Can QB experience crack Big 12's title drought?
Good riddance, learner's permits. So long, peach fuzz.
The Big 12 has been a quarterback-driven league for the past decade, but last year's fresh-faced crop may have a more grizzled look this time around. At least I hope so.
The league that staked its claim as college football's home for fast-paced offense took a bit of a siesta last year, but it wasn't surprising that the Big 12's best offense still won the league and booked a ticket to the Fiesta.
This time last year, only four teams in the league knew who their quarterback would be, and of those four, only Baylor's Bryce Petty was still his team's starting quarterback by the end of the season.
The Big 12 also had just two quarterbacks (David Ash, Casey Pachall) that had started more than half a season at their current school.
The result was a lot of ugly play at the position, and first-round picks at cornerback in Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett highlighting strong defenses didn't help.
A year later, seven Big 12 teams entered fall camp knowing exactly who their Week 1 starter would be. Three more have a good idea.
Oklahoma State is pretending it has a competition this preseason and/or will play Daxx Garman 10-12 snaps before trotting out junior J.W. Walsh against Florida State and Matt Joeckel didn't transfer from Texas A&M to play backup to TCU's best receiver, Trevone Boykin. It's hard to see Grant Rohach not retaining the job after topping 300 yards in wins over Kansas and West Virginia.
A maturing crop of quarterbacks combined with exits of defensive stars like Gilbert, Verrett, CB Aaron Colvin, DE Jackson Jeffcoat and S Ahmad Dixon means the Big 12 should return to its free-wheeling ways in 2014.
That will pay off for nostalgic fans pining for the days of Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, but while the scoreboards will reflect that brand of Big 12 football, will the polls follow suit?
The Big 12 hasn't had a team play for the national title since McCoy and Texas in 2009 and hasn't won a title since Vince Young and Texas in 2005. Both are the longest streaks since the conference began play in 1996.
"Our aspiration in football is just as it is in other sports. We want to win national championships," commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "It's been a little while since we've won a championship, and I think all of us think it's about time that we did."
Though the last five years have proven that's easier said than done, the Big 12's three best teams all have a quarterback capable of carrying their respective team into college football's inaugural playoff.
Trevor Knight showed flashes of brilliance in wins over Kansas State and Alabama, and may have the luxury of the Big 12's best defense to widen his margin for error. Bryce Petty emerged as a legitimate Heisman candidate as a first-year starter, and with a deep, talented corps of receivers, could once again lead college football's highest-scoring offense. Jake Waters' spurred Kansas State's 6-1 finish in 2013, aided by throwing to the Big 12's best receiver, Tyler Lockett.
Each of the last three years, the Big 12's lone national title contender has been led by a Heisman-caliber quarterback, gone on the road in November and come home with a loss. With it came shattered hopes for sports' most storied individual trophy.
Knight, Waters and Petty may find themselves in that position in the final month of the season, which will raise the question of whether talented passers like Texas Tech's Davis Webb, Texas' David Ash and Joeckel at TCU will deny the Big 12 a spot in the playoff and a chance to play for college football's crown.
The league's baby faces are a little more weathered now, which will mean more entertainment, but Petty, Knight or Waters will have to be great for that experience to end a title drought that's cost the Big 12 a chunk of respect on the national stage in the past five years.