Had you told me 5 years ago that Baylor would be home to a Heisman winner, back-to-back 11-win Big12 titles, and be a Playoff contender I’d have thought you were crazy for several reasons. For decades, Baylor was the punching bag in the Southwest Conference and the Big 12, but Art Briles and his high-octane offense have the Bears in a rare spot atop the college football world. Baylor has been ranked in the Top 10 in 18 of the last 20 weekly polls, after finishing in the Top 10 just ONCE in school history – 1951. Complete with a state-of-the-art stadium, it is truly a new era here in Waco. Baylor’s furious 21-point comeback over TCU had the Bears placed in the Top 4, but an upset in Morgantown a week later set up a strange co-champions scenario. I 100% side with Art Briles in that the head-to-head win over TCU should have been the deciding criteria, and that Baylor should not have to share the 2014 crown with their rivals. That debate has come and gone, with the new debate centered around who will win the Big 12 this season. While the rest of America is selecting TCU to win the league and earn a Playoff bid, I am in the minority of opinion that Baylor will do it.
While TCU didn’t receive the warmest of welcomes to the Big 12 in its inaugural season, few things could have gone worse for the Horned Frogs in 2013. Despite its typical elite defense, Gary Patterson’s crew missed the postseason, due largely in part to an inept offense (25.1 points/game). Things changed with the installation of a new air raid offense, thanks to co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. The duo transformed quarterback Trevone Boykin into a Heisman hopeful, who proceeded to propel TCU within inches of the College Football Playoff.
After cruising through the first three games of the season, including a 30-7 win over Minnesota, the Horned Frogs welcomed the Oklahoma Sooners, who were coming off solid back-to-back wins over Tennessee and on the road at West Virginia. TCU had just broken into the top 25, but the No. 4 Sooners were still Big 12 favorites. With the game tied at 31-31, TCU’s Paul Dawson intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Marcus Mallett later stopped Sooner phenom Samaje Perine short on a fourth down conversion, and TCU held on to knock of the Sooners. The momentum carried over to the next week at Baylor, where the Horned Frogs found themselves up 21 following Mallett’s 49-yard interception return early in the game’s final period. From there, the TCU defense lost itself in a bevy of hurried Baylor plays as the Bears came from behind to win 61-58. TCU bulldozed its way through Oklahoma State (42-9) the following week, and set a Big 12 record in an 82-27 win over Texas Tech. While the Horned Frogs struggled in road wins against West Virginia (31-30) and Kansas (34-30), they easily dispatched Kansas State (41-20) and Texas (48-10, in Austin).
However, a dominating victory against Iowa State (55-3) to close the season wasn’t enough to convince the Selection Committee that TCU was more deserving than Ohio State, who’s sole loss came at home earlier in the season to Virginia Tech, thanks in large part to an impressive victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game with a third string quarterback. Minnesota linebacker De’Vondre Campbell didn’t share the Committee’s feeling, saying, “Ohio State was probably the second-best team we’ve played this year. I think TCU was a lot better” – a statement he didn’t shy away from following Ohio State’s national championship win over Oregon. “I’ll stick with my opinion that I think [TCU] was the best team we played last year.” To make matters worse, Trevone Boykin wasn’t invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation (meaning he didn’t finish in the top three of the voting). The result of the snub was a complete dismantling of the nation’s top scoring defense, Ole Miss, which had beat fellow College Football Playoff invitee Alabama earlier in the season.
Oklahoma State didn’t come into the 2014 season with high expectations. Had it not been for Tyreek Hill’s heroics in Norman, the Cowboys may have missed the postseason for the first time since 2005, and the third time in Gundy’s tenure at OSU. The season began on a high note at AT&T Stadium in Dallas against the reigning national champions, Florida State. The Cowboys brought everything (including the kitchen sink), but were unable to pull out the comeback after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter. J.W. Walsh looked impressive in the loss, but an injury against Missouri State brought on Arizona transfer Daxx Garman. OSU cruised through the next four games before needing a kickoff return from Hill to hold off Kansas in Lawrence. The streak was not a sign of things to come for the Cowboys, who dropped the next five in order against tougher competition. The streak began with a 42-9 thumping from TCU and ended with a 49-28 loss in Waco before the Bedlam game in Norman. The season came to a close on a high note in Tempe, where newly implanted quarterback Mason Rudolph guided the Cowboys to a masterful 30-22 win over Washington.
It’s officially time to move on from the 2014 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The hangover should long be cured.
OU head coach Bob Stoops’ past can’t help his team in the present. Sure, it can provide an advantage with recruiting when he pulls out the number of players he’s churned to the National Football League, or the fact he’s the only coach to have won all four BCS bowls and a championship. But it’s a new era and has been for one full year now.
“After last season finishing—just overall having a disappointing year. When you’re used to 12 of the previous 14 years we had ten or more wins, and then you go 8-5, and it’s not up to our standards and our expectations as a program for sure,” said Stoops.
With that abysmal record came plenty of restructuring in the coaching staff.
There’s no doubt that Texas continues to rebuild its football program under the direction of head coach Charlie Strong.
Longhorns faithful remember the days that saw Earl Campbell run wild or Vince Young displaying the Hook ‘em Horns after the game-winning touchdown in the 2006 National Championship game. Those were the days for the burnt orange. However, if Strong continues his ways, the program will be back amongst the college football elite in no time.
“We have to have a winning season,” Strong said.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is bright, colorful, and imaginative. His cutting-edge schemes have produced numbers that consistently rank among the nation’s best.
He will have to use all those intangibles to deal with the loss of playmakers Kevin White and Mario Alford, as well as gunslinger Clint Trickett. Having a defense that has earned quite the high praise heading into 2015 should make the transition less painful.
“Without a doubt, it should be the best that I’ve had potentially since I started coaching 20-some years ago,” Holgorsen said. “I’m not going to sit here and apologize for where we’re at defensively.”
Quick – off the top of your head, who has won the most Big 12 games over the past 4 seasons? No, it’s not the two national powerhouses Oklahoma or Texas, nor do the upstarts Baylor and TCU hold that claim. It is none other than Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats whose 27-9 record is tops in league since 2011. Last season with Jake Waters at the helm, KSU went 7-2 in Big 12 play but lost by double-digits to both Playoff contenders TCU and Baylor. If not for red zone collapses in the Week 3 loss to Auburn, a game KSU should have won, 2014 would have marked yet another double-digit win season under the magician: Bill Snyder. But with significant roster changeover, issues replacing a 2-year starting quarterback, and the loss of top playmaker Tyler Lockett, expectations are low in the Little Apple. And that is just when Snyder strikes.
Even the flying tortillas from the fans at Jones AT&T Stadium couldn’t stop opposing teams from coming in to Lubbock and showing the Red Raiders a thing or two, leaving Kliff Kingsbury and his group with a 4-8 record in 2014 and feeling pretty humbled.
Probably the most excitement in Ames since frolicking in the cornfields is the renovations to Jack Trice Stadium, making it the third largest venue in the Big 12 Conference. The upgrades will be done just in time to kick-off 2015.
“I think our fan base, which I’ll categorize as the most loyal in all of college football, they’ve got a realistic view on what’s taken place with injuries the past season,” said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. “I think they share in the excitement and expectations of this football team and what we’re going to put out there.”
Rhoads may have something there about the Cyclones fan base being the most loyal in the country. ISU has regularly seen 50,000+ in attendance at their home games, especially last year in November games against Texas Tech and West Virginia, contests that saw the thermometer drop well below freezing.
Any way you look at it, the Cyclones can only go up from the year they had in 2014, finishing 2-10 and on a six-game losing streak.
There is a new era beginning in Lawrence in 2015. No, no, Bill Self hasn’t taken his talents to the gridiron. David Beaty enters his first season at the helm for the Kansas Jayhawks, looking to turn around the fortunes of a program that has fallen on hard times since winning the FedEx Orange Bowl in 2007.
Beaty was probably the most upbeat and positive person at Big 12 Media Days in late July. I mean, every coach is positive heading into a new season, but he had a fresh energy, something that will spread through the Kansas football program.
“The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to work hard,” Beaty said. “And the second thing we’re going to do is we’re going to earn everything we get.”
Beaty brought some new coaches along who share in his energy and have a strong football pedigree. Gary Hyman comes in as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, while Klint Kubiak, son of Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, joined the staff as the wide receivers coach.
“Coach Beaty has lots of energy, lots of juice, lots of passion for the program,” said senior defensive end Ben Goodman, Jr. “I just love the things he brings. And what he’s doing for the team, but not only for the team, but for the community.”
For a team predicted to challenge ultimate futility in Division 1 FBS history, let alone the Big 12, there are plenty of bright spots for Beaty to work with to improve the Jayhawks.