CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

126 Comments

The Big 12 was left on the outside looking in of the College Football Playoff party a year ago, but it looks as though the odds are good the conference is not left out this season. TCU opens the 2015 season as the second-ranked team in the major polls and the Horned Frogs are joined by Baylor as popular picks to make a playoff push in 2015. But what about Oklahoma and Texas you ask? This year should see some improvements with both blueblood programs, although progress at each will be measured differently.

It is time for me to go on the record with some Big 12 predictions. Let’s just say I have a weird gut feeling about some of these.

1. TCU (Last year: 12-1, beat Ole Miss in Peach Bowl)
TCU returns a loaded offense with 10 starters coming back in 2015 from last season’s surging offense. That includes quarterback Trevone Boykin, who may be my top contender in the Heisman Trophy race this season thanks to his experience and supporting cast. TCU needs to replace just one offensive lineman, which puts TCU ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the conference. The schedule does have its challenges ahead of the Horned Frogs, including a season opener on the road against a solid Minnesota squad and road trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. But I think TCU can manage to get away with wins in all three. In fact, I see TCU winning every game on the schedule this season, which would be a remarkable feat for this program on the rise. Most importantly, if TCU does live up to this prediction, there is not a shot they miss out on the playoff at the end of the season. None. There are some questions on the defensive side of the football, but I trust Gary Patterson will be able to address those concerns enough to get by while the offense is cooking.

2. Oklahoma (Last year: 8-5, lost to Clemson in Russell Athletic Bowl)
I feel rather optimistic about the Sooners this season, although I wonder why I feel this optimistic. Heck, I’ve even calling for Oklahoma to win a road game at Baylor. Call it gut instinct if you will. Oklahoma lost every game against a ranked opponent last season and holes were exposed by Baylor and Clemson. But Oklahoma hung in there with Kansas State and TCU and the Sooners have the best running back in the conference with Samaje Perine. I’m looking for a big year from Perine, if the rebuilt offensive line can help him out. I think Oklahoma gets off to an OK start, with the game at Tennessee a toss-up (I have it marked as a loss right now). I think Bob Stoops comes through with some solid performances to surprise some along the way to a second place finish in the Big 12.

3. Kansas State (Last year: 9-4, lost to UCLA in Alamo Bowl)
Here is what I have come to learn about Kansas State over the years. Bill Snyder is a good coach and finds a way to put together a solid team more often than not. You can look at Kansas State on paper and suggest there is no reason to be too excited about the Wildcats in 2015, and that is fine. Snyder will find a way to make it all come together, and he will have three fairly easy games and a bye week at the start of the season to get it all worked out before jumping into Big 12 play. That could get off to a rough start as well, but the bye week before hosting Baylor could be huge. I think Kansas State finishes strong in Big 12 play after the bye week.

4. Baylor (Last year: 11-2, lost to Michigan State in Cotton Bowl)
This one is sure to raise some eyebrows, and I fully understand. Baylor is seen by many as a Big 12 favorite and legitimate playoff contender. Eight starters are back on offense, and nine more on defense. If not for a slip up at West Virginia last season, Baylor would have been in the playoff with an undefeated record. Just like last season, the margin for error is extremely thin for the Bears. This may be a solid test for Art Briles, as he looks to work his quarterback magic once more with Seth Russell taking over a talented offense. With an experienced offensive line protecting him and Corey Coleman and KD Cannon as targets and running back Shock Linwood in the backfield, things should look pretty good for Baylor, right? I’m going with the gut instinct again here to explain why I have Baylor down so low in the Big 12 standings. I think Baylor gets off to a great start, but hits a road block after the second bye week. I’m putting Baylor down for back-to-back losses against Kansas State and Oklahoma and one more two weeks later against TCU. But they may be the best three-loss team in the nation.

5. Texas (Last year: 6-7, lost to Arkansas in Texas Bowl)
When Charlie Strong was hired as the head coach of Texas I said it might take a few years for him to have the Longhorns ready to compete for a Big 12 title. Entering year two, I think we start to see some signs of progress. With a couple of coaching changes on the staff, the hope is the offense begins to show some more consistency and efficiency. The Longhorns have to decide whether to go with Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard at quarterback and replace both starting tackles on the line, but things should start looking a little more stable on offense. After experiencing a setback in the season opener in South Bend against Notre Dame, the Longhorns rebound before hitting TCU and Oklahoma before the bye week. We will see this season there is still work to be done for Texas to compete against the best fo the conference, but it should start proving to us things are getting better.

6. Oklahoma State (Last year: 7-6, beat Washington in Cactus Bowl)
Another relatively low expectation for the Cowboys compared to many of the preseason previews out there. The big hang up for Oklahoma State for me will be the schedule. The road game at Texas I think ultimately goes down as a loss as the Longhorns look to make a bit of a statement. A road trip to West Virginia could go down as a loss as well, and TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma could all be home losses as well. Oklahoma State is probably more likely to go 1-2 in those big three games in the last half of the season, but I have them as losses right now.

7. West Virginia (Last year: 7-6, lost to Texas A&M in Liberty Bowl)
West Virginia should once again be somewhere in the middle of the Big 12, and will be one of those teams capable of pulling an upset. West Virginia will not be a pushover and should have some back-and-forth games, but the Mountaineers are not quite equipped to make a run at the Big 12 title. They are dangerous though as long as Dana Holgorsen is commanding the offense and a defense returning nine starters (including safety Karl Joseph). West Virginia’s biggest weakness is in the trenches. There won’t be enough of a push from the defense and the offensive line may not be the most dependable. The start of Big 12 play could be rough (at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State, at Baylor, at TCU after bye).

8. Texas Tech (Last year: 4-8)
The best thing about Texas Tech is Kliff Kingsbury and his swagger. But good looks do not translate to wins on the football field, and Texas Tech is the textbook example of that right now. I have little faith in Texas Tech’s ability to be consistent enough on offense and I have even less confidence in Texas Tech’s defense to stop anything. Sure, shootouts may be fun to watch at times, but the Red Raiders need a lot of things to start turning around if we are ever going to see this program recapture the magic the Mike Leach era offered at times.

9. Iowa State (Last year: 2-10)
You may not find a harder working two-win team in the country than Iowa State. Yes, it could be another long season for the Cyclones, and that could place head coach Paul Rhoads in some unfortunate territory at the end of the season, but there should be some bright spots for Iowa State along the way. Wide receiver Allen Lazard will be tough to slow down and could have a big season. And hey, they’re not Kansas.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
I have Kansas down for one win this season and even that might be a stretch. New head coach David Beaty has his work cut out for him, but at least he is bringing some passion to the rebuilding project in Lawrence. He will need it with just three starters returning on each side of the football field, and his quarterback was injured in spring practice. If Kansas does not beat South Dakota State in week one (not a given by any means), then the Jayhawks will be staring down an 0-12 record this season.

Family: Heatstroke caused death of Maryland’s Jordan McNair

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to the family of Jordan McNair, the Maryland offensive lineman died earlier this offseason as a result of heatstroke.

McNair was hospitalized in late May after collapsing during a strength & conditioning workout.  After being hospitalized in critical condition for a little over two weeks, and after receiving a liver transplant, McNair died June 13.

Following McNair’s death, the lineman’s parents established a foundation in honor of their son.  On that foundation’s website, whose goals in part are to “promote awareness, educate, and advocate for parents and student-athletes about heat-related illnesses at youth, high school, and collegiate levels,” it was written that “Jordan’s untimely death was the result of… heatstroke he suffered during an organized offseason team workout.”

From the Washington Post:

The workout was designed and supervised by the Maryland strength and conditioning staff, and certified athletic trainers were present throughout, according to an account provided by the university. Maryland Coach DJ Durkin was also at the workout, which began around 4:15 p.m. McNair, who was listed as 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, had trouble recovering after completing a series of 110-yard sprints, a standard conditioning test, and received medical attention. McNair soon was transported to the team’s practice facility and later airlifted to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore at approximately 6 p.m., according to the university’s timeline of that day.

In the wake of McNair’s death, the university launched an investigation into the tragedy that will include a thorough evaluation of the football program’s procedures and protocols.  A report on the findings of the external probe is expected to be completed at some point in late September or early October.

“Jordan’s death was a shock to his family, friends, former classmates, and the entire football community near and far,” the foundation’s website stated. “His parents were left with a void and pain that only those who have lost a child could fully understand.

“But in his death, the world learned about the humble young man whose smile communicated more than words ever could. Jordan was a quiet spirit, whose size never went unnoticed in any room, but whose spirit took up the entire room.”

Jake Browning, Jalen Hurts highlight Davey O’Brien Award watch list

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Once the Conference of Defenses, has the SEC morphed into the Conference of Quarterbacks?

According to the folks at the Davey O’Brien Award, that certainly could be the case as the hardware handed out annually to the nation’s top quarterback released its 2018 watch list Tuesday morning, with the SEC accounting for six of the 26 players listed.  Next up are the remaining Power Five conferences, with the Pac-12 leading that group with four, followed by three apiece for the Big Ten and ACC as well as two for the Big 12.  With two each, Conference USA and the MAC pace all Group of Five leagues, with the AAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt all seeing one player on the initial watch list.

Individually, there are a pair of two-time O’Brien Award semifinalists on the roll — Washington’s Jake Browning and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts (whether Hurts gets the opportunity to three-peat as a finalist is another matter entirely).  Additionally, there are six other 2017 semifinalists on the list as well — Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, West Virginia’s Will Grier, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

Of the 26 players on the list, 13 are listed as seniors and 12 as juniors.  The lone sophomore is Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

Below is the complete 2018 Davey O’Brien Award Watch List:

Jake Bentley, South Carolina, (Jr., Opelika, Ala.)
Jake Browning, Washington (Sr., Folsom, Calif.)
Kelly Bryant, Clemson (Sr., Calhoun Falls, S.C.)
Mason Fine, North Texas (Jr., Peggs, Okla.)
Ryan Finley, NC State (Sr., Phoenix, Ariz.)
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State (Sr., Richmond Hill, Ga.)
Andrew Ford, UMass (Sr., Camp Hill, Penn.)
Jake Fromm, Georgia (So., Warner Robins, Ga.)
Will Grier, West Virginia (Sr., Charlotte, N.C.)
Justice Hansen, Arkansas State (Sr., Edmond, Okla.)
Justin Herbert, Oregon (Jr., Eugene, Ore.)
Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin (Jr., West Chester, Penn.)
Jalen Hurts, Alabama (Jr., Houston, Texas)
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo (Jr., Norton Shores, Mich.)
Daniel Jones, Duke (Jr., Charlotte, N.C.)
Kyle Kempt, Iowa State (Sr., Massillon, Ohio)
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State (Jr., Phoenix, Ariz.)
Drew Lock, Missouri (Sr., Lee’s Summit, Mo.)
Trace McSorley, Penn State (Sr., Ashburn, Va.)
McKenzie Milton, UCF (Jr., Kapolei, Hawaii)
Nathan Rourke, Ohio (Jr., Oakville, Ontario)
Brett Rypien, Boise State (Sr., Spokane, Wash.)
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn (Jr., Stephenville, Texas)
Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee (Sr., Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Khalil Tate, Arizona (Jr., Inglewood, Calif.)
Manny Wilkins, Arizona State (Sr., Novato, Calif.)

Kentucky transfer Eli Brown granted immediate eligibility at WKU

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As it turns out, Western Kentucky will be the beneficiary of a Power Five playing sooner than most had expected.

When Eli Brown transferred to WKU in late March, nearly six weeks after leaving Kentucky, it was thought that the redshirt junior linebacker would have to sit out the 2018 season. However, both the Hilltoppers and the player have confirmed that Brown has been granted immediate eligibility, which will allow him to compete in 2018 as well as the 2019 season.

The school didn’t specify on what grounds the waiver was granted, although Brown had left the Wildcats for the Hilltoppers in order to be closer to family.

“Not only is Eli one of the best high school linebackers of the last decade in our area, he is an incredible young man with a powerful story,” a statement from WKU head coach Mike Sanford began. “We’re ecstatic that he will be able to play for us this season. I commend the NCAA for truly putting the student-athlete first in this decision.”

A four-star member of UK’s 2015 recruiting class, Brown was rated as the No. 20 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Kentucky according to 247Sports.com. Brown was the highest-rated player in the Wildcats’ class that year.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Brown played in 12 games in 2016. Because of injuries to others, the 6-2, 215-pound redshirt sophomore started five games this past season and was seemingly in line for significant playing time at the SEC school in 2018 prior to his decision to transfer.

Another player, this one a 2018 signee, leaves Dino Babers’ Syracuse program

Getty Images
1 Comment

For at least the eighth time this offseason, a player has decided to exit Dino Babers‘ football program.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, and citing a Syracuse spokesperson, running back Akeem Dixon has parted ways with the SU team. The only reason given was unspecified personal reasons.

Dixon enrolled at the university in May after signing with the Orange in February as a member of the school’s 2018 recruiting class.

A three-star signee, Dixon was rated as the No. 75 running back in the country coming out of high school in Vero Beach, Fla. Prior to his departure, the 6-0, 235-pound recruit was expected to contribute immediately as a true freshman.

Dixon was one of three running backs the Orange added this offseason, joining fellow 2018 three-star signee Jarveon Howard and Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams. The latter will be forced to sit out the 2018 season due to NCAA bylaws.

In addition to Dixon, defensive end Justin Ellis (HERE), linebacker Troy Henderson, defensive tackle Kayton Samuels (HERE) and four defensive backsJuwan Dowels, Daivon Ellison, Cordell Hudson and Rodney Williams — have all left the Orange in the last few months.