Power Ranking the Most Dangerous Offenses in Big 12 Football
Offense has been the story of the Big 12 in each of the past two seasons—only for a different reason each time.
In 2012, the offenses couldn't be stopped. Going by yards per game, the Big 12 had the Nos. 2, 4, 10, 12 and 13 attacks in America. That's 38 percent of the nation's top 13 offenses or, as some might call it, a downright monopoly.
In 2013, Baylor remained dominant and finished with the most yards per game in the country, but the rest of the league began to fade behind it. The next four Big 12 teams in yards per game—the group that all finished in the top 13 one season prior—finished Nos. 8, 37, 52 and 63, respectively.
That is a jarring drop-off from one season to the next. In 2012, the story of the Big 12 was the gluttony of offense; in 2013, the story was one of decline behind the top two schools.
Is the conference in store for a bounce-back year in 2014? And, if so, which teams will be dangerous enough to foster such improvement?
Let's take a look.
Kansas' offense was unsurprisingly dreadful last season, finishing No. 119 (out of 125) in the Football Outsiders offensive F/+ ratings—a metric that takes strength of opponent into account.
By this metric, every FBS team sans Texas State, Southern Miss, UMass, Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan and Florida International had a better offense than the Jayhawks. And now, without running back James Sims, a unit that bad must also replace its best player.
There are seedlings of hope out in Lawrence. According to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, the team is installing a new spread-offense concept that quarterback Jake Heaps, a former 4-star recruit who transferred from BYU, said he is far more comfortable working in than last year's scheme.
Still, with a group of wide receivers that is best described as "lucky to be playing FBS football," it's hard to imagine that spread being too effective. My faith in Charlie Weis has long since evaporated.
What is the deal at quarterback?
It was made painfully clear last season that Trevone Boykin fits better at receiver than he does under center, but according to Alex Apple of The Dallas Morning News, head coach Gary Patterson said March 24 that Boykin is the current QB1.
If that is indeed the case come fall, it would not only give the Horned Frogs an inconsistent player at quarterback, it would also take away one of their better receivers. Which is to say, importantly, that the incoming freshman quarterbacks—Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer—better prove game-ready when they enroll this summer.
Despite a solid group of returnees out wide and in the backfield, this offense will again scare no one without a quality passer.
8. West Virginia
We knew West Virginia's offense would take a step back after losing QB Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but we figured, thanks to the presence of head coach Dana Holgorsen, it would at least still be semi-formidable.
Now the Mountaineers again face the challenge of replacing their best offensive player, as running back Charles Sims is moving on to an NFL future. Dreamius Smith is there to replace him after a decent 2013 season, while Pitt transfer and former blue-chip recruit Rushel Shell is eligible and might push for a big offensive role.
The real question in Morgantown—and the reason I can't, in all good conscious, rank this team any higher—is under center, where Clint Trickett and Paul Millard were unremarkable at best and plain bad at worst in 2014. Between those two, JUCO transfer Skylar Howard and freshman Paul Crest, someone needs to step up and give this offense a semblance of order.
If no one does, it will be another very non-Holgorsen unit.
7. Iowa State
Granted it came against Kansas and West Virginia, Iowa State's late-season offensive renaissance—good for a total of 1,077 yards and 86 points in two games—gave the team, at the very least, a little bit of momentum heading into 2014.
That momentum is amplified by continuity. According to Phil Steele, the Cyclones return 10 starters on offense next season, including all five members of the offensive line. The same players who ended last season on such a high will begin next season in the Cardinal and Gold.
Freshman QB Grant Rohach was the catalyst of the improvement, and he should only get better in his second active season. With leading receiver Quenton Bundrage also returning to Ames, this passing attack (and team as a whole) is not one to sleep on.
Texas has the talent to be one of the best offenses in the Big 12, but that is nothing new. What is new is the leadership of offensive coordinator Joe Wickline and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, who should combine to give this unit a more innovative feel than Major Applewhite had the past few seasons.
Still, it seems reckless to rank the Longhorns any higher until a true No. 1 quarterback emerges from their ranks. David Ash is practicing, but his future is still muddled by concussion issues; Tyrone Swoopes looked dreadful in an admittedly small sample in 2013; and much-hyped freshman Jerrod Heard won't enroll until this summer.
Identifying a starter out of that trio is the first important job for Wickline, Watson and new head coach Charlie Strong. Whoever it is, though, will have the benefit of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray in the backfield and Jaxon Shipley and Daje Johnson out wide.
Mere competence under center could make this offense dangerous.
5. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State's offense took a step back last season, falling outside the top 25 on Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings for the first time since 2009. That regression was masked by the 10-3 overall record, but OSU's team success was mainly the product of the defense, which was quietly one of the best in the nation in 2013.
Having lost so many important pieces from that defense, the 'Pokes will need to score more often than they did last season. The volume numbers might improve in 2014, simply by virtue of necessity, but actually becoming more efficient might be difficult.
Quarterback Clint Chelf is gone, and so are leading receivers Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who had been a mainstay in creating the great offensive tradition in Stillwater, is the new offensive coordinator at Texas.
J.W. Walsh is experienced under center, but this is his first year acting as a full-time starter. He can run, which should help, but unless Walsh makes decided improvements as a passer, 2014 might be another step in the wrong direction for this offense.
Quarterback problems plagued Oklahoma for most of last season, but one game after watching Blake Bell replace him and lead a comeback win over Oklahoma State in Bedlam, Trevor Knight dissected Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and launched himself a sneaky Heisman campaign for 2014.
If Knight plays as well, consistently, as he did in New Orleans, there's no reason Oklahoma can't contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The return of Sterling Shepard gives Knight a quality No. 1 option in the passing game, three starters return along the offensive line and Bell, now lining up at tight end, might well become a factor by season's end.
If 5-star freshman Joe Mixon, the top-rated all-purpose back on the 247Sports composite, can carve himself a useful role in the offense, Knight will have everything he needs to lead this offense toward a conference title. The numbers might not jump off the page—so is the plague of an excellent defense—but this unit could be very efficient.
3. Kansas State
Kansas State was better on offense than people give it credit for last season, finishing second in the conference with 6.32 yards per play and 14th in the country in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings.
There are questions along the offensive line in 2014—and if not for them, KSU might rank even higher on this list—but with quarterback Jake Waters appearing to have turned "the corner" toward the end of last season, this offense should remain just as good (if not improve).
More important than Waters is the return of receiver Tyler Lockett, who topped 110 yards seven times last season and looked plain un-guardable against Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan—three of the preeminent programs in college football. He's a potential All-American and a front-runner for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2014.
2. Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury brought his magic back to Lubbock last season, reinvigorating the program and guiding a pair of under-qualified-on-paper freshmen quarterbacks toward a pretty impressive first year.
Now, Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer have transferred, leaving the position squarely in the hands of Davis Webb. Good as he was in 2013—especially in a four-touchdown, no-interception performance against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl—Webb must improve this year if the Red Raiders want to aptly replace tight end Jace Amaro and receiver Eric Ward in the passing game.
Still, to doubt a Kingsbury offense would be foolish. TTU returns eight offensive starters, including four along the offensive line, and doesn't have to deal with quarterback questions all season. It should be just as good (if not better) on this side of the football.
Baylor loses running back Lache Seastrunk, speedy receiver Tevin Reese and a host of important offensive linemen from last year's record-breaking offense, but the return of Bryce Petty under center ensures it will remain the scariest offense in the Big-12 and one of the five or so scariest in the country.
That holds doubly true when you consider the weapons that are returning. The cupboard is far from bare. Shock Linwood had a couple of 180-yard rushing days as a freshman last year when Seastrunk was injured, Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns last season, and the Bears keep producing quality, scheme-tailored receivers behind them.
As long as Art Briles is the head coach and Phillip Montgomery is the offensive coordinator, Baylor will continue breaking scoreboards each fall. And unless another mid- to late-2000s Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State or Texas Tech offense reemerges next season, it will remain the easy class of the conference.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.