There are few sure things in life, but the Big 12 is good for at least three nuggets you can set your watch to this fall: 1. Iowa State, under Paul Rhoads, will beat someone out of the blue that no one expected it could; 2. Baylor will drop 50 points on at least one defense that you’d thought had a pulse; 3. The first time Mack Brown loses a tilt, the buzzards will be out in force …
THREE BIG 12 FOOTBALL COACHES WHO OPEN THE SEASON WITH THE MOST TO PROVE
:03 … DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA
Record last season: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
Record overall at school: 17-9 (two seasons)
Few in the game are as highly regarded as Holgorsen when it comes to airing it out — but Geno Smith is the New York Jets’ problem now, and game-changing receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are burning rubber in St. Louis. He’s relatively young (42) with a good pedigree, but going from 10 wins in Year 1 to seven in Year 2, especially a Year 2 with expectations, is no way to make friends and influence people in Morgantown. A snowy 38-14 thrashing by Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl was burned into a lot of brains, underscoring a disappointment of a season with a dumpster-fire finish in the Bronx.
If Holgorsen wants to cement his reputation as the Big 12’s new (albeit less eccentric) version of Mike Leach, if he wants people to think of the system as plug-and-play, then some relative unknown under center — Clint Trickett, Ford Childress or Paul Millard Jr. — will have to throw for 3,500 or so yards and at least 25 scores. But with only 10 starters back, including just three on offense, even that might not be enough to steer the Mountaineers through a league slate that features five road tests, including a visit to Oklahoma on September 7.
:02 … CHARLIE WEIS, KANSAS
Record last season: 1-11 (0-9 Big 12)
Record overall at school: 1-11 (one season)
Granted, the bar is low; all Weis has to do is win one stinking league game — one — and 2013 can be viewed as progress over that 1-12, 0-9 crow sandwich from a season ago. Uncle Charlie was unapologetic in his pursuit of junior college talent to try to accelerate the Jayhawks’ reconstruction efforts, but some of that has already blown up in his face after talented but troubled defensive end Chris Martin, one of the linchpins of Weis’ 2013 recruiting class, was charged with aggravated robbery in May. Martin, who was expected to nail down a starting spot on a defense that could badly use the help, was subsequently dismissed from the program. Weis drew more curious looks last month by referring to his ’12 bunch as a “pile of crap” during Big 12 Media Days, although some praised the notoriously frank coach for his candor.
At least the schedule is user-friendly: The Jayhawks get five of their nine Big 12 dances at home, and two of those dates — Texas Tech on Oct. 5 and West Virginia on Nov. 16 — are against foes expected to finish among the bottom four in the circuit. But another fall without a conference win (the last one came in 2010, against Colorado) will make an already-skeptical fan base even crankier.
:01 … MACK BROWN, TEXAS
Record last season: 9-4 (5-4 Big 12)
Record overall at school: 150–43 (16 seasons)
In a lot of places, Mack Brown would be untouchable. But Texas is not a lot of places. It’s a 900-pound gorilla with a scoreboard the size of Liechtenstein and a cable network devoted singularly to advertising its greatness, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Longhorns see Alabama and see themselves — or rather, what they think they would be, if it weren’t for their present coaching situation. UT hasn’t made a Bowl Championship Series appearance since 2009-10, when the aforementioned Tide handed them a 37-21 setback in the national title game. After nine consecutive seasons of double-digit victories (2001-’09), the ‘Horns have gone 5-7, then 8-5, then 9-4. UT hasn’t beaten a top 10 opponent since winning at then-No. 5 Nebraska in the fall of 2010.
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All the pieces, on paper, would seem to be in place for a leap back into the national elite: Ten starters return on offense, nine on defense, and in a league perceived to be down across the board, the ‘Horns return two signal-callers with experience in junior David Ash and senior Case McCoy. But while talent and moolah have always been plentiful along East 23rd Street, mojo has come more infrequently since Brown’s heyday of 2004-09. To wit: UT has given up 30 points or more on nine different occasions since September 2011. If that trend doesn’t change, something else will. Brown is under contract in Austin through 2020; show of hands if you think he’ll actually see the end of it.
Yeah, that’s what we thought.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.