Now, in addition to why Tech will be better than most think, the flip side is that other teams will not achieve at the level that others believe they will.
First, I've got Oklahoma St. at the top of the Big 12, Kansas and Iowa State at the bottom, and everyone else in the middle. With Tech picked 7th or 8th depending on who you talk to, let's look at what I just outlined versus the rest of the middle of the pack.
Texas – The longhorns return 19 starters, 10 on offense, 9 on defense. You can name the 3 they lost: WR Marquis Goodwin, DE Alex Okafor and S Kenny Vaccaro. Texas will have a good running game, but will the team around Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcom Brown balance out the running game? Major Applewhite will be the lone voice on offense. Defensively, Jackson Jeffcoat may finally be healthy, and Quandre Diggs returns, but is there enough around those two to think that this unit will not underachieve again in 2013? This is a pivotal season for Mack Brown and the horns, does this group have what it takes to respond?
Oklahoma – The Sooners will be solid on offense, but will they be great at the skill position? Damien Williams is good, but not in the top 5 of running backs in the Big 12. We don't know if Blake Bell can throw the ball, and their receiving corps talent is underwhelming. Also, Bell had a big turnover in a key moment that ultimately cost the Sooners against Kansas St. That's probably unfair, but can he make the play at the big moment? Defensively, the Sooners' front 7 is not like it used to be. Assistant coaches were made scapegoats after the 2012 season, but that may not mask the fact that the talent isn't there.
Kansas St. – They can't do it again, can they? That's the same question we asked a year ago and we were wrong. This time, the rebuilding process is more tedious with no Colin Klein and 9 departing starters on defense. Tyler Lockett is still there, and he is still dangerous as a receiver and a returner. I wouldn't want bet against Bill Snyder, but sometimes there is just too much to overcome. This is one of those times.
TCU – Call me a non-believer in the Frogs. Yes, they beat Texas in Austin. Yes, they played more freshmen than the rest of the conference and return more ready, experienced and tested in the Big 12, but I'm not buying. This is an offensive-driven league, and there are days when the ol' Patterson 4-2-5 is going to give up points and yards like everyone else. Offensively the Frogs are less talented at receiver than they were a year ago, and RB Waymon James returns after a knee injury wiped out his 2012 campaign. Then there's the question of what to do at QB. Trevone Boykin learned on the fly and played well at times, but also didn't do enough to win the job outright this spring. Casey Pachall returns after a suspension. Has he won back the huddle? Also, DeVonte Fields garnered a suspension for the first 2 games of 2013. Is that a sign that there hasn't been as much change at TCU as we have been led to believe?
West Virginia – We should wait and find out if West Virginia improves anymore this offseason before they get a full evaluation. Already graced with FSU transfer Clint Trickett at QB, James Sims will also play this season after leaving Houston. This gives the Mountaineers a breath of life after Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey. Trickett may not start the season as the WVU QB, but my guess is that he'll finish it. The big question at WVU will be defense. They were shredded a year ago in Big 12 play and return 7 starters from that group. It's going to take more than one year of recruiting to fill up the depth chart for Dana Holgerson. They will score points, but will they stop anyone?
Baylor – The Bears are the biggest wildcard out there. I could legitimately see them finishing 2nd in the league, and I could see them struggling like a WVU. Baylor does have more talent on defense than WV, and the Baylor defense played a lot better the second half of the season in 2012 under Phil Bennett. With Lache Seastrunk ready to run all over teams this year, the receivers better as a group than each of the last two years, the question offensively is new QB Bryce Petty. If Petty has shown he can run the offense as well as his predecessors, Baylor will be very tough. If not, then the other Big 12 coaches should fund a cush for former Red Raider DB Cornelius Douglas, who knocked RG3 out of the Texas Tech-Baylor game in 2011 and thus pulled the redshirt off of Nick Florence, costing him a year of eligibility. Otherwise Baylor would be very scary.
So how do they finish? The easy answer is no one knows, that's why they play the game, and all of the other overused preseason clichés. What I do know is the entire league uncertain at QB, there are dominant offensive players, but not necessarily dominant offenses other than OSU, and defenses will be piecemealed together on a week to week basis to stop the most offensive heavy conference in the country. I'll take my chances that the 2013 Red Raiders will be in the thick of it and finish closer to the top than the bottom as they are projected.