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.

Texas Tech intends to redshirt QBs Alan Bowman and Maverick McIvor

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A season that was derailed early on by injury concerns will now end with Alan Bowman redshirting the 2019 season. Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells confirmed on Monday Bowman will redshirt the remainder of the 2019 season to preserve a year of eligibility. The decision is not much of a surprise given the current status of the Red Raiders offense and Bowman’s injury history. Maverick McIvor, who has not appeared in a game this season due to an offseason foot injury, will also redshirt the remainder of the season.

In mid-September, Bowman was said to miss “several weeks” due to a shoulder injury. Although Bowman has now been medically cleared to play for the Red Raiders, the situation in Lubbock appears to be a good opportunity to protect the shoulder a little more unless absolutely needed. The decision to redshirt was Bowman’s, according to multiple reports, and Wells agreed that was in the best interest of all involved.

Bowman appeared in three games this season for the Red Raiders, leaving him one more game to play without jeopardizing a year of eligibility. Texas Tech could still play Bowman in one more game and not have this season count against his redshirt year under the NCAA’s revised redshirt rules from a year ago.

In his three games played, Bowman has completed 101 of 154 attempts for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. Jett Duffey has led the offense in Bowman’s absence, and he has performed admirably with 1,774 yards and 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions over seven games.

McIvor is a freshman, so he will still have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2020 season.

Houston cornerback Ka’Darian Smith charged with aggravated assault

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Houston cornerback Ka’Darian Smith has been suspended by the football program after he was charged for aggravated assault for an incident occurring last week. Smith admitted to the assault to police and was released from jail after posting bond.

“We are aware of the serious allegations regarding Ka’Darian Smith,” a UH Athletics spokesperson said, according to The Daily Cougar. “He has been suspended indefinitely from the Houston football program. We will have no further comment at this time.”

According to police records, the incident leading to the charge occurred last Wednesday, Nov. 6. The alleged victim was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for injuries to the upper body and the head.

Smith responded to a tweet from Houston Chronicle reporter Joseph Duarte, there was more to the story about the alleged victim. According to Smith, the man broke into his room and was stealing from Smith.

How long Smith remains suspended may depend on how long the legal process takes to play out, which is fairly standard for incidents like these.

Oklahoma loses Trey Sermon and Kenneth Mann to season-ending injuries

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Oklahoma had to hold their breath to escape this weekend’s game against Iowa State with a win, but the close call took a toll on the Sooners moving forward. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley announced on Monday running back Trey Sermon and defensive lineman Kenneth Mann will miss the remainder of the 2019 season with season-ending injuries.

Riley confirmed both players suffered injuries in the win over Iowa State that will require surgery. That will bring an early end to the collegiate career of Mann, a redshirt senior, but sermon will be eligible to return to the Sooners next season.

Sermon was Oklahoma’s third-leading rusher behind Jalen Hurts and Kennedy Brooks with 385 yards and four touchdowns in nine games this season. With Sermon no longer able to be a part of the running game, Oklahoma may rely more on Brooks while continuing to allow their quarterback to do what he needs with his feet. But this could also lead to some opportunities for Rhamondre Stevenson to continue increasing his role in the mix. Stevenson has 369 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season and figures to see his rushing totals see a slight bump for the remainder of the year as a result of the injury to Sermon.

“Will definitely create some opportunities for others and for us to continue to move on as a team and opportunities for other people to step up and grow, and that’s what has to happen in these moments,” Riley said when addressing how the team will move forward without their injured players, according to Sooner Scoop.

Mann played more of a reserve role and recorded five tackles, 1.5 TFL, and one sack this season.

Pat Narduzzi not happy about Pitt playing at same time as NFL’s Steelers

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Thursday night will be Pittsburgh night in the world of football, much to the chagrin of Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi. In a somewhat odd scheduling coincidence, the Pitt Panthers will be playing in primetime this Thursday night at home against North Carolina at the same time the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing on the road against the Cleveland Browns. Narduzzi, knowing not everybody has access to a second screen, is justifiably upset about having his team playing at the same time as the Steelers.

“They have to start to look and say ‘What makes sense for the city of Pittsburgh?’ and that obviously wasn’t done,” Narduzzi said when meeting with the media on Monday, according to Trib Live. Narduzzi went on to point out the Pitt football schedule was set back in January, while the NFL schedule for the Steelers was released a few months later.

“You look at it and say it’s not good for the ACC playing on the same night as an NFL franchise in your same city,” Narduzzi pointed out (again, via Trib Live). And to his point, Narduzzi is right that it does the ACC no favors to be going up head-to-head against the NFL. Ever since the NFL took on a full season’s worth of Thursday night football, college football programming and ratings has suffered and been sacrificed because it makes no business sense for a broadcast partner to attempt throwing up a college football game against the NFL. It just pours salt on the wounds when you have to go up against the NFL team you share a stadium with.

When it comes to TV ratings, the NFL will triumph over college football every day of the week, say Thursday, for example. And in a city that is in love with the Steelers, the Panthers likely will be playing in the background for most of the Pittsburgh viewing area on Thursday night. And then, of course, there is the attendance concern. The Steelers and Panthers each play in Heinz Field and Pitt struggles enough filling up the seats unless a major opponent like Penn State or Notre Dame is making a visit. Having to try convincing people to come out on a cold Thursday night to watch the Panthers when they can be in their homes watching the Steelers with some comfy pants on and a cup of hot apple cider is a tough sell for Narduzzi and the Panthers.

This would be similar to the Temple Owls playing at home the same time the Philadelphia Eagles are playing, or USF playing when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing. Unfortunately, as Narduzzi confessed, there is not a thing a coach can do about the scheduling of the games, as TV partners tend to wave the baton and conferences are reduced to following along as those TV partners wish.