Big Twelve- Preseason Overview

Ash and company gave a preview of their offense during Texas' spring game.

Ash and company gave a preview of their offense during Texas’ spring game.

There’s no question that the Big 12 has moved on from its glory days. After losing some of its prominent members in the past few years due to conference restructuring, few teams can truly call themselves “powerhouses”, or even favorites for this upcoming season. Yet that doesn’t necessarily signify a decline in quality. Entering the 2013 campaign, the Big 12 teams lie on more even grounds, with schools neither beginning with a leg up nor playing catch-up. It’s a free-for-all, whether the college football world likes it or not–the conference’s appeal has significantly faded with no major attraction of a team in the BCS mix. But with evenness in control comes plenty more competition. Shaky defenses could be shamefully exposed, unsettled offensive issues could make quarterbacks and their coaches out to be inept, and whether their BCS participant is worthy or not, the Big 12 will nevertheless prove intriguing.

Predictions:

1) Texas

It’s as simple as that the Longhorns will go as David Ash goes. Now a junior, Ash’s path to firmly securing the starting quarterback job has been arduous and and filled with scrutiny. As a freshman, he struggled mightily. And although Texas reached the 9-win mark last year for the first time since 2009, Ash endured a rib injury and posted hideous showings in games against Oklahoma, TCU, and Kansas, which made backup Case McCoy the more favorable option at times. Thankfully for Ash, though, the quarterback dilemma seems resolved for now–with a strong performance in spring, Ash has asserted hismelf as a confident leader of his football team.

The change in offensive style for the Longhorns should benefit Ash’s development and production this season as well. New offensive coordinator Major Applewhite implements a new up-tempo offense–proven effective in the Alamo Bowl last season–and better suits his starting quarterback’s tendencies. The reformed passing attack will also receive significant help from the running back tandem of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, who seek to continue their upward trend of growth.

The defensive unit, though constantly ripped apart by opponents in the past years, is aided by their experienced. Eight starters return from last year, and while the team waits on a few key players to heal from injuries, the defense as a whole can only improve.

Seastrunk is one of the best at his position.

Seastrunk is one of the best at his position.

2) Baylor

Apparently for the Bears, losing important quarterbacks is not as detrimental as for other teams. When Robert Griffin III left for the NFL draft, Nick Florence took over and sustained the prolific offense last year. Now, with junior Bryce Petty at the helm, a successful offense transition seems more than possible–and you can thank the system head coach Art Briles utilizes for that. As long as the quarterback that Briles plugs in to the starting job can be efficient and consistent, the offense will not lose a beat.

The acclimation process for Petty will take some time, but the myriad of options that will surround him should account for early-season difficulties. The rushing attack features an enticing, complementary duo in All-American speedster Lache Seastrunk and power-runner Glasco Martin, which will be given plenty of room to run by an offensive line that includes another All-American. The receiver corps is fairly talented as well, led by Tevin Reese.

The deciding factor in how Baylor’s Big 12 season will play out rests on their defense. Though notoriously regarded as the perennial weak point for the Bears–and a huge contributor to the offensive shootouts they play in–8 starters from the year before return for the 13′ campaign. This experience, along with a semblance of depth and a few alterations made by Briles, should produce a more sturdier defense and give the offense some support as well.

3) Oklahoma

The Sooners made a bold, but shrewd, decision in naming Trevor Knight the starting quarterback over the experienced Blake Bell, giving the team more offensive flexibility. Knight is a more proven passer than Bell, while showing more mobility that could coincide well with a top-tier rushing attack. Damien Williams heads this backfield full of options, and will need to become very reliable in this upcoming season–the passing game can’t be counted on too much, as there’s still uncertainty regarding the receiver position.

For the defense, Bob Stoops has tinkered with his formations in an effort to improve upon last year. Though the Sooners will need to overcome the departures of key players, the changes enforced by the coaching staff should result in a more consistent defense.

4) Oklahoma State

After a quarterback controversy that extended into the regular season, the Cowboys have their signal-caller in Clint Chelf. The senior looks to lead what should be another proficient OSU offense, as he has several capable receivers at his disposal. The offense will once again heavily revolve around the passing game, as without Joseph Randle (who bypassed his senior year for the NFL draft), the running back situation is unstable.

The Cowboys returned to their lowly levels on defense last year, after leading the nation in takeaways in previous seasons. But with new changes in coaching staff, the defense appears equipped to return to its efficiency. One thing to keep in mind with respect to these new coordinators–which appear in the offense as well–is that revamping the coaching staff does not always create new, positive energy.

5) TCU

If quarterback Casey Pachall–an established winner in college football–can put his drug issues and suspensions behind him, the Horned Frogs can immediately count themselves in for the Big 12 race. After leading TCU to four straight wins to begin the 13′ season, Pachall entered substance abuse rehab–leaving his team without their starting quarterback, going 3-6 in the remaining games. But Pachall says he’s been humbled by the experience, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue his efficient play as a senior. The return of running back Waymon James from injury will aid Pachall and the offense as well.

The defense is most likely the best in the Big 12, and one of the top in the country. Nearly every starter from last year returns, and with All-American talent, the defense forms the case for TCU as a Top 25 team.

Key mathcups:

  • Texas vs. Oklahoma, October 12th
  • Oklahoma at Baylor, November 7th
  • Oklahoma State at Texas, November 16th
  • Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, December 7th
  • Texas at Baylor, December 7th
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