Last year the Big 12 rebounded a bit. The previous couple of years, the conference was known as being an Oklahoma away from being no different than the Mountain West or the American Conference thanks in part to some very weak teams such as Kansas, Iowa State, and Texas Tech. Of course, Kansas is still Kansas in college football and Baylor fell off the planet (both teams went 1-11) but you had jumps from Iowa State who stunned everybody and beat Oklahoma in Norman while they were in contention to be in the Big 12 Championship throughout most of the year. Oklahoma State thanks to their offense, was a top 10 team for most of the year. TCU was also highly ranked and rebounded after a semi-dull year in 2016. And while West Virginia took a step back, they were still a very competitive bunch. Texas still had consistency issues, but had a couple of key road wins at Iowa State and West Virginia. And Oklahoma still ran the conference and took a huge “W” over Ohio State in Columbus while they probably should have beaten Georgia in the Rose Bowl. Will the trend continue to point up for the offense-minded conference or do they take a major step back as we see the studs of the Big 12 last year that left, bring the conference back down?
(1) TCU HORNED FROGS: It’s probably high expectations on my part, but the biggest issue surrounding TCU in Kenny Hill is gone. He could have been either very good at times (as seen in the Oklahoma State game) or very bad at times (as seen in the Big 12 Championship) and he was a bit of a lightning rod for Frogs fans on how he played. Shawn Robinson starts for TCU this year and the goal will be simple: do NOT turn the ball over. The biggest issue of course is only 3 returning starters on offense, but given how TCU likes to use a great balance and utilize their backfield (Darius Anderson, KaVontae Turpin) and they are very deep in that category as well. The receiver corps will also be very young, but again, very talented. But TCU will hang their hat on their defense as for really the last 5 years, has boasted the best defense in the Big 12 (though saying that is like saying you are the boys locker room beauty contest winner). But they had a top 5 defense against the run and top 25 overall (the passing defense always gives up yards given the air attacks of Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas Tech). The defensive line will be stout again and may have one of the best lines in the nation with Ross Blacklock (who is becoming a stud and one of the top tackles in the nation and he’s only a sophomore and Corey Bethley is also a beast in his own right at the tackle). The senior ends of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier are nothing to sneer at either. They could have a huge year as a whole up front terrorizing every Big 12 QB. Ty Summers is a tackle machine at linebacker as well. The secondary will feature a mix of coverage and heavy hitters that the hopes of the 70th ranked passing defense will go up in the rankings as TCU will really come after teams in 2018. TCU faces off against Ohio State in the third week in nearby Arlington, which means it won’t have that feel of a true home game (and given how Buckeyes fans travel, it will definitely feel neutral) and then have a road trip down to Austin which is a bit of a problem, but then they COULD end up having a nice streak at home with Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma (2 of the 3 will be revenge games from last year) while seeing Kansas in Lawrence and then Kansas State back at home. The tough one will be a late tilt in West Virginia. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1. WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5. MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Don’t see TCU beating Ohio State at all, though if that game is a physical game, it may be very close. But with the Sooners possibly down, it may be enough for TCU to get them in Ft. Worth.
(2) OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Baker Mayfield is long gone and in comes in Kyler Murray as the likely starting quarterback. The great news is, Murray has skilled players around him such as 1,000 yard receiver Marquise Brown and 1,000 yard rusher Rodney Anderson so that won’t be the problem. And he will have an experienced set of linemen save maybe at center, which right now freshman Creed Humphrey will snap the ball. So that may be the only question mark alongside Murray’s skill on offense. But while Murray isn’t Mayfield, he will still have a nice year. Defense may be a little less certain as the Sooners only return five starters and perhaps it was their downfall against Georgia in the Playoff. The Oklahoma line, many feel is deep, but nothing in the way of that edge playmaking end, which has really hurt both in the run and in the pass (the Sooners were 87th in the nation against the pass in 2017 and 82nd in sacks). They have to get better to keep their run of Big 12 championships alive. However, Oklahoma has a good group of linebackers (feels like that always there) headed by Caleb Kelly and Kenneth Murray. The secondary will be very young and have some question marks so it is a possibility that the Sooners pass defense goes backwards, at least early on in the season. The schedule for Oklahoma as always manageable one, given the inconsistencies of the Big 12. They have a home tilt with UCLA, but it is early in the Chip Kelly regime that it may not matter too much. But they have four games on the road that could be interesting starting with Iowa State, who was the team that put Oklahoma down last year, TCU who always gives them fits (except for the Big 12 title game last year), Texas Tech (where games end up being a basketball score for both teams), and West Virginia to end the season out (which could also look Texas Tech-esque this year). So the Sooners will have to rely on their offense more and more, even without Mayfield to see a Playoff. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0. WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4. MY PREDICTION: 9-3. I think you will see some games where Oklahoma struggle to keep up, notably with Texas Tech and West Virginia. I know it sounds funny, but I’m still not sold on the defensive side and there will be an adjustment from Mayfield to Murray.
(3) OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: Losing Mason Rudolph to graduation will be more of a hit than the Sooners losing Mayfield as there is uncertainty at QB. Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders will start for the Cowboys. It sounds like Brown will start but too early to tell. There is also concern who starts at receiver as James Washington is also gone. But many view the receivers under Mike Gundy’s system to be just fine and will roll out studs on a yearly basis. And Jalen McCleskey is a great option at receiver. But Justice Hill is becoming a dark horse Heisman candidate given he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last year and it was overlooked in part because of Rudolph/Washington. The defense many considered to be the Cowboys albatross all last season. Gundy brought in Jim Knowles from Duke to change things and install a spread counter of a 4-2-5. If he can get more from Jordan Brailford on the end while having a 5 defensive back group that is solid such as AJ Green and Rodarius Williams, you can see a jump at least in the passing defense where they were 117th in the nation last year. But the question will be can the offense not take a huge fall from Rudolph/Washington and the defense offset whatever fall it the offense has? It will remain to be seen. The Cowboys schedule has a unique team coming in non-conference with Boise State and we know never to take that team lightly. The conference schedule is interesting as the Cowboys have a couple of intriguing games before Bedlam in mid-November (at Kansas State, and home to Texas). If all goes well, there is a chance the Cowboys could enter that game 9-0. But things will have to be nearly perfect. But the final 3 won’t be easy with the Sooners, a offensive-minded Mountaineers team (albeit at home), and a road trip to TCU. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6. MY PREDICTION: 9-3. I think Gundy is a good enough coach where he can get a lot out of his offense even with key losses, and while I do think they take a step back, the defense will step up. The road games at Oklahoma and TCU concern me and I think they get stung by Kansas State again.
(4) TEXAS LONGHORNS: Last year’s Horns team was a mixed bag. Tom Herman started the year with a black eye by giving up 51 points to Maryland at home and losing by 10. But really the Longhorns never played terrible save for their TCU loss and were in every game. You could make an argument they could have gone 10-2. And if that happened, well, all we would have heard was Texas was back. However, they had issues of why they were only 6-6 in the regular season. Questions of who would be the quarterback between Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, as it seems like Ehlinger is the favorite. Questions in the run game (96th overall last year) hurt and it is still a young group with that aspect. The receiving corps will improve if there will be consistency at QB as Collin Johnson could end up netting 1,000 receiving yards with it. The line should get better as last year it was a problem, but Herman hired Herb Hand from Auburn to fix the line woes and it is an experienced bunch now so overall I expect Texas’s offense to click far better in 2018 especially with Herman as their head coach. The defense was an extreme as they were great against the run (8th in the nation) but woeful against the pass (109th). However, there his hope there with a great recruiting class in the secondary as well as having seniors that dominate that aspect. If the the line can rush the quarterback better, the Horns defense against the pass will trend up and will also stir a debate whether the Horns or the Frogs have the best defense in the Big 12. Texas’s schedule has a fun start with having a similar vibe to last year with Maryland and USC in 2 of their first 3 games (both losses last year). Maryland is a road trip, but USC heads to Austin which will be huge. But after the USC game, the schedule gets rough as rough can be with TCU visiting right after USC and then a road trip to the unpredictable Kansas State and then the Red River Shootout where anything happens with Oklahoma. If the Longhorns can survive that early run by going 5-1 or even 4-2, they could be in line for the Big 12 Championship and/or a spot in a New Year’s Six game. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1. WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6. MY PREDICTION: 9-3. I honestly think they bring down USC, but they haven’t fully closed the gap with Oklahoma and a road trip at Oklahoma State won’t be easy. And I think they still have inconsistencies and struggles where they can get tripped up either to Kansas State or Texas Tech. But it’s not out of the realm Tom Herman gets things together in Austin this year and has a big year.
(5) IOWA STATE CYCLONES: Iowa State for a while in 2017 was one of the most feel-good stories of the season. Not “expecting” to compete, the Cyclones were able to steal a win at Oklahoma and be ranked when November rolled around. A couple of hiccup losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma State ended their chance of crashing the Big 12 championship. But what could have been really interesting was the fact in 4 of their 5 losses, Iowa State lost by a TD or less. Nobody blew them out at all. And the good news is they bring back 7 starters on offense and 6 on defense. The passing game will be solid as Kyle Kempt returns one more year and was excellent in not turning the ball over. David Montgomery was a 1,000 yard rusher and could gain more if the offensive line steps up as well. While the passing game ranked 30th, it will be tested for a repeat as Kempt isn’t a gunslinger like Rudolph or Mayfield were or that Grier is and lost Allen Lazard, but they should still have a solid group of receivers to take charge. Defensively, Iowa State was only behind TCU in the defense and can really make headway again this year as it is a mix of juniors, seniors and sophomores. JaQuan Bailey could be one of the best defensive players in the conference this year. But the defensive line is where they really bullied teams and that is something that TCU has done in the past in the division and why they have been near the top. Iowa State is trying to follow that suit. Corners will be a experienced bunch, but will have to step up more this year to lower the 86th ranked passing defense (it wasn’t just their own conference; even Iowa was able to pass on them). So really, if there is a concern on defense, it will be the secondary. Iowa State’s schedule will always see an early tilt with Iowa and that has led to mixed results over the years. But a early tilt at home with Oklahoma (right after the Iowa game) will test them and see where Matt Campbell’s crew is as people will view the Cyclones as a team that won’t be sneaking up on anybody in 2018. But they are good enough to be competitive and can have an upset or two waiting in the wings. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8. MY PREDICTION: 7-5. Iowa State is getting some footing in the Big 12 and won’t be a pushover, but they will have teams come after them like they haven’t seen in the past. But I like how Matt Campbell coaches. He will have them ready.
(6) WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS: We’ve seen for the longest time in the Big 12 as Texas Tech is the resident “pass-happy” offense where they ranked #1 in the nation for years and West Virginia rely more on the run. I think West Virginia will be taking the Red Raiders page of being a very pass-happy bunch to the point where we may see West Virginia be an air raid squad and be the top passing offense in the nation. Will Grier when healthy is a monster and has to be considered the top Heisman favorite at least in the quarterback area coming into the year. And he has weapons galore at receiver with Gary Jennings, David Sills, etc. Adding to the passing attack will be an offensive line that will keep Grier upright. Of course, the question will be if the Mountaineers have a lead can they run the ball out and oddly that may be their issue. It always stings with the passing-rich squads. For as good as the passing will be, there are massive concerns on defense. They can’t stop the run and they can’t stop the pass and only returning 4 starters. They may win a lot of games this year or try to win a lot of games by scores of 44-41 or 51-48 because of the woes on defense. And if they run in the wrong team that can play physical and bully others, they will have difficulties beating them on both sides. I’m not as high as others about West Virginia, but if they can show any improvement on defense, there will be some fun times coming to Morgantown in 2018, but right now, it looks like they are Texas Tech pre-2017. West Virginia will have a favorable schedule though a road trip to Raleigh to face NC State is very intriguing as you could see a duel between Grier and Ryan Finley. But they have a favorable schedule as they can play shootout in Lubbock against the Red Raiders and near the end of the year against Oklahoma State. But they get Oklahoma at home to end the year and pending on where the schedule is, could really be in the Mountaineers favor. But I do have to say at some point the leash can’t be much shorter for Dana Holgorsen if he can’t get the Mountaineers near the top of the conference, especially this year. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8. MY PREDICTION: 7-5. IF the Mountaineers end up 7-5 like I think, there may be a coaching change in Morgantown. West Virginia has always been a solid football school and the expectation has been they would fare better in the Big 12 than what they have.
(7) KANSAS STATE WILDCATS: Kansas State is going to be that team you don’t know will be coming or going, not just on a yearly basis, but a weekly basis. One week they can barely do any damage to Vanderbilt, then will go at it tooth and nail with Oklahoma. Or they lose to West Virginia at home but then stun Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Bill Snyder has been there what feels like forever now, and one wonders when he will retire, but he will always get his teams to play. However, while there is talent, there is questions at QB where the Wildcats passing is sketchy at best, but rely more on dual threat quarterbacks who can run and pass. If they find an effective QB a la Collin Klein, Kansas State could surprise. Whoever starts, whether it is Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton, will have a study offensive line to help out them and the running backs of Alex Barnes and Justin Delmon. If the Wildcats find the running game effective, it will frustrate the offensive powers of the conference for sure. But the defense is really magnified to do better as Kansas State has struggled in recent memory especially in the air. They bring back nearly their entire secondary though losing DJ Reed stings. But a new defensive coordinator comes into Manhattan hoping the defense can change things. If the Wildcats can put ANY pressure on the QB, then the secondary can play a little better, but that’s a big if right now. Kansas State has 3 home non-conference tilts, but one is to SEC Mississippi State and that may cause trouble with how the Bulldogs offense can really create havoc on teams. But the thing is Kansas State has shown they are capable of beating anybody but also capable of losing to anybody (not named Kansas and maybe Baylor). It is just can they be consistent with the quarterback play and on defense? BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3. WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8. MY PREDICTION: 7-5. The Wildcats will give teams fits like they always do, but there will be that game you go “how did they lose that one?”
(8) TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS: Texas Tech was only 6-6 last year and got to a bowl game for the first time in 2 years. It doesn’t sound great to say that it was a nice progress, but after seeing the Red Raiders have a defense that looked like something out of a Madden game where it would get lit up for 600 yards on a weekly basis while giving up 50+ points as the norm, it is nice progress. Texas Tech didn’t give up anything less than 50 and allowed 40 or more points 5 times. It sounds like I’m being sarcastic with the Red Raiders here, but I really am not. Texas Tech wasn’t dead last in stopping the run (which ranked an okay 62nd in the nation) and wasn’t ranked in triple digits with points allowed. They still have issues defending the pass (123rd nationally but they had been the residents of the WORST in the nation for a while). And there is hope that the Red Raiders defense will get better with 9 returning starters including the majority of them in the secondary and many like the Red Raiders linebackers, notably Dakota Allen, to really be the cog. If the defensive line can get more from the pass rush (notice a trend with this conference?), the passing defense will get better. I think some have ridiculed Kliff Kingsbury for his “meh” approach on defense, but I think he is trying to shore up the defense to at least get what he wants to do offensively. As for the offense, some actually think there are more questions there than the defense. The offense only returns 5 starters but all are linemen. The skill guys are all new, and whoever Kingsbury has calling plays, whether it is McLane Carter or Jett Duffey, will have Kingsbury helping him along the way. And if there is one thing I do trust Kingsbury on, is how he can get an offense rolling. But you could still see Texas Tech possibly take another step back on offense, but honestly, the Red Raiders weren’t winning a lot when their offense was tops in the nation in the air. If Tre King continues to run well, you could see the Raiders (gasp) be more run-oriented that we have been accustomed to especially if the passing game has some growing pains. Texas Tech has a fun start to the year seeing Ole Miss in Houston as it provides a challenge to the defense, but the offense will hang around with teams and I do think Kingsbury will have the offense clicking and steal a win here & there like last year. But is it enough to be a threat in the Big 12? Probably not, which means there will be a wonder if he will have a job by the end of the season. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3. WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9. MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I think Texas Tech continues the baby steps on defense to be at least a defense who can make key stops though will still allow points and yards, and I also think the running game will improve. Kingsbury’s job will be safe for another year.
(9) BAYLOR BEARS: The problem with Baylor even when the Bears were super competitive from 2013-2015 was the fact that they were bullied on the offensive line. However, the skilled players on offense hid a lot of it as did the quarterbacks. However, when the talent level ran out on offense, the Bears were greatly exposed and Baylor has gone into freefall mode the last 2 seasons. The Bears have 4 of the 5 starters on the line coming back, which will help Charlie Brewer to move the ball especially into Denzel Mims’s hands. So really the passing game shouldn’t really take a step back at all as Baylor figures to be one of the top passing teams in the conference. If they can get the running game on track (which was always underrated when Baylor was winning) then Baylor can make huge strides on the offensive side. Defensively the Bears were a disaster last year and it is why they were 1-11. They have one returning starter on the line, which has been religiously bullied throughout its time and that will be a problem. The linebackers are solid but already dinged up which will cause more issues. The secondary will be really pressured to step up, but in this conference with passing rules, they will be on a very small island to themselves. A lot of people think Baylor could surprise and have the slate cleaned up after all the Art Briles fiasco that really doomed Baylor’s chances of being prosperous in the Big 12, but I don’t see it with a porous defense as teams are more on the upswing in the Big 12 with it. It may still take another year before they are fully competitive. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5. WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10. MY PROJECTION: 4-8. Baylor may win their first four games (Abilene Christian, at UTSA, Duke, Kansas) but I don’t see them beating anybody else on the schedule after. Texas Tech, Kansas State, and MAYBE Iowa State could be games they feel like they should win.
(10) KANSAS JAYHAWKS: Could I just say they are primed for another 1-11 season? I think if you really look at the entire FBS, not just the Big 12 or the Power 5, but the FBS, Kansas may be the worst team. It’s dumbfounding (also dumbfounding I predicted them at 4-8 last year-don’t ask why, may have fallen on my head without remembering it) how Kansas, who we know has an amazing basketball program, has an atrocious football program. One thing to note and really down the road is that Kansas brought in former Arkansas AD Jeff Long and maybe he will steer the ship for the program to be slightly competitive. Just not this year. As for the offense, there are pieces such as Khalil Herbert who could net 1,000 yards for the Jayhawks on the ground. And Steven Sims could get 1,000 yards receiving at receiver. But who will pass it to Sims? Peyton Bender or Miles Kendrick, a transfer? If Kendrick wins out the spot and has some success, perhaps, maybe perhaps Kansas looks bearable to watch. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back tackle Daniel Wise, who is probably the lone highlight to the defense and freshman cornerback Corione Harris is a top 300 recruit and will likely start for the Jayhawks in 2018. Good luck in the Big 12 Harris. Last year the Jayhawks were nowhere close to being competitive in any of the conference games while their lone highlight of the season was getting under the skin of Baker Mayfield. It is somewhat dumb to do that to a Heisman winner and you are a team that only beat SE Missouri State to begin the year. Teams will continue to bully the Jayhawks on the field and probably give them a little extra if the Jayhawks want to try to psyche themselves up for a team. BEST CASE RECORD: 2-10. WORST CASE RECORD: 0-12. MY PREDICTION: 1-11. It isn’t a question of if, but when David Beaty gets fired. Probably after the season anyway.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: TCU VS. OKLAHOMA: A rematch of last year’s game but I think it won’t be a blowout like it was. The game will be close throughout and I think the match-up will be TCU ‘s defensive line vs. Oklahoma’s running game. If TCU holds the line and keep Rodney Anderson from having a huge day, the Horns have an advantage. But if Oklahoma has success on the ground, they can wear out TCU’s defense. But also whoever wins the turnover war will probably win the game as it was the case last year. TCU cannot afford to make the same mistakes, but there isn’t Kenny Hill there to make those mistakes. I think the game would be close, but I think Oklahoma’s talent and depth will get past the Horned Frogs, but it will be far closer than last year. MY PREDICTION: OKLAHOMA 31, TCU 24
TOP 3 QUESTIONS:
COULD TEXAS TECH OR KANSAS STATE BE AN IOWA STATE AND REMAIN IN THE THICK OF THE BIG 12 RACE FOR MOST OF THE SEASON? Yes, but the Red Raiders will have to answer questions on offense and hope the defense keeps improving. As for Kansas State, different but similar. They need to answer questions at the skill positions on offense and the defense has to get better. If either one has those questions answered, everything can be thrown into chaos in the Big 12.
IS THE BIG 12 ONCE AGAIN ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN FOR A PLAYOFF SPOT? I think it’s safe to say anytime you have a 2-loss team in college football and you’re a Power 5 school, you’re out. It happened to Oklahoma in 2016 and it happened to Ohio State in 2017 (ironically you have to consider their home-and-home playoff elimination games as it really eliminated the loser from the Playoff). Oklahoma’s defense nearly costed them a few games last year and struggled with the likes of Baylor and Kansas State. There isn’t a Baker Mayfield this year and Kyler Murray hasn’t shown a lot in his time at Texas A&M that makes anybody think he can be the next Mayfield. It’s possible, but not probable. And if teams play the shootout game on Oklahoma, it may not bode well for the Sooners.
WILL KANSAS EVER GET BACK TO BEING RELEVANT IN FOOTBALL? You have to start somewhere, right? Hiring Jeff Long as AD is a step and really David Beaty is going to be done unless somehow he wins 3 games. It’s hard to think 10 years ago Kansas made it to the Orange Bowl and WON. But it will have to take recruiting, improvement of facilities and having the right guy to coach the Jayhawks. It’s not a lost cause, but Kansas is BAD. And for the foreseeable future it doesn’t seem like there’s much improvement.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat