Big 12 Insider: Oklahoma, Baylor will lead Big 12 charge to earn playoff berth

08/27/2014 3:45 PM

11/12/2014 8:17 PM

Spoiler alert: The next four paragraphs could ruin your enjoyment of the 2014 college football season if you believe in the power of the Predictalator, the computer program that is the backbone of projections produced by PredictionMachine.com.

Developed by statistician Paul Bessire, the Predictalator runs each college football team’s schedule 50,000 times to garner the most likely outcome based on matchup and venue. With this being the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff era, Bessire seeded and completed his own four-team bracket, complete with playoff scores and — if he’s right — one heck of a championship game on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

For Big 12 football fans, the news is grim: No playoff participant in the CFP’s debut season because Baylor and Oklahoma each suffer at least two losses. With each team’s average number of wins in parentheses, the Bears (9.9) and Sooners (9.6) finish their seasons in the Cotton and Fiesta bowls. The Big 12 produces seven bowl teams, with Texas Tech (7.5), Kansas State (7.5), Texas (7.2), TCU (7.1) and Oklahoma State (6.6) joining the postseason mix.

But all will be spectators during a four-team playoff that culminates with Florida State knocking off Oregon 41-34 in JerryWorld.

Frankly, I concur with Bessire’s matchup for the title tilt in Arlington and hope it will be every bit as entertaining as the final score suggests. I also believe he is spot-on in regard to projected victory totals for Texas A&M (7.3), SMU (3.9), North Texas (6.0), Houston (8.9), Rice (6.0), UTSA (8.3) and UTEP (3.0).

As for the Big 12 projections, I’ve been peeking into my own crystal football and have uncovered different results. Among them:

Playoff participant: Oklahoma. The Sooners finish 11-1 but defeat Baylor head-to-head Nov. 8, sealing the deal.

Double-digit winners: Baylor joins OU on this list. But the Bears must beat the Sooners to be a playoff team. The Baylor football program is 0-11 in Norman, Okla.

Most essential player: Texas QB David Ash. That does not mean he’s the league’s best player. But no Big 12 team would fall further faster if one player was removed from its lineup.

Most valuable player: Baylor QB Bryce Petty. But you already knew that, based on last year’s sensational debut season (4,200 passing yards, 32 TD passes, 14 rushing TDs, 3 INTs).

Most valuable assistant coach: Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners’ “D” should be the school’s best in about a decade this season.

Biggest surprise: Texas Tech. Prognosticators who pick the Red Raiders to finish seventh or lower in the Big 12 standings (common theme) are missing the boat. As long as QB Davis Webb stays healthy, coach Kliff Kingsbury’s crew will exceed those expectations.

Biggest rebound: TCU will be back in the bowl picture after last year’s 4-8 finish. Look for at least six wins behind a revamped offense.

Most impactful newcomer (attitude): Texas coach Charlie Strong has changed the country-club culture in Austin.

Least impactful newcomer (record): Strong will be hard-pressed to top last year’s 8-5 finish under predecessor Mack Brown based on inherited talent and a tough nonconference schedule.

Best breakout season for first-year starter: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman (6-foot-9, 280 pounds) should post double-digit sacks in his first season in the Bears’ lineup.

Best breakout season for transfer: Oklahoma State receiver/kick returner Tyreek Hill, a JC transfer, is the league’s fastest player (he proved that in track season). He should be a huge weapon for an offense in need of playmakers.

Best breakout season for freshman: Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine (6-foot, 213 pounds) should get plenty of chances to shine in a backfield short of proven returnees.

Best nonconference statement opportunity: No. 20 Kansas State meets No. 6 Auburn on Thursday, Sept. 18, in Manhattan, Kan. Coach Bill Snyder will have 12 days to get the Wildcats prepared for a chance to stun the Tigers on national television.

Worst nonconference statement opportunity: Unranked Oklahoma State, with lots of graduation losses from last season, opens Saturday against top-ranked Florida State in Arlington. The loaded, veteran Seminoles have been pointing toward this game for months as a chance to jump-start their run to a second consecutive national championship.

Best hidden bowl opportunity: If Army is not bowl eligible this season (likely), the Black Knights’ spot in the Jan. 2 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl would revert to a Big 12 team.

Best realistic bowl matchup: Because of its Big 12-SEC ties, the Dec. 29 Texas Bowl in Houston could match Texas-Texas A&M or Texas Tech-Texas A&M. The Aggies have not played either of their former Big 12 rivals since moving to the SEC for the 2012 season.

Spotlight

Spencer Drango, Baylor LT

It would be an understatement to declare Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango upbeat about his return from career-threatening back surgery in November.

 When he was cleared by doctors to return for fall drills, Drango immediately posted the news on his Twitter feed. Before school officials could craft an official announcement, the information was shared by a Waco radio station. Drango and Baylor trainer Mike Sims heard the report as they returned to campus from the office of Dr. Andrew Dossett, who also repaired the back of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

 “He kind of looked at me and I went, ‘Yeah,’ ” Drango said of his exchange with Sims. “I was happy about it. The information was coming out soon enough … I think I’ve come out better from it. I came out stronger than when I went in.”

 A fourth-year junior who protects the blind side of quarterback Bryce Petty, Drango (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) already was considered one of the nation’s top offensive linemen before rupturing a disk in his lower back in last year’s 63-34 victory over Texas Tech.

 He had surgery on Nov. 19 and missed the Bears’ final four games. In those contests, Baylor finished 2-2. The Bears were 9-0 with Drango on the field, a statistic that Petty does not consider a coincidence.

 “Spencer is an unbelievable talent. Your blind-side guy is your main guy,” Petty said. “I can tell the difference with him back there, believe me.”

 Drango said he’s confident the repair will last because of how he feels and because of Dossett’s track record.

 “He’s done lots of Cowboys’ surgeries. He did Romo’s. He’s done several for bull riders,” Drango said. “If a bull rider can go back out and ride again after surgery, I think I can play football.”

Storylines

Sooners seek ground game: Oklahoma will turn to several fresh faces to replace three departed RBs who combined for 1,857 yards and 13 TDs last season (Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch). The list includes sophomore Keith Ford and freshman Samaje Perine.

Back on campus: Baylor football returns to campus for the first time since the 1935 season when the Bears meet SMU in Sunday’s opener at McLane Stadium, a $260 million facility on the banks of the Brazos River.

Strong statement coming: First-year Texas coach Charlie Strong makes his debut as the successor to Mack Brown in Saturday’s matchup against North Texas. Strong’s first off-season has been marked by multiple player dismissals and suspensions, with three projected starters ruled out Saturday for unspecified violations of team rules (WR/RB Daje Johnson, OT Desmond Harrison, S Josh Turner).

Burch’s picks

No. 1 Florida State 48, Oklahoma State 20 (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Defending national champs roll the graduation-depleted Cowboys in decisive fashion at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

TCU 42, Samford 17 (6 p.m. Saturday, FSSW): Horned Frogs build some early confidence by pounding an FCS opponent.

Texas 28, North Texas 24 (7 p.m. Saturday, Longhorn Network): Longhorns survive a near-upset after the Mean Green makes them sweat for four quarters.

Texas Tech 52, Central Arkansas 28 (6 p.m. Saturday, FSSW Plus): QB Davis Webb tosses enough TD passes to mask the growing pains of a rebuilt defense.

No. 4 Oklahoma 48, Louisiana Tech 17 (6 p.m. Saturday, Fox PPV): Sooners begin their playoff push with a lopsided victory marked by strong efforts on both sides of the ball.

No. 2 Alabama 42, West Virginia 16 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): The Crimson Tide’s new QBs will be pleased to see the Mountaineers’ porous defense in Atlanta.

No. 20 Kansas State 35, Stephen F. Austin 17 (6 p.m. Saturday): Unlike last year, the Wildcats show up focused and take down their FCS opponent on opening weekend.

North Dakota State 27, Iowa State 23 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): FCS national champs notch a second consecutive season-opening victory over a Big 12 opponent.

No. 10 Baylor 59, SMU 21 (6:30 p.m. Sunday, FS1): Bears christen their new home in style with a prolific offensive display.

Last season: 58-17

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