Just to be up front, I’m not totally buying it.
But, being a team guy, I can’t divorce myself from the rest of the American-Statesman staff that collectively feels the Big 12 is done. Maybe not Paula Deen-done. But close to being fried.
The college football season is still 56 days away, but they — sorry, we — believe the Big 12 will not be much of a factor when it comes to determining this year’s BCS national championship race. You might not find a Big 12 team in our preseason top 10.
It’s understandable for a lot of reasons, history not among them.
At quarterback — which is to football teams as the Kardashians are to reality TV — eight of the Big 12’s 10 starters who played the bulk of last season are BMOC — Bygone Men on Campus.
That includes Heisman contenders Collin Klein and Geno Smith, but also Baylor’s Nick Florence, who led the league in passing. Only Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma State’s two-headed monster of Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh are back.
Technically, so is TCU’s Casey Pachall, who was the most efficient passer in the nation after four games when he left the team for drug treatment. But so is his teammate, the passing-challenged Trevone Boykin, who did start nine games and beat the Longhorns in Austin on Thanksgiving.
Texas Tech is breaking in a new head coach. Iowa State can beat Iowa and is good for one colossal upset a year, but can’t get over the hump overall. Kansas is, well, Kansas.
New/old Red Raider Kliff Kingsbury is the league’s only new head coach. But Oklahoma had a big staff shakeup as did Oklahoma State, which fired its defensive chief and had to replace its offensive boss, who was hired away. Texas lost its play-calling offensive coordinator (Bryan Harsin) to a head coaching job, and some Longhorns fans wished they’d also lost the defensive coordinator, in the public’s eye the savant-turned-simpleton Manny Diaz.
So there’s all kinds of change in the air. Mystery is good.
Now I’m sure some of you are asking who in the name of Bob Stoops would dare put all 10 of the Big 12 teams into the also-ran bin before we even take the college football schedule off the shelf.
Fair question. The Big 12 hasn’t been SEC-good in the BCS. But who else has? However, the Big 12 has represented just fine. Remember, Texas was the last team to hold the crystal trophy before the SEC went all LeBron on the rest of the nation.
History lessons aside, discount the Big 12 at your own peril.
Consider that the Big 12 (both old and new) has been represented by 11 teams in BCS games. So out of 14 teams over the life of the conference, 11 have played in BCS bowls, which is impressive. Only Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State have not. Even Kansas has played in — and won — an Orange Bowl. TCU’s won a Rose Bowl. West Virginia hung 70 on Clemson in the Orange not long ago. BCS teams, past and current, have won five Fiesta bowls, four Roses, three Oranges and one Sugar from 2000 on.
To be truthful, I had TCU in my top 10, voting the Frogs eighth. Kevin Lyttle voted the Cowboys ninth, and John Maher pegged the Longhorns 10th. So a few of us kind of share the thoughts of some others like Phil Steele, who has Texas fourth nationally, and the Sporting News, which lists Oklahoma State sixth.
The Longhorns, 9-4 last season, return 19 starters.
The Sooners have back almost their entire offensive line and great backs to run behind it. You don’t have to sell us on fullback Trey Millard.
Baylor has serious momentum. It won its last four games of last season, including the Holiday Bowl, to finish as one of the hottest teams in America. And Art Briles has the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Or so Lache Seastrunk tells us.
The Big 12 has some of the best coaches in America. Stoops has to be on any list of the top 10 coaches in college football. Bill Snyder belongs, too. I’d make a case for Mack Brown, but someone might bring up Texas’ last three years, and we don’t want that. Gary Patterson could crack the top 10 as well, and Briles is on the fast track.
Sure, plenty of quarterbacks have left the building. But Ash had that great fourth quarter in the Alamo Bowl. Oklahoma State has so many quality quarterbacks crowded into its backfield, Wes Lunt took his ball and went home, or at least to Illinois. Blake Bell might bulldoze the Big 12 into the last decade.
Don’t sleep on Bryce Petty, even if Baylor’s junior quarterback and one-time Tennessee Volunteer hasn’t taken a meaningful snap since his senior year in high school. Pachall hasn’t forgotten how to play. Sam Richardson broke in and threw seven touchdowns without a pick in his first two starts for Iowa State last fall.
You want skill positions? Seastrunk, as we said, has the Heisman wrapped up. Johnathan Gray is poised for a breakout year in Austin. When have you known the Cowboys not to have a super running back, and Jeremy Smith certainly qualifies. Waymon James can flat out run at TCU. So can Damien Williams and Brennan Clay at OU.
Wide receivers? Tevin Reese and Levi Norwood don’t have to take a backseat to anyone. Tracy Moore’s gonna take off in Stillwater. Jaxon Shipley would sooner have an IRS audit than drop a pass.
Mack Brown’s out to reprove himself. Stoops couldn’t be more mad if someone had burglarized his home. Oh, sorry. Snyder invented coaching.
And you want excitement? Check out Mr. Chin Stubble himself, Kliff Kingsbury, riding herd at Tech.
So there you have it. Maybe we’re right, and football will just be a prelude to the Jayhawks’ basketball fortunes.
If so, you read it here in our annual American-Statesman countdown first. If not, blame it on Dan Beebe.