Big 12 Power Rankings: OU, Baylor At Top
By Steve Pipps
Spring is over and we have all summer to debate how our favorite teams are going to do next season. To make it a little easier, here are my post-spring Big 12 power rankings.
Some might be skeptical about OU after watching Trevor Knight play in the spring game. He was pressured, sacked and only managed to complete 5 of 14 passes with an interception. There's no need to worry because Knight was facing arguably the conference’s best defense. Knight will have some work to do, but when the season starts he will be ready to lead.
SportingNews ranked the Sooners No. 1 in their post-spring Top 10. Historically when the Sooners have this much hype heading into a season they tend to let fans down. However, the Sooners are returning all of their contributing defensive linemen. This will put the team in a good place defensively while Knight steps up and leads the offense.
Baylor is coming off the tough loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and wants revenge. After a stellar season brought the Bears their first Big 12 Conference championship, the high-powered offense lost some of its luster in crunch time.
Bryce Petty returns this season with a slew of new offensive weapons including running back Johnny Jefferson and wide receivers Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes. The team did lose star guard Cyril Richardson and several defensive players to graduation so the team needs to fill those holes in order to compete for their second Big 12 Title.
3. Kansas State
Kansas State had a strong win against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to finish the season 8-5. KSU wasn't able to repeat as Big 12 Champions, but the Wildcats should have a strong squad in 2014.
Quarterback Jake Waters needs to be confident. He finished last season with six wins in his final seven games. He also had a solid spring outing with 227 passing yards. He has his favorite target in Tyler Lockett back, which should bolster his confidence even more. With a strong defense led by Ryan Mueller, the Wildcats need the junior college transfers to play well and fill any gaps. If they can do this, Kansas State could compete for a Big 12 title.
4. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders started strong last season, winning the first seven games. The team finished 1-5. If Texas Tech wants to be elite, it needs to finish strong. Granted, the Red Raiders final games were against the best teams in the conference, but that proves the Red Raiders middle-of-the-conference status.
Quarterback Davis Webb is back. In the spring game he threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns. This is a great for the Red Raiders offense, but it shows the holes in the defense. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is back and if he can strengthen the defensive line, Texas Tech will be a force in the Big 12.
5. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State had a rough end to the 2013 season with two straight losses. The Cowboys also lost a number of players on both sides of the ball. At quarterback this season the Cowboys have J.W. Walsh as frontrunner for the starting job. With offensive weapon Tyreek Hill, the Cowboys hope to fill the gaps they lost last season.
The answer to the biggest question should come in the first game of the season against Florida State. Do the Cowboys have the depth they need to compete? If so, the game against the defending national champs could be close. If the young players haven't matured enough, we'll see it immediately.
With new coach Charlie Strong, Texas is in a transition year. As we saw with Mack Brown, Texas can have a lot of talent and still not capitalize. This season Strong has made a lot of changes to create more of a team atmosphere with emphasis on toughness, something that has been missing in Texas football the last few years.
There are still questions at quarterback after David Ash suffered a foot fracture. There's a good possibility USC transfer Max Wittek joins the team, which will strengthen the battle for the starting spot. The defensive line has four strong bodies to anchor that side of the ball, but the Texas team is still unproven under Strong. Expect Texas to be competing for a national title again in the next few years — just not next year.
TCU had a disappointing season in 2013. Matt Joeckel, a recent transfer from Texas A&M, looks to compete for the starting quarterback spot. He is comfortable with a spread offense that offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie are instituting. TCU needs to get the offense clicking to compete this season.
Star-defensive end Devonte Fields will help push the TCU defense. Along with a favorable schedule, the Horned Frogs hope to finish in the top half of the Big 12, but with these unknowns on both offense and defense it is hard to rank TCU higher than seven.
Kansas may rank little higher than expected, but that's because Charlie Weis has done some good things this spring. The Jayhawks will come out swinging. Weis named Montell Cozart starting quarterback a few weeks ago. Throughout summer and when new recruits come in, they will have a leader to rally around.
The receiving corps should be better with Nick Harwell, a Miami (Ohio), transfer. He played well in the spring game and Cozart connected with him on a number of passes. Running back Brandon Bourbon looked good in the spring game and will lead a strong competition for the starting job. Kansas has a lot to prove this season, but I could see the Jayhawks finishing 5-7 in 2014.
9. West Virginia
West Virginia joined the Big 12 two seasons ago and has finished in the bottom three both seasons. There are still too many unknowns to place the Mountaineers any higher. The Mountaineers spring game featured three different quarterbacks, none of whom are projected to start. Clint Trickett has been out with an injury, but has been the presumed starter since the end of 2013. If this is the case, the Mountaineers have some good options at backup.
The defense is still in question. Tony Gibson, promoted from safeties coach to defensive coordinator, has a lot of work to do. Last season the defense ranked 100th in points allowed, according to ESPN. If the defense can't plug the holes, the Mountaineers will again finish in the bottom half of the Big 12.
10. Iowa State
Iowa State struggled again last season, winning only three games. The Cyclones haven't celebrated a winning season since 2010. Grant Rohach had a decent spring game, completing 22 of 38 passes for 171 yards. He is the front-runner to start at quarterback next season.
The Cyclones still will finish at the bottom because there isn’t much upside with this team right now. Grant Rohach needs to turn the offense into a scoring machine while the defense needs to tighten up a lot of holes. According to ESPN, the Cyclones were 91st overall in points for and 110th overall for points against in 2013. Without a stout defense the Cyclones won't be able to compete in the Big 12.