Big 12 football: Conference season preview, part two
Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series previewing the Big 12 football teams.
With the Big 12 football season fast approaching — it officially kicks off with Kansas-TCU on Saturday — The Daily takes a look at all the teams in the conference.
Oklahoma State (1-1)
Oklahoma State is fresh off its best season in school history — during which the Cowboys won their first Big 12 title and made their first trip to a BCS bowl game — but with the loss of school record-holders Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, OSU has experienced a lot of turnover offensively. The Cowboys return junior running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, who combined for nearly 1,862 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns, but are breaking in a true freshman quarterback, Wes Lunt. Lunt looked solid against Arizona in week two, throwing for 436 yards and four touchdowns, but his performance was hampered by three costly interceptions. Defensively, the Cowboys are a little shaky up front, and the secondary, led by senior cornerback Brodrick Brown, is by far the strongest unit.
Texas Christian (1-0)
The No. 16 Horned Frogs are looking to contend for a Big 12 title in their inaugural season in the conference, and nothing seems to suggest that they won’t. TCU has garnered a reputation of consistency and stifling, disciplined defense, and the Horned Frogs showed both in a 56-0 season-opening win against Grambling State. Junior quarterback Casey Pachall — who quietly threw for 25 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards last season — was a perfect 9-for-9 against Grambling State and is one of the better quarterbacks in a conference known for elite signal callers. Suspensions rocked TCU in the offseason, as coach Gary Patterson suspended four players — most notably, the Horned Frogs' returning leading tackler, linebacker Tanner Brock — in the wake of a drug bust that resulted in the arrest of 17 TCU students. But despite the dismissals, expect TCU to be in the thick of the Big 12 title race at season’s end.
Texas was missing three things during its disappointing 2010 and 2011 campaigns: a Big 12 title, a win against Oklahoma and solid quarterback play. If the Longhorns hope to meet their high expectations in 2012, they’ll need to have all three. After losing twelve games in two seasons, Texas is looking to reclaim its spot among the Big 12’s elite. The Longhorns' quarterback play has been pedestrian the past two seasons, but despite its struggles under center, Texas has as strong a defense and running game as any team in the nation. The ‘Horns will rely on both to contend for a Big 12 title this season. Texas returns sophomore running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and also adds the nation’s top-rated running back recruit, Jonathan Gray, all of whom will need to contribute this season. Led by ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, the defensive line is among the best of the nation, and the rest of the defense isn’t far behind.
Texas Tech (2-0)
Lubbock has been quiet ever since the departure of former coach Mike Leach. After defeating Northwestern in the 2010 Ticket City Bowl, the Red Raiders ended their streak of 10-straight bowl appearances with a 5-7 record last season, when they lost seven of their last eight games. But Texas Tech hopes to bounce back in 2012, as the Red Raiders return their top two receivers, junior Eric Ward and senior Alex Torres, in addition to senior running back Eric Stephens — who missed the last seven games of 2011 after a knee injury — and senior quarterback Seth Doege. Doege threw for 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season and is on the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List. On the other side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is the Red Raiders’ fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons and will need to shore up a defense that allowed more than 40 points six times last year.
West Virginia (1-0)
Like TCU, West Virginia is looking to make the most out of its first season in the Big 12. Last year’s Big East champs, the Mountaineers' success will sink or swim based on the ability of coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered air raid offense to light up the scoreboard. West Virginia’s offense returns eight starters from a unit that scored 70 points on Clemson in last season’s Orange Bowl, most notably, senior quarterback — and Heisman contender — Geno Smith. Smith should rack up the yards thanks to two explosive receivers — junior Stedman Bailey and senior Tavon Austin — who combined for 2,465 yards and 20 touchdowns receiving last season.