2013 could be a year of change on the Big 12 football landscape. TCU and Baylor will vie to become the conference's latest golden boys, and Oklahoma will take a dive in the Big 12 hierarchy. Will Texas and Kansas State, too? Can Oklahoma State cement its status as one of the conference's big boys ? And can Kliff Kingsbury, the Big 12's newest coach, revive a Texas Tech program that has slipped into the doldrums following the pyroclastic Mike Leach years? If nothing else, it will be interesting. Very, very interesting, indeed.
1. Oklahoma State: No program in the Big 12 has more momentum than Mike Gundy's OSU outfit. Give Gundy all the credit--against fairly steep odds, he has built a powerhouse in Stillwater. His 2013 team is loaded at quarterback and receiver, has a stellar linebacker in Shaun Lewis, and is solid everywhere else. There are no major weaknesses on this team.
2. Texas: The Longhorns look like the conference's best just about everywhere but the all important quarterback position. There is depth at running back, quality in the receiving corps, superiority at offensive line, dynamism at defensive end and linebacker, and UT has the best cornerback tandem in America. But can David Ash elevate the Horn offense above mediocrity? And does Mack Brown still have his mojo?
3. TCU: The Horned Frogs, wet behind the ears in 2012, will come of age in 2013. Waymon James is the best running back nobody's heard about; Devonte Fields may be the best pass rusher in college football, and Jason Verrett is the best cornerback in the Big 12. If the TCU offensive line comes together, the Frogs could throw a scare into Texas and Oklahoma State.
4. Baylor: When it comes to running backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs, the Bears are tops. Lache Seastrunk could make a Heisman run; Tevin Reese is the latest in a long line of Baylor receiving dynamos; Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey are the Big 12's best linebackers, and talent litters the secondary. Line play could be an issue, however, and nobody knows how good Bryce Petty will be at quarterback.
5. Kansas State: Outside of outstanding safety Ty Zimmerman, the Wildcats are absolutely barren on defense. But you'd go bankrupt tout suite selling Bill Snyder short; he will find a way to field a serviceable stop unit. On offense there are no real concerns. The KSU line will be superb; John Hubert and Tyler Lockett are productive at running back and receiver respectively, and Daniel Sam will remind people of vintage Oklahoma quarterbacks Thomas Lott, J. C. Watts and Jamelle Holieway.
6. West Virginia: 2013 once looked like a disaster in the making for Dana Holgorsen's club, but lifelines appeared in the form of transfers Clint Trickett and Charles Sims. Trickett gives the Mountaineers a real talent at quarterback, and Sims significantly elevates an already solid WVU running back unit. Still, there are major holes at receiver, and linebacker, and both lines will be only average. Safety Karl Joseph, a huge playmaker at safety, will help.
7. Oklahoma: Early predictions that the Sooners will challenge for the Big 12 title are rooted in Oklahoma's past rather than its present. Quarterback Blake Bell has yet to prove he can throw the football any better than Brittony Spears. The offensive tackles are unproven, and outside of cornerback Aaron Colvin, there is nothing remotely impressive about OU's defensive personnel. The Sooners will drop this season; only time will tell if the drop is a blip or the beginning of a trend.
8. Texas Tech: Much depends upon how quickly new coach Kliff Kingsbury gets up to Big 12 coaching speed, because this conference has a rugged learning curve for rookie bosses. If Kingsbury proves to be an instant phenom, Red Raider talent is good enough for Tech to crack the conference's top five. Realistically, however, it is too much to expect Kingsbury to get the draw on the legendary coaches who call the Big 12 home. 2014 may be a different story, however.
9. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads is a good coach, but he's still fighting with a very short stick. The Cyclones have a very good offensive line, but skill position players are nil. On defense, ISU doesn't have a single unit that ranks in the conference's top half.
10. Kansas: In James Sims, Tyler Cox and Tony Pierson, the Jayhawks will at least have a running game to lean on. And in Ben Heeney, Charley Weis has one of the Big 12's best linebackers. But other than that, the Jayhawk roster is a wilderness where incoming JUCO prospects will be counted upon to start in key positions. It doesn't look good.