Oklahoma State may have been picked earlier this summer as the media's preseason favorite to win the Big 12, but that was nothing more than a formality. Take a step or two back and the larger picture of the Big 12 landscape appears much more wide open.
It's not a coincidence that six teams—OSU, Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Baylor and Kansas State—all received at least one first-place vote in that preseason poll. For what it's worth, those would be the same six teams I'd consider capable of winning the conference this year.
The national perception of the Big 12 doesn't fare much differently. Per the San Antonio Express-News, Oklahoma State’s No. 13 preseason rank in the AP poll is the lowest a Big 12 team has been slotted to the start the season in the conference's history.
Reason? According to a couple of Big 12 coaches, quarterback familiarity has a lot to do with it.
Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy pointed out during his 10-minute session that there are fewer returning quarterbacks this year with the experience and capabilities that NFL clubs are looking for. And though Iowa State's Paul Rhoads said he didn't put much thought into the conference's national perception, he did echo Gundy's sentiment that the quarterback position has a lot to do with it.
It might be myopic when it comes to analyzing a team, let alone an entire league, but a quarterback is almost always the first position examined. To that effect, Gundy and Rhoads have a point.
Consider the SEC, which has won the past seven BCS championships. While a streak like that helps (like, a lot), the conference also returns major stars at the quarterback position, including Johnny Manziel (maybe), A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray.
The Pac-12's preseason media darlings, Oregon from the North Division and UCLA from the South, return Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, respectively. And which Big Ten team is the favorite to challenge for a BCS championship this season? None other than Ohio State and Braxton Miller.
Conversely, the Big 12 is lacking some big names at the QB position. David Ash has caught Beyonce's eye, and we're totally willing to give him props for that, but the drop-off starts there.
Jake Waters was announced as K-State's starting quarterback by Bill Snyder on Monday, but he, OU's Trevor Knight and Baylor's Bryce Petty are unknowns at this point. Iowa State's Sam Richardson started late in the 2012 season and has yet to establish his name. Jake Heaps finally gets another shot at Kansas after transferring from BYU, but he has little in the way of receiving weapons to help him out.
TCU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech are all experimenting with multiple quarterbacks, and understandably, no one is tipping their hand.
The potential for names to emerge in the national discussion beyond Big 12 country is certainly there. Take Knight, for example. The comparisons between Knight and Manziel are not only premature, but also unfair. However, if Knight joins the 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher club on his way to leading OU to a Big 12 title, they'll continue to exist as his spotlight grows brighter.
Or, if Casey Pachall comes back for TCU and has a record-setting season, his return from a substance abuse issue will be picked up as one of the feel-good stories of the year.
The familiarity with Big 12 quarterbacks isn't there yet. Get a few guys to emerge, though, and the national focus will follow.
Ben Kercheval is the Big 12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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