One of my favorite annual sports pieces to read is Bill Simmons’ NBA Draft Diary. I also always have to read Mel Kiper’s yearly NFL Draft grades as well as the annual unveiling of Keith Law’s top 100 baseball prospects.
Another one of my favorites is Pat Forde’s dream and nightmare scenario for every team going into college basketball’s NCAA tournament.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big 12 team going into the 2014 season. Of course, the reality will fall somewhere in between. But this will forecast what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And likewise, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.
We begin this series with the defending Big 12 champs -- the Baylor Bears:
Thanks to his work on pocket awareness with QB guru George Whitfield and a season of experience in his belt, Bryce Petty comes out looking better than ever. He throws for seven touchdowns in the christening of McLane Stadium and never looks back on his way to giving Baylor its second Heisman Trophy quarterback (Jameis who?) in four years. With USC still struggling, people everywhere begin dubbing Baylor college football’s next “QBU.”
Of course, Petty can’t win a Heisman without his supporting cast showing up, and they do just that and more. Antwan Goodley matches his 2013 totals and earns first-team All-American honors. Corey Coleman has a breakout campaign, setting the stage to become the next in the ever-growing line of big-time Baylor wide receivers. Redshirt freshman running back Johnny Jefferson lives up to the spring hype, leading Baylor’s running back stable with 1,100 yards on the ground. Left tackle Spencer Drango doesn’t surrender a sack all season to win the Outland Trophy. And led by mammoth defensive end Shawn Oakman, the defensive line makes good on Art Briles’ spring proclamation, and leads the nation in tackles for loss.
With the team firing on more cylinders than ever, Baylor empties Darrell K. Royal Stadium by the third quarter then obliterates TCU, leaving Gary Patterson speechless in his postgame news conference.
The undefeated Bears march into Norman on Nov. 8 and edge the Sooners in one of the all-time great games in Big 12 history, catapulting Baylor to No. 1 in the polls, and to No. 1 in the minds of the playoff committee.
The Bears coast through the rest of the Big 12 season unscathed, securing them a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff. They squeak through in the first game, setting up a clash with the SEC champ in AT&T Stadium, just a hundred miles from Waco’s campus. With plenty of green on hand, the Bears capture their first national championship on a fourth-quarter bomb from Petty to Goodley, reminiscent of James Street’s heave to Cotton Speyrer that handed Texas the national championship in the Cotton Bowl Classic 34 years before.
In his postgame news conference, Briles tells the nation he plans to retire in Waco, and days later signs another extension to keep him there for life.
Fresh off the national title, Baylor lands a top 10 recruiting class, and with confidence swelling about the state of the program, athletic director Ian McCaw beefs up the nonconference schedule by ringing up Alabama and immediately agreeing to fill the Crimson Tide’s vacant slot in 2015.
Without Johnny Football, the Aggies finish with a losing record, and the Longhorns get drilled in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In the NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys trade up to get Petty in the first round to be their heir apparent to Tony Romo.
In his second year as the starter, Petty succumbs to the dreaded sophomore slump. He throws three picks in the opener, as Baylor just barely survives SMU in a sluggish unveiling of McLane Stadium.
The defensive line falls way below Briles’ expectation, the new secondary turns out to be a disaster, and the Bears wind up ranking in the bottom 10 nationally in pass defense.
Baylor also desperately misses the consistency of Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, as the offense becomes too dependent on Petty and Goodley to make plays. Drango’s back issues flare up and, and right tackle Troy Baker never really returns to form from last year’s knee injury. In turn, Petty is under duress all season, and the Baylor offense doubles last season's turnover total.
The Bears survive the Ponies. But they can’t escape Ames, as the giant killers of the Big 12 upset Baylor after Petty fumbles on the first play of double overtime.
The stunning defeat sends the Bears into a mini-tailspin. They get battered by the Longhorns the following week in the game of Texas linebacker Steve Edmond’s career. TCU’s defense smothers Baylor the following week, handing the Bears a third straight loss. At 4-3, the Bears hobble into Norman and put up a gutty performance but can’t stop Trevor Knight, who all but locks up All-Big 12 quarterback honors.
Baylor rebounds to take down Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, which gets other schools interested in Briles to be their coach again.
Edmond is named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Petty slips to the second round. McCaw adds Old Dominion to the schedule.