CFT Preseason Previews: The Big 12

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Let’s start with the good news: it can’t get any worse.

Right?

After a season in which the conference produced its first ever 9-0 champion in its 6-year round-robin era, yet that champion was effectively eliminated from contention by the third week of September, the Big 12 missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in the system’s 3-year history. On top of that, Texas started strong but then crashed and burned, Baylor was an ongoing public-relations garbage fire, Texas Tech fielded a defense that would’ve struggled to stop FCS offenses, TCU was uncharacteristically down, Kansas was still the worst Power 5 team (but managed to beat Texas) and Iowa State was actively rebuilding.

Heading into 2017, though, every single team in the conference has an active reason to believe it will be as good or better than it was in 2016. Who knows if that will be enough to reach the Playoff, but it should make for a fun, competitive season.

1. Oklahoma (11-2, 8-1 Big 12): There’s reason to believe the Sooners will take a step back in 2017. The vast majority of their wildly efficient offense now collects NFL paychecks, plus the heart and soul of their defense in linebacker Jordan Evans. And, uh, that Bob Stoops guy. Still, if you’re in the prognostication business you’d much rather be made a fool by picking OU too high than too low, particularly when they return the best quarterback in the conference in Baker Mayfield.

2. TCU (11-2, 8-1 Big 12): Gary Patterson is always dangerous when coming off a losing season. His last two squads to do such a thing went a combined 23-2, won at least a share of their respective conference championships and finished in the top-10. This time around, TCU is tied for third nationally in returning starters, including quarterback Kenny Hill. The Frogs lose only to Oklahoma, once in Norman and once in the re-inaugural  Big 12 Championship.

3. Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12): Mike Gundy‘s best team since his coulda-woulda-shoulda national champions of 2011 trips and falls early against TCU, then is effectively removed from contention after falling at Texas but salvages the season by knocking Oklahoma out of Playoff contention with a Nov. 4 upset in Stillwater.

4. Kansas State (9-3, 6-3 Big 12): Kansas State is different from the rest of the Big 12. When everyone else plays in a race to 45 points, K-State is happy to sit on the ball and score 24 points, as long as you score 23. In what is very possibly Bill Snyder‘s final season, that formula will work quite well for them.

5. Texas (8-4, 6-3 Big 12): Tom Herman has the front-line talent to compete with anyone in the Big 12. Problem is, the depth isn’t there. At least not yet. The ‘Horns will drop games to USC, Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State, but close the year winning five of their final six games. Coupled with what will be the Big 12’s best recruiting class, the sky will be the limit for Texas in 2018.

6. West Virginia (6-6, 4-5 Big 12): West Virginia is notoriously the hardest team in the Big 12 to peg. Add in that Florida transfer Will Greer, an enigma himself, will start at quarterback and it gets even tougher. But the Mountaineers return only eight starters, the third-lowest in FBS, and three off of that fabulous defense. Give them a year to rebuild.

7. Iowa State (5-7, 3-6 Big 12): Coaching matters more in college football than any other sport. That will be evident with Matt Campbell‘s troops at Iowa State. The Cyclones won’t get there in 2017, but pencil this team in for a bowl in ’18.

8. Baylor (5-7, 3-6 Big 12): Baylor is in phase one of the transition from Art Briles to Matt Rhule. The Bears are battling depth issues due to the Briles-era fallout and may start true freshman Zach Smith at quarterback. Let’s check back in a year or two.

9. Kansas (4-8, 1-8 Big 12): Are you sitting down? I hope so, because there’s an outside chance Kansas starts this season 6-0. The Jayhawks face Southeastern Missouri State, Central Michigan and Ohio to open the season, then get West Virginia, Texas Tech and Iowa State to begin conference play. I believe KU will win four of those and get skunked in the second half. But, hey, progress is progress.

10. Texas Tech (2-10, 1-8 Big 12): Look at it this way: Texas Tech lost its top-10 pick quarterback with a you-can’t-teach-that ability to make things happen on the fly, but it returns the worst defense in FBS. And it’s not as if the Red Raiders imported a bunch of 5-star defenders in the meantime. The Red Raiders are simply too good offensively to go 0-fer on the season, but with a non-conference schedule that features Arizona State, Eastern Washington and a road trip to Houston, there isn’t a single layup on the schedule.

Report: Steve Spurrier Jr. leaving WKU for job at Wazzu

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With coaching holes throughout his Washington State staff to fill thanks to significant offseason poaching, Mike Leach has added a very famous college football surname.  Reportedly.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Steve Spurrier Jr. is leaving Western Kentucky to take a job under Leach at Wazzu.  The son of College Football Hall of Famer Steve Spurrier just completed his first season as the Hilltoppers’ quarterbacks coach.  He also held the title of assistant head coach under Mike Sanford.

It’s unclear what specific title Spurrier Jr. will hold at Wazzu.

Prior to his one season at WKU, and one season as an off-field staffer at Oklahoma, Spurrier Jr. had been an assistant on his father’s South Carolina staff for 11 seasons.  During his time with the Gamecocks, he served at various points as wide receivers coach (2005-15), passing-game coordinator (2009-11) and co-offensive coordinator (2012-15).

Spurrier Jr., who played wide receiver at Duke, has also spent time during his coaching career as receivers coach at Oklahoma (1999-2001) and with the Washington Redskins (2002-03).

Ex-Texas All-Big 12 defensive tackle takes DL coaching job at Baylor

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Baylor’s latest coaching addition is a very familiar name in the state of Texas.

BU confirmed Wednesday evening that Frank Okam has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff.  Okam, who was a Freshman All-American and two-time All-Big 12 defensive tackle at Texas from 2004-07, will coach the Bears’ defensive line.

“Frank is a living embodiment of everything the young men in our program should want to accomplish,” the head coach said in a statement. “He’s a college graduate, an All-American, a Big 12 champion, a national champion, a NFL draft pick and then he continued life after football earning his master’s degree from Rice and is now one of the top young football coaches in the country.

“We are excited to have Coach Okam on staff and for him to mentor our defensive line group and help take them to the next level.”

The 32-year-old Okam, who went to high school in Dallas, spent the past four seasons at Rice, the last two as the Owls’ line coach.  This will mark Okam’s first coaching job at a Power Five program.

Longtime ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick announces retirement

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ESPN’s roster of college football play-by-play announcers suffered a high number of attrition of late. Brent Musburger retired. Brad Nessler replaced Verne Lundquist at CBS. Sean McDonough moved to Monday Night Football. Now the dean of ESPN’s Saturday voices is going away, too.

Mike Patrick announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending a 32-year run that began in 1982, three years after the network launched.

“It’s wonderful to reflect on how I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” Patrick said. “At the same time, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some of the very best people I’ve ever known, both on the air and behind the scenes. While I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me, I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with new life experiences.”

His biggest assignment came as the voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night Football from 1987 until the package moved to NBC after the 2005 season, but outside of that he was one of the Worldwide Leader’s leading college sports voices. He was the lead voice on the network’s ACC basketball package, he called the Women’s Final Four for a decade and a half, and he was a leading voice on the College World Series and served as the play-by-play man for ESPN’s Thursday night and Saturday night packages, before ESPN turned its Saturday primetime window into the top package owned by the network.

You may remember this moment.

ESPN will say goodbye to Patrick through a pre-recorded tribute voiced by Rece Davis airing throughout the day on SportsCenter and a tribute during the network’s coverage of the Louisville vs. Duke basketball game tonight (9 p.m. ET).

Heisman winner Chris Weinke hired as Tennessee’s running backs coach

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It can be argued that the only reason Tennessee has a national championship is because of Chris Weinke. As we know, the Vols claimed the 1998 national championship by defeating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, the first national championship game of the BCS era. Tennessee won that game, 23-16, thanks in large part to a pick-six thrown by Marcus Outzen, a third-string quarterback forced into action due to an injury by the two signal callers ahead of him on the depth chart.

Here’s how a Sports Illustrated article described Weinke and that FSU team in its 1999 preview issue:

Don’t think of 1999 as a new season for Florida State, think of it as the resumption of an old one. Before quarterback Chris Weinke was dumped on his head and suffered a season-ending ruptured disk in his neck in a 45-14 win over Virginia last Nov. 7, no team in the country was playing better than the Seminoles, who had bounced back from an early-season defeat at North Carolina State. So how cruel was this? Upset losses suffered by Ohio State, UCLA and Kansas State sent 11-1 Florida State to the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl, but without its best quarterback. The Seminoles and backup signal-caller Marcus Outzen struggled on offense and lost to Tennessee.

Nevertheless, Tennessee won that season’s title, Weinke would lead Florida State to the 1999 national title and take the Heisman Trophy a year after that. The past is the past.

But now the past is the present, as the former Florida State quarterback on Wednesday was announced as Tennessee’s running backs coach.

“I’m excited to have Chris Weinke on our staff to coach running backs,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “He has played the game at the highest level and what he has accomplished on the field speaks for itself. He is also an outstanding coach and teacher of the game, coaching in the NFL, in college this past season and at the high school level. He has a great eye for talent and knows the game on the offensive side of the ball as well as anybody I’ve been around. He will be a great fit for our Tennessee program.”

Weinke entered the NFL as a 26-year-old and lasted seven seasons with the Panthers and 49ers before moving into coaching. He first worked as a trainer at IMG Academy, then moved onto coaching the high school program, where he went 19-2 as head coach and offensive coordinator. From there he deposited a stint as the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterbacks coach before spending the 2017 season as an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he hooked up with Pruitt.

Weinke will be charged with re-building the Vols’ backfield after losing John Kelly to an early entry into the NFL draft. Rising sophomore Ty Chandler is Tennessee’s leading returning rusher, carrying 71 times for 305 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.