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Texas, TCU lead 2013 Big 12 conference preview

Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Running back Joe Bergeron and Texas will look to get by Baylor in a highly competitive Big 12 this year.

Can Texas make a game out of the Red River Rivalry this season? How big of an impact will quarterback Casey Pachall's return have on TCU? Can any team emerge from a crowded conference to enter the national title hunt? Andy Staples answers these questions and more in his Big 12 preview. For more coverage, check out SI.com's 2013 college football preview content archive.

Note: The projected standings reflect the author's opinion, not SI.com's.

Big 12 Conference Report
 
How They'll Finish
 
  Conference Overall
Texas 7-2 10-2
TCU 7-2 9-3
Oklahoma 7-2 9-3
Baylor 6-3 9-3
Oklahoma State 5-4 8-4
 
  Conference Overall
Kansas State 4-5 7-5
Texas Tech 4-5 7-5
West Virginia 3-6 6-6
Iowa State 2-7 4-8
Kansas 0-9 3-9
 
Offensive MVP
 
RB
Lache Seastrunk
2012 stats: 131 carries, 1,012 rushing yards, 7 TD
2013 projection: 221 carries, 1,600 rushing yards, 12 TD
Art Briles didn't decide Seastrunk was worthy of heavy action until Baylor had played seven games last fall. Over its final six, Seastrunk averaged 17 carries a game. If he gets that many carries in '13 and maintains the same per-rush average, Seastrunk would gain 1,701 yards. That could be tough, as the body wears down with more carries and collisions. But given the Bears can smash opponents by handing to Glasco Martin and stretch them by throwing to Tevin Reese, defenses can't load up to stop Seastrunk. If healthy, he'll produce.
 
Defensive MVP
 
DE
Devonte Fields
2012 stats: 53 tackles, 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss
2013 projection: 49 tackles, 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss
Why do the projections seem flat for Fields? Because he's suspended for TCU's first two games for a violation of team rules. He'll have a tough time compiling bigger stats than he did last fall. Still, in a league where QBs get rid of the ball quickly by design on most plays, Fields tallied 10 sacks as a freshman. He's the best returning pass rusher in the Big 12, and in a league where games become shootouts, the guy who can create the most TFL is the most valuable.
GREENE: TCU ranks No. 16 in SI's preseason Top 25
 
Breakout Star
 
TE
Jace Amaro
2012 stats: 25 catches, 409 yards, 4 TD
2013 projection: 75 catches, 1,050 yards, 10 TD
Amaro made the All-Big 12 team in various places last year, but he missed six games with a rib injury. If Amaro can stay healthy and Kliff Kingsbury can make the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder a focal point of his offense, the junior could post huge stats. At Houston and Texas A&M, Kingsbury didn’t have a physical TE to stretch the field. This offseason, he seemed pretty excited about finding ways to get Amaro the ball. That should result in an uptick in production for a guy who averaged 16.4 yards a catch in the seven games he played in 2012.
 
Impact Freshman
 
S
Hatari Byrd
2012 stats (high school): 97 tackles, 2 INT, 3 FF, 2 FR
2013 projection: 85 tackles, 3 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR
OU must replace safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson, and it's going to play five or six DBs at all times in the Big 12. It makes sense that a freshman should be able to contribute immediately. But praise for the 6-1, 198-pound Byrd, who coordinator Mike Stoops has used at three different positions so far in camp, suggests the Fresno, Calif., native may be special. Byrd’s weight may not seem like much, but he's built well and runs like a CB. OU needs all the help it can get as it overhauls a unit that got shredded late last season.
 
Coach On The Hot Seat
 
Mack Brown
Last season: 9-4 (5-4 Big 12)
Career at Texas: 150-43 (91-31 Big 12)
Wait, didn't I predict above that Texas would win the Big 12? I did, but when am I ever correct about these things? If the Longhorns fall flat again -- and especially if they get shelled by Oklahoma again -- it's difficult to imagine Texas accepting slightly-above-average-but-definitely-worse-than-Oklahoma any longer. The Longhorns have more resources and an easier recruiting draw than any program in the country. With a ton of experienced starters returning, Brown should be able to get Texas back in the Big 12 title hunt. If he can't do it with this group, it's probably time for a change.
RICKMAN: Hot Seat Watch: Which coaches have the most at stake in 2013?
 
Big 12 Video Preview
 
Three Key Nonconference Games
 
LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington)
Saturday, Aug. 31
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Horned Frogs scheduled this game when they were still in the Mountain West and needed a marquee win to prove themselves worthy of BCS bowls. Gary Patterson isn't thrilled to be playing it now that TCU is in the Big 12, but if he's going to catch LSU, this might be the best possible time. The Tigers will be playing their first game with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and on-the-fly adjustments against Patterson's defense aren't easy -- even with Fields suspended. Meanwhile, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is replacing most of his starters. LSU reloads better than most, but even talented groups take time to jell. That should give quarterback Casey Pachall a little breathing room, but the Horned Frogs shouldn't expect Big 12 scoring. The Tigers will try to turn this into an old-school SEC grinder, but of the teams in the Big 12, TCU might be best equipped to deal with that.
 
Texas at BYU
Saturday, Sept. 7
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Longhorns play Ole Miss the following Saturday, but the Rebels play just like a Big 12 team. That matchup will be a nice preview of conference play. The bigger challenge for Texas comes in Provo, where quarterback David Ash will face off with linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a BYU defense that allowed 14 points a game in '12. In describing BYU's defense, Spencer Hall of EveryDayShouldBeSaturday.com wrote it best: "BYU is just plain damn mean, and makes up for any lack of top-end speed with the kind of malice you can only muster with a roster full of grown men with children. (Living with preschoolers makes a man angry, and only BYU has been smart enough to take advantage of that.)" As the father of a four-year-old and a two-year-old, I suggest Ash and backs Malcom Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray wear extra padding. They may win, but it's going to hurt.
 
Oklahoma at Notre Dame
Saturday, Sept. 28
3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The Fighting Irish beat the Sooners in Norman last year, so revenge is an obvious motivation. This game will be a huge challenge for Oklahoma's offensive line. If center Gabe Ikard and company can handle nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, there is nothing a Big 12 D-line can throw at them that they won't be able to manage.
 
Three Key Conference Games
 
Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas)
Saturday, Oct. 12
TBD
The Sooners have beaten the Longhorns by a combined score of 118-38 the past two seasons. Another shellacking like that might spell the end for Brown in Austin. But if Texas can actually come to play, a win could catapult the Longhorns toward a run at the Big 12 title.
 
TCU at Oklahoma State
Saturday, Oct. 19
TBD
If TCU wants to compete for the Big 12 title, it has to win games like this one. Boone Pickens Stadium is the most claustrophobic, hostile environment in the Big 12, and Oklahoma State's buzzsaw of an offense is bolstered by an athletic, opportunistic defense. Meanwhile, the Cowboys could set themselves up for a title run of their own. This is Oklahoma State's toughest matchup until November, when the Cowboys enter a closing stretch of games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma.
 
Texas at Baylor
Saturday, Dec. 7
TBD
Both this and the same day's Oklahoma at Oklahoma State game should really fill this spot. The Big 12 ADs knew what they were doing when they created their master schedule. With no conference title game, they want their eventual conference champ playing a big game the week the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC play their respective championship games. The odds are good that one of these four teams will be the Big 12 champ. But part of what makes the Big 12's true round-robin so much fun to watch is the fact that we probably won't know until November which of these two matchups will be the bigger game.
 
Five Key Questions
 
Will the Big 12 produce a dominant team or two, or will there be a huge bunch at the top? To put a team in the final BCS title game, the Big 12 needs its best teams to stop pounding on one another. One or two teams must emerge and dominate the rest. Unfortunately for the league, that seems unlikely. It's plausible to spin a scenario in which any of five teams (Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas) win the league. That means the champ is probably going to have a couple of losses.
Is the shift to an up-tempo offense the change that finally works for Texas? In 2010, it was a shift to a power-run game. In 2011, it was a staff overhaul. This season, Texas will push the gas pedal like most of the rest of the Big 12. Baylor and Oklahoma State have proven that up-tempo teams can pound the ball inside with great results, but will the tempo hurt a Texas defense that struggled last year? That could depend on the health of Texas defenders. Last year, the Longhorns lost linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat for huge stretches. If the best Texas defenders stay healthy, the defense should hold up.
MANDEL: Texas ranks No. 11 in SI's preseason Top 25
Can a staff overhaul make Oklahoma better on both lines of scrimmage? Bob Stoops parted ways with offensive line coach James Patton, tackles/tight ends coach Bruce Kittle and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp in February and replaced them with Bill Bedenbaugh (West Virginia), Jay Boulware (Auburn) and Jerry Montgomery (Michigan), respectively. Montgomery seems to have the toughest job. As former Sooners coach Barry Switzer famously lamented last season, the Sooners simply haven't had the defensive line talent they had when they dominated the Big 12 in the previous decade.
DEITSCH: Oklahoma ranks No. 19 in SI's preseason Top 25
Can Oklahoma State go even faster on offense? The Cowboys averaged 78 plays a game last year, but coach Mike Gundy has asked first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to go even faster. Yurcich's offense set school records at Division II Shippensburg for points, touchdowns, first downs and total offense in 2012 while averaging 79.5 plays a game. Oklahoma State's quarterback injury issues last year left the Cowboys with two signal-callers (Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh) who have proven themselves capable in game action. That should allow Yurcich to press fast forward one more time.
Will the return of quarterback Casey Pachall make TCU a contender? TCU's 2012 season might have unfolded differently had Pachall not been arrested on a drunk driving charge two days before the Horned Frogs played Iowa State. Trevone Boykin was thrown into the fire, and while he performed admirably, he wasn't ready to be the starter. Pachall is back, and the lift he gives the Horned Frogs' offense -- when combined with a defense that gave up the fewest yards per play in the Big 12 in 2012 -- should vault TCU into the upper echelon of the conference.
 

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