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Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create the 2014 Big 12 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 18th. What you see in the Conference Standings table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
All team previews are provided by CollegeFootballNews.com.
2014 Big 12 Predicted Conference Standings
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
But you're Baylor.
You know, perennial Big 12 doormat, went a bazillion games without winning a conference matchup, had just one bowl appearance - and lost it - from 1993 to 2010, 15,000-enrollment, happy to get any recruit who ever dreamed about playing for Texas or Oklahoma ...Baylor.
But Art Briles has done a miraculous job in his six seasons in Waco, turning around an afterthought program that was impossible to make into a winner and he made it cool. What he has done is like, well, turning Baylor into a Big 12 champion.
As the end of last season showed, though, just winning a conference title and getting to a conference championship game isn't good enough for a team that managed to rip through the first nine games of the season like the opponents had no idea how to play college football.
The ugly, nationally-televised spotlight loss to Oklahoma State and the Fiesta Bowl defeat to UCF put a damper on what was, by any other measure, an all-timer of a campaign for the program, but now there's another carrot at the end of the stick. The Bears showed they could produce and play at a high level under Briles, and now the motivation is there to do even more.
First, though, try to wrap your head around what Baylor did until the debacle in Stillwater - the team made a 70 point game seem routine.
In 2008, Sam Bradford and the record-setting Oklahoma offense never hit the 70-point mark scoring 716 points on the season. Baylor scored 70 four times and could've made it 100 in the 69-3 win over Wofford on the way to a 681-point season with one fewer game. Blink, and Bryce Petty had three touchdown passes on the way to a 35-0 lead.
Baylor outscored teams 208 to 64 in the first quarters of games and 407 to 138 in the first halves - the opponents never knew what hit them.
Briles does a terrific job of getting the ball out of the hands of his quarterback in a hurry to a receiver on the move, and his attack finds wide open spaces for the speed backs to run through. It sounds much easier than it is - everyone would hang 70 on a regular basis if they could - but the offense that cranked up 619 yards per game and averaged 52 points per outing needs to have the parts in place.
It's not just a gimmicky spread, Briles has found a way to load up with very fast, very athletic players who simply outquick most teams. Put a heady quarterback behind a good offensive line to deliver the ball, and all of a sudden, boom.
Petty is back for his senior season after getting the option of leaving early for the next level, and his main weapons are back in Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood to make the passing game fly. Lache Seastrunk might be gone, but the team of Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson should keep the ground attack rolling and explosive.
The defense that didn't get quite enough respect or attention returns better and stronger with improved depth and a base of seven good starters to work around. The Bears finished 28th in the nation in total D and were fantastic at getting behind the line and being disruptive, and now they have the potential to be dominant with a front four as good as any in the Big 12.
Now it's time to take Baylor seriously. Yeah, everyone waited for reality to set in last year, and it might have happened against Oklahoma State, but that was the aberration. Even against UCF, the team proved to be the real deal.
Yeah, now it really is time to believe that Baylor can actually play.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Baylor Bears
|2||Northwestern State Demons||95||53-8|
|5||@Iowa State Cyclones||72||30-20|
|7||TCU Horned Frogs||75||27-19|
|8||@West Virginia Mountaineers||82||29-18|
|13||Oklahoma State Cowboys||58||27-25|
|14||Texas Tech Red Raiders||62||31-24|
|15||Kansas State Wildcats||56||26-24|
Oklahoma won the 2012 Big 12 championship - or at least a piece of it - and finished 10-3, but got its doors ripped off by that Manziel guy in the 2013 Cotton Bowl, meaning the program had lost its mojo.
Oklahoma kept Oklahoma State from winning the 2013 Big 12 championship - or at least a piece of it - and finished 11-2 after ripping through Alabama like that Manziel guy did two years in a row, and all of a sudden the program is hot stuff.
It's amazing what one great bowl game and one fantastic late drive against an archrival can do.
Oklahoma is still Oklahoma - very talented, always in the Big 12 title chase, always good enough to be in line for the biggest of big bowl games - but funny things tend to happen to the sports media world when you beat Alabama like the Sooners did in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
Remember, Oklahoma got beaten up and blown through last season by a totally mediocre Texas team and was obliterated by Baylor. If Blake Bell didn't step in and save the day against Oklahoma State, no matter what might have happened in the Cotton Bowl - or whatever bowl a 9-3 OU would've gone to - the narrative would've been far, far different going into this season.
But Trevor Knight turned into Joe Montana for a day in New Orleans, the defensive front became the '85 Bears, and all of a sudden we're supposed to believe that the magic is back? Bob Stoops is Big Game Bob again? The team isn't going to pull an Oklahoma at least once or twice a regular season and get crushed in stunning fashion - be it a blowout against 2012 Notre Dame, a 41-13 loss to Texas Tech in 2009 or a 41-38 loss to a bad Texas Tech team in 2011?
Really, we're now supposed to buy that a team with so many questions in the defensive backfield, running back, and yeah, quarterback is ready to rock through a not-that-bad Big 12 and roll through the College Football Playoff?
There's a theory when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament that all you can reasonably do is put a good team on the floor year in and year out and then hope everything comes together once in a while during a few weeks in March - eventually, you'll catch the right breaks. That's been Oklahoma under Stoops, fielding great team after great team as the true star of the Big 12, and while there hasn't been a national title since 2000, it's not like there's been a major lull.
Sure, there have been some missteps here and there, and there have been times when the Sooners haven't quite played up to expectations, but Stoops is averaging ten wins a year in Norman and has proven to become a legend at a place that names things after football people. And yeah, while bowl games might be self-contained, one-off exhibitions, blasting away like OU did on Nick Saban's fun bunch really was important and really was impressive. It did matter, because it seemed to remind everyone that Oklahoma football has been and still is pretty good.
Is the 2014 version a complete team? Hardly, especially compared to what Florida State is about to crank out, but there are always good OU running backs waiting to put up huge numbers, there are always more receivers to fill in the gaps, the secondary always finds all-star talent, and the program always reloads like all elite ones do. But now it'll be important to take the attitude it showed in the Sugar Bowl - the yeah, SEC, we can play football, too, mentality - and bring it each and every week. There isn't a team on the schedule that should be favored over the Sooners, and with Tennessee, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State coming to Norman, there's absolutely no excuse to not get into the playoff.
The end of the 2013 season set the bar high again for many, even though it never dropped. This time around, though, 11-2 probably won't be good enough.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Oklahoma Sooners
|1||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||88||31-18|
|2||@Tulsa Golden Hurricane||72||28-20|
|4||@West Virginia Mountaineers||80||28-17|
|6||@TCU Horned Frogs||64||27-21|
|8||Kansas State Wildcats||59||26-23|
|10||@Iowa State Cyclones||73||29-20|
|12||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||68||30-24|
|15||Oklahoma State Cowboys||55||26-25|
With all the fancy-schmancy, hurry-up gimmick things going on in college football right now, and with so many teams doing whatever they can to go fast, fast, FAST, maybe it's time to start copycatting what works.
Kansas State works.
It may not be pretty, it might not be the most exciting brand of football, and the head coach might not be some spiffed up matinee idol - at least to anyone not in the AARP crowd - but what's sexy? Winning, and winning a lot.
At some point, the Bill Snyder Family Funfest is going to have to undergo a transition, but before that happens, and before the legendary, distinguished, soon-to-be 75 head coach decides that it really is time to hang up the turtleneck, there might be one more run left in him.
Of course, take that entire last paragraph, change the age, and it could've applied at any time from about 2001 on.
What Snyder did to create Kansas State football into something relevant is one of the great building jobs in sports history, and what he's been able to do with Bill Snyder 2.0 when he took back the gig in 2009 is almost as remarkable considering he had to do it all over again.
Of course, Kansas State football was in a far better place after the Ron Prince era than it was when Snyder took over in 1989 for Stan Parrish, who went 2-30-1 in his three years, but it was still going to be a tough sell.
Kansas State still isn't the sexiest college around, and the Big 12 focus had shifted from the North to the South in the late 2000s before the ten-team format kicked in, but Snyder and his coaching staff's ability to know the JUCO ranks inside and out, get the right players to fit what the program needed, and to use the exact same system over and over and over led to a 21-5 run in 2011 and 2012 and a not-that-bad 8-5 rebuilding season last year.
Again, just like you could take most of the Kansas State write-up from the past decade-plus and recycle it, the same goes for describing the relentless formula that makes Kansas State football work.
It's really not that hard. Don't screw up, control the clock, get your defense off the field, win the special teams battle. It sounds easy, but it takes discipline, and it takes a certain type of player who's cool with slowing things down rather than fly around at a 1,000 miles per hour.
But the best part about what Snyder has been able to do is that it defies personnel, to some degree. On most teams, lose key players and top talents in units and it's time to rebuild back up and hope for the best. But every year, partly because of so many JUCO players in the mix, there's always a big turnover, but every year all the parts end up fitting because, again, it all works into the formula and style.
Kansas State's biggest problem and concern is at running back? It's Kansas State - it's going to run the ball.
There's talent and experience on the offensive front, even if the tackles are a bit of a question mark, and with QB Jake Waters and WR Tyler Lockett back, there are stars to work around - the running back situation will work itself out and be just fine.
The defense always seems to need key replacements, and this year it's at linebacker, But DE Ryan Mueller and the front four should be as sound as any in the Big 12, and the secondary, despite the loss of Ty Zimmerman and other top parts, will be solid once again.
So is this going to be the last time Snyder tries to crank it up and come up with a Big 12 title? Is this really the time to start thinking transition? Think of it this way - forgetting about his first run, if Snyder's first year at Kansas State was 2009, when he came back from his mini-retirement, only Bob Stoops, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy and Art Briles would've had more Big 12 tenure.
Don't expect the ride to stop quite yet.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Kansas State Wildcats
|1||Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks||95||48-8|
|2||@Iowa State Cyclones||70||29-21|
|6||Texas Tech Red Raiders||64||26-23|
|10||Oklahoma State Cowboys||59||25-23|
|11||@TCU Horned Frogs||68||25-19|
|13||@West Virginia Mountaineers||76||27-20|
Is Texas going to be Michigan or Florida State?
Everyone loved Bobby Bowden, but his phenomenal run went a bit stale at the end as his Seminoles slipped off their ridiculously high perch. Jimbo Fisher took over and brought more youth and energy to the program, and it showed with elite recruiting class after elite recruiting class. The results have been tremendous with three trips to the ACC championship in four years, two conference titles, an Orange Bowl win and a national championship. All Florida State needed was a little remodeling.
All Michigan needed was a little rebuilding. Lloyd Carr won a national championship, came within a hair of playing for another in his second-to-last season, won nine games or more in five of his last six years, and won five Big Ten titles, but it wasn't enough. Maize and Blue fans wanted more, but to get there, it required a change in how things were done with a new style and a new look. So far, the move back into the world of the elite hasn't exactly been smooth.
And then there's Texas, a superpower program that's an interesting crossroads blend of 2009 Florida State and 2008 Michigan, needing a little bit of an attitude and energy burst, while at the same time needing to undergo an overhaul to go from very good to national championship great again after the Mack Brown era crawled across the finish line.
New head coach Charlie Strong appears to have realized this from the start, and now playtime is over at Texas.
He's doing everything possible to get the most out of the team he inherited, and his Longhorns are being put through the ringer to get the right mindset right away - spring ball was far, far tougher this year. While Brown was fantastic at being the backslapper, Strong has come out as a butt-kicker.
Everyone liked Brown, and that was sort of the problem. His teams were never short on talent since losing the 2010 BCS championship to Alabama, but there just wasn't any nastiness - it's hard to win with an offense that can't block and a defense that can't tackle. Brown's biggest issue over his final four years was an inability to get his teams to play up to their talent level - a knock from the start of his time in Austin, but the results weren't there like they were early on.
However, the same might be said for Strong in his last two years at Louisville.
It's hard to argue with a 23-3 record, a Sugar Bowl win over Florida, and two conference titles, but it's not like the Cardinals were playing in the SEC. They had a bad habit of playing down to their competition at times - struggling to get by 2012 South Florida, FIU and Southern Miss teams that finished a combined 6-39 - and losing that year to mediocre Syracuse and UConn squads. Last season, UofL faced one really good team - UCF - and lost at home, sputtered down the stretch, and rallied to rip apart Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Strong will get a wee bit of a pass this year - a very, very small one - but considering some Texas types honestly thought they could get Nick Saban or a Harbaugh, there had better be a new look to the 2014 Longhorns and the needle had better be pointing up going into the 2015 offseason. Saban went 7-6 in his first year revamping Alabama, and then it was Game On. Bob Stoops went 7-5 in his first campaign at Oklahoma, and then he won a national title the next season.
But is the talent there at Texas to come up with a big improvement right away? The quarterback situation is scary with David Ash's ever-present health concerns, Tyrone Swoopes' inconsistencies, and super-recruit Jerrod Heard a true freshman. The O line needs to undergo an overhaul, there aren't any scary playmakers at receiver, the defensive line has to be far tougher against the run, the back seven has to learn how to wrap up instead of bounce off of ball-carriers, and the talented linebacking corps was the walking wounded this offseason.
Not like any of that matters to a fan base that won't accept any excuses.
Just ask Rich Rodriguez.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Texas Longhorns
|1||North Texas Mean Green||74||28-20|
|8||Iowa State Cyclones||63||27-21|
|9||@Kansas State Wildcats||50||24-25|
|10||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||60||26-23|
|11||West Virginia Mountaineers||74||27-19|
|12||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||56||26-25|
|14||TCU Horned Frogs||54||23-21|
At some point, Oklahoma State will get the breaks to go just the right way.
Is this a powerhouse program under Mike Gundy? It doesn't generate the national buzz like it's among the elite, but had there been a playoff in 2011, it would've been in the top four - and probably deserved to play for the national title over Alabama - and despite the problems at the end of last year, it was still the third double-digit win campaign in the last four.
Fine, so Oklahoma State is sort of getting a free pass on all of the Sports Illustrated stuff by an indifferent public - the NCAA looksee probably won't amount to anything - and the mere fact that Gundy is still in Stillwater instead of Austin, or any one of another college gigs is a massive plus, but it didn't get the benefit of the doubt three years ago, and last year it failed to make its own really big breaks.
The Cowboys were dismissed a bit after a September loss in the Big 12 opener to West Virginia that looked really, really bad in hindsight, but they rallied back. They somewhat quietly figured out the offensive hiccups, and by midseason, everything started to work. Then, in a two-week span came the blowout over Texas and the 49-17 obliteration of Baylor's hopes and dreams.
And then came the late collapse against Oklahoma to ruin the chance at a Big 12 title.
If nothing else, though, coming within one defensive stop of a second conference championship in three seasons showed just how good things have become under Gundy. Now, Oklahoma State is expected to compete for titles. It's expected to be dangerous, and it's expected to be right there with Oklahoma, Texas, and whatever Baylor/Kansas State-type team is hot at the moment. This really is one of the Big 12's elite programs, and with one more really, really big season, there's a chance to get even more respect when it comes to the national title.
There's one problem with that - experience. After the 2011 national title near miss, it was rebuilding time with an 8-5 season in 2012. That wasn't bad, but the top-shelf programs find the talent and keep on rolling. With just ten starters returning - four on each side of the ball and both kickers - it's going to take a little while before everyone gets comfortable. Playing Missouri State and UTSA should help, but those two scrimmages come after the season opener against Florida State.
In a Jerry World is half full sort of way to look at things, Oklahoma State can see the game in Arlington against the defending national champs as a chance to make a huge, massive statement. Win that, and screw you, rebuilding job, it's College Football Playoff or bust. But even with a very, very forgivable loss, everything is still on the table. Winning the Big 12 championship is still attainable for a coaching staff used to getting through the conference wars, and while it's not realistic to roll through the final 11 games, yeah, 11-1 probably means a playoff spot.
Gundy has brought in the athleticism and skill, and he has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to competing and winning in the Big 12. Maybe this is the year that the right breaks really do go the Cowboys' way and they shock the world.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys
|1||Florida State Seminoles||28||22-31|
|2||Missouri State Bears||95||46-8|
|5||Texas Tech Red Raiders||50||28-27|
|6||Iowa State Cyclones||62||28-23|
|8||@TCU Horned Frogs||53||23-21|
|9||West Virginia Mountaineers||68||28-19|
|10||@Kansas State Wildcats||40||23-25|
Can the team that whacked around a terrific Arizona State team in the Holiday Bowl show up throughout the Big 12 season?
Of course, bowl games are self-contained entities, but after losing five straight games following a 7-0 start, and proving to be a bum slayer with no FBS victories over anyone who finished with a winning record, 2013 Texas Tech appeared to be a lot of flash, a lot of fun, and a lot about being handsome. And then reality came down like a hammer when it was time to take a seat at the Big 12 adult table.
It's not like the Red Raiders were totally awful, but the defense went goodbye in November allowing an average of 51.25 points in losses to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas.
484 yards of total offense and four touchdown passes in a dominant 37-23 win over Arizona State later, and now the narrative has changed.
Maybe Kliff Kingsbury needed a year to get everything in place, and now he's about to take the offense and the program to a whole other level.
Considering all the drama and controversy surrounding the departure of Mike Leach, Tommy Tuberville did a decent job. But he wasn't Texas Tech like Kingsbury is.
It's always good to be the coach following the coach who followed The Coach, and with Big 12 championships not a part of the fun over the years despite all the offensive wizardry, Kingsbury can all but shove aside the Leach era with one really, really good campaign. It's every mid-range Big 12 program's mantra: If Baylor can...
Texas Tech might not have the talent or the horses the Bears have enjoyed over the last few seasons, but that's changing. Kingsbury is a hot coach at a suddenly hot program with an offense that's been around for a while, but it just a wee bit cooler now when the guy who helped turn Johnny Manziel into Johnny Football is running the show.
But can the Red Raiders start beating the good teams in the Big 12 on a regular basis and not just take care of the mediocre?
The offense finished second in the nation last year in passing and eighth overall, and there's no reason to think it's going to slow down this year with eight returning starters and a rising star quarterback in David Webb.
The defense has to replace six starters and needs help coming up with big plays and key stops against the better offenses, but as long as it can hold serve once in a while so the offense can go do what the offense does, this could be a dangerous team that no one wants to face.
It might take a few years and a full recruiting cycle for Texas Tech to rise above being a petty annoyance, but it's going to be a fun ride. The Big 12's biggest X factor should be wildly unpredictable, but all guns are pointed up.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Texas Tech Red Raiders
|1||Central Arkansas Bears||95||50-8|
|5||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||50||27-28|
|6||@Kansas State Wildcats||36||23-26|
|7||West Virginia Mountaineers||64||28-23|
|9||@TCU Horned Frogs||50||24-23|
|13||@Iowa State Cyclones||61||27-23|
Someone needs to make sure that TCU gets the memo that you need an offense in the Big 12.
The big question when the Horned Frogs made the move up in class two years ago was whether or not the D that dominated for several years in Conference USA and the Mountain West could handle all of the high-octane Big 12 attacks. With a few exceptions here and there, the answer has been a resounding yes, and even when there have been defensive issues - the Texas game last year and the Oklahoma State loss in 2012 - for the most part, there wasn't any help or support from the offense.
If you had told head coach Gary Patterson before last season that his defense would lead the Big 12 in run defense, finish second in total D behind Oklahoma, and would be fantastic on third downs and 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, he'd probably assume the program was about to take a big step forward and become a major player in the Big 12 chase.
Oh yeah, the offense.
A combination of bad luck - QB Casey Pachall getting hurt being the big blow to the passing game in the middle of the season - and the lack of a steady running game - running for over 150 yards just twice against FBS teams - led to a stagnant offense, and the defense couldn't pick up the slack for a key stretch. And then, when Pachall did return, he bombed away but the team couldn't seem to win.
However, there's a silver lining in the 4-8 disappointment of last season and the 7-6 2012 - the close losses.
From 2005 to 2011 - a seven season span - the Horned Frogs lost a total of 13 games, but they've lost 14 since joining the Big 12. On the plus side, they battled LSU tough early last year and they gave Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State a tough time, with four of their eight losses coming by a grand total of 12 points. Over the last two seasons, TCU is 3-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less - if that was flipped around to 7-3, the narrative would be completely different.
But to do that and to come up with the tight wins they need to generate some more pop on offense, and unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be on the horizon any time soon.
The TCU offense was rocky this offseason, and it didn't exactly provide a ton of hope in the spring game with several mistakes, no continuity and not enough healthy bodies to do exactly what the coaching staff might have liked. With new offensive coordinators in Sonny Cumbie - the former Texas Tech quarterback - and Doug Meachem tinkering with various ideas, there's hope, but to rise up and be a threat in conference play, this summer and fall camp are vital.
All it's going to take is a little more help, because the defense should be even better and stronger - even with the departure of Devonte Fields - with seven starters back. It's TCU, so it's going to attack and it's going to be great against the run, but as it's finding, the difference between the Mountain West and the Big 12 is the midrange to lower teams. However, there's reason to be excited - it could be a very quick rise from 4-8 to 8-4, or better. Patterson is too good to let this slide any further.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 TCU Horned Frogs
|3||Minnesota Golden Gophers||61||21-20|
|8||Oklahoma State Cowboys||47||21-23|
|9||Texas Tech Red Raiders||50||23-24|
|10||@West Virginia Mountaineers||63||23-19|
|11||Kansas State Wildcats||32||19-25|
|15||Iowa State Cyclones||62||25-20|
Is there a chance Iowa State can ever be anything more than just grinder looking for a bowl appearance?
It might have seemed impossible to ever win a ten-team league - winning a six-team North and taking a cut at the Big 12 title game was at least more reasonable - and then came Baylor, who proved that with the right coach and the right system, anything was possible.
Sure, Baylor has the advantage of being in Texas and grabbing a slew of relatively local guys who get passed over by Texas and Oklahoma, but it was still Baylor - the program that spent years unable to win a Big 12 game.
Iowa State doesn't have a great recruiting base, and it has to fight with Iowa for in-state talent, but head coach Paul Rhoads has been able to come up with a few nice seasons and some decent moments for a program that's only been to 12 bowl games and boasts just two conference championships - taking the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association title in 1911 and 1912. Even then, ISU was the co-champion in both seasons, just like it was in 2004 when it came up with its lone Big 12 North title.
So how do you take a program that hasn't been any good at playing college football since it first lost to Butte 12-10 on September 15th, 1895 and suddenly make it work? How does Iowa State turn into Baylor or Kansas State?
Rhoads has to hope that this season is a step forward to getting there, needing experience and depth to translate into wins, and he has to make sure that his Cyclones, never, ever, ever miss an opportunity.
The despair and exasperation shown by Rhoads after the heart-wrenching loss to Texas in the Big 12 opener was telling. This wasn't just Iowa State losing to Texas after having a chance to come up with a big win over a big name; this was a loss in a 50/50 game that could've gone either way with one big stop late - and/or a better call from the officials.
Iowa State can't afford to give away anything. For this program, the difference between a winning season and a bowl game and 3-9 and a disaster is a painful one-point loss to Texas, a six-point loss to Iowa, a home loss to Northern Iowa, a seven-point loss to Texas Tech and a four-point loss to TCU. A 71-7 squeaker of a loss to Baylor and losing to the Big 12's Oklahoma schools by a combined 106-37 will happen from time to time, but for now, Iowa State has got to win the close ones, and then hope for a few big breaks.
This year's team could be an interesting thorn in everyone's side with 11 players with decent starting experience returning on offense, and the defense likely to be far better after having to rebuild a bit in 2013. However, there isn't a sure-thing win on the schedule, and everyone is going to have Iowa State circled as a needed victory.
Now it's up to Rhoads and the Cyclones to shock the world. At the very least, they have to get back to a bowl game and show that there's the potential to shock the world someday.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Iowa State Cyclones
|1||North Dakota State Bison||95||44-9|
|2||Kansas State Wildcats||30||21-29|
|6||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||38||23-28|
|13||Texas Tech Red Raiders||39||23-27|
|14||West Virginia Mountaineers||51||24-23|
|15||@TCU Horned Frogs||38||20-25|
Okay, so what's missing? Why isn't West Virginia better and why isn't the whole Big 12 experience working out as planned?
In theory, this should be the perfect marriage between team and conference, but it's fallen on hard times. Head coach Dana Holgorsen knows how to crank up an offense and get it rolling, and the production was just fine when Geno Smith was bombing away and Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin were catching a bazillion passes, but the attack all of a sudden turned inconsistent midway through 2012 and it never pulled up out of the Too Low, Striker nosedive.
If you're going to hire an offensive-minded coach, it would be nice if the offense actually produced.
Meanwhile, the defense has been a complete and utter disaster under Holgorsen's watch, but that really shouldn't be a big deal - you don't need a killer defense to survive in the Big 12, and as Baylor proved last year, if the offense is explosive and dominant, then other issues tend to get overlooked.
Now, to be fair, the program was in a rebuilding mode after losing Smith and almost all of the top receivers, while the defense wasn't able to pick up the slack. Again, it's okay if the D isn't Alabama's, but if you're going to build a program around an offense, the attack has to be phenomenal.
Even with all the great parts of the puzzle in 2012, the offense sputtered and coughed a bit too much over the second half of the season, and now there might be a question mark about whether or not Holgorsen's offense really does work against the better teams.
By most standards, cranking out 411 yards per game is okay, but that's not getting the job done when Baylor yawns and rolls up 619 per outing, Texas Tech is averaging 100 more yards per game, and Oklahoma State and Oklahoma had more pop, too. Fortunately, the 2014 Mountaineers are loaded with experience to go along with some interesting new parts to potentially do all the things offensively it's supposed to.
It all starts with the quarterback situation that was never quite settled last year and isn't likely to be a sure thing until someone comes out and steps under center against Alabama. The backfield is loaded with good running backs, and there's upside at receiver, however, showing just how far things slipped, Daikiel Shorts led the receiving corps with 45 catches and 13 Mountaineers combined for 251 catches for 3,145 yards and 16 scores. In 2012, Bailey and Austin combined for 224 catches for 2,914 and 37 touchdowns.
The defense was young in key spots, but safety Karl Joseph and linebacker Isaiah Bruce are burgeoning stars for a group that returns nine of the top 12 tacklers. Now the experience has to lead to production, especially against the run.
So is this it for Holgorsen? Can the program that tasted so much success in 2011 with an epic Orange Bowl win withstand another losing season?
It's not like there were a bunch of cheap losses last year, and the Texas and Iowa State defeats came in overtime. If those two had gone the other way, West Virginia finishes 6-6, goes to a bowl and the narrative changes. Yeah, there was a win over Oklahoma State, but that was offset by an inexplicable loss to Kansas. There was a great defensive performance in a loss to Oklahoma, but that was followed up a few weeks later with a 37-0 pasting from Maryland.
So what's missing? Consistency. That, and an offense that blows up everything in its path. With 47 lettermen and almost all the key starters back, it's time to make some real noise in Year Three of the Big 12 experience.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 West Virginia Mountaineers
|1||Alabama Crimson Tide||20||16-27|
|7||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||35||23-28|
|9||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||32||19-28|
|10||TCU Horned Frogs||36||19-23|
|13||Kansas State Wildcats||24||20-27|
|14||@Iowa State Cyclones||49||23-24|
It's only fair to give a coach a little bit of time to rebuild a program, but three years should be enough.
There was a time when a coach was able to put in place a five-year plan to have an honest chance and to get through an entire recruiting cycle to make a program his, but that doesn't work anymore. There are too many coaches doing too many big things to be patient and wait to see if something might work, because if it doesn't, then all of a sudden comes another rebuilding job.
Bill Belichick disciples haven't exactly lit up the coaching world after going out on their own, but Charlie Weis was supposed to be something different. This was the guy who turned "Tommy" into Tom Brady. This was the coach who would've been the head man at Buffalo if a pesky run to the Super Bowl didn't get in the way. This was the one who was supposed to turn Notre Dame into a superpower again, and even with all that Brian Kelly did, set the foundation for a run to the BCS championship game.
And to be fair, he started down a few laps after the disastrous-but-brief Turner Gill era and he's trying to do what he can to make the program relevant and strong again in a ten-team league that doesn't have any major duds now that Baylor has started to play college football and with Iowa State a not-that-bad also-ran.
However, if you're looking around the table trying to figure out who the bottom-feeder is, it's probably you.
Weis gave it a shot to get the offense going by bringing in one-time BYU super-recruit Jake Heaps, but that hasn't worked out, and he's trying to instill the right attitude on both sides of the ball, but the Jayhawks haven't even been close. Wins over Louisiana Tech and West Virginia last season seemed more like aberrations than indications that things are improving - no, you don't loss to Iowa State 34-0 the week after beating West Virginia - and while there's always pressure on, this really is a produce-or-else year for Weis.
And by producing, that doesn't necessarily just mean going to a bowl and going back to 2007 again. It just means taking a big step forward to make it look like the program is starting to come together. Kansas can't look like Kansas anymore.
The defense has no excuse to not be the best in Weis era by a long, long shot. There's talent and experience with potential all-stars in several key spots. The offense lost RB James Sims, but it has hope with Montell Cozart appearing to be ready to finally settle the quarterback situation.
Yes, Charlie Weis really can coach, but now he can show he can win.
- Pete Fiutak
2014 Kansas Jayhawks
|2||Southeast Missouri State Redhawks||95||40-8|
|3||@Duke Blue Devils||23||18-27|
|4||Central Michigan Chippewas||50||23-22|
|6||@West Virginia Mountaineers||35||20-24|
|7||Oklahoma State Cowboys||31||19-26|
|8||@Texas Tech Red Raiders||30||20-27|
|11||Iowa State Cyclones||56||23-22|
|12||TCU Horned Frogs||26||17-24|
|14||@Kansas State Wildcats||20||18-27|
Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.