This is a one time mid-summer segment mainly for selfish therapy purposes of being by God ready to talk some real football. I'm recycling a feature name for these thoughts from the old Tortilla Retort for reasons that I don't really have an answer for. Man, that was a sweet name for a Tech blog. Maybe when I get more time in a couple of years, I'll talk to Sailor Ripley about shutting TR up in the lot for me, put some shoes on him and start forking that bronc again. Until then, this is what you get.
So the Big 12 sucks?
I generally find myself in a minority of college football fans. I couldn't care less about what conference Tech is in. Would I rather be in the Big 12 than the Mountain West or Conference USA? You bet. Is the SEC a better conference? Most certainly at the top, I believe. Do I have a problem with that or the perception? Not really. It's a stick in my eye watching SEC football for the most part.
I think Johnny Football brought some pizzazz to an otherwise stagnant offensive league. I enjoy watching him play and I just can't find myself rooting against the Texas boys when they go anywhere. I still thought the SWC was kind of awesome when it collapsed. What other place could Tech have made it to the Cotton Bowl with a 6-5 record? And, I've enjoyed every minute of Big 12 football. Having a front row seat for the evolution of spread offenses through all of football will be an experience we're telling our grandkids about one day just like mine did the wishbone. It's the great equalizer. The most efficient offensive machine ever invented with elements of all predecessor systems rolled into one. It's downfield option football that is both sustainable and schematically sound. That's why Nick Saban is crying about slowing the game down. It's been a while since he's been in a situation where he might be forced to play Cover 2 and risk getting outnumbered in the run game with a mobile QB. Johnny Football is making him squirm and I'm certainly looking forward to the JF vs. Saban re-match in College Station, assuming #2 is still eligible come September. Or not incarcerated. Or if he's still alive. DID HE EVER REALLY EXIST? Have you ever had an existential conversation with an Aggie? I bet it was brief and awkward, like a Mack Brown / Bob Stoops midfield handshake.
The Big 12 may be cursed, but for me as a fan, it's never felt that way at all. It's been awesome and I want it to keep going. The return of Kliff has added to the exaggerated enthusiasm for myself, but I'm really thinking this has the potential to be one of the most fun Big 12 seasons since its history despite no true MNC contenders or elite teams at the top heading into the season. While the top two or three teams in the SEC might be stronger, there are legitimately seven teams in the Big 12 with the potential to be good football teams. Everyone scares me just a little bit and I kind of like it that way. I enjoy the round robin format and like getting to see all the teams play once. I never knew you, Colorado and Nebraska, when you weren't on the Tech schedule. (It's a line from my forthcoming album, for which the ebook preview will be available soon!)
Ranking the Units
I'm not particularly fond of getting cornered into conference predictions, but I really enjoy grading the respective units of each team. We'll go in alphabetical order and I'll throw darts along the way.
Baylor (B+) - We're looking at six offensive football teams that will threaten the 40 ppg plateau and this is one of them. We know Seastrunk is good and Reese is fast. What other teams should really be concerned about is how good of football players are Jay Allen, Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes right now? That could create some real matchup problems, if those guys all turn out to be recruiting hits. Petty will be fine.
Iowa State (C-) - Whatever the Cyclones produce, it won't be enough to compete in the top half of this league. TE Ernest Brun highlights an offense that is littered with a bunch of guys I've never heard of. I kind of like RB James White, although he's not a gamechanger. QB Richardson did some stuff like average 30 ppg against Kansas, WV and Tulsa, which provides reasons for optimism. Do you really believe this outfit will blossom into an explosive juggernaut? Me neither. Gotta love Paul Rhoads either way.
Kansas (C) - I won't be surprised if the Jayhawks have the best running attack in the league. That pile of shit from media days? PURE MISDIRECTION, Charlie! Jake Heaps should help at QB but I also won't be surprised if they don't finish in the cellar. With that being said, I feel like I'm staring at a tick better unit than what ISU will field.
Kansas State (B) - This is probably my favorite OL in the league. OT Cornelius Lucas and C B.J. Finney get the most ink, but in the DVR room, young OG Cody Whitehair has graded out the highest in the couple of KSU games I watched. Great name, too. That spells good news for RB John Hubert and expect him to have a monster season. Never underestimate the offensive genius that is Bill Snyder. He'll adapt his offense to the skillset of either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters. I thought Sams looked interesting in relief last season. I wouldn't change a thing, if I was Snyder, as Sams is a much more dangerous runner than Collin Klein, even if he has the disadvantage of running in real time, as opposed to the slowed down continuum Optimus Klein enjoyed.
Oklahoma (B+) - Back to the 40 ppg candidates. RB Damien Williams provides an element of explosiveness, while Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard proved their worth as WR weapons over the second half of the season. This kind of feels like Stoops may take a page out of the Snyder playbook and go more Collin Klein-style offense with QB Blake Bell. I'm not willing to bet on failure at such an endeavor given his track record at piling up trophies. Paul Thompson, people. Paul Thompson.
Oklahoma State (A) - We are well aware of the QB situation with Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. WR Josh Stewart is one of the top playmakers in the Big 12. They are losing an exceptional back in Joseph Randle and I expect production to slip a bit with Jeremy Smith in the run game. Regardless, who doesn't think the Cowboys will flirt with 40 on average? Should be the top offense in the league once again.
TCU (B+) - I'm curious if Patterson stumbled into something he likes about how TCU plays football this year in last season's upset of UT. QB Casey Pachall is the preseason choice for 1st team all conference, but you have to wonder if relying on a stingy defense and the legs of Trevone Boykin might be a better formula for the Frogs. He's most valuable when his run attempts are equal or greater than his pass attempts. Boykin has struggled with accuracy in the mid-range game, but throws one of the best deep balls you'll find. Hmmm....quite the pickle. RB Waymon James is back in the mix and, prior to injury, I thought he was the most talented back in the league. He's an amazing blend of everything you want in a RB when healthy. WR Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown offer deep threat potential. The Frogs could flirt with 40, but I'll believe it when I see more commitment to the passing game. Maybe that's where Pachall comes into play. Just not sure that will be the formula that wins the most games.
Texas (B+) - You would like to believe this will be the year David Ash puts it all together. Major Applewhite takes over the OC reins and will transition to a more traditional spread attack. However, I still haven't seen anything going back to high school that suggests you want the ball in Ash's hands as often as possible to play championship football. At a minimum, he will be surrounded by playmakers galore, which should bail him out of many situations. I would beat Ash like he owed me money with read option, but that's just me and Bill Snyder talking. I've loved Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley since they were sophomores in high school. That hasn't changed and will keep this a solid unit at worst with big upside.
Texas Tech (B+) - Eric Ward, Jace Amaro, Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez give the Raiders one of the toughest matchups defensively across the board. The wildcard is new QB Michael Brewer. I say new, but if J.W. Walsh can be an effective QB in the Big 12, then Brewer is most certainly capable and he knows how to win. They've got a nice stable of RBs and an OL with solid talent and one elite player in Le'Raven Clark. This will be another unit that could hit the 40 average. QB race is tighter than expected between Brewer and newcomer Davis Webb. They couldn't represent two more different styles, so Kingsbury's choice here could influence the direction of offense to be played in Lubbock. Like Texas, with good QB play, could easily achieve an A grade at season's end.
West Virginia (B-) - The only hangover worse than the last one for Dana Holgerson will be the one he wakes up with sans Tavon Austin, Stedmon Bailey and Geno Smith. You could say we actually know less about the WV offense than any unit in the conference besides KSU's defense. I'm giving the B- based on Holgerson's historical performance. I don't see them having a bad offense, but it won't have the bailout personality required to keep up with the top of the conference.
Baylor (C) - Maybe they made a few key plays over the nice run the Bears finished with in 2012, but I can't get past the 41 ppg and 521 yards allowed and believe this unit will somehow carry its weight to a championship run. LB Eddie Lackey and LB Bryce Hager are solid football players with Lackey possibly being a little better than that. DE Chris McAllister came on as a pass rusher, but I'm seeing a lot of other holes on the DL. S Ahmad Dixon is a capable player that we're all familiar with and CBs K.J. Morton and Joe Williams proved to be opportunistic. Maybe DT Javonte Magee is the answer, but I still don't think they've recovered from the loss of Phil Taylor and Jean the Baptiste. I'm sometimes more impressed with how Briles didn't win a conference title at Baylor with that talent at DT, RGIII, Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams on the roster? This is a Phil Bennett hedge.
Iowa State (D+) - Paul Rhoads grades out much higher as a coach than his team, however, he's got a rebuilding job on this side of the ball. I still consider replacing the core of a defense at ISU as a rebuild job and not of the reload variety. LB Jeremiah George and S Jacques Washington are both under-the-radar, but really good defenders.
Kansas (D+) - This could be a bit of a surprise unit in that they might not be near as bad as people believe. Like say, if Project JUCO: Season Six works out. Weis and Campo landed some nice players and OLB Ben Goodman is a guy to keep an eye on for a breakout year. ILB Ben Heeney is one of the better players at his position. If Campo can get the DL turned around, I could see some C+ or even B- potential here. I'm not that optimistic and over 40 ppg and 500 yards leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Kansas State (C) - Generally, with the level of attrition, this would be an automatic D-. I'm going to give the Snyder grade bump though, but the fact that they served as a mere speed bump for a retooled offense this spring leads me to believe my instincts are correct. No one recovers from the type of losses KSU suffered on the depth chart, but their numbers will be inflated due to Snyder ball and shortening the game.
Oklahoma (B) - It feels weird not slapping an A on this group, but I'm not seeing the difference makers on the DL. Everywhere else will be fine, though, and you won't see a Stoops' defense dropping to the bottom of the conference stats.
Oklahoma State (B) - DTs Calvin Barnett and James Castleman combine to form one of the better interior duos, well, anywhere. The back 7 doesn't seem to have any glaring weakspots. Things seem well-rounded for the Cowboys, but I'm skeptical Bill Young karma could come into play. I'll keep them at a B for now. If Young were back, I would have them higher.
TCU (A) - Now, here's a damn nice unit. DT Chucky Hunter, DE Devonte Fields, NB Sam Carter and CB Jason Verrett make up the best players at each of their respective positions in the league. That's traditionally been the recipe for success around here and I see 2013 being no different.
Texas (B) - The struggles of the Texas defense have been well-documented, but possibly a bit inflated. After a rough stretch of WV, OU and Baylor, Manny Diaz seemed to right the ship a bit and this was a middle of the road unit for the most part. Folks just aren't accustomed to seeing a UT defense ranked in that position, so the shock factor plays in a bit. The Longhorns return a boatload of good players including stars DE Jackson Jeffcoat and DB Quandre Diggs. DT Malcom Brown is the next great thing on the inside for UT and nobody can boast the quality of DL depth. They've got A- upside playing base defense and with the return of Jackson and LB Jordan Hicks.
Texas Tech (B) - The 2012 Raiders finished 4th in the league in total defense, but allowed an awful 39 ppg. You guessed it. Turnover margin. Fix that issue and Tech had less attrition than any defense not named TCU. DL Kerry Hyder, DE Dartwan Bush, OLB Terrance Bullitt and S Tre Porter are as grizzled and proven veterans as you'll find. Shockingly, this unit finds itself on the top end of the league at DL depth despite the defection of Delvon Simmons. Keep an eye on OLB Pete Robertson, who is one of the few edge players in the Big 12 with the speed and power to challenge Fields for the sack title.
West Virginia (D-) - LB Isaiah Bruce and S Karl Joseph were thrust into action last year and proved they are good players. I'm not sure exactly what's going on in Morgantown when it comes to defense, but it is equally wild as it is awful, and requires moonshine to truly appreciate. I need to see something different before I'm a believer.
Well, my paper analysis seems to read well for OSU and TCU, but mostly wideass open for a league that will field 7 teams capable of threatening the top 25. Kansas State is going to have to split up some of those wins from last year. As always, UT and OU have the talent, but will coaching get in the way?
Let the games begin.