College Sports

July 19, 2014

No shortage of potential honorees, disappointments in Big 12 football race

Joeckel will shine, Sooners will rule and Holgorson could be coaching to save his job.

As the clock ticks down to Monday’s start of Big 12 football media days in Dallas, league officials already have released knee-jerk media selections for preseason honors.

The early returns favor Oklahoma to win the league, with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty as the top offensive player and TCU defensive end Devonte Fields as the best defender. It’s hard to quibble with those selections.

But here are some other fearless forecasts to monitor as the season unfolds. Just be forewarned that some could look foolish by December:

Most Hyped Newcomer: Texas coach Charlie Strong. The man who replaced Mack Brown made a 12-city tour at the close of spring drills, preaching the gospel of improved mental and physical toughness. Whether those words translate to an immediate turnaround will be known by midseason, with five of the Longhorns’ first six games against bowl teams that won at least eight games last season (North Texas, Brigham Young, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma).

Most Impactful Newcomer: TCU quarterback Matt Joeckel. The transfer from Texas A&M should improve the Horned Frogs’ offense in two spots. A fifth-year senior, he’ll make better decisions and throws than fans saw from quarterbacks during last year’s 4-8 season. And his presence will allow Trevone Boykin to blossom at receiver. Adding Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate, puts TCU back in the bowl mix this season.

Hottest Hot Seat: West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. Back-to-back disappointing seasons as a Big 12 member, with a combined record of 11-14, have soured Mountaineers fans who celebrated Holgo’s 10-3 debut season in 2011. That mark came in the less-competitive Big East, and Holgorsen needs to show he can keep the team relevant in the Big 12, where the Mountaineers are 6-14 in their past 20 games.

Coldest Cold Streak: Kansas. Jayhawks fans understood coach Charlie Weis inherited a mess when he took the job heading into the 2012 season. KU’s lone conference win under Weis came in last year’s 31-19 upset of West Virginia. Despite showing incremental progress on the field, the scoreboard says KU is 1-29 in its past 30 football games against Big 12 opponents.

Softest Schedule: Baylor. The defending champs face a nonconference slate of SMU, Buffalo and Northwestern (La.) State, an FCS school. If the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs with an 11-1 record that includes a loss in league play (possible), the dubious quality of those nonconference wins could keep Baylor out of the College Football Playoff’s inaugural four-team bracket.

Toughest Schedule: Texas. The Longhorns will be tested in every nonconference game, with matchups against North Texas (9-4), BYU (8-5) and UCLA (10-3).

Best Offense: Baylor. Coach Art Briles’ point-per-minute juggernaut returns quarterback Bryce Petty, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and plenty of surrounding difference-makers.

Best Defense: Oklahoma. The Sooners may have fewer individual headliners than TCU, the other candidate for this honor, but OU’s depth is better across the board.

Best Versatility: Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams. The team’s leading rusher the past two seasons moved to linebacker in spring drills and projects to start. He also envisions playing some at RB.

Best Statement Opportunity: Kansas State, a Big 12 contender that returns its starting QB (Jake Waters) and gets a national TV game against Auburn, the reigning SEC champ, on Sept. 18 in Manhattan, Kan. K-State plays Stephen F. Austin (Aug. 30) and Iowa State (Sept. 6) before having 12 days to prepare for the Tigers.

Worst Statement Opportunity: Iowa State, a 3-9 team last season, opens against North Dakota State on Aug. 30. The Bison have won the past three FCS national championships with a combined mark of 43-2. The Cyclones, who fell to an FCS school in last year’s opener (Northern Iowa), could make it two in a row this season.

Speediest Newcomer: Oklahoma State receiver Tyreek Hill. A sprinter on the Cowboys’ track team, the JC transfer finished fifth in the 200-meter dash at the NCAA indoor meet (20.57 seconds) in March. OSU coaches expect him to leave a lot of opponents in the rearview mirror as a receiver/kick returner this fall.

Most Creative Tag Team: TCU co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham (Houston) and Sonny Cumbie (Texas Tech) were brought in from other schools to install the Horned Frogs’ version of an up-tempo spread offense. Both have solid track records.

Least Desirable Tag Team: Iowa State finished last among Big 12 teams in sacks (15) and sacks allowed (38) last season. The Cyclones will be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s 3-9 mark if they repeat those numbers.

Best Playoff Candidate: Oklahoma. The defense is stacked and the Sooners play Baylor, the defending Big 12 champion, in Norman, Okla. Baylor is winless in games at OU in its football history.

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