The Big 12 has asked media members to submit their preseason football polls by the end of the week.
That means Media Days (July 22-23 in Dallas) are right around the corner. It also means that it is time for us all to start speculating on the upcoming season (less than two months away). The conference will reveal an official preseason media poll next week, but you can take a look at how I voted right now.
I expect there to be tremendous parity in the media poll. The Big 12 doesn’t have a slam-dunk favorite. Heck, it doesn’t even have a legitimate preseason Top 10 team. But it does have significant depth. Maybe even as much as it did last year when it sent nine teams to bowl games.
As I looked over each team’s roster, I could imagine six teams (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas) winning the league. Most years, that number doesn’t hit three.
There is a lot of guess work in every preseason poll, but there will be more than usual this summer. With that in mind, here is how I voted:
Blake Bell gives the Sooners new options and balance on offense. That should work to their advantage. Question is: How strong will they be on defense? Several starters are gone from a unit that wasn’t all that great last year. There are reasons for concern. Still, nobody wins games in this conference more consistently than Bob Stoops.
Is Texas back? I don’t know, but I like what the Longhorns have coming back (17 starters) on paper. David Ash should be improved. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are quality running backs. The defense has to get better, though. I think we will know more about the Longhorns by late September. If they can end their losing streak to Kansas State in their first conference game, maybe they have what it takes for a conference title run.
3. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are a trendy pick to win the conference. I picked them third, because I think it will be more difficult than expected to replace Joseph Randle without an experienced offensive line. But K-State, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all have to go to Stillwater. The schedule sets up nicely for Oklahoma State.
Another trendy pick to win the league, TCU should be better with Casey Pachall’s return at quarterback. The Horned Frogs also bring back nine starters from a stingy defense. With Gary Patterson leading the way, it could be a big year for TCU. The key will be handling a difficult schedule that includes LSU and trips to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. That’s a lot of tough games.
5. Kansas State
Daniel Sams and Jake Waters are both quality quarterbacks. Behind a veteran offensive line, a talented group of receivers and John Hubert, the Wildcats should be good to go on offense. The defense will be a work in progress, though. Ty Zimmerman is a candidate for preseason Defensive Player of the Year, but the rest of the unit is inexperienced. K-State isn’t expected to be as good as it was last year, but Bill Snyder will have his team ready to play. A friendly schedule that features nine games in the Sunflower State also helps.
Few teams ended the 2012 season hotter than Baylor. The Bears roared to eight wins after a disappointing start. They return explosive running back Lache Seastrunk and seven defensive starters. New quarterback Bryce Petty could make all the difference. The Bears have the look of a darkhorse contender. If everything breaks right, they could far surpass expectations.
7. Texas Tech
I know this: Kliff Kingsbury’s team will be fun to watch. The Red Raiders have a different feel across the program under their new coach, and most are excited about the changes he has made. He was impressive at Texas A&M as a coordinator and should bring new dimensions to Texas Tech’s offense. Still, the Red Raiders had obvious flaws a year ago. I see them playing in a minor bowl game.
8. West Virginia
The Mountaineers’ debut season in the Big 12 was a disaster, ending with seven wins after such a promising start. Geno Smith and standout wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are gone. Expect West Virginia to hover around .500 all season.
9. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads has turned Iowa State into a consistent competitor in the Big 12, but this may finally be the year the Cyclones win three or four games instead of reaching bowl eligibility. A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are gone on defense. The offense should be mediocre. The schedule includes six road games. Not a good combination.
Is this the year Kansas finally wins a conference game? Jake Heaps, Justin McCay, several quality running backs and an army of junior-college transfers make the Jayhawks interesting. I expect they will be an improved squad. But that doesn’t mean they will be good enough to move out of the cellar. Three or four wins would be a big victory for Charlie Weis.