By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
OK, where did we leave off?
Kansas State captured the program’s third conference championship, finishing in a first-place tie with Oklahoma. But the Wildcats represented the Big 12 in the BCS because of its regular-season victory at Norman.
Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein wasn’t chosen in the first two days of the NFL Draft, but nobody was more important to his team, and K-State is one of six schools starting over at quarterback.
Two more that have a luxury of riches at the position — Oklahoma State and TCU — have a competition among experienced players and didn’t name a starter.
• Compared with where the conference was a year ago, stability has brought calm to the Big 12. When practices wrapped up last spring, the league was still being overseen by interim commissioner Chuck Neinas and was still four months away from announcing its ESPN contract.
The Big 12 had announced TCU and West Virginia as future members, and Missouri and Texas A&M were about to leave the conference after completing their spring sports.
Today, the Big 12 has a respected commissioner in Bob Bowlsby, solid media arrangements with Fox and ESPN and a grant of rights that has brought a sense of security to the league.
All of the schools have their own third-tier networks, most with Fox, and if resentment lingers with The Longhorn Network, it’s not being expressed in public.
One of my favorite notes from 2012: Big 12 teams that played TCU went 0-9 in their next game. The Horned Frogs went 4-5 in league play, but they brought a physical nature that will continue with nine returning defensive starters. It starts with the league’s defensive player of the year in end Devonte Fields, who won the honor as a freshman. At quarterback, coach Gary Patterson has a choice between the guy who was leading the nation in passer rating, Casey Pachall, when his season ended after a DUI arrest, or Trevone Boykin, who took over and guided the Frogs to a bowl game.
Kansas State, you know the doubt is coming. A team that loses eight defensive starters, including a heart-and-soul linebacker in Arthur Brown, and Klein, won’t be picked to win the Big 12. Then again, doubt ushered K-State into last year when the Cats were picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. And whose fans got to celebrate on the turf after the final triumph? The program remains stocked with talent, although coach Bill Snyder has expressed concern about depth. The call? Upper half, in contention, a game out of first. At most places, that’s an excellent season forecast. At Kansas State, it’s rocket fuel.
Top Heisman candidate
It’s already been declared, by the candidate. Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk told Sporting News before last season’s bowl victory over UCLA, “I feel like there’s no back who can do what I do. I know I’m the fastest back in the country. I know I’m the best back in the country. Nobody’s going to work harder … I’m going to win the Heisman. If I don’t, I’m going to get very close.”
Love the confidence. Seastrunk averaged 26 yards rushing in limited action in his first seven games, and 138.6 in his final six, including a 185-yard effort against Kansas State.
Out are Collin Klein, Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Seth Doege and Nick Florence, and the Big 12 quarterback landscape is largely unknown.
But it won’t be barren.
“There a little bit of unknown until these guys get out there and you see what they do for their team,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “But there’s certainly no lack of talent.”
Let’s start with the proven.
Texas’ David Ash has 18 career starts, the most of any Big 12 player. Next are TCU’s Pachall with 17 and Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who made all 16 of his starts at Brigham Young.
Pachall’s teammate Boykin, started the Frogs’ final nine games, and Oklahoma State’s three-headed quarterback monster made up of Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt, is a college football envy.
Spring brought competition throughout the league, but few pronouncements of starters. Here’s a guess at who steps under center for the 2013 openers:
• Baylor: Bryce Petty
• Iowa State: Sam Richardson
• Kansas: Jake Heaps
• Kansas State: Jake Waters
• Oklahoma: Blake Bell
• Oklahoma State: Clint Chelf
• Texas: David Ash
• TCU: Casey Pachall
• Texas Tech: Michael Brewer
• West Virginia: Paul Millard
Kliff Kingsbury. Or rather, welcome back. To some extent the personality of the Big 12 as a fast-paced, quarterback-driven conference can be traced to Kingsbury’s career at Texas Tech. He was the first of Mike Leach’s gunslingers, and now he’s back to run the program after serving as Johnny (Football) Manziel’s position coach at Texas A&M last year.
• Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was a fascinating hire by Mike Gundy. Yurcich comes from Division II Shippensburg State, where he ran an up-tempo offense. “It’s different, I’m telling you,” Yurcich said. Starting with his salary bump, from the mid-$50,000s to $400,000.