STILLWATER — The Big 12 title race appears to be wide open in 2013, with no clear elite team that has already locked itself into a spot high in the preseason football rankings.
But Oklahoma State is a popular pick to win its second conference championship in three seasons, with the Cowboys boasting plenty of offensive playmakers — even with the recent transfer of quarterback Wes Lunt — and a promise to implement a more aggressive defense.
Here are the other teams that look to be the most equipped to challenge for the Big 12 title.
Who's gone: DE Stansly Maponga, WR Josh Boyce, LB Kenny Cain
Who's back: QB Casey Pachall, DE Devonte Fields, CB Jason Verrett, QB Trevone Boykin
Why they'll win the Big 12: Defense. Fields is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after tallying 10 sacks as a freshman. Verrett might be the conference's most dominant corner, nabbing six interceptions a season ago. With the majority of the conference's top quarterbacks gone, this should be an especially stingy unit.
Why they won't: Pachall is an efficient and effective quarterback — when he's on the field. But he has to prove he can stay clean and reliable after leaving the team last year to seek treatment for substance abuse. Additionally, TCU faces a tough schedule, traveling to Stillwater and Norman, as well as the oft-challenging Ames and Lubbock.
Who's gone: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin
Who's back: QB David Ash, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, RB Johnathan Gray, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, WR Mike Davis
Why they'll win the Big 12: The Longhorns have the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12 in Ash, while other offensive weapons in Gray, Davis and Jaxon Shipley also return. Mack Brown and Co. are also transitioning to a fast-paced, spread system similar to the attack several Big 12 teams currently run.
Why they won't: Ash might be the most experienced quarterback in the conference, but that says more about the mass exit of Big 12 signal-callers than Ash's proven ability. UT is also coming off its worst defensive season in school history, and two of its top talents in Vaccaro and Okafor are now in the NFL. Hicks' return from a hip injury that forced him to miss 10 games should help, however. Jeffcoat also returns from a pectoral injury that knocked him out for the season in October.