2014 NCAA Football Preview: Big 12 Conference

August 22, 2014

The 2014-2015 college football season will be underway in less than a week.

Pinch yourself, it’s real life.

Let’s take a look at the Big 12 Conference preview


There is a lot of talent spread throughout the Big 12 this season, which should make for entertaining television and may even result in a playoff bid for one of its teams. But at the same time, the ability for several teams to rise up and beat the favorites means that this could be a league that cannibalizes itself. Oklahoma may be the bully this season, but teams like Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas and even Texas Tech have the personnel that combined with the right amount of good luck and strong play can compete for the Big 12 crown.

The Big 12 has long been characterized as a league known for strong offensive teams that leave something to be desired on the defensive end. For the most part, this will continue to be the case in 2014 as the strongest teams are also those with the most potent offenses. But we could see a change in the guard given the right circumstances. With the hiring of Charlie Strong at Texas, Gary Patterson finally getting some returning defensive pieces at TCU and Oklahoma returning the majority of its defense that led the conference in yards allowed per game in 2013, defense could finally win championships in Big 12 country.

Granted, a solid offense will still be the key to success in the Big 12. But with the conference having as good a shot as any Power Five conference to place a team in the college football playoff on an annual basis, the line of thinking may change among Big 12 coaches. Only once in a blue moon does a great offense beat the great defenses that the SEC routinely churns out. Will Big 12 coaches simply be satisfied with getting their team to the playoff, or will the goal be to actually win it? That question is rhetorical, because we all know the answer.

For fans that have loved watching the Big 12 because of the combined 80 point totals that characterize many of the league’s games, things won’t change overnight. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the Big 12 will ever change completely. This is a pass-happy league that will be won most years by a team with a potent offense. But change is coming. Defense will become more important as the reality of the college football playoff becomes apparent. Offense wins the Big 12, but offense and good defense wins national championships.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a Playoff Bid


Despite wholesale changes on defense thanks to graduated players, Baylor will still be in playoff contention because of its offense. Heisman contender Bryce Petty leads a Bears team that will once again rely heavily on the passing game to score points. At his expense is All-Big 12 performer Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman to catch passes, both of whom are experienced in the system. Replacing running back Lache Seastrunk will not be difficult either with a trio of talented rushers to fill the void. In short, the Bears should be just as dangerous on offense as they were in 2013.

The difference between a good season and a great one for Baylor will rest on the shoulders on the defense. Only four starters return and that is much more important than most fans would think. The Bears were actually very solid defensively last season, ranking in the top half of the Big 12 in all major statistical categories. The offense will put the team in position to win almost every game, but in the biggest ones the defense will have to step up. Baylor won’t beat Oklahoma and may have trouble with at least a couple of other Big 12 opponents if the defense experiences much of a drop off from last season.


The Sooners may very well be benefiting greatly from an upset victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season, which is only marginally indicative of how good the 2014 team could be. But Bob Stoops really does have enough talent in Norman to be competitive on the national stage, even if Oklahoma is being hyped a bit too much right now. A lot will depend on whether quarterback Trevor Knight can be a consistent leader at quarterback or if the Sooners will have some of the same issues at signal-caller that they did in 2013. During one game last year, the team tried three different guys at quarterback. If this team wants a spot in the playoff, there is only room for one productive player at the position.

The defense gives this team a chance to remain in games that Knight may not be his best, which should be a great relief to Coach Stoops. Nine starters return to the defense and this unit will be a handful for any team up front. Good luck running the ball on Oklahoma, because the defensive line and linebackers are as good as any in the country. The annual Red River Shootout will be a tough game, but other than that the Sooners will play in front of a home crowd for all its most difficult matchups. The talent on the field coupled with a favorable schedule has this season shaping up to be a memorable one for Oklahoma.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


I still think that Mack Brown got a raw deal at Texas, but the school made a good decision by hiring Charlie Strong. The man has a no nonsense policy that should thrust the Longhorns back into the national picture quickly considering the number of highly rated recruits that the team still gets. While 2014 may not be the year that Texas reintroduces itself as one of college football’s elite programs, we could see several signs this season that will let us know it’s just a matter of time.

Quarterback play will continue to be an issue for the Longhorns, but most other areas on both offense and defense the team has talent that stacks up well against the rest of the Big 12. Expect to see an improvement statistically on the defensive end under Strong and a continued emphasis on the power run game. Texas may be at least a year away from winning the Big 12 title, but you can count on the Longhorns one or more of their top opponents this season (Baylor, Oklahoma, UCLA). This is a darkhorse candidate to steal the Big 12 crown this season.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Tyler Lockett (Sr.), Kansas State wide receiver

At 5’11”, 175 pounds, Tyler Lockett isn’t the biggest receiver around and he certainly isn’t going to catch your eye because of any insane athletic talent. But he is one of the most dangerous wideouts in the Big 12 because of his speed and intelligence along with his excellent route running ability. Anyone who had a chance to watch Lockett tear up the Michigan defense in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl last year knows that he simply finds any way possible to make himself an open target. Since senior quarterback Jake Waters has had plenty of time to gel with Lockett, expect the duo to connect just as much in 2014 as they did last season.

In addition to his ability to do damage on offense, he is also a tremendous kick returner. His 26.5 yards per kickoff average was third best in the Big 12 last season. Coupled with his league leading 105.2 yards per game receiving, no one in the Big 12 gained more all-purpose yards last season than Lockett and second place wasn’t even close. This guy is a future NFL receiver and it would not be a bad idea at all to familiarize yourself with his name before next year’s draft.

Out-Of-Conference Game to Watch

UCLA vs. Texas (September 13th)

While not a true home game, this one will be played at Cowboys Stadium so expect a mostly Longhorn crowd to help Texas out. The Bruins are receiving some attention as playoff contenders thanks mainly to quarterback Brett Hundley, but this game will be a perfect opportunity to find out just how good Hundley will be against a strong defensive front. Expect Charlie Strong to put pressure on Hundley and try to prevent the dual-threat quarterback from breaking away with his legs for a big gain. At this point in the season it is very possible that Texas will still be making baby steps with the passing game, so the defense will have to play well for the Longhorns to have a chance at upsetting the Bruins.

The weakest part of the UCLA defense last season was the run defensive line, so Texas could have success running the ball a lot in this one. But even if things work on the ground in the first half, Texas will need to keep the Bruins on their toes. The linebackers are a strong point for UCLA and eventually the defensive backs will come up to stop the run if David Ash doesn’t prove that he can burn the defense with his arm. Overall, quarterback play and defensive toughness will be the key to victory for both teams in this one.

In-Conference Game to Watch

Baylor vs. Texas (October 4th)

The Longhorns start a difficult October schedule with a home game against Baylor, and this matchup will probably decide which team has the best shot at challenging Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. Texas plays Oklahoma a week later and Baylor faces the Sooners about a month after this one, so Bob Stoops and his coaching staff will definitely keep a close eye on this game. Depending on how Texas fares against UCLA, Baylor will have a decent idea of whether it can expect to simply outscore the Longhorns or if a strong defensive effort will be needed as well. My guess is that the latter will be the case.

Based on the schedule Baylor faces before this game, it is realistic that Bryce Petty could be the leader in the early Heisman race. Expect this game to be the first real test for Petty and a chance to put some distance between himself and the other contenders. If there is one area where Texas has struggled mightily over the past few seasons, it is in the defensive secondary. There was significant improvement last year, though, and if that trend continues under Coach Strong then the Longhorns have a decent shot at beating the Bears.

Conference Predictions

1. Oklahoma (11-1, [8-0])

2. Kansas State (9-3, [7-2])

3. Texas (8-4, [6-3])

4. Baylor (9-3, [6-3])

5. TCU (8-4, [5-4])

6. Texas Tech (7-5, [4-5])

7. Oklahoma State (6-6, [4-5])

8. Iowa State (5-7, [3-6])

9. West Virginia (3-9, [2-7])

10. Kansas (1-11, [0-9])

Questions from the Readers

Q. Can Oklahoma really be considered a top tier team with a consistent (not elite) QB (T. Knight) and now no solid running option (Submitted by @OtterArfArf)

A. A top tier Big 12 team, yes. A top tier team nationally? No. Trevor Knight needs to be consistent as a passer in order for the offense to be good enough to make the playoff. We saw last season just how potent Oklahoma’s offense can be when Knight is on (348 passing yards, 72 percent completion rate, 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio in a 45-31 win over Alabama) and just how dismal it can be when he isn’t (119 yards passing, 50 percent completion rate, 1-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio in a 16-7 win over West Virginia). He is the engine of the offense and in any game he isn’t playing well the Sooners have a chance of losing.

Also, it should be noted that the running game could emerge if the young backfield develops. However, it will only go so far in improving Oklahoma’s chances at making the playoff. The key for Oklahoma is Trevor Knight playing well and a strong defensive presence.

– K. Becks

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