Big 12 sleeper teams, players

The players, units and teams that could surprise this fall

Updated: July 18, 2014, 3:08 PM ET
By Phil Steele | ESPN Insider

Charlie StrongAP Photo/Michael ThomasCharlie Strong could have the Texas defense playing at an elite level this fall.

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Despite starting the 2013 season outside the top 25, the Baylor Bears won their first Big 12 championship and finished with 11 wins, the most in program history. The Oklahoma Sooners also surprised many with a No. 6 finish built on upsets of both the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Alabama Crimson Tide.

This year, Baylor and Oklahoma appear to be the clear preseason favorites to win the conference. But there are at least three other teams in the Big 12 that could find their way into the top 25. That includes the TCU Horned Frogs, my most improved team for 2014.

That's where we begin these Big 12 "sleeper picks" -- the teams, units and players that could surprise this season.

1. Which team currently outside the top 25 is the best fit to pull a Baylor in 2014 and win the Big 12?

TCU Horned Frogs

After winning at least 11 games in six of their seven seasons playing in the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs have compiled a disappointing 11-14 overall record (6-12 in conference play) over their two years in the Big 12. Last year, TCU might have been a much stronger team had it not lost two starting linebackers in the offseason and 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields after just one game. While the Frogs finished just 4-8 last year, they had a chance to win in the fourth quarter or overtime in seven of the eight games they lost.

This year, TCU brings back 16 starters and adds Texas A&M transfer QB Matt Joeckel. Joeckel is a better fit for the new offense that incoming offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie are installing, which features a high-tempo, pass-happy scheme similar to what they had at their previous stops (Houston and Texas Tech, respectively). The addition of Joeckel also might allow the Horned Frogs to move Trevone Boykin to wide receiver or running back, where he is a threat to score on any play. In any event, they'll be four deep at RB, where they're led by Nebraska transfer Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon, and will return five of their top six receivers.

Phil Steele

ESPN Insider