Team to beat: Baylor
You gotta respect what Art Briles is doing in Waco. Just the fact that I see them ranked below Oklahoma makes my face turn purple. My upbringing in central Texas certainly brings on that reaction. But another part of it is my belief in Art Briles. Briles has won everywhere he’s been. He took Stephenville, a Texas High School that hadn’t made the playoffs in more than 35 years, to the postseason in year two, and then went on to win back-to-back state titles twice within a seven year span. He won big at Houston, and now has done the unthinkable at Baylor, winning a conference title in his sixth year. To me, it doesn’t matter at what level you’re winning at if your a coach. If you’re a winner, you’re a winner, and Art Briles is a winner who I’d bet on any day of the week. Now on with the team: Senior Bryce Petty (4,200 passing yards, 62 % comp, 32 TDs, 3 INTs) returns at quarterback, which is nice. He’ll have sophomore Shock Linwood (6.9 ypc, 881 yards, 8 TDs) to hand the ball off to and Antwan Godley (71 catches, 1,339 yards, 13 TDs) as a go-to wide receiver, while first team All-Big 12 LT Spencer Drango (6-6, 305, Jr.) will anchor an offensive line whose production dipped after his late-season injury. The defense must seven replace starters but will have its leader back and healthy in senior linebacker Bryce Hager (71 tackles), who like Drango, missed the final third of last season. Look out for Penn State-transer Shawn Oakman (6-9, 280) who made 12.5 tackles for a loss in a reserve role last year.
Overrated (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap): Oklahoma
In my opinion, Oklahoma is college football’s most overrated team going into 2014. Sure, Olahoma’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl triumph against mighty Alabama was nice, but should we really be putting that much stock into a Bowl game? Should Trevor Knight’s breakout performance (32-44, 348 yards, 4 TDs) really outweigh his pedestrian regular season (56% comp., 5.2 ypa, 5 TD, 4 INT)? I’m not sold on the Sooners, especially on offense. Knight reverted back to his regular season ways in OU’s spring game (5-of-14, 53 yards, INT). The Sooners do return four starters on the offensive line, however, led by RT Daryl Williams (6-6, 328, Sr.). Defense is where the Sooners might be for real. They return eleven players with at least four career starts to a unit that led the Big 12 in yards allowed (350.2 per game) for the first time since 2006 while shaving 3.4 points and 48.1 yards on the previous year’s average. The linebacker corps should be stacked with leading tackler Frank Shannon (92 tackles) returning alongside All-Big 12 second teamer Erik Striker (49 tackles, 6.5 sacks - 3 of which came in the Sugar Bowl) and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year Dominique Alexander (80 tackles). All-Big 12 first team defensive end Charles Tapper (6-4, 273, Jr.) is back to provide the push on the line for a front seven that allowed just 4.1 yards per carry last year, and should be better in 2014.
Darkhorse: Kansas State
The Wildcats improved leaps-and-bounds from the beginning of last year to the end of it. Much of that was was due to the play of QB Jake Waters, a former JUCO national champion, who saved his best game for last (21/27, 271 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT) in a 31-14 victory against Michigan in the Buffalo Will Wings Bowl. After a rough 2-4 start that began with an embarrassing (but not that embarrassing when you really think about it) home loss o now three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, the Wildcats won six of their last seven. It also helps that their coach, Bill Snyder, happens to be Albus Dumbledore reincarnated.