Big 12 Conference Preview
1. The Oklahoma Sooners are loaded this year and they will not only compete for the Big 12 Title, but they should also be in t6he NCAA Playoffs with the chance to win it all. The Offense will be scary good with Baker Mayfield leading the way at QB after throwing for 3965 yards with 40 TDs and just eight INTs a year ago. They do lose two 1000-yard backs and three of their top four WRs, but they have plenty of talent in both areas and they all set up behind the best offensive line in the nation. They should top the 43.9 ppg they put up last year. On defense, they struggled some as they allowed 28.8 pg, but they have some strong recruits coming in, allowing with seven starts and six of their top eight tacklers from last year, so this defense will be improved this year. The Schedule is not easy with a road game against Ohio State a neutral site game with Texas and a roadie against Oklahoma State, but still this is the team to beat and they should win the Big 12 title game and march their way into the playoffs with no more than one loss.
2. Thatís right, I have Texas in the number 2 slot as I feel that new coach Tom Hermann steps into a great situation here. Hermann is 22-4 in his young coaching career and he takes over a Texas team that is loaded. Texas is the 11th most experienced team in the nation as they have 33 of 44 players on the two-deep returning, including 17 starts and they have some stocked talent with two Top 10 recruiting classes is a row. The Longhorns are finally back. The offense has seven starters back, including QB Shane Buechele, but they do have to replace 2000-yard back DíOnta Foreman, but they still have highly touted Chris Warren along with Toneil Carter, who has also been highly touted and both will make an impact. The WR corps is very solid and they have the 7th rated offensive line in the nation. They will top the 31.9 ppg they put up last year. The defense had their issues last year, but with 10 starters back and LB Gary Johnson (#8 Juco in the land) coming in, this will be a much-improved defense. The defense has a few pitfalls, but this is still a team that will challenge for the Big 12 Title all year.
3. The Oklahoma State Cowboys have won 10 games in back-to back year and they have a shot at getting to double digits again. The Cowboys are ranked 3rd in the league in experience and they have 12 starters back, including seven on an offense that will be the 2nd best in the league behind Oklahoma. Mason Rudolph is back after throwing for 4091 yards with 28 TDs and just 4 INTs last year. Also returning is RB Justice Hill (1142 yards, 6 TDs) and WRs James Washington (1380 yards, 10 TDs) and Jalen McCleskey (812 yards, 7 TDs). This offense has the best group of receivers in the nation and will help the Cowboys top the 38.6 ppg they averaged last year. The defense was rather average last year as they allowed 26.5 ppg and they have just five starters back on that side of the ball, but they also have some solid recruits coming in and they do have some good young talent stockpiled, so they should improve on last yearís numbers. They do have tough roadies against Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia, plus a tough home game against the Sooners, but do not sleep on this team as they are very talented and will also be in the mix for a date in the Big 12 Title game.
4. The TCU Horned Frogs went 23-3 combined in 2014 and 2015, but last year they finished just 6-7, which included a loss to Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. Well, this year they are back and they will flirt with a 10-win season. The Horned Frogs come in as they 4th most experienced team in the nation as they have back 55 lettermen, including 10 starters. Their offense put up 11.1 ppg less last year than they did in 2015, but with 10 starters back, including QB Kenny Hill, top RB Kyle Hicks and their top nine receivers. This offense is loaded and will set up behind the 3rd best OL in the league, so they should easily top the 31 ppg they put up last year. The defense was average as they allowed 28.0 ppg last year, but they have seven starters back, including five of their top six tacklers and a few strong recruits, so I look for them to improve on that side of the ball. I do like this team, especially with the offense that they will filed, but tough road games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma will keep them from moving up in the standings.
5. The Kansas State Wildcats have been a consistent team over the year and they come in off a 9-4 season, which included a 33-28 win over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. This year they have 14 starters back and are primed for another solid season with another good bowl invite. Bill Snyder has done an excellent job here and has shown everyone that the game hasnít passed him by. Last year the offense put up 32 ppg and they will have a good shot at topping 35 ppg this year as they have 8 starters back on that side of the ball, including dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz, who threw for 1755 yards and nine TDs and ran for 1012 yards and 12 TDs. The Wildcats have a nice stable of RBs and their top two WRs back from last year, plus they have the 4th rated OL in the league. The defense was very solid as they allowed just 22.2 ppg, which is right around their average over the last five years. They have 6 starters back on that side and some nice recruits that will allow them to have another solid defensive unit that could be slightly better than last year, especially with the top-rated DL in the league. the Schedule is not all that easy, but they should be good for at least 8 wins in the regular season.
6. West Virginia had a strong 10-3 season last year and while they have just 8 starters back from that team, I still see them in the 6th spot over Baylor. The Mountaineers put up 31.2 ppg last year and they have just 5 starters back on that side of the ball. Will Grier will take over at QB after transferring from Florida and he was the 3rd rated QB in the land when he came out of high school, so he should be the right fit to make this offense go. They lose their top three WRs from last year, but have one of the best WR recruits coming in, in David Stills and they still have RB Justin Crawford, who ran for 1184 yards last year. The defense has allowed just 24.6 ppg and 24 ppg the last two years, but with three starters back on that side of the ball and many high-powered offensive teams in this league, they will take a step back on that side of the ball. The Schedule is not great with roadies against TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma, but still they should be able to finagle a bowl invite out of this season.
7. Baylor could be in for a long year. They do have 13 starters back, but have been going through many off the field distractions and have a new head coach, which means scheme changes on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule is an excellent coach and he did very well at Temple, but he is also more of a defensive-minded coach than an offensive-minded one and the Bears are not used to that. I see a lot of growing pains for the Bears this year. Zach Smith takes over at QB after starting part of last year once Seth Russell went down and he has top RB Terence Williams back, but they lost their top two WRs and the OL is rated as just 6th best in the league. It may be hard for them to top the 34.6 ppg they put up last year. The Defense has allowed 28.3 ppg and 29.0 ppg the last two years and with Rhule at the helm and 31 lettermen, including seven starters back on that side of the ball, they should improve some. The Bears have KSU, Oklahoma State and TCU on the road and will have a tough time winning home games against Oklahoma and Texas, but still they have a shot at six wins and a bowl invite.
8. The Texas Tech Red Raiders were just last year and this year doesnít look like it will be any better. They do have 13 starters back, but they are going from one of their best QBs in their history to a QB who hasnít thrown a pass at the NCAA level, plus they have to fix a defense that has allowed at least 41.3 ppg in each of their last three years. The offense has bailed them out some and has allowed then to stay in games the last few years, but it doesnít look like that will be the case this year, especially with no running game and the 2nd worst offensive line in the league. After putting up 43.7 ppg and 45.1 ppg the last two years, they will be lucky to hit 35 ppg this year. The defense has been a mess for years and they just donít recruit well in that side of the ball to improve a whole lot. They have 6 starters back on defense, but they had 6 and 8 back the last two years and still allowed 43.7 ppg and 43.6 ppg in those two years respectively. Look for the Red Raiders to miss out on the bowl party for the 2nd year in a row.
9. The Iowa State Cyclones had a miserable 3-9 season in Matt Campbellís first year at the helm and they could be in for some more growing pains. The Cyclones have just 11 starters back and are 71st in the nation in experience. The offense was average last year and they do have 92.7% of their yards returning, which is 6th in the nation, but they also have just 35 career offensive line starts back, which is 118th in the nation. Q B Jacob Park will be running for his life, while a very average ground attack will be very average again. Not only do they have the worst OL in the league, but they have the 2nd worst DL in the league as well and trench play is a key to success. They have just 18 of 32 lettermen back on defense and it will be tough for them to allow less than the 31.3 ppg they gave up last year. The Schedule is not kind at all, with their only slam-dunk Big 12 win being Kansas at home. Look for the Cyclones to miss out on the bowl party for the 5th year in a row.
10. The Kansas Jayhawks have gone just 2-22 in David Beatyís first two years and they havenít won more than three games in seven straight years. Well, this year will be more of the same. The Jay hawks have 50 lettermen back, including 13 starters, but they were -129 ypg in league play last year, so they still have a lot of ground to make up. The Jayhawks did increase their scoring last year by 5 ppg over 2015 and with 8 starters back this year, they could improve again. They have to replace their top RB and their OL is weak, but they have their top two WRs back and their QB is a Washington State transfer and we know how good the offense is out there. The defense is where they will continue to really struggle as they have just five starters back from a group that allowed 37.3 ppg last year. They are still a few years away from challenging for a bowl bid.
I will look for Oklahoma to battle Texas in the Big 12 Title game, with the Sooners coming out on top. Their next step will be to the NCAA Playoffs.
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