Roundtable: Big 12 surprises

Which Big 12 team will be the league's biggest surprise
this season? Which will be its biggest disappointment?
Chris Level: I don't know why, but the media will likely repeat
the same mistake they have made for years and years and shortchange
Bill Snyder's Kansas State team. Surely they won't be as good or win as many
close games as they did the season before? That's exactly what I said last
summer. Oops. The Wildcats will likely be picked to finish in the bottom half of
the Big 12 and, based on that, I think they are the team most likely to surprise
this year in the league. The funny thing is that this shouldn't be a surprise to
Most disappointing? You would have to pick either Texas, TCU or one of the
Oklahoma schools based on where everyone will likely pick them. I don't feel
good about this answer like I did with Kansas State but I'm going with Oklahoma
State. At some point the turnover in coaches, specifically coordinators has to
catch up to Mike Gundy's Cowboys, doesn't it? That's my pick anyway.
Aaron Dickens: I
pretty much nailed this question last year. Let's see if I can duplicate the
feat for 2013.
High external expectations have to be in place in order for a team to be a
disappointment, so that rules out all but a few Big 12 teams heading into the
2013 football season -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.
Out of that foursome, the Sooners are the only team that will take the field
with a first-year starter this fall. I'm not as high on David Ash or
Casey Pachall as most, and
Clint Chelf doesn't have more than half of a season of
experience, but OU's Blake Bell is a total unknown outside of the Belldozer
Bell won't have much time to ease into the starting role, either. He'll open Big
12 play against West Virginia in his second start and, three weeks later, will
face Notre Dame in South Bend. To top it all off, only two of Oklahoma's final
seven games are in Norman. Gulp.
I'm tempted to pick West Virginia as my Big 12 team to surprise, but the
Mountaineers' schedule is brutal -- no back-to-back home dates and a six-game
stretch in conference play with four road games.
Instead, I'll reluctantly go with Kansas State. The Wildcats will likely be
picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference (again) in the preseason
and Bill Snyder has coached worse teams than this to top-half conference
finishes, so why should we expect anything different this year? I'm done betting
against him.
Adam Rosen: With the departure of 2012 Heisman finalist Collin
Klein, along with numerous defensive standouts, Kansas State is expected to
regress from last season's Big 12 championship in a major way.
The return of skill players John Hubert, Tyler Lockett, Tramaine Thompson and
all five starters on the offensive line should help Daniel Sams or Jake Waters
transition into the vacant quarterback position with ease. Both guys have the
potential to enhance the offense's productivity this season.
The defense returns very few starters, and must rely on JUCO transfers, such as
Dakorey Johnson, Devon Nash and Travis Green, to help
fill the void. They may not dominate, but it's almost certain they'll be
formidable under Bill Snyder.
Kansas State has been tabbed in the bottom four next season, but it wouldn't be
shocking to see them surprise again with a top three finish.
Oklahoma State's ability to take the next step, and win games outside of
Stillwater (Oklahoma), similar to the Weeden-to-Blackmon led squads that
combined to go 10-1 on the road in 2010 and 2011, will decide if they're
challenging for the conference title or merely just another competitive Big 12
football team.
Last season, the Cowboys went 1-4 on the road with their only win a six point
squeaker against the lowly Jayhawks. The defense gave up 21 points and 166 total
yards more per game on the road compared to home, and the Pokes' quarterback
brigade combined for their five worst ratings on the road last season.
Oklahoma State was also -10 in the turnover battle in those five road games. The
previous squads posted fortuitous turnover margins of +1 (2010) and +11 (2011)
on the road in their conference title runs.
Eight conference wins has been the mark for the Big 12 champion since the
conference went to ten teams, and seven conference wins could easily be the mark
in what is expected to be a down year for the conference in 2013.
Oklahoma State could finish in the top half of the conference, but they won't
have enough wins to be a title contender like the media and oddsmakers are
Zach DiSchiano: They thought Baylor was going to fall off when
Robert Griffin went to the NFL. Then Nick Florence shocked the world with a
stellar season, leading the BU offense to 44.5 points per game -- good for
fourth in the nation. Now they're saying Baylor is going to fall off without
Florence. I don't think so. Maybe Baylor figured out how to properly prepare
quarterbacks to be successful, or maybe it's just the team's style of play that
inflates quarterback's numbers, but either way, junior Bryce Petty is poised to
have a great year. With the help of running backs Lache Seastrunk and
Glasco Martin, the Bears offense should be as prolific as ever.
Baylor has a cupcake nonconference schedule, and its first two Big 12 opponents
-- West Virginia and Kansas State -- are likely to have down years after the
departure of their respective Heisman candidates. After that, the Bears face
Iowa State at home and Kansas on the road, which should be another two wins.
Realistically, the Bears have a legitimate shot at starting the season 7-0
before taking on Oklahoma at home.
Defensively, the Bears are starting eight seniors, who made strides of
improvement during the last few games of the 2012 season. After giving up points
in bunches for the majority of the season, the Bears moved into the top three in
total defense in the Big 12. In their bowl game against UCLA, the Bears limited
star running back Jonathan Franklin, a 1,700-yard rusher, to just 34 yards on 14
Baylor ended the season on a four-game winning streak, something that should
continue through the first seven games of the upcoming season. The Bears
finished fifth in the Big 12 last season, and after all the defensive
improvements and consistency of their high-octane offense, I expect them to move
into the top three in 2013.
As for the league's biggest disappointment, there's no one in the game better at
picking up two yards and a touchdown than Oklahoma's Blake Bell. But now that he
has taken the reigns from Landry Jones, he is going to have to learn to do a lot
more than just fall forward. The 6-foot-6 quarterback is heading into his junior
season without ever throwing a touchdown pass, which doesn't bode well for
Sooner fans.
The schedule for Bell and the Sooners is no free ride to 10 wins this year --
the team has road games against the conference's top teams from 2012, including
Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Notre Dame will look to take down
Oklahoma at home after beating the Sooners on the road last season.
Along with Kenny Stills and star offensive tackle Lane Johnson, Oklahoma lost
key players on the defensive line and secondary. The team depth chart is looking
like it will start two true freshmen at both safety positions, which is a
dangerous move in the pass-heavy Big 12. On the offensive side of the ball, the
Sooners do return running back Damien Williams, whom they will have to rely
heavily upon to stay competitive in the conference. However, as Kansas clearly
demonstrated last season, winning in the Big 12 requires an elite passing game,
not rushing. That's why the success of the Sooners next season is completely
contingent upon the play of Blake Bell, and also why they are likely to go 7-5,
finish in the middle of the conference and limp into an underwhelming bowl game.