In it's Way Too Early Football Poll for 2014, ESPN has slotted Oklahoma in at No. 4 in the land and the Baylor Bears at No. 9 giving the Big 12 some firepower in the earliest of the preseason ratings. The title of the rankings "Way Too Early" sort of tongue in cheek concedes it's difficult to prognosticate at this early stage who will really compete for the Big 12 Championship and hopefully a national championship.
The teams haven't even had spring training yet and don't know for sure who many of their starters will be yet. OU pretty much knows Trevor Knight will be its starting quarterback after the dazzling display who put on in the All-State Sugar Bowl against SEC powerhouse Alabama. And with a strong recruiting class once again to fill in any gaps the graduating seniors may have left, ESPN is favoring the Big Red to return to its normal position atop the Big 12. The signing of super running back Joe Mixon out of California should also give the Sooners offense a new shot in the arm.
Baylor is also set at quarterback as All-Big 12 Bryce Petty returns to hopefully pick up where he left off last year when he led the explosive offense to several 70 plus scoring games. If the offense can do that every game, then the defense doesn't have to be all that great. The defense lost All-American safety Ahmad Dixon as well as other top defenders which will leave holes to fill on that side of the ball.
Art Briles said he has the best wide receiver recruiting class in the nation and who's going to doubt his judgment after he led the Bears to their first Big 12 championship in history? The offense will have to figure out a way to replace All-American offensive lineman Cyril Richardson who was also nominated for the Outland Trophy. He'll be a first round draft pick and be playing on Sundays next year.
Texas received a respected national ranking of 23rd in this poll. It would've probably been higher if the quarterback issue were settled already. With 2013 starter David Ash missing a majority of games with concussion problems, he may be a question mark despite unquestioned ability as a thrower and a runner.
If he doesn't recover his health in 2014, phenom Tyrone Swoopes is waiting in the wings to take over. Longhorn fans saw very little of him in action this past year as Mack Brown went with Casey McCoy as his starter after Ash went down. But there is another possible compeititor for that position in the form of Jerrod Heard who led Denton Guyer to two consecutive Texas high school state championships. Many have promoted him already as the Texas quarterback of the future. Coach Charlie Strong's first major decision will be whether Heard is ready to beat out his other qbs.
If Texas can resolve its quarterback issues, the 'Horns are probably capable of competing for and actually winning the Big 12 in 2014. When Mack Brown left, he definitely didn't leave the cupboard bare with blue chip talent left behind. With a plethora of talented running backs and with a defense structured by defensive guru Strong, it's not likely teams will score many points against Texas this year. The running game should be able to control the clock with Johnny Gray back from injuries.
Baylor defeated Texas and OU in the same season for the second time in history in 2013, but that was before the Sooners figured out who the best quarterback on their team was. The Bears will likely have to repeat that feat in 2014 if they hope to defend their crown successfully.
Wichita Falls attorney and Baylor Law School graduate Bob Balch said he thought it would be difficult for any team to repeat in the balanced Big 12.
If Petty can find returning wide receive Antwan Godley as well as new receivers K.D. Cannon, Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt for touchdowns frequently enough, the Bears could well be in the hunt for further glory in 2014.
"There's just too much parity. The teams are too evenly matched," he said, although he would be happy if his Bears somehow could repeat.
But as the ESPN poll says, it's still "way too early" to know who will win the conference next year.
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