Way-Too-Early Big 12 Predictions Part Two

In Part Two of our way-too-early look at the 2013 Big 12 season, we look at teams pegged in the bottom half of the conference.

6) Kansas State (2012 Record: 11-2)

S&P+: 19 (Offense: 27, Defense: 21)

Every year, people rag on the Wildcats' returning talent. And every year, Bill Snyder finds a way to take the talent that he has, get it playing together, and come away with way more wins than anybody thought possible. But just looking at how decimated the Wildcats were left by graduation, it's tough to pick them higher than this. Gone are the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year (Collin Klein), Defensive Player of the Year (Arthur Brown) and Defensive Lineman of the Year (Meshak Williams). In fact, K-State had 11 players named first- or second-team All-Big 12, and eight of those players are gone. The Wildcats do have some positives returning on the offensive line, with Cornelius Lucas and B.J. Finney both looking like preseason All-Big 12 candidates. Running back John Hubert and receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson ensure that the skill position talent isn't totally bare. Expect the quarterback battle between Daniel Sams, Klein's backup, and incoming JUCO transfer Jake Waters, to be heated. Only safety Ty Zimmerman and cornerback Randall Evans return from the defense that started against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

7) West Virginia (7-6)

S&P+: 35 (Offense: 10, Defense: 78)

Maybe this ranking gives Dana Holgorsen too much credit. After all, the Mountaineers did have three of the best skill position players anybody could ask for in Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, only to put together a 7-5 regular season record. Now, all three — along with second-team All-Big 12 center Joe Madsen and No. 3 receiver J.D. Woods — are gone, leaving the Mountaineers to try and put together an offense without almost any of their most important pieces. In fact, the pass-happy Holgorsen may need to lean more on a running game that returns Andrew Buie and a hopefully fully recovered Dustin Garrison at running back, running behind a line that returns Pat Eger, Quinton Spain and Curtis Feight. That's the bad news. The good news is that the defense should be better despite losing outside linebackers Josh Francis and Terence Garvin, both of whom had a knack for making plays in the backfield. But the Mountaineers should continue to be strong up the middle with nose tackle Shaq Rowell protecting returning middle linebackers Doug Rigg and Isaiah Bruce. And the defensive backfield returns a ton of key players, including safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook. Holgorsen might not have one of his traditional teams, but the Mountaineers return enough talent to ensure that they shouldn't fall too far.

8) Texas Tech (8-5)

S&P+: 41 (Offense: 25, Defense: 63)

Too low? Quite possibly. Kliff Kingsbury takes over a program that started off awfully well in 2012, only to falter down the stretch. Kingsbury's background is Air Raid (obviously), so expect the Red Raiders to get back to many of those same concepts (not that they were far off). Former Lake Travis standout Michael Brewer should take over for the graduated Seth Doege, and though the Red Raiders lose a number of wideouts, they do return receiver Eric Ward, and have recruited well at the position. Tight end Jace Amaro may be the best player at his position in the Big 12, while running back Kenny Williams is excellent. Line anchor LaAdrian Waddle is gone, as are the defense's anchors in safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. But Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush are back on what could be a very good defensive line, and Will Smith and Terrence Bullitt return at linebacker. The Red Raiders certainly aren't short on talent — Tommy Tuberville stocked the cupboards well, and there's a reason Tech had such a hot start. The question will be whether Kingsbury, in his first head-coaching gig, can get that talent pointed in the right direction.

9) Kansas (1-11)

S&P+: 82 (Offense: 101, Defense: 57)

Call this one a bit of a hunch. The Jayhawks finished 1-11 in 2012, but dropped five games by seven points or less. And they did that without a ton of talent on defense, and without any semblance of a passing game. James Sims and Tony Pierson might be the best one-two running back punch returning in the league (Pierson was also the team's second-leading receiver), but they'll need help, and should get it from former five-star quarterback Jake Heaps, who sat out 2012 after transferring from BYU. Fellow five-star talent Justin McCay could help buff up the receiving corps. But the main cause for optimism is a JUCO-heavy recruiting class that should buff up the talent level significantly up-and-down the roster, including big-time defensive linemen Chris Martin and Marquel Combs. Kansas will have to replace a trio of starting linemen, as well as underrated defensive backs Bradley McDougald and Greg Brown. But the defense should be better with the new talent and any improvement from linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, who played extremely well at times last year.

10) Iowa State (6-7)

S&P+: 58 (Offense: 95, Defense: 29)

The Cyclones were able to trip to the Autozone Liberty Bowl almost exclusively on the backs of a sturdy defense … a defense that is now pretty much gutted. Gone are top linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Also gone is fellow first-team All-Big 12'er Jake McDonough at defensive tackle, second-teamer Durrell Givens at safety and honorable mention cornerback Jeremy Reeves. In fact, the Cyclones had nine players make first, second or honorable mention All-Big 12, and the only ones returning in 2013 will be second-team punter Kirby Van Der Kamp and honorable mention DB Jacques Washington. Offensively, the Cyclones do return Sam Richardson at quarterback, who showed some nice things late in the season, and both leading rushers in James White and Shontrelle Johnson. But they lose three of their top four receivers as well. Paul Rhoads is a heck of a coach, and he'll have to be to help the Cyclones avoid the cellar in 2013.

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