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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.

Report: Les Miles not in the mix in Purdue head coaching search

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers look on during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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One of the bigger storylines of this offseason is the annual coaching carousel and where former LSU head coach Les Miles will land.

The longtime coach has stated he wants to coach again in 2017, and has plenty of credentials — over 100 wins, SEC and national championships — but where he will find a fit is one of the bigger mysteries.

A lot of folks have noted that he could be in the running for the Purdue job (Miles is a Big Ten man at heart) but it appears that will not be the case. According to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, a source told him to cross Miles’s name off of Purdue’s list.

There are not a ton of big openings at the moment so with the Boilermakers reportedly off the table, it might be a long offseason for the former LSU coach. Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck have been the two biggest names mentioned with the Purdue search but it appears unlikely any movement happens before this weekend.

Thamel also mentions Miles could be in the mix at Houston, which would be fascinating given his years at Oklahoma State and over a decade spent a few hours East in Baton Rouge. Either way, it looks like the carousel has a few more spins left in it this month.

Colorado denies Mike MacIntyre is interviewing at Baylor this weekend

BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 19:  Head Coach Mike MacIntyre looks on from the field during the second quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Folsom Field on November 19, 2016 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Colorado plays Washington on Friday in the Pac-12 Championship Game but that hasn’t stopped the coaching carousel from taking a break.

Rumors have circulated that Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre is a candidate at Baylor and that he would be interviewing with the Bears either today or tomorrow. Colorado’s sports information director wanted no part of those reports continuing to flourish however, and took to Twitter to vehemently deny them.

That is… quite the denial.

At the same time, you can understand why Baylor wants to speak with MacIntyre give his credentials for turning around the program, his moral values and the fact that he was just named the Walter Camp Coach of the Year.

If it’s not meant to be however, the school will no doubt be turning to other candidates this weekend, possibly including fellow Pac-12 coach Sonny Dykes at Cal.

Purdue may have sights set on WKU’s Jeff Brohm as new coach

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Jeff Brohm of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers  looks on during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl against the South Florida Bulls at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Win or lose Saturday, Western Kentucky may have already lost its head coach.  Reportedly.

Speculation had been mounting late Thursday night and on into Friday morning that Purdue had zeroed in on WKU’s Jeff Brohm as its next head coach.  One Indianapolis radio personality even went so far as to call Brohm-to-Purdue all but a done deal.

That said, Rick Bozich of WDRB in Louisville subsequently reported that a source close to Brohm claimed that Dakich’s tweet “is 100-percent not true. It’s completely false.” The source did allow that, once the coach’s team finishes up the regular season, “[h]e’ll consider his future after that.”

Brohm, incidentally, is not represented by an agent, per Bozich.

Given Brohm’s connections to that area of the country — he played at Louisville and coached at his alma mater as well — he could also wait to see how the situation at Cincinnati plays out.  Tommy Tuberville’s buyout with the Bearcats will be substantially reduced the middle of next week, and Brohm could very well be in play as a replacement.

In Brohm’s three seasons in Bowling Green, the Hilltoppers 29 games and one Conference USA championship. WKU could add a second consecutive title as they will face Louisiana Tech in the league championship game Saturday.

Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck has been the name most connected to the Purdue opening.  The Boilermakers could talk to Fleck saturday, after WMU’s MAC championship game appearance against Ohio Friday night.  Depending on how such a conversation, if it even happens, goes would determine what if anything would happen on the Brohm front.

Les Miles has also been mentioned as a possibility at Purdue as well.

Report: Lane Kiffin to interview for Houston job after SEC title game

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Jake Coker #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in the first half while taking on the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Earlier in the week it was reported that Lane Kiffin was in the mix to fill the head coaching vacancy at Houston. Come Sunday, or shortly thereafter, the Alabama offensive coordinator may be taking the next step in returning to lead his own college football program.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, SBNation.com‘s Steven Godfrey is reporting that Kiffin will interview for the Houston job after Alabama’s SEC Championship game against Florida Saturday afternoon. Kiffin has also been mentioned as a possibility to take over the coordinator role at LSU, giving his current head coach motive to campaign for him to land the Cougars job.

From Godfrey’s report:

Multiple sources have also confirmed to SB Nation that Alabama head coach Nick Saban is actively promoting Kiffin to Houston, ostensibly to keep his OC from jumping to a division rival next season.

Kiffin is in his third season as the Crimson Tide’s coordinator. He has been a head coach at the collegiately level on two different occasions, compiling an overall record of 28-15 during stops at Tennessee (2009) and USC (2010-13). He also had a disastrous stay with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, posting a 4-12 record his first year before being fired after a 1-3 start to his second season.

Cougars offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will also interview for the job.  Orlando is serving as UH’s interim head coach and will coach the Cougars in their bowl game.  Ex-LSU head coach Les Miles and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley have also been connected to the opening.