The Stewards of the Big 12, II
The Big Ten and Big 12 don't have an automatic bowl against each other. Moreover, Michigan has not recruited the heartland or Texas like some other B1G programs - namely Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Still, it's valuable to keep an eye out on other conferences and teams, and we'll continue running through the Big 12, which has won 4 Heisman Trophies since 2000 (tied for the most).
Texas Christian University
TCU ranked 104th in offense and 24th in defense last year; now, they are bringing in a new offensive system for a team that was already much better than its 4-8 record would indicate. The top tier of the conference is potentially full, but the round-robin schedule and the potential if everything falls into place means that TCU could be a sleeper in the Big 12.
There are issues to address, of course, especially on the offensive side. The line didn't pave the way for the running backs enough, and no receiver got as much as 450 yards for what will now be an air raid attack. Still, part of the benefit of the air raid is that it's malleable to different personnel, and if the defensive coaching is as sound as it has been, the offense won't need to score like Baylor. They will use a graduate student transfer quarterback in Matt Joeckel who played solidly while backing up Johnny Manziel.
University of Texas
Strong and Texas are an interesting couple, and while another 8-5 season would cause some discontent in the Texas fan base, Strong is extremely competent and should get Texas headed in the right direction. In fact, the Big 12 seems to be on an upswing for the same reason the Pac-12 has been - coaching hires that pan out. Strong should do well enough in the short term (no five-win seasons, in other words) to get enough time to build the program his way. He may even explode out of the gate, if he can somehow tap the potential that has gone uncapitalized on Texas' roster.
The only potential hiccup would be on offense. Just as Urban Meyer or Chip Kelly has an approach bred for offensive capability, Strong is a purely defensive guy, and he'll rely on a few different voices (he brought in an old friend and great offensive line coach from Oklahoma State, as well as his OC at Louisville) to take advantage of two five-star running backs and an injury-prone QB. At Louisville, Strong had Teddy Bridgewater, and the offenses there were pass-first. It's uncertain who will have ultimate play-calling responsibilities, what the philosophy will be, and what players are going to excel.
The offense that earned Robert Griffin III a Heisman - and might yet do the same for Bryce Petty - is as healthy as ever: 619 yards a game, 112th in time of possession, and 372 first downs on the year, which beat Oregon by 24. Heading into 2014, they will be relying on a new-ish running back (881/6.9) and there are some questions about the offensive line, which loses a consensus All-American and also has worrisome depth. Still, Baylor might be out-Oregoning Oregon, and they play better defense and protect the ball better. Just as Bryce Petty hasn't gotten quite the attention he deserves in Heisman watch lists, Baylor seems to be similarly underrated.
Texas Tech University
Tech was successful last year (8-5) despite relying on two freshman quarterbacks, and it will be trying another magic trick in 2014: after a slew of departures, there was just one quarterback on the spring depth chart (it was one of the two freshmen from last year, and he played pretty well), and that number will be bolstered to two by the addition of another incoming scholarship freshman.
All in all, it was a good season for a first-time head coach, and while Kliff Kingsbury's recruited well and the program looks to be on the rise, a number of question marks hover over their 2014 campaign. For one, they lose All-World Jace Amaro to the New York Jets (tight end who got 1,352 yards, with a 69.7% catch rate). For another, one of their starting running backs is going to bolster the linebacking crew, which leaves DeAndre Washington (450/4.2) to be the main back. For another, the top four players in the secondary are all gone, while the defensive line was porous and they'll be hoping it becomes more stout from a number of JUCO transfers.
Still, the offense is exciting and the fans support Kingsbury, who at just 34 has made his way up the ranks from a great stable of offensive coaches. He was Manziel's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2012, and the offensive coordinator under Kevin Sumlin for Houston in 2011 when they went 13-1. As for Texas Tech, outside of one 11-2 season under Mike Leach they've usually topped out at 8-9 wins - and while things seem to be looking up overall, it'd be fair to not expect any more than that again this time around.
Hitting the Links Is Watching Media Days
Both Michigan and Ohio State have been busy recently. Alabi makes the second Cass Tech commit for Urban Meyer; the Buckeyes also got a three-star tight end and cancer survivor in Josh Moore. The Wolverines are looking increasingly full for 2015 despite standing at only 9 commitments, and they boast the third-best star ratings average on Rivals.
If Michigan lands Weber, it would have all three four-star players from Michigan. That hasn't stopped Michigan State before, and they will be looking at Tyriq Thompson, Immanuel Stinson, and John Kelly.
I thought this was a very good read. Nick Baumgardner gives the rundown on what we have at the linebacker spot.
The Pac-12 improved impressively last season, and is generally considered now to be the second-best conference in the country. Players like Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota had a lot to do with that.
Also, here's the whole conference organized by their potency.
This had a lot of good stuff. Bill talks about how Stanford was only good, not great, at establishing its identity, but got bailed out by having three dynamic wide receivers.
I like Iowa or Nebraska in the West and Michigan State in the East. Nebraska is the only team in the B1G West to consistently pull in four-stars (after the Huskers, it would be Wisconsin and then lately Northwestern), while Iowa is peaking in all the right places. An argument could be made that the five best quarterbacks (Braxton Miller, Devin Gardner, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, Nate Sudfeld) are all in the East, and having a great secondary will be critical. That's not to say that Ohio State or Michigan (or even Penn State) couldn't do some good things against the passing game, but Michigan State has the perfect formula, and they've been doing it for longer than anyone else in the Big Ten.
One thing Hoke learned from Lloyd Carr was that when the team is losing, a coach has to show toughness to his team - as in, he has to show that he is tough, for his players, and absorb the brunt of the criticism while remaining calm.
Darn you, Sparty.
Purdue's defensive coordinator talks about keeping morale up, playing more physical coverage in the secondary and playing better on first down.
The #1 player is a wide receiver (committed to Auburn), the #17 player in the country is in-state Daelin Hayes, and Michigan is on the list with offensive lineman Erik Swenson at #70. Now, the bad news - two of the players on the list are B1G commits; 12 are SEC, 4 are southern schools in the ACC, 2 are southern schools in the Big 12 and one is a southern school in the Pac-12. Darn you, sunshine.
This will bump Clemson up to the #2 recruiting class in the country.
What Ian Boyd describes was also a stepchild of Urban Meyer's at Florida - the role made famous by Percy Harvin was one in which a player could be a running back, receiver, slot or tight end in successive plays and cause dramatically different looks against a defense as well pick on matchup advantages without having to sub players in and out.
Sure, there are problems on that side potentially, but I think a trap that offensively proficient and recently successful teams fall into is focusing too much on their offense. Obviously, it's great to have, but (old-fashioned, B1G speak coming) there's got to be some defense in there as well. Auburn finished 11th in the country last year in total offense (both Ohio State and Indiana were more prolific, by the way), and 86th in defense. They will face 6 top-40 offenses and 6 top-40 defenses this year running through the SEC slate. To that end, I'd be more concerned about the losses of Dee Ford and Carl Lawson than I would Tre Mason.
Competition, competition, competition.
SI is running through a few teams, with another being Ohio State (link inside, but not an amazing read).
This comes from Iowa State's Media Days representatives, so take it with a grain of salt, but this would be a chance for Mangino to rebuild both Iowa State and his reputation.
Bill has a couple interesting things to say about the Stanford game as well as the Oregon passing game.
Their size is now entering B1G territory.
There were quite a few things in here I did not know, least of which was Stewart Mandel leaving SI.
This is a highlight for those who like sacks - of which Auburn had 11 in a 10-point victory. Not one of them is a coverage sack, either.
A million years ago, in football time. A year after a historic win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl (372 yards), Young delivered an even better performance on a bigger stage (467 yards). Resolute hug by the mascot, as well.