CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

10 Comments

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.

Ex-Baylor DC Phil Bennett calls legal firm interview a fraud, says Art Briles deserves to coach again

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
3 Comments

Former Baylor head coach Phil Bennett says an interview he did for a law firm reviewing Baylor’s response to sexual assault scandal was a fraud because he was unable to go through the interview without an attorney by his side. In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bennett took issue with the review conducted by the Pepper Hamilton law firm.

“It was somewhere in January or February after our bowl game,” Bennett said of the interview he had with representatives from the law firm. “I told (staffers) it was a fraud set up from the get-go. I wanted to bring a lawyer in and to record it. I wanted protection. They would not talk to us if we did. They didn’t have a recording of it, either. That’s what bothered me. I was in there for 4 1/2 hours. They wrote notes. I wrote notes. They looked at mine. I looked at theirs. (The two investigators) were so out of touch with the structure of college football, it was comical.”

Bennett went on to explain when he realized there was no progress he was going to make in the interview.

“I said, ‘We are bringing these kids in and we take great pride in keeping them within the lines of university procedures. That’s our jobs. We are not getting the normal student.’ I wanted to be as real as I could with them. We are trying to teach these kids how to be in college and how to react in situations. She says, ‘Judicial Affairs should have known.’ As soon as she said that, I knew this was over.”

Despite the scale of the scandal at Baylor and the fallout that ensued, Bennett remains confident Baylor was really no different from any other college football program in the country.

“We had the same issues that everybody had,” Bennett claimed at one point in the video interview. “We tried to stay on top of things. Now, were we just a hammer? Probably not.”

Previous reports have detailed how members of the Baylor coaching staff worked around the typical Title IX procedures, which is what really brought the entire situation at Baylor to a boil.

Bennett also came to the defense of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, suggesting Briles was targetted because Baylor could not successfully fire Ken Starr as university president.

“Yes. I remember when this all started, my wife told me, ‘This is the sort of thing that gets you fired.’ I don’t know if this was true, but I was told by a member of the board that Art was never the objective. They were looking to fire Ken Starr. But Starr lawyered up. And the next on the pole was Briles.”

During the course of the interview, Bennett suggested Baylor was no different from other college football programs around the country

“Every night I say a prayer for him, that he will [coach again],” Bennett said of Briles. “I think without question he deserves to.”

Briles, of course, has struggled to land a coaching job since being fired by Baylor. A job in the CFL never took off after public outcry about his hiring, and he remains a bit of a pariah around college football as the dust still settles from the impact of the scandal in Waco.

Tom Herman says ideal Texas schedule would include Texas A&M rivalry

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images
4 Comments

Let’s face it. Until the day comes when Texas and Texas A&M get back on the same football field for a regular season game, this topic is never going to die. In the latest example of proving you can set your offseason calendar to the moment anyone from Texas or Texas A&M merely mentions the dormant rivalry, Longhorns head coach Tom Herman suggested reviving the rivalry with the Aggies would be a part of his ideal football schedule in Austin.

“In my perfect world, you would play one big-time Power 5 [non-conference] opponent,” Herman said in SiriusXM ESPNU Radio interview with Andy Staples and Rick Neuheisel this week. “To me, there’s a very logical one an hour-and-a-half east of us.”

Herman was clearly referring to Texas A&M when mentioning a logical option just 90 minutes east of Austin. Herman also expressed a desire to be able to play a true rivalry game at home in an alternating series similar to other Big 12 schools like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State playing each other and Iowa State playing in-state Big Ten rival Iowa. Texas A&M would fit that bill Herman is trying to address.

Of course, this is all the same old stuff we have been talking about since Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC and the rivalry was put on ice after the 2011 season. Fans of both schools appear to have a much greater desire for the series to be revived, and coaches who have come and gone make it a routine to sound off on wanting to play their old rival to win fans over. But the fact remains the powers that be at both Texas and Texas A&M are standing firm on not wanting to play the other school again, even if there is a hint there are higher-ups who would be interested in seeing the series continue.

Both the big 12 and SEC require their members to schedule one game against another power conference opponent in non-conference play. It seems to be a perfect way for the rivalry to resume for both the Longhorns and Aggies. Instead, both schools continue to line up non-conference schedules without including the other, as is the case now through 2020 for sure, and likely for years beyond that with other matchups against power conference teams already lined up for years.

Larry Fedora says war on football could lead to downfall of country

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
7 Comments

It’s not very often when a head coach can lose on a conference’s media day, but UNC head coach Larry Fedora went down swinging on Wednesday. On the first day of the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina, Fedora stood firm on some interesting takes on the current state of the game and how it could lead to the downfall of the country. He also suggested there is no connection to playing football and CTE.

It was a doozy of an afternoon for the head coach of the Tar Heels.

“Our game is under attack,” Fedora suggested when discussing new rules being implemented into the game with the focus on improving the safety of players. “I fear that the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won’t recognize it 10 years from now. And if it does, our country will go down too.”

Some of what Fedora said is not an original thought. With more and more rules being changed or added to the game at all levels of the game, including the NFL, it is clear the sport of football is being changed in dramatic ways that would leave some from a former era hanging their heads. Of course, players from previous eras were not able to compete in a time when medical advancements and research were on par with what is available today. Still, Fedora seemed to take up a stand on this topic as well by suggesting he does not think it has definitely been proven that playing football causes CTE. Fedora said he believes the CTE data has been put out as fact and it has swayed some people away from football entirely.

It may be unwise to suggest there is a stone-cold fact that indisputably links football to CTE, but more and more research is connecting the dots fairly strongly. A report from the New York Times last summer showed 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players had symptoms of CTE. The study comprised of 202 former football players from various levels of the game. The link between playing football and CTE has been strong enough to have the NFL begin modifying its procedures and regulations, and more and more colleges and conferences are addressing these concerns as well. Still, Fedora is taking up his side in the so-called war on football.

Let’s be crystal clear here; playing football significantly increases the risk a player will experience CTE in their life. There is no disputing that. And no, if football is changed for the benefit of player safety, it will have zero impact on the country as a whole.

Fedora also raised some eyebrows for his comments about why football is part of what makes the United States so great, which he defended by sharing a comment he received from a former military general. After his initial media session at the ACC media day event, Fedora later gathered a handful of selected media members to clarify his comments. But rather than change one word in his statement to make himself look better, Fedora held firm with his comments.

Fedora is coming off a 3-9 season in Chapel Hill, and he may be on one of the hottest seats the ACC has to offer this fall. Starting the year off sounding like a cranky old-school football meathead may not be the best way to get the new season started for Fedora, but he’s all in on the idea that the decline of football will inevitably lead to the fall of the entire country.

If Fedora doesn’t make UNC great again, he may be taking his war on football to the unemployment line.

Delaware new home for Penn State transfer Andre Robinson

Getty Images
Leave a comment

More than seven months after leaving Penn State, Andre Robinson has found his landing spot.

The mother of the running back confirmed to PennLive.com that her son has transferred to Delaware to continue his collegiate playing career.  As the Blue Hens play at the FCS level, Robinson will be eligible to play immediately for the program.

Including this season, Robinson will have two years of eligibility remaining.

“All parties are excited for this opportunity for continuing his education and playing football for Delaware, the mom, Jennifer Mellinger, told the website in a portion of a statement.

Robinson was a four-star member of Penn State’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 20 running back in the country and the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania.

A redshirt sophomore, Robinson was third among Nittany Lions running backs this past season with 55 yards and one touchdown on the ground in 2017.  He finished the PSU portion of his playing career with 196 yards and six touchdowns on 30 carries.