Simple Look At Complex Big 12: Over/Unders
By Mike Casazza
Las Vegas is always a fun diversion and it even helps avid college football fans pass the time during the summer. National championship and Heisman Trophy odds are conversation starters, point spreads make you think and projected win totals start debates.
Personally, over/unders provide the most entertainment and enlightenment. We’re all trying to predict success or failure right now, but the over/under give us a simple look at a complex picture. Exceeding one number is good. Missing it is bad.
There’s much more to a season, but we’ve still got a long wait until it starts. For now, let’s consider our own over/unders for the 2013 Big 12 season.
Over/under: 130.5 carries for Glascoe Martin
If all the preseason conversation is on Baylor’s other running back, Lache Seastrunk, believe the attention during the season will be, too. And that’s ideal for Martin, who, by the way, had a team-high 179 carries last season and turned those into 889 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Bears really like Martin, beyond all those carries. He’s 6-foot-1 and 220-pounds, a proper changeup to the speedy, slashing Seastrunk. But when Seastrunk came on late last season in the final seven games and ripped off 831 yards, Martin actually carried five more times and more and more as the season neared the end — 11, 17, 19, 23, 16 and 21 carries.
Seastrunk will get opportunities to fulfill his self-ascribed Heisman Trophy candidacy, but he can’t get too many carries and be expected to produce the same. The Bears will run to keep defenses honest and to liberate new quarterback Bryce Petty. Ten carries a game for Martin seems like plenty across a season for Martin — and Seastrunk did just fine with 131 carries a year ago.
Over/under: 200 combined tackles for linebackers Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller
Since Paul Rhoads arrived in 2009, the Cyclones have finished last once and second-to-last three times in scoring offense in the Big 12. Yet his teams also won 24 games, thanks in large part to a defense he and coordinator Wally Burnham injected with their philosophies and personalities.
Well, linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, who totaled 668 tackles the past three years, are gone. Klein led the team in tackles twice and Knott once and their voids might be among the most meaningful in the Big 12.
George, a junior, has experience with 13 games and 87 tackles under his belt and he had to emerge last season after Knott was injured for the season in the ninth game. Miller, a junior, has but 24 tackles in his career, but 12 came in his last game, the Liberty Bowl loss to Tulsa. Two-hundred tackles isn’t on the Knott-Klein level, but it’s a start.
Over/under: 1,368 combined rushing and receiving yards for Tony Pierson
The Jayhawks are serious about using Pierson in a fashion similar to how West Virginia used Tavon Austin. Their size and skills are at least comparable, so Charlie Weis admits his offense has studied the ways the Mountaineers made use of Austin in the running and passing game. It makes sense to find ways to frequently put the ball into Pierson’s hands in favorable spots.
Austin was a slot receiver who caught short passes and ran through secondaries, but he’d carry the ball on occasion on jet sweeps and, last season, true running back plays. Pierson is a more natural running back who’s going to catch passes out of the backfield and line up in the slot and from time to time run the ball when he starts as a receiver.
Austin’s first season with Dana Holgorsen ended up with the 1,368 combined yards (1,186 receiving and 182 rushing) in 2011. That might seem ambitious for Pierson’s first shot at this role, but he ended up with 1,059 combined yards last season. If he makes up the difference, Kansas has a weapon on offense it hasn’t had in a while.
Over/under: 14.5 total touchdowns for Tyler Lockett
Jordy Nelson caught 11 touchdown passes in 2007 and Brandon Banks caught nine a year later, but since then no Wildcats receiver has caught more than five. Part of that is spotty quarterback play for a few years as well as the irresistible rise of running quarterback Collin Klein.
Klein is gone and one of Kansas State’s biggest concerns is finding ways to score in the absence of his 50 rushing touchdowns the last two years. It’s hard to tell with Bill Snyder and it might be dumb to guess, but Kansas State could start junior college transfer Jake Waters at quarterback this season and that would mean a return to a passing offense. Waters threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns last season.
Lockett, a junior, is one of the Big 12’s most dangerous players because he doubles as a superstar kickoff return specialist. If Waters can spin it and build a rapport with Lockett, Lockett is good enough to score. He’ll also look to bring back two kickoffs (or more) for a third straight season.
Over/under: 21.5 sacks for defensive linemen
In 2008, the Sooners defensive line accounted for 33.5 sacks. Since then, the total has slipped to 28.5, 25, 24 and only 14.5 last year. Despite Oklahoma’s recruiting prowess, only five defensive linemen have been drafted the last five years.
In addition to not pressuring the passer, Oklahoma gave up 200 or more rushing yards six times last season. That’s on the defensive line and that’s a pretty good reason why the defense was in so much trouble so often in the final half of last season.
The Sooners hired promising 33-year-old Jerry Montgomery from Michigan in the offseason to coach the defensive line. Junior Chuka Ndule, who led the team with 4.5 sacks last season, is back for 2013, though he moved from end to tackle after two tackles were kicked off the team in February. There is some other talent, including junior Rashod Favors, but many others are new or searching for experience. Twenty-two sacks would equal the 2007 mark and point the Sooners in the right direction.
Over/under: 4.5 interceptions for Justin Gilbert
Gilbert has NFL talent at cornerback and is a priceless accessory as a kickoff returner. As a sophomore in 2011, he was No. 14 nationally with five interceptions and finished with 15 pass break-ups. Yet he was one of the league’s great mysteries last season, intercepting no passes and losing a little playing time along the way.
To be fair, he did have a kickoff return touchdown after taking two back in both his freshman and sophomore years, though the one last year was against WVU, which might need an asterisk.
The Cowboys are going to lead a lot of games this season, which means opponents will pass to catch up. And nine games will be in the Big 12, which despite the turnover at the quarterback position is still a passing league. With so many new quarterbacks, the argument could be made that Gilbert should have even more chances at haphazard passes.
Whatever the motivation, a talent like Gilbert can’t have another dry season and Oklahoma State’s defense can’t do something like it did last season. There were just 11 interceptions and 22 forced turnovers and the Cowboys ranked No. 59 in turnover margin. A year earlier, they were No. 1 with 24 interceptions and 44 forced turnovers and used the extra possessions to win the league.
Over/Under: Rank of No. 1.5 in Big 12 rushing
There’s an interesting point to consider about the Big 12 and its passing reputation. There are new quarterbacks and there are a bunch of teams with stars or stables at running back. Sooner or later, you figure a team is going to win this league with defense and a running game.
The defense will be sound, as is the habit with Gary Patterson coaching and Dick Bumpas coordinating. There is talent on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. That’s not a concern. The passing game is not quite at the Big 12 level, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. The Horned Frogs are likely to start Casey Pachall at quarterback as he completes his personal comeback from substance abuse that cost him the final nine games last season. His most important task could be turning around and handing the ball to the hot back.
TCU will have the leading rusher from 2012 (B.J. Catalon, 584 yards) and 2011 (Waymon James, 875 yards) and a pretty good offensive line that returns three starters and blends in two veterans. Nebraska transfer Aaron Green, a Top 25 recruit in 2011, is eligible, and Kyle Hicks, a former Texas commit, is able.
There are other good running games in the Big 12, but if TCU’s is the best and it can keep the offense on the field while the defense keeps getting the ball back, that might be the winning formula.
Over/under: 12.5 starts for quarterback David Ash
For the first time since the 2009 regular season that ended with Colt McCoy leading the Longhorns to the national title game, and then leaving that game with a shoulder injury after just five plays, Texas really believes it has a quarterback.
Like, really, really believes it. No more Garrett Gilbert or Case McCoy or David Ash v. 1.0. Texas is 22-16 overall and 11-15 in Big 12 play since that national title game, but Gilbert is long gone and McCoy is a backup and maybe even the backup’s backup. Ash has persevered and matured and impressed everyone he needed to impress to gain the full faith of the Longhorns brain trust.
With a veteran defense, the best set of three running backs in the Big 12 with Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown and a solid set of receivers in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, Ash has all he needs to run the new up-tempo offense. If Texas is to win the Big 12, it needs consistency at the position, which means a stable Ash, but also Ash every game. If he gets hurt, or if he gets benched, the plan is ruined.
Over/under: 82.5 receptions for Jace Amaro
In short, the essence of these Air Raid offenses like the one Kliff Kingsbury brings to Texas Tech is creating and exploiting mismatches. Amaro is one of the Big 12’s best mismatches. He’s 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, but he’s also agile and quick. He could use that size and skill to play outside from time to time, but he’s a handful in the slot and proved that at times last season. He’s too much for linebackers and too big for defensive backs. Apart from quarterback, the slot receiver is the Air Raid’s marquee position.
The Red Raiders will have some talent at receiver, most notably senior Eric Ward, who caught 82 passes for a team-high 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and they’re going to throw the ball a whole lot. Darrin Moore graduated and left a void in the form of 92 catches, 1,032 yards and 13 scores. Amaro would seem to be first in line to absorb much of that production.
Yardage isn’t so important for Amaro. He’s not as fast as a Tavon Austin or a Wes Welker, so he’s not going to turn short throws into many long gains. Catches matter more and he’ll be targeted on quick plays to move the chains or score near the end zone. Assuming Ward makes a leap, Amaro, who had 25 receptions for 409 yards and four scores in an injury-shortened 2012 season, could match Ward’s catch count from last season.
Over/under: 14.5 sacks for junior college transfers Dontrill Hyman, d’Vante Henry and Brandon Golson
It’s hard to find a starting point for all that went wrong with West Virginia’s defense in 2012, but a lot of the trouble was a result of giving the quarterback too much time and comfort. The Mountaineers only had 23 sacks last season, and two came in snow in the Pinstripe Bowl.
The defensive line totaled 4.5 sacks and the team’s top three sackers all graduated, including the starting outside linebackers who had to rush because of the since-altered configuration of the defensive line. Recruiting pass rushers was a priority in recruiting and the Mountaineers invested in the three junior college players.
Hyman, Henry and Golson are edge players, Hyman a 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end, Golson a 6-foot-2, 220-pound outside linebacker and Henry a 6-foot-5, 215-pound tweener. They give new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson pressure options as he moves to a more conventional 3-4. A year ago, the line had a tackle, a nose guard and an end, which isn’t exactly fast. This year, Patterson will use two ends and a nose, but also drop an outside linebacker on occasion to supply or to disguise the fourth rusher.