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Big 12 Kickoff

Four Texas teams aim for Big 12 football title, but it looks like Baylor has the best chance

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Baylor hopes to stay on top of the Big 12 after winning its first conference championship in 2013. Baylor Athletics/Facebook
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Texas and Texas Tech are looking to make their mark on the Big 12 in 2014. Photo by Erich Schlegel/ Getty Images
Baylor head coach Art Briles
Despite winning the Big 12 Championship in 2013, Baylor head coach Art Briles still sees his program as an underdog. Photo by Matthew Postins
Baylor football
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Baylor head coach Art Briles
Matthew Postins headshot

As a new season — and a new era — of college football dawns, all of the Big 12 programs in Texas are looking to make their mark on the ever-changing landscape.

Baylor no longer has a target on its back. TCU is learning a new offense, and Texas is adjusting to life without Mack Brown. And Texas Tech? Well, it would love to worm its way into contention.

The Big 12 Football Media Days wrapped up on Tuesday, and the Bears — despite not being selected the preseason league favorite by the media — received plenty of attention. In fact, Baylor head coach Art Briles was the first coach to speak.

Bears don’t have big heads
The Bears are coming off an 11-2 season in which they won the Big 12 for the first time, went to a BCS bowl for the first time and ascended to as high as No. 4 in the AP top 25. Plus, Baylor moves into its pristine new McLane Stadium next month, situated right on the Brazos River.

 “We see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try and get some recognition and some respect,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.

If Briles and his Bears have big heads, they’re not showing it.

“We still see ourselves, me, personally, our team, we see ourselves as the guy fighting hard, scratching hard to try and get some recognition and some respect,” Briles said.

It wasn’t long ago many wondered if Briles could even win at Baylor. Now there are national expectations for the Bears, who are seen as a preseason top 10 team and have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Bryce Petty. Baylor’s No. 2 ranking in the Big 12 preseason poll was the Bears’ highest ranking since the Big 12 opened for business in 1996.

Offense won’t be an issue for the Bears, who were No. 1 in total offense and No. 1 in scoring in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year. The defense, meanwhile, is breaking in several new players after last year’s more experienced unit helped the program’s overall defensive image take a big step forward.

Briles referenced that Baylor’s defense forced more three-and-outs than any unit in FBS last season. “We lost a lot of good players without question,” Briles said. “But we got a lot of guys back that we have a lot of confidence in. It’s like Petty coming in last year. Only one way to get experience; that’s to get on the field and play.”

New offensive strategy at TCU
TCU head coach Gary Patterson probably can’t wait to get on the field after Tuesday’s news broke that defensive end Devonte Fields had “separated” from TCU after being named a suspect in a domestic disturbance case involving his ex-girlfriend. The disturbance occurred Sunday night, and Fields won’t be a part of the team until the investigation has run its course. 

Fields was named the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in advance of media days and was an all-Big 12 selection as a freshman in 2012.

Before the media learned of Fields’ incident, the biggest question Patterson dealt with was about his offense, which proved anemic last year and was ranked No. 108.

In response, Patterson is making an extreme philosophical shift. After years of using a run-based, play-action offense to complement his stifling defense, Patterson is turning to a pair of new offensive coordinators to implement a new spread-based formation. Doug Meachem ran the offense at Houston, and Sonny Cumbie ran the offense at Texas Tech last year — two of the most potent offenses in college football.

 Gary Patterson is making an extreme philosophical shift: After years of using a run-based, play-action offense, TCU is switching to a spread formation.

TCU’s 4-8 record last season, along with the awful offense and an inability to protect the football, is what prompted Patterson’s big move, one he’s been contemplating for two years.

“It's about scoring points. We can't turn the ball over,” Patterson said. “And then on defense it's still about stopping the run, still about making people kick field goals and don't give up the big play.”

New era for the Horns
Texas embarks on a new era this season, and media days represented new Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong’s introduction to the Big 12 media corps. Strong replaces Mack Brown, who restored the Longhorns as one of the nation’s preeminent programs and won a national championship. After Brown resigned in December — under some duress — the Longhorns lured Strong away from Louisville.

Strong took over an average Cardinals program and turned them into national contenders. Clearly, the expectations at Texas are much different when you consider Longhorn boosters reportedly tried unsuccessfully to lure Nick Saban away from Alabama while Brown was still on the job.

“You expect them to have expectations at University of Texas because you're looking at a premier program,” Strong said. “But it's all about our players and just making sure we go compete. We as a coaching staff need to make sure the preparation is there.”

Strong announced that David Ash, who missed nine games last season due to a concussion, was cleared to practice, and Scout.com reported Ash would enter fall workouts as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback.

Tech hopes for consistency
Texas Tech and second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury would love some consistency this season after winning their first seven games and losing their final five before a win in the Holiday Bowl. In fact, Kingsbury spoke to that early during his time with the media and accepted some of the blame. 

“[In] year one, I probably didn't do a great job of [setting] that [example], and hopefully we learned from that and can build,” he said.

One big difference from a year ago is that Tech’s quarterback situation is settled. Davis Webb — who threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns a year ago — returns for his sophomore year as the undisputed starter after the transfer of Baker Mayfield.

If the Red Raiders get better defensively under a defensive staff that is entering its second straight season together and can take advantage of the mature junior college transfers its signed in the spring, it could take a big step forward toward Big 12 contention.

“That's big for them, two years having the same defensive staff in place with the same terminology,” Kingsbury said. “I can tell this spring they weren't thinking as much. They were actually flying around with the football.”

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