It’s that time of year again. The weather is cooling to a more bearable temperature (somewhere), and soon the leaves will start to fall from the trees. Fall is looming. That also means college football is imminent. Actually, as of today, it is already upon us.
The Big 12 conference has long been one of college football’s most entertaining and competitive conferences. Expect this year to be no different, and if anything expect it to be even more so. Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and even Baylor all have a legitimate shot at the conference crown and it will be an abiding battle from week to week. I will attempt to add clarity to the chaos from week to week with my powers of prescience, in previews of each individual game within the conference. Without further ado, here is a week one preview for the Big 12 conference. Also, if you get the chance, check out Chad Godfrey’s Big 10 preview. He has been doing this much longer than I, and I aspire to live up to his supreme greatness.
Friday, August 30
Texas Tech @ SMU, 7 PM CST: When the Red Raiders line up against the Mustangs on Friday, they will see a familiar face under center. Garrett Gilbert, who started at Texas in 2010, is now the starting QB at SMU. In 2010 against the Red Raiders, Gilbert went 21-for-36, threw for 227 yards, 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. Texas won that matchup, 24-14. Gilbert has shown a proclivity to falter under pressure, as evidenced by his Conference USA-leading 15 interceptions last season. Defensive linemen Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush (11 sacks combined in 2012) should put the heat on Gilbert early and often in order to give Texas Tech its best shot. Michael Brewer will lead the Red Raider offense and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury can only hope he has the same success with Brewer as he has with past QBs. Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator for the infamous Johnny Manziel en route to his Heisman performance last season. Before that, he was quarterbacks coach at Houston where Case Keenum shattered FBS records, throwing for 5,631 yards and 48 TDs in 2011. Brewer has a couple of reliable targets in Eric Ward and Jace Amaro, and Jakeem Grant should prove a deft and crafty weapon. Don’t forget running back Kenny Williams, though. Williams rushed for 824 yards last year, and has the 1,000 yard barrier in his sights this season. It is safe to assume this offense will have no quandaries with scoring points with Kingsbury in charge. This will be apparent from week one.
North Dakota State @ Kansas State, 7:30 PM CST: The Bison have a lot of kick in them. The two-time defending FCS (where they have a playoff format, by the way) champions are looking for their fourth straight victory over FBS competition. They edged Kansas in 2010 (6-3), beat Minnesota in 2011 (37-24), and handled Colorado State last season (22-7). They are on their way to becoming the FCS version of Alabama. In addition, the Wildcats lost quite a bit of their bite from last season, with the exodus of quarterback Collin Klein (3,561 total yards and 39 total TDs), so this game could be a close call. It was reported that Jake Waters is set to take over for Klein this season out of junior college. Waters will have a pair of experienced targets in Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, who return after combining for 39.6% of all targets last season. John Hubert also returns, in the back field, where he rushed for 947 yards last season. Without Klein Gobbling up precious rushing yards, Hubert could very well see 1,000 yards. He will be running behind a strong offensive line, featuring last year’s first team All-Big 12 selection Cornelius Lucas at left tackle. On defense, Kansas State returns two starters from 2012. Serendipitously, one of the returners is safety Ty Zimmerman, who led the Big 12 with five interceptions last year. Tre Walker is back at linebacker after missing time last season due to injury, but the entire defensive line gets a facelift. Kansas State won’t be the title contender they were last season, but they’ll still be good under Bill Snyder. Week one will serve as an indicator of just how good.
Saturday, August 31
William & Mary @ West Virginia, 11 AM CST: Andrew Buie is the only integral piece returning to an offense that ranked as one of the nation’s best a year ago. Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are all gone; leaving behind remnants of what was a volatile passing attack. There is still some ambiguity as to who will take over at QB for Smith, as no starter has been named. It figures to be Paul Millard or Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. West Virginia returns seven defensive starters, but it doesn’t help that they had an absolutely atrocious defense last year. Hopefully first year defensive coordinator Keith Patterson can turn things around. Otherwise, the outlook is relatively bleak for the Mountaineers. That said, they should be able to handle a William & Mary team that went 2-9 playing FCS football last season fairly easily.
Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (Houston), 2:30 PM CST: Though not in the mold of perennial SEC powers Alabama and LSU, Mississippi State still fields a good football team and plays the SEC brand. Fifth-year senior and quarterback Tyler Russell is seasoned and talented, while veteran running back LaDarius Perkins has a 1,000 yard season under his belt. With those two headlining the offense, expect a lot of points to be scored. That’s not the only reason, however. Oklahoma State games are usually high scoring affairs, thanks to the hurry-up style of offense implemented by the coaching staff. The Cowboys averaged 78.9 plays per game last season, while alternating QBs throughout the year. This year will be no different, with Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh both expected to take snaps. On the opposite side of the ball, the Cowboys return seven starters to a defense that was a lot better than raw stats indicate last season. High-volume offenses often reflect badly on their defenses, who must be on the field longer. However, advanced statistics by Bill Connelly reveal that Oklahoma State actually had a top 30 defense last season (111.7 S&P rating). These factors along with experience are why the Cowboys are favored to win the Big 12 this year, and should win this game on Saturday.
Louisiana-Monroe @ Oklahoma, 6 PM CST: When Landry Jones graduated this offseason, it was presumed that Blake Bell would win the starting gig at QB. He will not. Instead it was announced this week that that duty will go to redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. Knight will have weapons aplenty, including Jalen Saunders and Jaz Reynolds, who are just two pieces of what could be the deepest receiving corps in the conference. Don’t think we won’t be seeing the Belldozer package any more, either. Oklahoma will still pound it out with Bell and fullback Trey Millard. Damien Williams is back after rushing for 946 yards and 11 TDs last year. Defensively, the Sooners will look to senior cornerback Aaron Colvin to provide leadership among a crowd of new faces. Expect Oklahoma’s prolific offense to steamroll over Louisiana-Monroe in week one.
Wofford @ Baylor, 6:30 PM CST: Fun fact: the Bears offense has been held under 30 points just twice in the past two seasons, and never under 20. They have scored 50 or more a total of nine times. This year, don’t expect them to miss a beat. Even though Bryce Petty will make it three different quarterbacks in as many years, Art Briles has perfected his system. Playmakers Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin (1,901 comb. rushing yards) are back, as well as wideout Tevin Reese. The offensive line is looking experienced with 55 combined starts among returners. Baylor gets eight of its starters from last season back on its defense, which was a vital part of them winning five of their last six in 2012. Wofford had an exceptional year in FCS last season, in which they made the quarterfinals but fell to eventual champ North Dakota State. That said, expect the Bears offense to terrorize the Terriers, and perhaps put up another 50-pointer.
Northern Iowa @ Iowa State, 7 PM CST: In an inner-state clash, the steadily improving Cyclones had better be prepared. The Panthers gave Wisconsin a scare in its season opener last year, eventually falling 21-26. The Cyclones success will hinge heavily on their running attack, in which James White and Shontrelle Johnson both return. Johnson is coming off of an ACL tear that limited his touches last season, but has potential to play a large role in the offense. JC transfer Aaron Wimberly could also see some time in the backfield. Wimberly averaged 7.4 YPC for Iowa Western last season. Sam Richardson will line up under center after throwing for 541 yards, 8 TDs and just one interception the previous year. The Cyclones will lean on linebacker Jeremiah George after losing All-Big 12 selections A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. In the secondary, Jacques Washington looks to play the part of leader. Together, they must rally a defense that allowed only 23.9 points for its opponents on average last year.
New Mexico State @ Texas, 7 PM CST: Texas football is going to be back this year. No, really. After a tumultuous 5-7 season in 2010, the Longhorns began the steady climb back to relevance. 8-5 in 2011. 9-4 in 2012. 2013 looks to hold double digit victories for the ‘Horns, and a possible Big 12 title. Junior David Ash heads the offense, and he was one of the most efficient QBs in the conference last season (67.3% completion rate). With Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley (1,676 yards and 13 TDs between them in 2012) returning, he already has a proven tandem to throw to. Johnathan Gray will pick up yards on the ground, while Joe Bergeron (16 TDs) is more than willing to pound it out. Defensively, Texas will look to improve after allowing more yards per game than any team in school history (404.2). The defense brings back eight starters, although the loss of Kenny Vaccaro will sting. LB Jordan Hicks will look to be a fulcrum to the defense. Hicks was leading the team in tackles last season, before succumbing to a hip injury in the third game. His ability to rebound from the injury could be key to the improvement of the Longhorn defense. Luckily, Texas shouldn’t have any problem slowing down the Aggies on Saturday. After all, New Mexico State can only stake claim to one victory all of last season.
LSU vs. TCU (Arlington), 8 PM CST: What a way to end the day. In what has the looks of a defensive bout, LSU will take on TCU. The Horned Frogs return nine defensive starters from last season from a defensive that allowed just 323 YPG (16th in the nation). The secondary that intercepted 21 passes last year is all back, including All-American Jason Verrett (6 INTs). Defensive end Devonte Fields will look to continue wreaking havoc for opposing quarterbacks (10 sacks) although the ‘Frogs will have to make do without him this week, as he has been suspended for the first two games. Not to mention, the Horned Frogs have also rejuvenated their offense. QB Casey Pachall is back after missing over two-thirds of the season last year due to substance abuse. If he can stay clean, Pachall will be a huge asset and could make for a great comeback story. In TCU’s first three games last season, he went 54-for-71, for 841 yards, 8 TDs and just one INT. TCU was 4-0 in games that Pachall played. He’ll be missing the company of receivers Josh Boyce and Sky Dawson, but Brandon Carter, LaDarius Brown, Cam White and Florida transfer Ja’Juan Story should suffice. Running back Waymon James has a comeback story of his own, after suffering a knee injury last year that limited him to only two games. In those two games, he amassed 168 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. The return of Pachall and James should immensely ameliorate the offense. LSU, on the other hand is dealing with the exact opposite situation. A mass exodus leaves the Tigers with only nine returning starters, and only three on defense. LB Lamin Barrow (104 tackles, 7.5 sacks) is the lead returner to the defense. Of course, Les Miles compensated for this by reloading with elite talent, as LSU normally does. The Tigers have stocked enough talent from previous recruiting classes to withstand the blow. However, when it comes down to it, the edge definitely goes to the veteran team.
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