Settle It: Who is going to win the 2013 Big 12 conference football championship?

Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein (7) holds up the Big 12 Championship trophy following a 42-24 win over the Texas Longhorns at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports)

The fun part of the opening kickoff to the 2012 college football was that we, as fans, all understood that we would be surprised by whatever happened throughout the course of the year. However, we would not know who would surprise us or where they would come from.

The Big 12 as a whole was one of those pleasant surprises college football fans may not have been expecting, but certainly enjoyed watching. After losing Nebraska to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac-12 and nearly Texas and Oklahoma, most pundits and media types had left the conference for dead.

However, not only did Texas and Oklahoma stick around, but they proved the foundation around which other programs could rise up and even knock off the conference big boys.

Enter stage right, Kansas State. Led by 73-year old coach Bill Snyder and a quarterback just as old-school, the Wildcats reached No. 1-status for a short time during the regular season and eventually earned the school’s first conference title since 2003. Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein is off to the NFL and will be replaced by Jake Waters, the 2012 National JUCO Player of the Year.

Waters’ transition into the Big 12 will go a long way towards whether or not K-State can repeat, but the road is certainly not going to be lined with roses.

In a league that proved defense was totally optional in conference play, each contender’s quarterback’s abilities and actions (both on and off the field) will go a long way towards deciding who represents the league in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014 — or the BCS title game.

Those aforementioned Big 12 bullies, Texas and Oklahoma, are always expected to compete not only for conference but for national titles, and 2013 will be no different.

Coach Mack Brown returns 19 of his starters from team that finished 9-4 with an Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. Not only is 19 the most returners in the conference, but it is tied for the most in the nation.

[Related >> Check out the number of returning starters for every single college football team]

While that includes David Ash as Brown’s incumbent starting quarterback, coach Bob Stoops over in Norman replaces four-year starter Landry Jones with bruising runner Blake Bell. The Sooners are hoping for a younger version of Colin Kaepernick with Bell in 2013.

Three other elite Big 12 quarterbacks graduate to the professional ranks following solid-to-spectacular 2012 seasons. West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor are all trying out new arms following the departures of Geno Smith, Seth Doege and Nick Florence, respectively.

New Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury starred as a quarterback himself in Lubbock, and finding a winning replacement is on him.

On the other hand, two other programs have only enjoyed great quarterbacking news heading into 2013. Oklahoma State returns not one, not two, but three young men all capable of starting at quarterback for the Cowboys. Soon-to-be senior Clint Chelf will be fighting for the starter’s role with JW Walsh and Wes Lunt, who both enjoyed success as freshmen in 2012.

TCU was forced to go with Trevone Boykin under center after superstar junior Casey Pachall left school and checked himself into alcohol rehab following the fourth week of the season. Boykin is supremely talented, but he simply was not ready as a freshman. He has all that playing time under his belt now. Even better, Pachall is back on campus, back taking classes, and back competing for a starting spot with Boykin. Coach Gary Patterson has a fantastic problem on his hands.

Which quarterback is going to step up and lead his team to conference and postseason glory? Is it going to be one of the Big 12’s most historically dominant programs, or any one of a number of up-and-coming squads primed to take on the mantle as the cream of the Big 12 crop?

That, Gamedayr Nation, remains to be seen, but you can have your opinion heard right here.

We’re just going to go ahead and ask it …

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MORE PREDICTIONS: Who do you think is going to win the 2013 SEC Championship? What about the Big Ten?