1. Oklahoma State University
The Cowboys home schedule includes Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor and Kansas State, with their only road challenge coming in Austin against the Longhorns. While the Pokes bounced between inexperienced signal-callers last year, the quarterback position figures to be a strength this year. That, combined with the usual slew of offensive threats and seven returning starters on defense, will make OSU a tough team to beat.
With 19 returning starters and the most experienced starting quarterback in the Big 12, Texas is, without a doubt, the strongest team in the conference on paper. But football isn’t played on paper and, as Longhorns Nation has seen over the past few years, a high preseason ranking and plenty of preseason hype doesn’t always translate into success on the field. However, youth and inexperience are no longer a factor in Austin, so expect big things from Mack Brown and his team this year.
Bob Stoops and his staff surprisingly picked Trevor Knight over Blake Bell as the Sooners’ starting quarterback this year. There will be growing pains for the redshirt freshman, but, according to his teammates, Knight’s dual-threat ability makes him a great fit in Oklahoma’s new read-option offense. And if the offense can be great, an average defense should be enough for the Sooners to contend. Expect OU to be near the top of the Big 12 standings once again in 2013.
The Horned Frogs are expected to have the best defense in the Big 12, with nine starters returning from last year’s stingy squad. But TCU’s tough schedule begins with a neutral-site matchup against SEC powerhouse LSU. If the Horned Frogs survive that test and get consistent play from senior quarterback Casey Pachall this season, they could finish at the top of the Big 12.
Baylor finished last season as the hottest team in the conference and once again features a high-powered offense, this year led by junior quarterback Bryce Petty. It will come down to their defense. Baylor returns seven starters from last year’s unit that was second in the Big 12 with 18 interceptions, including a conference-high three returned for touchdowns. If Baylor survives a late-season stretch that includes OSU, Texas, TCU and Oklahoma, they could win the conference.
6. Kansas State
The departure of Collin Klein and only two returning starters on defense would lead many to believe the Wildcats are destined for failure in 2013. Not so fast. A strong offensive line and some great playmakers on offense should keep K-State in contention. And with Bill Snyder returning for a 22nd season in Manhattan, the Wildcats will be well coached.
7. Texas Tech
33-year old Kliff Kingsbury’s success as a first-year head coach will depend on his quarterback. With Seth Doege out, sophomore Michael Brewer is set to take the reigns in 2013. But the Red Raiders may be forced to open the season with a true freshman behind center if Brewer’s back problems keep im on the sideline. If Texas Tech isn’t able to establish consistency at the quarterback position, it could be a long year.
8. West Virginia
After losing its three biggest offensive threats, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, to the NFL this offseason, it will be a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers. The defense will be improved and the offense will rely on Houston transfer Charles Sims to carry the load on the ground.
9. Iowa State
The inability to establish strong quarterback play and light up the scoreboard has defined Paul Rhoads’ tenure at Iowa State. Despite a poor 3-6 record against conference opponents last year, the Cyclones gave up a mere 248 points against Big 12 teams, trailing only Kansas State and Oklahoma. If sophomore Sam Richardson can’t turn things around, Iowa State will find itself at the bottom of the Big 12 again.
Jayhawks head coach Charlie Weis said last month that Kansas didn’t deserve to be placed anywhere better than last. While fans in Lawrence shouldn’t expect much from their team this year, the Jayhawks are sure to improve on last year’s dismal 1-11 record. Led by junior quarterback Jake Heaps, a BYU transfer, Kansas will look to work its way out of the Big 12 cellar in 2013.