Big 12 Football: Five Burning Questions — Part 2
By Steve Pipps
As the start of the seasons nears, we take a step back and look at some of the burning questions in the Big 12. Having already looked at the first five questions in the Big 12 this season, here are five more to ponder.
Oklahoma: Can Trevor Knight Lead The Sooners To The Inaugural Playoff?
The question everyone has been asking since the game clock struck zero in the All-State Sugar Bowl, where Oklahoma came away with a 41-35 win over Alabama, is can the Sooners carry over that momentum into 2014? The answer to that is pure speculation at this point. Trevor Knight solidified his spot as the starting quarterback while Blake Bell moved to tight end, but Knight’s spring performance was less than stellar.
OU lost three running backs and is still unsure of how it will proceed at that position. Most likely, touches will be shared between Keith Ford and Alex Ross who combined for only 154 yards last season. Joe Mixon is facing a deserved one-year suspension for pleading not guilty to a misdemeanor charge after the freshman running back allegedly punched an OU female student and broke four bones in her face.
Baker Mayfield and Dorial Green-Beckham are still unsure whether they will play this season. The more important of the two is DGB, an all-star wide receiver who would complement Sterling Shepherd and provide Knight another target.
In short, the Sooners can make the playoff. They have a confidence and swagger they haven’t had in years. If they stick to their guns and play like they know they can, they will be playing in the first payoff.
West Virginia: Can The Mountaineers Prove Their Worth In The Big 12?
Since joining the Big 12 in 2012 WVU, has a cumulative record of 11-15. That's not terrible for a team moving from the Big East to the high-powered Big 12, but still not nearly good enough. Last season, the Mountaineers had three starting quarterbacks and Dana Holgorsen had to hire his fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. This season. Holgorsen is looking to solidify his team’s place in the Big 12 as a force to be reckoned with.
West Virginia failed to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2001 last season and Holgorsen is on the hot seat because of that. It is clear he is a great coach. During his tenure at West Virginia, Holgorsen is 21-17, including a 10-3 record in his first year that wound up with a bowl win over Clemson. But the Mountaineers' record has changed since entering the Big 12. It takes some time getting used to new competition, especially when it is much stiffer. TCU has seen similar problems since joining the Big 12.
West Virginia has Clint Trickett under center and a few weapons in running backs Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood, who can also be used as a slot receiver. The Mountaineers return only two starters on the offensive line, but four have starting experience.
The Mountaineers have to do a few things next season to help themselves. They need to remove bad losses to teams like Iowa State and Kansas because they have the ability to win games against the bottomfeeders of the Big 12. The Mountaineers need to win overtime games as well. Last season, West Virginia competed in three OT games, two of which it lost. If the Mountaineers can improve in these categories, they can begin to prove their worth in the conference.
Oklahoma State: Will The Young Cowboys Squad Reach 10 Wins?
The Cowboys are putting their eggs in J.W. Walsh’s basket, although he hasn’t been named the starting quarterback, he is taking most of the first-team reps. Despite being inconsistent over his career thus far, Walsh has put up some solid numbers under center. He has thrown for 2,897 yards and 22 TDs with only eight interceptions. With 10 TDs and 584 yards rushing, it’s clear he can also do some damage on the ground. On offense, the Cowboys are only returning five starters, including their kicker.
Desmond Roland had 811 yards rushing last season and 13 TDs. Roland and wide receiver Jhajuan Seales will be the backbone of the Cowboys' offensive attack. They also have JUCO transfer Tyreek Hill, who will be a threat with his speed, as Hill won the Big 12 indoor 200 meters. Overall, the Cowboys are a young untested squad.
Their problems start week one when they face off against defending National Champ Florida State. This game could be a huge confidence booster if they keep it close or even pull a win. (Chalk that one up as an outlandish prediction for the Big 12.) OSU also closes the season with two away games against OU and Baylor. OSU will fight throughout the season, and they should be pleased nine wins.
Texas Tech: Can Texas Tech Start Another Season 7-0?
Texas Tech had a fantastic 7-0 start in 2013, but when you look at its schedule during that time, the wins seem less impressive. It included three non-conference games against SMU, SF Austin, and Texas State and conference games against the bottom four teams in the Big 12. The Red Raiders lost the next five games against heavy hitters such as OSU, OU, and Baylor.
Texas Tech did upset Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl to give the Red Raiders some momentum heading into 2014, but the first seven games will be a true test this season. Tech faces Arkansas at home in Week Three and travel to Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Tech will have a good team this season, but probably not good enough to start 7-0 again.
Texas Tech returns most of its offensive starters, including Davis Webb under center. Webb needs to carry over his strong performance from the Holiday Bowl. He added weight and arm strength in the offseason. With four strong receivers including breakout-hopeful Reginald Davis, Webb should be able to put his new arm to the test.
After a 4-0 start, Tech will fall to Kansas State in Lawrence. The Red Raiders will then continue their win streak and head into Week Nine against Texas with a 7-1 record.
Baylor: Will The Bears Repeat As Big 12 Champion?
The other day, ESPN's Jake Trotter asked if Baylor will have the nation’s best offense. The Bears did last year after leading the nation in points, yardage, 20-yard plays, yards per pass attempt and total offense. According to the Football Power Index, Baylor will have the fourth-ranked offense behind Auburn, Oregon and Florida State. Regardless, Baylor will have an explosive offense that returns Bryce Petty, Antwan Goodley and Shock Linwood among others.
But to repeat as Big 12 champion, Baylor will have to overcome some obstacles. Last season, the Bears lost big to Oklahoma State and went into the offseason with a tough loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. This season, Baylor travels to Norman to take on Oklahoma and faces off against OSU at home the week after. Baylor can’t crumble at the end of the season again, but it will crumble at some point.
Petty has proven himself a viable Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014 and a force under center, but the Bears will hit a snag during the season and end their championship hopes. The Big 12 will be a tough conference this season, and 2014 isn’t the year for Baylor to top it.