2010 seasons before being removed in favor of then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. The majority of Singletary’s coaching career as been filled as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.

A Baylor alum and member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame, Singletary would likely be well received by the Baylor community from the start. He would also command a level of respect from day one given his football background, but he would most certainly need a good offensive-minded staff around him to help balance out his defensive focus.

For now, Singletary is sitting on the sideline and hoping his university sorts out its issues to establish a firm path going forward. He has not shut down the idea of being a part of that plan, but he is not actively and publicly throwing himself at the front of the line for an interview.

“The most important thing for me to do is just wait and see what they’re thinking,” Singletary said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Houston wants to keep options open rather than focus just on Big 12

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 05:  Cameron Malveaux #94 of the Houston Cougars and Nick Thurman #91 kiss the AAC championship trophy after defeating the Temple Owls 24-13 at TDECU Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
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The University of Houston wants a spot in the Big 12, but it will also look for ways to keep its options open just in case. The Houston Chronicle highlighted the current situation for the Univeristy of Houston as the ongoing Big 12 expansion rumor mill spins, with a few mentions of the Cougars popping up here and there.

“We want Houston to be at the top of that list,” said Hunter Yurachek, Houston’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics. Asked about focusing entirely on the Big 12, Yurachek said “I think that limits us. We have to keep all our options open.”

Aside from potential membership in the Big 12, which appears to be the top goal for Houston, the two other options mentioned by The Houston Chronicle include sticking with the American Athletic Conference and continuing to be a power player in what could be the top non-power conference (with the hope and dream of one day being considered a power conference with a new media deal in the future) or holding out for the Pac-12 in the event the conference wants to set foot in the state of Texas. That last option may be the biggest reach, but a school like Houston would be wise to keep every scenario on the drawing board.

“We’re thinking long term at the University of Houston,” Yurachek explained. “We’re not making these changes for the immediate future. These are investments for anything that can happen in the collegiate landscape, not just any decisions the Big 12 could make in their future meetings.”

If the Big 12 is going to expand, Houston has a good set of pros and cons to consider. Among non-power conference options, Houston is well-positioned for future success in a very attractive media market. Of course, the Big 12 already has a strong presence throughout Texas with the Longhorns. If the purpose is to expand viewership, as seems to be the case with many realignment moves, this is a big drawback for Houston and it is one they cannot overcome. Of course, the Houston market is starting to tune into more SEC football recently with the addition of Texas A&M. Houston could help regain a stronghold for the Big 12 in the Houston market, but then again so could a dominant Texas Longhorns program in all likelihood.

Houston leaders have now reportedly met with leaders at each of the current Big 12 members. It is clear Houston would jump at the opportunity to join the Big 12, just as TCU did after jumping from the Mountain West Conference to the Big East, where the Horned Frogs never played a down before accepting a Big 12 invite.If the Big 12 chooses to expand, which is still no guarantee to happen, Houston has plenty to offer as the program continues to grow.

If the Big 12 chooses to expand, which is still no guarantee to happen, Houston has plenty to offer as the program continues to grow. Whether adding Houston makes sense to the rest of the Big 12 is still up for debate, just as is the possible membership of other options like Cincinnati, UConn, UCF, Memphis and BYU.

Former Texas OL Octavious Bishop joins ‘Horns staff in off-the-field role

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Former Texas offensive lineman Octavious Bishop has rejoined the program as the Longhorns’ director of student leadership and personal development. The position is a new one, created specifically for Bishop.

Texas’s release announcing his hire says Bishop will work with Charlie Strong and the UT football staff to “provide strategy and implementation of programs to support student-athlete development. Among the program’s goals and objectives will be personal growth, character enhancement, leadership assessment and development, life skills and career preparation.”

“I had an unbelievable conversation with Octavious about what we were looking for in this position and knew right away that he was the man for the job,” Strong said in a statement. “He’s an engaging and energetic person who has a ton of experience working with personal development and has gained so much knowledge in handling all aspects of student-athletes’ lives. I just really loved his passion and all of the ideas he was bringing to the table. On top of that, he’s a Longhorn letterman who overcame a lot of obstacles in his own life. I’m so excited to have him joining our staff.”

Bishop is a former three-year starter at left tackle for the Longhorns, best known as one of the road graders for Ricky Williams‘s NCAA record-breaking 1998 Heisman Trophy campaign. Bishop played professionally for the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL before returning to Texas to finish his social work degree in 2001. He’s since earned his Master’s degree in social work from UT and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University in Minnesota. He has work experience as a social worker and counselor, dealing with marriage, family and addiction counseling and working with students with mental health needs.

“Many of the student-athletes who will attend The University of Texas come from backgrounds similar to my own,” Bishop said. “I have a unique perspective, as a former player and student, that many of them will share. The relationships I’ve established outside of football have played a profound role in my professional and personal development.”

SEC to discuss expanding restriction on transfers

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A year ago, the SEC adopted a rule banning its member schools from accepting transfers who were disciplined at their previous institution for sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence. The rule came about after Alabama accepted a transfer from Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, whom Mark Richt dismissed after he was arrested for domestic violence, only to see him again be arrested for domestic violence in Tuscaloosa. Chalk that entire episode up as just another way Nick Saban has changed the way the SEC conducts business.

Now the league is considering expanding the ban to other forms of misconduct in advance of its annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, a student-athlete working group has recommended expanding the rule to “bar transfers who were convicted of, pled guilty or no contest to a serious misconduct felony.”

“The rule that was passed at the last spring meeting was a first step,” SEC associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance William King told the paper. “I think commissioner (Greg) Sankey made that clear from the beginning that this was a first step and that the conference would revisit the rule.”

The Big 12 and Pac-12 adopted similar rules to mimic the SEC, and it’s likely this policy will only see stronger teeth considering it was his practice of accepting players with violent pasts from other schools that led to Art Briles‘ eventual ouster.

The rule removes the incentive for coaches who fear that dismissing troubled players will only see them on the opposite sideline a season or two later.

SEC schools are expected to conduct background inquiries into all transfers, and a loophole exists for schools to appeal to the conference’s executive committee. Many believe the rule banning transfers will eventually apply to incoming freshmen as well, though that does not appear to be on the table for this year.