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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.

Tennessee to wear helmet decals in remembrance of Pat Summitt

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 7:  A Tennessee Volunteer holds up his helmet in the team huddle before the NCAA football game against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at Neyland Stadium on September 7, 2002 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 26-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Tennessee will wear helmet decals to honor the memory of legendary Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt throughout this season, the Vols have announced.

The decal, according to the release, will be a capital “P” inside a circle, which is based on Summitt’s signature.

Summitt passed away June 28 at the age of 64 due to a lengthy bout with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She served as the Lady Vols’ head coach for 38 seasons, compiling an NCAA basketball record 1,098 wins, eight national championships and 16 SEC titles before her retirement in 2012. She was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“As a coach, I stand in awe of Pat and what she accomplished on and off the court,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said at the time of Summitt’s passing. “She is someone I admired when I decided I wanted to get into coaching. You study all the great coaches, the traits that made them successful, and you try to incorporate those into your own program and teams.  She demanded excellence and her teams played to her personality.

“It was about more than basketball for her, it was about life. She wanted every player that left the program to be prepared for the next stage of their life. Every player received a degree, and that was as important to her as any win on the court. She wouldn’t settle for anything but the best effort on the court and in the classroom.”

Tennessee opens its season Thursday against Appalachian State in Knoxville.

Florida State strength coach Vic Viloria arrested on DUI charge

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 27: Florida State Seminoles players take the field for their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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In what has become Discipline Saturday across college football, Florida State has seen one of its coaches entangled with law enforcement. Head football strength coach Vic Viloria was arrested Friday night for driving under the influence as well as property damage. He was released just after noon local time from a Leon County jail, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

According to the report, police found Viloria asleep at the wheel with his truck in drive and his foot on the break pedal. He had already launched the vehicle up an embankment, missing a utility pole and colliding with an electronic cross-walk sign.

From the paper:

He told police he was coming from work where he drank multiple “big” alcoholic beverages in his office on FSU’s campus. He also acknowledged that he should not have been driving.

A passerby had earlier alerted police to Viloria sitting at the stoplight at Lakeshore Drive and Monroe Street where he sat through several green lights without moving, court records say.

He told police he ended up on the off-ramp as he tried to turn around to head to his Golden Eagle home. Officers noted his watery eyes, slurred speech and a moderate smell of alcohol on his breath.

And the Tallahassee police force’s incident report:

The Seminoles have released the following statement:

“We are aware of the reported incident and are in the process of gathering more information. The issue falls under the human resources policies for university employees, which restricts further comment at this time.”

Viloria is one of Jimbo Fisher‘s top lieutenants, having served as his head strength coach for all seven of Fisher’s year as the Seminoles’ as head coach. His official Florida State bio lists Viloria as “a major part of Florida State’s resurgence.”

“The foundation for the unprecedented success is forged by Viloria,” it reads. “The Seminoles have made noticeable physical gains across the board and significantly cut back on injuries as Viloria and his staff remain on the cutting edge of technology. Under Viloria, FSU became the first college football program to utilize advanced GPS technology to measure energy exertion and regulate rest and physical action.”

Viloria is the second college football coach to be arrested for DUI this month. Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams received his third arrest for such charge, and was suspended without pay for the remainder of the month, while also being required to miss the Huskers’ first four games of the season.

Jimbo Fisher pegs Deondre Francois as QB starter vs. Ole Miss

TALLAHASSEE, FL - APRIL 11:  Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminole watches action during Florida State's Garnet and Gold spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium on April 11, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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As if we didn’t already know, Deondre Francois will start at quarterback for Florida State next Monday night against Ole Miss, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed Saturday.

This particular two and two weren’t hard to put together, considering Francois was in a two-horse race with Sean Maguire and Maguire recently missed time with a foot injury. (Maguire has returned to the practice field two weeks ahead of his four week prognosis, however.)

Maguire saw action in eight games last season and was good, not great. The then-junior connected on 59 percent of his passes for 1,520 yards (an even eight per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against six interceptions, good for an efficiency rating that would have placed him 40th nationally with enough qualifying attempts.

Francois, however, is more in the mold of other Fisher quarterbacks. A consensus four-star recruit out of IMG Academy, Francois was 247Sports‘s No. 64 player nationally in the class of 2015 and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback, ranking behind only UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Alabama’s Blake Barnett.

Earning the start is an incredibly good omen for Francois. Every starting quarterback to matriculate under Fisher at Florida State — read: not Everett Golson — has gone on to become a first-round pick: Christian Ponder to the Vikings, E.J. Manuel to the Bills and Heisman winner Jameis Winston No. 1 overall to the Buccaneers.

Starting Francois is also an incredibly good omen for the Seminoles. Every uber-recent team to win a national championship has been piloted there by a first-year starter at quarterback (with one notable exception), dating back to Alabama’s Greg McElroy in 2009, to Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron in 2011 (then again in 2012), Winston for Florida State in 2013, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones in 2014 and, finally, Alabama’s Jake Coker in 2015.

Is there anything to that trend beyond mere coincidence? I have no idea. But, should the redshirt freshman hold on to his gig for the remainder of the season, both Francois and Florida State will be on the right side of (recent) history.

The fourth-ranked ‘Noles face No. 11 Ole Miss next Monday night in Orlando (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Oregon DE Torrodney Prevot suspended for alleged assault

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 23:  linebacker Torrodney Prevot #86 of the Oregon Ducks watches from the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Ducks 42-16.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Oregon has suspended defensive end Torrodney Prevot for a “violation of University and Department of Athletics code of conduct,” head coach Mark Helfrich has announced.

“At the conclusion of the University process, his status as a student-athlete will be evaluated further,” Helfrich said in a statement.

A former Ducks female student-athlete has filed a criminal complaint against Prevot, the Oregon student paper The Daily Emerald reports, claiming he has assaulted her twice in the past year. The paper reports the Eugene Police Department is investigating the matter, in addition to Oregon’s Title IX office, as is required by federal law.

The defense is expected to be a weak point again for the Ducks, with questions abounding about whether the Oregon personnel fits with new coordinator Brady Hoke‘s scheme. “We’re a long way from being any kind of defense,” Hoke said Friday, via the Oregonian. “We’ve got a long way to go to be a defense that’s going to be effective in this league.”

Prevot was not listed on the depth chart Oregon released Friday.

A Houston native, Prevot appeared in all 13 games last fall, starting five, with 48 tackles and 7.5 TFLs.