SQ Big 12 Football Preview
The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the ACC, and today we will take a look at the Big 12.
What Happened in 2014:
Conference Co-Champions: Baylor 11-2 (8-1) and TCU 12-1 (8-1)
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson's quick turnaround effort was nothing short of spectacular and the best of last season. After going 4-8 and missing a bowl in 2013, Patterson turned TCU into a national title contender in 2014. Switching to a spread offense made this unit almost unstoppable. The only loss the Horned Frogs endured was to the team it shared the Big 12 title with, Baylor. Unfortunately, TCU was spurned by the selection committee and not chosen as one of the four teams to play in the first ever College Football Playoff.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
Boykin was the leader of an offense that finished the season second in scoring (46.5 ppg), seventh in passing offense (326.2 yards per game) and tied for fifth in total offense (533 yards per game). The junior led the conference in passing yards (3,901), passing touchdowns (33) and completions (301). Boykin also proved to be a dual threat, rushing for 707 yards and eight touchdowns. These gaudy numbers ultimately led the signal caller to finish fourth in the Heisman voting.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
A consensus All-American, Dawson deserved every bit of recognition he received in 2014. The linebacker topped the conference in tackles (136) and tackles for loss (20), while adding six sacks and four interceptions. Dawson excelled in pass coverage, allowing just 35.7 percent of passes to be completed in his direction. One of the best linebackers in the country last season, Dawson was a steal in the third round of the NFL Draft for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Three Memorable Games:
1. Baylor 61 vs. TCU 58, Oct. 11th - This was clearly the best game in the conference last season. The top-two teams in scoring offense showed off their strength in this shootout, combining for 119 points. After TCU led 58-37 with 11:38 left in the game, QB Bryce Petty and RB Shock Linwood led a remarkable comeback. In that span, Petty threw for 113 yards and two touchdowns, while Linwood picked up 106 yards on the ground. Those performances led to a game-winning 28-yard field goal by Baylor kicker Chris Callahan as time expired.
2. Oklahoma 44 vs. Kansas 7, Nov. 22nd - Normally a blowout wouldn't be a memorable game, but this one has historical significance. Just a week after Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon broke the single-game rushing yards record, Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine topped that by setting a new record. Perine rushed for 427 yards on 34 carries, adding five touchdowns in the process. It was certainly one of the most memorable performances in 2014, and will live on for decades after this.
3. Oklahoma 35 vs. Oklahoma St. 38, Dec. 6th - Oklahoma State needed a little bit of magic to come back in this one. The Cowboys turned a 14 point deficit in the fourth quarter down to a seven point one after a 43-yard touchdown pass from QB Mason Rudolph. When the Sooners were forced to punt late in the quarter, Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill returned the kick 92 yards to tie the game at 35. The amazing return sent the game into overtime, where Oklahoma State kicker Ben Grogan won the game on a 21-yard field goal after a 44-yard attempt that was missed by Oklahoma's kicker to open the period.
Looking Ahead to 2015:
Conference Favorite: TCU
This season, the Big 12 will have "One True Champion," and the popular pick is TCU. The Horned Frogs' offense is arguably the most lethal in the country, and they have one of the top signal callers to command it. With Boykin returning to lead the offense once more, you can expect there to be plenty of points scored to keep TCU ahead of its opponents. Boykin will have plenty of help from receiver Josh Doctson (set single-season school records in receiving yards and touchdowns) and running back Aaron Green (averaged 7.15 yards per carry in 2015).
On defense, the Horned Frogs will have to reload, but that is never a far stretch for a Gary Patterson-coached team. The TCU defense finished atop the Big 12 and eighth nationally in scoring
defense (19 ppg) in 2014, but have a glaring weakness in the secondary that could change that this season. But, with an offense that scored 58 points in its only loss, the defense would have to really go downhill in order for the team to suffer.
Conference Dark Horse: Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State had a peak-and-valley season in 2014 after starting off 5-1 in the first six games, and then going 2-5 the rest of the way. There was a lot to like about the Cowboys in 2014 but also a lot that made people shake their head; however, looking ahead to 2015, Mike Gundy and co. have an outside shot at taking the Big 12 title.
In quarterback Mason Rudolph, the Cowboys have found their gunslinger. After having his redshirt pulled in mid-November, Rudolph provided the spark the offense needed by throwing for 853 yards and six touchdowns in three starts. Getting a full season under his belt, Rudolph could find himself in the talks for postseason awards if he can perform like he did to end 2014.
There's no question that the defense has to improve after giving up 31.2 ppg last season, but with a bevy of returning starters, it's not hard to picture this defense being better than it was. Oklahoma State houses one of the best kept defensive secrets in defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who recorded 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss (both ranked in the top-three in the Big 12). Of course, the fact that Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all come to visit the Cowboys in Stillwater makes the team's toughest games a little easier.
Most Improved Team: Texas
Charlie Strong enters his second year in command of one the nation's premier programs after a forgettable first season. The good news is that Texas is heading in the right direction. Figuring out the quarterback situation is a priority for Strong; incumbent Tyrone Swoopes seems to have the edge right now. Returning running back Johnathan Gray (636 yards, seven touchdowns) should help an offense that's short on receiving options.
The Texas defense should be strong again in 2015, no pun intended. In 2014, the Longhorns had one of the best passing defenses in the country, allowing just 184.2 yards per game. This season, the defensive line will likely be the strength of this defense with tackle Desmond Jackson, who is returning from a foot injury, and Hassan Ridgeway (six sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss) leading the way. Of course, there's stand out freshman linebacker, Malik Jefferson, awaiting to make his presence known on the big stage.
Looking at the schedule, it's not impossible to see Texas pulling together an eight- or nine-win season; however, road tests against West Virginia, Baylor and TCU all look to be tough for the Longhorns to pull out. If the Longhorns can pull wins against non-conference opponent Cal and either one of the three teams above, then Texas will have improved greatly from a season ago.
Freshmen to Watch:
1. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas - For Longhorns coach Charlie Strong to land a recruit as highly touted as Jefferson was a necessity. The 5-star freshman was one of the most sought after talents in the nation, having been ranked by 247Sports as the best outside linebacker and the best player from the state of Texas. Jefferson has the talent to come in right away and be a force for Texas' defense. He's got the speed to be a great pass rusher, clocking in a 4.57 40 time, and had the numbers to show for it during his junior year of high school, recording 14 sacks. Jefferson is the can't-miss-player in the Big 12 in 2015.
2. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Baylor - The talent that Stidham possesses is the exact blueprint that Art Briles uses for successful quarterbacks. Coming in as the No. 2 ranked dual-threat QB prospect, Stidham could slot right in as the backup, right behind starter Seth Russell. And while he doesn't have RG3's quickness, Stidham's long strides allow him to avoid pressure and get away from would-be tacklers. His arm is lethal, and his quick trigger is exactly what Art Briles covets in his signal callers.
3. Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech - Fehoko was the No. 2 player from the state of Hawaii but was the eighth ranked defensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class. So far, he's been turning a lot of heads since he's moved to the Lone Star State. He's already practicing with the first-team defense and is right smack in the middle of a battle for a starting job. Even as a true freshman, Fehoko's size is that of an already established lineman, measuring at 6'3" and weighing in at 287. His strength alone is enough to make you think he's a future All-Big 12 stud.
Offensive Player of the Year Prediction - Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
In Boykin's second year in the TCU spread attack, there's no telling how high his ceiling is. After his coming out party in 2014, it'll be interesting to see what he does for his encore performance. The senior is already being talked about as a front-runner to win the Heisman, and there's no reason to believe he can't win
it. Boykin possesses a rocket arm that can make most, if not all, of the possible throws on the field, the type of speed that can break a defense and the ability to keep his eyes up and look for an open target while on the move.
Defensive Player of the Year Prediction - Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
In case you missed the Cotton Bowl last season, Shawn Oakman's jacked physique blew up the internet. Standing at 6'9" and weighing 280 pounds, Oakman's appearance is intimidating. And while Baylor's offense gets a ton of recognition, Oakman deserves a lot of face time. In 2014, the standout defensive end racked up 19.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks. Oakman still has a lot of room for growth and has the potential to be a high draft choice in 2016.
Three Games to Watch:
1. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Played in Dallas, Texas), Oct. 10th - The annual Red River Showdown, among its other monikers, is always a can't-miss affair. It's Charlie Strong's second year at the helm in Austin, and the Longhorns are sure to be improved a year after going 6-7 (the second time the team has finished with a record below .500 since 2010). Meanwhile, Bob Stoops has brought in Lincoln Reilly to be the new offensive coordinator for the Sooners after showing off a high-powered offense at East Carolina. This mid-season match-up surely won't disappoint.
2. Oklahoma vs. TCU, Nov. 21st - By winning last season's match-up 37-33, TCU made it known it wasn't the slouch it was in 2013. The win over the Sooners marked the team's first conference win of the season, and the Horned Frogs would go on to win eight of their next nine games. This time, the two play each other late in the season. If TCU is going to have any shot at breaking through into the College Football Playoff, it has to beat Oklahoma.
3. TCU vs. Baylor, Nov. 27th - As a late-season matchup, this could very well serve as the conference championship bout. Last season, this game went down to the wire with Baylor mastering a 24-point comeback in the final quarter to pull out the victory. This season sets up with these two being the cream of the crop in the Big 12 again, with TCU having revenge on its mind. Grab your popcorn for this contest, this is the one game you'll definitely want to watch this season.