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.

Minnesota’s Tom Foley punts way into transfer portal

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A Minnesota football player is the latest to prove that punters are people too and, as such, aren’t immune from the pull of the portal.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Tom Foley announced that, “[a]after talking it over with my family and friends I have decided to put my name into the transfer portal.” The Punter gave no specific reason for the decision.

“I would like to say thank you to [Minnesota football head coach P.J.] Fleck and [special teams coordinator Rob] Wenger for giving me the opportunity to become a Golden Gopher,” Foley wrote. “Thank You to all my teammates who pushed me to become my best.”

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

A walk-on from Peoria, Ill., Foley took a redshirt as a true freshman last season. He has yet to see any game action for the Minnesota football program.

Minnesota currently has two punters on its football roster. Fifth-year senior Matthew Stephenson took a grad transfer to the Big Ten school from Middle Tennessee State. At MTSU, he punted 16 times and averaged 37.06 per. Additionally, true freshman Mark Crawford is a 2020 three-star signee who comes to the school from Australia. He was rated as the No. 5 punter in this year’s class.

Minnesota is coming off a season in which it won 11 games, the football program’s most since 1904.

In interview with Howard Stern, Tom Brady talks about almost transferring from Michigan to Cal

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While a lot of the attention surrounding his Howard Stern interview focused on his relationship with the current POTUS, there was a college football angle to all of the Tom Brady talk.

Coming out of high school in California, Brady chose a scholarship offer from Michigan over one from Cal. His first season at U-M, Brady sat behind Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese and Jason Carr, the son of head coach Lloyd Carr and took a redshirt. His second season, with Carr out of eligibility, Brady was still behind Dreisbach and Griese.

In his book “Belichick and Brady,” Michael Holley explained that Brady very nearly transferred from Michigan to Cal because of his positioning on the depth chart. During the course of his SiriusXM interview with the King of All Media Wednesday, Brady acknowledged the transfer talk.

The guy who was playing above me, Scott Dreisbach, he was very much their guy,” Brady told Stern during the show. “I thought we had got off to kind of a good start, he had got off to a good start in his career, and I was looking up at all these guys on the depth chart that were ahead of me, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get a chance here.’ I remember talking to the people at Cal, because that was my second choice, to go to Berkeley, and I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should go there, because I’ll get more of an opportunity to play.’

“I went in and talked to Lloyd Carr. I said, ‘I don’t really think I’m going to get my chance here. I think I should leave,’ and he said, ‘Tom, I want you to stay, and I believe in you, and I think you could be a good player, but you’ve got to start worrying about the things you can control.’ When he said that he wanted me there, I went to bed that night, I woke up the next day, and I figured, you know what, if I’m going to be — and I still feel this way today — in a team sport, you’ve got to sacrifice what you want individually for what’s best for the team. So if you’re not the best guy, it’s a disservice for the team if you’re forced to somehow play. My feeling was, if I’m going to be the best, I’ve got to beat out the best, and if the best competition’s at Michigan, I’ve got to beat those guys out if I’m going to play. I ended up committing to be the best.

Obviously, Brady opted to remain with the Wolverines. He served as Griese’s backup in 1997, then beat out Dreisbach for the starting job the following season. After two years as U-M’s started, Brady was infamously selected 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Suffice to say, Brady did fairly well for himself during his 20 seasons in New England.

Minnesota projecting potential $75 million loss due to COVID-19

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The worst case for Minnesota when it comes to COVID-19 is a hefty bottom line hit.

The school’s board of regents met on Tuesday and detailed some of the initial modeling they are projecting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking just of the athletic department, that could result in nearly $75 million in lost revenue alone for the Gophers.

The Athletic’s Eric Vegoe detailed one of the slides from the meeting, which shows an overall $200 million hit to the university at large in a worst case — or “severe” — scenario:

Obviously the severe scenario that shows COVID-19 lasting into the fall is projecting a serious loss of revenue as the result of no (or reduced) college football. The sport makes up the vast majority of Minnesota’s revenues and has untold impact on other items such as donations as well.

USA Today’s database of athletic department revenues show the Gophers had nearly $125 million in revenue through the 2017-18 school year. While that figure has undoubtedly climbed higher as Big Ten media rights distributions have escalated, the number provided to the regents is still a huge chunk of that amount.

Even the moderate estimate of things lasting through the summer could result in a 20% shave on the department’s income.

It goes without saying that finances across the board in every industry will be impacted by the global pandemic but slides like the one above are a good reminder that even in the tiny world of football or college athletics, the cuts will probably have to run quite deep. And if a school like Minnesota is potentially forced to cut back, just imagine what other Group of Five programs will have to go through.

At some point college football will return to our lives but the ramifications of this current battle against the coronavirus figure will certainly have a far-reaching impact well beyond the gridiron. Sadly, no amount of ‘Rowing the Boat’ will be able to change that fact.

Bay Area official does not expect sports to return “until at least Thanksgiving”

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So much of the intersection of the coronavirus and college football has centered on when the game might return this fall.

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy wants players back as soon as May. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is confident that Death Valley will be packed come September. Virginia Tech’s athletic director has floated moving the calendar back just to get a full slate in.

In short, nobody knows.

That unknown has weighed heavily on most as they are asked to discuss the topic in recent days. What is left unsaid however, is that no coach or administrator will truly be in charge of determining the date CFB returns. That will be left to health officials at the local level.

One such official broached that topic this week. Speaking to the Santa Clara County (in the California Bay Area) Board of Supervisors, Dr. Jeffrey Smith believes sports in general may be looking more toward winter than fall whenever it returns.

Per the Los Angeles Times:

Smith on Tuesday told that county’s Board of Supervisors that he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do.”

Santa Clara County is home to both Stanford and San Jose State. It’s also located in the region of the United States that was at the forefront of shutting down as a response to COVID-19 last month.

If those in charge don’t see a return to the football field until turkey time, those optimistic projections of getting the season done on time can probably be thrown to the wind.

Let’s hope that won’t turn out to be the case and the world can get a medical miracle it desperately needs. But until that happens, it’s probably best to be more pessimistic when it comes to the 2020 season than optimistic.