2014 Big 12 preview: Baylor eyes a repeat; Texas seeks a new identity
An in-state product from Urbandale, Iowa, Lazard signed with the Cyclones over Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford, among others. The 6-5, 215-pounder set Urbandale High records for career receptions (105) and career receiving yards (2,349). Lazard’s father, Kevin, was a star defensive back at Iowa State in the 1990s. Look for the younger version to turn heads right away.
Three key nonconference games
Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (in Arlington, Texas), Aug. 30 (ABC)
Can coach Mike Gundy’s Cowboys stun the defending champs? That’ll be an incredibly tall task, as Oklahoma State lost most of its senior leadership from last year’s squad. The Cowboys’ defense must be sharp from the get-go against Jameis Winston and the Seminoles.
Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Texas), Sept. 13 (FOX)
Charlie Strong has been changing the Longhorns’ culture one dismissal at a time. A neutral-site meeting with UCLA will be his team’s biggest early test. If Texas can upset the Bruins, a team expected to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the sky is the limit in Strong’s first year.
Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 18 (ESPN)
The Tigers haven’t played a nonconference game on a Thursday night since 2008, when they lost at West Virginia 34-17. There’s plenty of hype surrounding this matchup in Manhattan. Can Bill Snyder and the Wildcats take down last season’s BCS runner-up?
Three key conference games
Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas), Oct. 11 (TBD)
The Longhorns spoiled the Sooners’ perfect season last year in the Red River Rivalry. With a first-year coach and a healthy backfield featuring Johnathan Gray, could Texas accomplish the same feat this fall?
Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8 (TBD)
Is this a de facto conference title game? Perhaps. Baylor and Oklahoma are the two primary candidates to emerge as the Big 12 champion, and the idea of the Bears’ offense squaring off against the Sooners’ defense should have football fans salivating. Baylor dominated Oklahoma 41-12 last November.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Dec. 6 (TBD)
The Cowboys fell short of a second Big 12 championship in three seasons when the Sooners stole a season-ending 33-24 victory in Bedlam last December. Oklahoma State’s depth might make this matchup appear lopsided on paper, but crazy things tend to happen in rivalry games.
Five key questions
What can fans expect from Texas? Things have already changed significantly since Strong arrived in Austin. He dismissed a number of players and suspended several others, including wide receiver Daje Johnson and offensive tackle Desmond Harrison. The Longhorns have issues at offensive line and quarterback, where David Ash’s health remains a constant concern. However, if this roster improves its toughness -- especially on defense -- Texas could make some noise in the Big 12.
Will Oklahoma live up to expectations? The Sooners land on preseason top-10 lists every year, yet the hype rarely delivers for a program that hasn’t won a national title since 2000. This season could be different, however, for a roster that returns 14 starters, including quarterback Trevor Knight, wideout Sterling Shepard and linebacker Eric Striker. Oklahoma closed out last year with a sparkling 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Fans will soon find out whether coach Bob Stoops can keep that momentum going.
Can TCU prove it belongs? The Horned Frogs failed to make a bowl game last season for the first time since 2004. In fact, since coach Gary Patterson’s team won the Rose Bowl to cap a 13-0 campaign in ‘10, its record has dropped with each passing year. TCU simply hasn’t carried success from the Mountain West to the Big 12, as it has a 6-12 conference record over the last two years. To turn things around, the Frogs must revive one of the Big 12’s worst offenses (5.0 yards per play in ‘13) and weather the recent dismissal of defensive end Devonte Fields.
What’s going on with West Virginia? Remember when West Virginia hung 70 points on Clemson in the 2011 Orange Bowl? Well, the Mountaineers have an 11-14 record since, including a 4-8 mark last fall that included a 31-19 loss to Kansas. The speculation surrounding coach Dana Holgorsen’s job security prompted athletic director Oliver Luck to issue a statement last December. West Virginia returns 14 starters in 2014, but a schedule that features nonconference matchups with Alabama and Maryland could make bouncing back difficult.
Is the Big 12 on the outside looking in for a playoff spot? The Big 12 touts itself as the only league with one true champion, since it plays a nine-game, round-robin schedule that pits every member school against each other. However, the Big 12 remains the only Power Five conference without a championship game. Could that hurt its chances of placing a program in the inaugural College Football Playoff? Commissioner Bob Bowlsby doesn’t think so. “I think the fact that we play everybody in our league is a nuance that is not going to be lost on the selection committee,” Bowlsby said at Big 12 Media Days last month.