Will the Ohio State Buckeyes be able to catch the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday?
Y-Oklahoma State Cowboys 12-1 (9-1)
When Bob Stoops shocked the college football world by retiring as the head football coach of the Oklahoma Sooners this past June, there was sigh of relief that was released in Stillwater from the folks who support the Oklahoma State Cowboys. In 18 years as the head football coach at Oklahoma, the Cowboys were only able to defeat Stoops and the Sooners four times in the Bedlam Game which consistently kept them from winning the Big 12 Conference more often. Oklahoma State has only won the Big 12 once compared to the ten titles that the Sooners have claimed. But with Stoops now enjoying retirement, will the Cowboys and head football coach Mike Gundy be able to take advantage?
If you are a fan of watching wide open offenses in college football, then you need to pull up a chair and take a look at Oklahoma State’s passing attack. The Cowboys were ninth in the nation last season in passing offense and you can expect more of the same this time around. Senior quarterback Mason Rudolph has five games where he passed for at least 300 yards last season which included going for 540 yards in a victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. Rudolph passed for more than 4,000 yards last season and if he does it again, we’re more than likely looking at the Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Last year as a junior, wide receiver James Washington tallied 71 receptions for 1,380 yards. Washington could have left school early in order to pursue a career in the National Football League, but he decided to return to Stillwater for his senior season. And as Washington has returned to Oklahoma State, he will be one of the favorites to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. Washington is a speed demon at the wide receiver position and his ability to draw attention from opposing defenses should open things up in the passing game for his teammates.
It isn’t just about Oklahoma State’s passing game as they were 14th overall in the total offense in the nation last year. As a true freshman, running back Justice Hill gained 1,142 yards on the ground last season, and as he is the perfect compliment to the Oklahoma State’s passing game, reaching the 1,500-mark in the category is not out of the question for him this season.
The Cowboys offense should once again be set to shine for head football coach Mike Gundy as the Cowboys arguably possess the best offensive line in the Big 12 Conference. Led by left tackle Aaron Cochran, the Cowboys will have four seniors on the starting offensive line as that experience should give them edge in the race to win the Big 12 Title.
Defense continues to be an issue for the Cowboys as they were 92nd in the nation last season in total defense. One key player to look out for this season will be senior free safety Ramon Richards. However one man alone does not make a team and the Cowboys lack of talent on defense could hinder their chances of making the College Football Playoff.
The Cowboys are in possession of a very manageable non-conference schedule, while their chances of winning the Big 12 Title will come down to consecutive road games in October versus the Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers, along with getting past the Sooners at home in Bedlam on November 4.
X-Oklahoma Sooners 9-4 (7-2)
The 2017 college football season will have a different feel to it for the Oklahoma Sooners as for the first time since 1998, Bob Stoops will not be leading this team onto the field. In 18 years as the head football coach at Oklahoma, Stoops comprised a record of 190-48, while going 121-29 within the Big 12 Conference. Under Stoops the Sooners claimed 10 Big 12 Conference Championships, along with one national title as he led Oklahoma to a bowl game in each of his seasons in Norman. But as nothing last forever, it will be up to Lincoln Riley to replace Stoops at Oklahoma.
Riley has spent the last two years as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. And although that Riley is only 33-years of age, the folks in Norman have confidence in him that he’ll be able to keep the Sooners machine going which will be important as the expectations are once again high for Oklahoma.
A big reason why the expectations for Oklahoma are lofty is because of senior quarterback Baker Mayfield. In two years as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Mayfield has been a finalist for the Heisman Trophy twice, while also being named as the Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Mayfield has only thrown 15 interceptions with Oklahoma as his elusiveness allows him to keep plays open and make things happen which makes the Sooners so dangerous. But unlike the last two seasons the Sooners don’t have the same amount of talent around Mayfield on offense like they did in recent years.
The Sooners must replace more than 2,300 rushing yards that is now in the National Football League in the form of running backs Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Last year as a freshman, running back Abdul Adams averaged 5.3 yards per carry as the understudy to Mixon and Perine, but now he will be getting the bulk of the carries as it is all about speed with him. Oklahoma is also inexperienced at wide receiver and the same can be said about their offensive line where they’ll only have one senior in center Erick Wren.
Defensively Oklahoma will be okay since the unit will still be led by defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Senior middle linebacker Emmanuel Beal and senior outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will be vital members to the Sooners potential success on defense as it all about athleticism on the defensive side of the football for Oklahoma.
Riley will be entrusted to keep the Sooners machine going, but his first time around the block won’t be easy. Oklahoma will travel to Columbus to face the Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten Conference who came to Norman and won as the rematch won’t be easy. The Sooners will also have road games within the Big 12 versus the Baylor Bears, and Oklahoma State Cowboys, along with their annual meeting in Dallas against the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma should continue to be one of the top teams in the Big 12, but they’ll take a step back in regards to being the top team in the conference.
X-Kansas State Wildcats 10-2 (6-3)
2016 was a typical year for the Kansas State Wildcats on the gridiron as there were not that many expectations for them, but they found a way to be successful. The Wildcats went 9-4 in spite of the fact that they were never in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. It also marked the Wildcats second nine-win season in the last three years as head football coach Bill Snyder continues to do it without getting five-star recruits. Snyder has made it his business to find players who have a chip on their shoulder after being overlooked by the bigger football programs, while also bringing in junior college talent. And as that philosophy has helped Kansas State under Snyder, they could once again be a dangerous team here in 2017.
The Kansas State passing game was not a thing of beauty, but with senior quarterback Jesse Ertz set to begin his second season as the Wildcats starting signal caller, he should be able to generate more consistency. Ertz’s best asset is his legs as he was the Wildcats leading rusher last season. And if Ertz is able to get to the edge, the chances of him getting past most linebackers are good.
For defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, he may have one of the better units on that side of the football in the Big 12. Last year as a freshman, defensive end Reggie Walker was able to record 6.5 sacks, and he is ready to become one of the better edge rushers in the conference. The Wildcats secondary is loaded with ball hawks as they recorded 16 interceptions in 2016. And junior cornerbacks Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed are ready to once again test their skills against the best wide receivers that the Big 12 has to offer.
The Wildcats won’t be tested in their non-conference, but if they can get past road affairs with the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State Cowboys, along with welcoming the Oklahoma Sooners to the Little Apple on October 21, they could be a sleeper to win the Big 12.
X-Baylor Bears 8-4 (5-4)
It has been a tough 15 months around the Baylor Bears football program. In wake of a sexual assault scandal that tarnished the school, Art Briles was fired as Baylor’s head football coach in 2016 as his 65-37 record at the school could not save him from the shame that had been brought upon the university by the scandal and cover up.
Last year saw former Wake Forest Demon Deacons head football coach Jim Grobe lead Baylor. Grobe had come out of retirement to lead the Bears a 7-6. However the off-the-field issues caught up to Baylor on the field as after starting the season 6-0, they would lose their next six games before rebounding to defeat the Boise State Broncos in the Cactus Bowl. And as Grobe was simply the stop gap guy at Baylor, school officials set their sights on finding a head coach who would be able to navigate them through these tough times, while helping the team shed its tarnished image.
Matt Rhule spent the previous four seasons as the head football coach of the Temple Owls and in the process led them to the American Athletic Conference Title last year. Rhule comes to Waco with a record of 28-23, but more importantly he was brought in due to the fact that he made Temple who had a reputation of being a subpar program into a winner.
Last year as a freshman, quarterback Zach Smith got his feet wet when quarterback Seth Russell succumb to an injury. Smith went 1-3 as a starter, but his play improved in each game which should be able to carry over to this season under Rhule. Rhule has always been focused on the running the football which should continue with junior running back Terrence Williams leading the way this season for Baylor. Williams is coming off of a season where he averaged 5.7 yards per carry which included him gaining at least 100 yards in a game four times. But now with Williams set to be the feature back, those numbers should increase. And the running ability of Williams will be very important since Baylor doesn’t have the explosion at the wide receiver position that they’ve had over the past few years.
However Rhule will inherit a very experienced offensive line which includes three seniors and two juniors. Senior left tackle Maurice Porter and senior center Tanner Thrift are both anchors on this unit and it would not surprise me to see either player be All-Big 12 performers this year.
Solid defensive football hasn’t been a trademark for Baylor which was evident by the fact that they were 81st in the nation last year in total defense. Upon taking over at Baylor, Rhule named Phil Snow as the team’s defensive coordinator. Snow spent the last four years serving as Temple’s defensive coordinator under Rhule which included the Owls being third in the nation in total defense last season.
Any success that Baylor intends to have on defense this year will hinge on the play of senior defensive end K.J. Smith and senior outside linebacker Taylor Young as Rhule and Snow are attempting to adjust to life in the Big 12.
As Baylor is looking to once again be one of the top teams in the Big 12, they will be tested as soon as conference play begins when they host the Oklahoma Sooners on September 23. However with road games versus the Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and TCU Horned Frogs, it is going to be a long shot for the Bears to finish with the top spot in the conference.
X-West Virginia Mountaineers 8-4 (5-4)
The West Virginia Mountaineers spent the entire 2016 college football season flying under the radar. But when it was all said and done the Mountaineers had won 10 games for the first time as members of the Big 12 Conference. The Mountaineers only suffered two conference losses as they fell to the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The last time that West Virginia had consecutive 10-win seasons came in 2005 and 2006 when they were in the Big East Conference. But for West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen, will he and his team be able to avoid taking a step back after a successful 2016?
In 2015, Will Grier was emerging as the quarterback who was going to return the Florida Gators to prominence. In six games as Florida’s starting quarterback, Grier was 6-0 which included orchestrating a comeback victory over the Tennessee Volunteers. But on October 12, 2015, Grier was suspended by the NCAA for one year after it was revealed that he tested positive for performing enhancing drugs. Grier decided to leave Florida as he found a new home at West Virginia. And after Grier sat out 2016, he will be the guy who is under center in Morgantown.
What Grier brings to the table for West Virginia is a player who has a strong and accurate arm which will bode well in Holgorsen’s system. And if Grier is on point, he has the potential to be the Big 12 Conference’s Newcomer of the Year.
As a team the Mountaineers averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2016 with the majority of that production coming on the legs of running back Justin Crawford. Crawford ran for 1,184 yards last season which included rushing for 331 yards against the Oklahoma Sooners. Crawford’s speed and versatility are the perfect compliment to the Mountaineers passing game which should translate to another solid offensive season for West Virginia.
Senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton leads a defensive unit that will looks to shed its image of being lackluster as the Mountaineers cannot solely rely on the offense to win games for them.
West Virginia will get a big test to begin the college football season as they’ll travel to FedEx Field in Maryland to meet the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year might not be as easy for West Virginia to navigate through the Big 12 as their schedule includes road games against the TCU Horned Frogs, Baylor Bears, as well as the Kansas State Wildcats, while they’ll finish up with the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks.
X-Texas Longhorns 7-5 (5-4)
The start of the 2017 college football season will see the Texas Longhorns in an unusual position. This marks the first time since 1989 that the Longhorns have finished unranked in the Associated Press poll in at least four consecutive seasons. Texas finished 5-7 in each of the last two seasons which led to the dismissal of Charlie Strong as the school’s head football coach and the hiring of Tom Herman. Herman takes over at Texas after going 22-4 in two seasons as the head football coach of the Houston Cougars which included leading them to their first Peach Bowl victory in school history. Now Herman is charged with getting Texas back among the elite of college football as the money and resources in Austin are second to none.
After the Longhorns offense was stuck in the mud last year, there should be more fluidity this time around. A few years ago quarterback Shane Buechele was a highly touted high school prospect who decided to remain in the Lone Star State. Buechele took his lumps as a true freshman in 2016, but he was also able to flash his potential by throwing 21 touchdowns. And in Herman’s offense, Buechele has the potential to be as good as advertised due to his strong right arm, along with his pocket presence.
It will be hard for Texas to replace the contributions of running back D’Onta Foreman who rushed for 2,028 yards last season. But it will be up to junior Chris Warren III and sophomore Kyle Porter to provide some balance for the Longhorns offense.
However for Texas to once again become respectable, it is going to have to start on defense. Last year the ‘Horns were 94th in the nation in total defense which included surrendering at least 40 points on four occasions. Todd Orlando served as Herman’s defensive coordinator as Houston where his unit was 13th in the nation in total defense. What the Longhorns must get back to is not only winning the recruiting battle within the State of Texas, but also playing with an attitude on defense. I expect Orlando to light a fire under his unit, but will it be enough to help the Longhorns get back on track?
Texas will get tested this season which includes traveling to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 16th to face the USC Trojans in the first meeting between the schools since the 2006 Rose Bowl. And when Big 12 pay begins, Texas must face the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys in consecutive games, along with having to meet the Baylor Bears, TCU Horned Frogs, and West Virginia Mountaineers all on the road. Herman’s first year in Austin will be tough, but it should end with the Longhorns playing in a bowl game.
X-TCU Horned Frogs 7-5 (4-5)
After winning a combined 23 games in 2014 and 2015, the TCU Horned Frogs took a big step backwards in 2016. TCU finished 6-7 as things never seemed to come together for them. But as the Horned Frogs got away from their winning ways, head football coach Gary Patterson was able to coach his team up just enough to get them to a bowl game. And hopefully for the Horned Frogs, that extra practice time will be able to translate to bigger things for them this season.
For Texas Christian to have a shot at being a force in the Big 12 Conference, they will need improved quarterback play. Last year quarterback Kenny Hill was up and down which was evident by him throwing 17 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Hill has a big arm and his athleticism allows him to keep plays going. However as Hill’s senior season is set to begin, he will need to be locked in for the Horned Frogs.
Senior running back Kyle Hicks is a solid ball carrier for TCU, while he will running behind an experienced offensive line that has three seniors which includes left tackle Joseph Noteboom.
Patterson built his reputation on the defensive side of the football, but in recent years the Horned Frogs have been giving up more yardage and subsequently more points. Last year Texas Christian was 76th in the nation in total defense. However players such as senior outside linebacker Travin Howard who led the team in tackles in 2016 with 130, and senior safety Nick Orr whose 4 interceptions were tops on the unit last season are back. TCU was also eighth in the nation in sacks with 43 as they will need to once again be able to create pressure in order to slow down the high octane offenses of the Big 12.
Road games versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kansas State Wildcats, and Oklahoma Sooners will make it difficult for TCU to win the Big 12, but overall they stand to be an improved team as compared to last season.
Texas Tech Red Raiders 4-8 (2-7)
If you enjoy the fireworks that come with a prolific passing offense, then cozying up in your favorite chair to watch the Texas Tech Red Raiders is the thing for you. Last year the Red Raiders scored at least 50 points in a game six times as they averaged 566 yards per game en route to possessing the top offense in the nation. But as good as things were for Texas Tech on offense, it was just as bad on defense as they were last in the nation in total defense being that they surrendered 554 yards per contest. Kliff Kingsbury has been the Red Raiders head football coach for the last four years and he has kept the school’s tradition of wide open offenses going which included the tenures of former head coaches Spike Dykes and Mike Leach the school. And although that Texas Tech will indeed be a long shot to win the Big 12, things should be exciting once again in Lubbock.
Quarterback Nic Shimonek stood on the sidelines last year as the understudy to Patrick Mahomes as he watched him pass for more than 5,000 yards. But with Mahones leaving school early to try life in the National Football League, it is Shimonek’s chance to sling the football around. Shimonek saw some time in relief of Mahomes last year on four occasions. But being that Kingsbury’s offense relies on the quarterback taking the majority of his snaps out of the shotgun, Shimonek should be able to get the football out quick enough in order to keep Texas Tech’s offense rolling.
However Shimonek is going to have to do things behind an inexperienced offensive line as the Red Raiders won’t have any seniors in the unit, as it will be bolstered by three sophomores and a true freshman in right guard Jack Anderson.
Being that the Red Raiders were last in the nation in total defense, it can only get better. Sophomore middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks was Texas Tech’s leading tackler last season, but it will need to be a group effort in order to improve. The Red Raiders must find a way to get off of the field on third down as they allowed opponents to convert on 43% of their third down situations, while they only tallied 14 sacks as a team.
Just like 2016, the Red Raiders will be fun to watch on offense, but without a quality defense don’t expect them to be one of the top teams in the Big 12.
Iowa State Cyclones 2-10 (1-8)
The Iowa State Cyclones football program has never been considered as a powerhouse. The Cyclones have never won the Big 12 Conference and their last bowl appearance came in 2012. Since then Iowa State has not won more than three games which includes going 2-7 in each of the last two years within the Big 12. And by the looks of things, it won’t be getting better anytime soon in Ames.
For Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell, one standout player on his team will be junior outside linebacker Willie Harvey. Harvey has solid instincts and if he were on a better team he would be a household name.
It will once again be an uphill battle for the Cyclones as their non-conference schedule includes games with their in-state rivals in the Northern Iowa Panthers and Iowa Hawkeyes, while their Big 12 schedule kicks off with them hosting a Texas Longhorns and traveling to meet the Oklahoma Sooners. And for the folks in Ames, it is once again going to be a long football season.
Kansas Jayhawks 1-11 (0-9)
You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time that the Kansas Jayhawks finished a college football season with a winning record. Since then the Jayhawks have been relegated to being just another team in the Big 12 Conference as the parade of success has passed them by. Kansas has not won more than three games in a season this decade as things have been extremely tough for them on the gridiron. And as a new college football season is set to begin, does Kansas head football coach David Beaty have any tricks up his sleeve in regards to getting things turned around for the Jayhawks?
Being that Kansas was only able to win two games last year, they were 106th in total offense and 109th in total defense. Offensively one shining star for the Jayhawks could be junior wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. At 5’10”, 176 lbs., Sims will use his speed to navigate his way through traffic in the secondaries around the Big 12 as he looks to make Kansas relevant. Junior defensive end Dorrance Armstrong Jr. led the Jayhawks in sacks with 10, and his ability to rush the passer is going to be important if Kansas is going to be able to pull off some upsets this season.
Whereas Kansas has been passed by in the Big 12 for a decade, that trend will continue here in 2017 as they simply do not have the talent to keep up.
Big 12 Championship Game-AT&T Stadium-Arlington, Texas: Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
Conference Champion: Oklahoma State
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com
Oklahoma Sooners 12-0 (9-0)
I expected a bounce back year for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2015, and they did not disappoint. The Sooners went 11-2 en route to winning the Big 12 Conference and making the College Football Playoff. But in the same fashion that the 2014 college football season ended for the Sooners, 2015 finished for them with a loss in the State of Florida to the Clemson Tigers. However, this is an Oklahoma team that won’t be shying away from the national spotlight in 2016.
It didn’t take quarterback Baker Mayfield that long to become a household name within the State of Oklahoma. After transferring from the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Mayfield became the spark plug of Oklahoma’s offense as he accounted for more than 4,000 yards of offense to go along with 36 passing touchdowns. And now as a senior, Mayfield’s name will be mentioned in the Heisman Trophy race.
But Mayfield isn’t the only Sooners player that will get some Heisman attention as junior running back Semaje Perine is a work horse. Last year Perine rushed for 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns. At 5’11”, 237 lbs., Perine has a very thick lower body which makes it difficult for defenders to hit him low, and as the game goes along, he gets stronger while the opposition gets weaker.
Since Bob Stoops has been the head football coach at Oklahoma, he has always done a tremendous job of bringing in solid offensive linemen, and he has another one on his hands with sophomore left tackle Orlando Brown who has the potential of being an All-Big-12 performer this year.
The Big 12 Conference is known for its high powered offenses, but Oklahoma’s defense was able to hold its own last year. Oklahoma was ranked 39th in the nation last year in total defense, but only one conference opponent was able to score 30 points against them. For Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, he has seven starters returning for his unit as they have the potential to be one of the better defensive squads within the Big 12.
Oklahoma will be tested throughout the college football season which will find them getting started against the Houston Cougars who are the defending American Athletic Conference Champions. The Sooners will also host the Ohio State Buckeyes from the Big Ten Conference who themselves are just a year removed from winning the national championship. And when the Big 12 Conference slate begins for Oklahoma, they’ll be on the road against the TCU Horned Frogs while the back end of their conference slate features games against the Baylor Bears, West Virginia Mountaineers, and Oklahoma State Cowboys in Bedlam. However if there is a team that could be able to survive such a gauntlet, it’s Boomer Sooner.
Oklahoma State Cowboys 11-1 (8-1)
2015 was setting up to be a landmark year for Oklahoma State Cowboys Football until the final couple of games. The Cowboys lost their final two conference games which prevented them from participating in the College Football Playoff while also losing out on winning the Big 12 Conference. And to makes matters worse, the Cowboys were run out of the Superdome as they were destroyed by the Ole Miss Rebels in the Sugar Bowl. But even after losing their final three games of the season, Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy has a team that will once again be in the mix to win the Big 12.
Junior quarterback Mason Rudolph was able to emerge last year as Gundy’s dependable signal caller as he can sling the football around while lighting up the scoreboard. Rudolph has an array of talented wide receivers to throw the football to with junior wide receiver James Washington being the best of the bunch. At 6’1″, 200 lbs., Washington is a burner and his ability gives other Oklahoma State wide receivers such as senior wide receiver Marcel Ateman more opportunities at one-on-one coverage.
The Cowboys must improve on a rushing attack that was 114th in the nation as they were only able to average 3.6 yards per carry. But with all five starters returning on the offensive line, including senior left tackle Victor Selako, the running game should improve enough to somewhat balance out the high octane passing game in Stillwater.
The Cowboys have never been known for having a strong defense under Gundy, and even though that Oklahoma State will return seven starters on that side of the football, will they be able to make enough plays for them to win the Big 12 Conference?
Both with their non-conference and conference schedules, Oklahoma State has an extremely favorable schedule as their title hopes will be determined by their last game of the season and whether or not that they’ll be able to defeat the Oklahoma Sooners in the Bedlam Series which will more than likely determine the winner of the Big 12 Conference.
Texas Longhorns 8-4 (6-3)
The last two years haven’t been smooth for the Texas Longhorns under head football coach Charlie Strong, but will 2016 be the year that they turn things around? Under Strong, the Longhorns are just 11-14 and it is the first time since 1938 that Texas has had consecutive losing seasons. Strong has recruited solidly at Texas, but he needs to have more positive results on Saturdays in order to cool down his hot seat in Austin.
The Longhorns have a fierce battle going on to be the starting quarterback between senior Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore Jerrod Heard, and true freshman Shane Beuchele. Swoopes was the Longhorns starting quarterback in 2014 before he lost his job to Heard last year while Beuchele is the heralded freshman that wants to show that he is ready for the bright lights of big time college football. Heard did suffer a shoulder injury in spring practice, but it still appears to be his job to lose due to his ability as a dual-threat quarterback.
Under Strong, Texas has been able to run the football, but they need to find themselves a feature back. The Longhorns might not still have that feature back, but the combination of junior D’Onta Freeman and sophomore Chris Warren III gives Texas a duo that can put immense pressure on defenses in the Big 12 Conference.
As a head coach and defensive coordinator, Strong has buttered his bread on that side of the football which hasn’t translated so far in Austin. Last year Texas was 107th in the nation in total defense which saw them give up 30 points or more in a game six times. But Strong does have some young talent on that side of the ball which is led by sophomore linebackers Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler who earned valuable playing time last year as true freshmen which could translate to some success in 2016.
The pressure is definitely on Strong and Texas, but some solid improvements and a bowl bid could be enough to buy him some more time in Austin.
West Virginia Mountaineers 9-3 (6-3)
The last three years have seen the West Virginia Mountaineers improve in the win column, but will 2016 be the year in which they’ll be able to contend for the conference title in the Big 12?
For West Virginia head football head coach Dana Holgorsen, he has a prolific offense that could be one of the best in the Big 12. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard is the maestro of Holgorsen’s spread offense as it is a thing of beauty when he gets into a rhythm with his wide receivers. The West Virginia wide receiver to keep an eye on this year is junior wide receiver Shelton Gibson. Gibson led the Mountaineers last year in receiving yards with 887 and he should be able to reach 1,000-yard mark in the category this time around.
With running back Wendell Smallwood having moved on to the National Football League, senior running back Rushel Shell will see an increase in his carries. And Shell will benefit from running behind an offensive line is returning four starters as the unit is led by senior center Tyler Orlosky.
Defensively West Virginia is only returning five starters from last year’s unit. And in the pass happy Big 12, it will be baptism by fire for any new starters.
The Mountaineers find themselves with a very favorable schedule with their only true road tests coming against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Texas Longhorns which could give them the wiggle room needed to contend for the Big 12 Title.
TCU Horned Frogs 7-5 (5-4)
In 15 years as the head football coach of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, Gary Patterson has taken the program to heights that it hasn’t seen since the days of Francis Schmidt in the early 1930’s. Under Patterson, TCU has had ten seasons in which they’ve won at least 10 games, and they have pulled this off in three different conferences. The Horned Frogs have won 23 games in the last two years, but another 10-win campaign is going to be tougher for TCU to pull off in 2016.
Trevonne Boykin has been TCU’s starting quarterback for the past four years, and now that he has exhausted his eligibility, Patterson must rely on another signal caller. There could be an open competition this year to be the Horned Frogs starting quarterback, but sophomore Foster Sawyer could have the upper hand. At 6’5″, Sawyer has the prototypical size to play the quarterback position, but when given the opportunity, will he be able able to convince Patterson enough to be his starting signal caller?
Sawyer or whomever will be TCU’s starting quarterback this year won’t have the luxury of playing behind an experienced offensive line as the Horned Frogs must replace four starters on the offensive line. After seeing action at right tackle last year, you can expect junior Joseph Noteboom to move over to left tackle this season to anchor an inexperienced offensive line.
Under Patterson, the Horned Frogs are typically a very solid defensive team which is something that they got away from last year as they were 63rd in the nation in total defense. But led by junior middle linebacker Travin Howard, TCU returns seven defensive starters and they will be relied on more than ever to carry the load in order to help out a very green offense.
2016 should be a rebuilding year for TCU, but that doesn’t mean that this team won’t be competitive while putting a scare into the title contenders in the Big 12.
Baylor Bears 7-5 (4-5)
In the eight years that Art Briles was the head football coach of the Baylor Bears, he increased the excitement for football in Waco, Texas exponentially as the team became a national power. In the last five years alone, Baylor has won 48 games which is a tremendous accomplishment being that the Bears won a combined games in their first 16 years in the Big 12 Conference. The Bears have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 Title in two of the last three years, but it will be much tougher for them in 2016.
Off-the-field issues have been running rampant at Baylor which includes sexual assault. And being that this happened on Briles’ watch, he was held responsible by the school which cost him his job. Former Wake Forest Demon Deacons head football coach Jim Grobe has been tasked to replace Briles as he has a solid reputation as far as running a quality football program which is something that Baylor needs now more than ever.
In 13 years at Wake Forest, Grobe had a record of 77-82 while leading the Demon Deacons to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in 2006.
As Grobe prepares to take over in Waco, he will to keep Baylor’s high octane offense going. Senior quarterback Seth Russell is looking to rebound from a neck broken neck that prematurely ended his 2015 college football season. When healthy, Russell provides Baylor with a solid quarterback that can fling the football all over the field. But Russell won’t have the luxury of having an experienced offensive unit around him as Baylor must replace four starters on the offensive line and wide receiver Corey Coleman. However, the Bears will have running back Shock Linwood returning to school for his senior campaign and he could be a first-team Big-12 player.
The Bears don’t have a strong reputation as far as being a strong defensive team, and Grobe must still replace five starters from last year’s team including three on the defensive line. But inexperience on the defensive line for Baylor will be overshadowed by a wealth of experience in the secondary where led by senior safety Saion Sells, there are three starters returning.
A weak non-conference schedule once again won’t help Baylor’s national reputation while they’ll also face a tough road gauntlet within the Big 12 as they will travel to face the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma Sooners, and West Virginia Mountaineers which will be a telling tale of how this year will go for Grobe and his crew.
Kansas State Wildcats 6-6 (4-5)
The Kansas State Wildcats might not have the ability to land the blue-chip recruits, but that has not stopped them from competing in the Big 12 Conference. The Wildcats have compiled a trio of 9-win seasons in the last five years, and you can expect the group of no-names from the Little Apple to give it all that they have once more in 2016.
Kansas State head football coach Bill Snyder relies on dual-threat quarterbacks to run his offensive system and he is hopeful that senior Joe Hubener has what it takes to elevate his game to the next level. But Hubener will really have to put K-State on his back offensively as they are lacking talent at the skill positions, along with only returning one starter on the offensive line from last year’s team.
The Wildcats will rely on their defense that is returning eight starters which includes junior linebacker Elijah Lee who led the team in tackles with 80, and senior defensive end Jordan Willis who led Kansas State in sacks with 9.5.
Snyder and Kansas State are looking to make it seven consecutive years with a bowl appearance, but it won’t be easy as they have road games against the Pac-12 Champions in the Stanford Cardinal, along with traveling within the Big 12 to face the West Virginia Mountaineers, Oklahoma Sooners, Baylor Bears, and TCU Horned Frogs.
Texas Tech Red Raiders 6-6 (4-5)
In three years as the head football coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Kliff Kingsbury has posted a record of 19-19, and 2016 is poised to be another up and down year in Lubbock, Texas. The Red Raiders are coming off of their second winning season in three years under Kingsbury, but they must replace a wealth of talent on offense that helped to produce the second best passing offense in the nation last year.
Texas Tech will have quarterback Pat Mahomes returning for his junior year after he passed for 4,653 yards last year along with being the team’s second leading rusher. But Mahomes cannot do it all by himself as Tech lost four starting offensive lineman and running back DeAndre Washington to graduation. Kingsbury doesn’t have big wide receivers as he relies on the speed and elusiveness of smaller players on the outside. And for Texas Tech, they are hopeful that senior wide receiver Devin Lauderdale will be able to step up a become prime pass catcher for Mahomes.
David Gibbs is set to begin his second year as the defensive coordinator for the Red Raiders, and there is only one way to go for this unit as they were 127th out of 128 Division-I football teams last year in total defense which included surrendering at least 40 points in a game eight times. And if Tech is unable to sure things up on the defensive side of the football, they will get caught up in the wash that is the Big 12 Conference.
The Red Raiders must rack up on all of the wins that they can get in their non-conference schedule as it won’t be easy sledding for them in the Big 12.
Kansas Jayhawks 3-9 (1-8)
Overall the Kansas Jayhawks have failed to keep up in the Big 12 Conference and the bottom officially fell out them last year when they went 0-12 which marked their first winless season since 1954. And as David Beaty is set to begin his second season as the head football coach at Kansas, he must find a way for his team to compete in the Big 12 Conference which won’t be an easy task.
The talent pool simply isn’t there for the Jayhawks and it is going to a long few months for them in the Big 12.
Iowa State Cyclones 2-10 (1-8)
The past three years have been a rough go for the Iowa State Cyclones as they’ve combined to go just 8-28. The poor results on the field would cost Paul Rhoads his job as the Iowa State head football coach and he has been replaced by Matt Campbell. Campbell comes to Iowa City after spending the last four years as the head football coach of the Toledo Rockets where he compiled a record of 35-15 which also featured his Toledo team scoring a road victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks last September. Last year Toledo had the 27th ranked rushing attack in the nation as they averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and he’ll look to bring that solid ground game to Ames.
Campbell does have a building block to work with as sophomore running back Mike Warren will enter the 2016 college football season as the reigning Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year. Last year as a freshman, Warren rushed for 1,339 yards and he’ll once again be a key cog for the Cyclones. But Warren will have to do it with just one returning starter on the offensive line in senior left tackle Jake Campos.
And just like Iowa State’s defense, there is only one way for their defense to go which is up. Iowa State was ranked 108th in total defense last year, but they do have eight starters returning which gives them some optimism.
Before becoming a contender in the Big 12 Conference, Campbell must find a way to once again make the Cyclones competitive which in itself is no easy task.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bob Stoops-Oklahoma
Offensive Player of the Year: Semaje Perine-Running Back-Oklahoma
Defensive Player of the Year: Malik Jefferson-Linebacker-Texas
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com
Make no mistake about it that current West Virginia Mountaineers head basketball coach Bob Huggins is one of the best at his profession. In 34 years as a head coach on the college basketball scene, Huggins has compiled a record of 780-315. Huggins’ resume includes leading the Cincinnati Bearcats to the Final Four in 1992 along with the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2010 while also sending a ton of talent to the NBA. Huggins’ run at Cincinnati didn’t end on a good note as he was exiled by the school due to off-the-court incidents which included his DUI arrest in 2004. After leaving Cincinnati in 2005, Huggins would surface in Manhattan, Kansas in 2006 as the head basketball coach of the Kansas State Wildcats. Huggins would lead the Wildcats to their first 20-win season since 1999 and they would also win a postseason game in the National Invitational Tournament. Kansas State would finish the season with a record of 23-12 and things appeared to be looking good for them with Huggins on board.
But Huggins got an offer that he could not refuse when West Virginia had an opening for their head basketball coaching position in 2007. Huggins is a native of Morgantown, West Virginia along with the school being his alma mater as he played there from 1975-1977.
Huggins took over a West Virginia program that was beginning to garner some national respect as they made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2005. Huggins would build off of that success as along with his name, and the fact that West Virginia called the Big East Conference home, he began to take the program to new heights.
By 2010, West Virgnia won the Big East Tournament for the first time on school history which was the launching pad for them a few weeks later when they made their first trip to the Final Four since 1959. Huggins would keep West Virginia in the national spotlight until 2012 when he had the rug pulled from under him when the school decided to join the Big 12 Conference for football reasons.
Huggins had to recruit a new region as he could no longer count on scouting the New York/New Jersey area which is a basketball hotbed. But Huggins hasn’t had the success that he has enjoyed by accident and by his third year in the Big 12, he had the Mountaineers back in the NCAA Tournament.
This college basketball season, the Big 12 is stacked as they are arguably the best basketball conference in the nation. And although that the Kansas Jayhawks, Oklahoma Sooners, and Iowa State Cyclones all have legitimate shots to make the Final Four in April, West Virginia is right there with them.
For the sixth consecutive year, West Virginia began the college basketball season unranked. However it didn’t take the Mountaineers that long to get noticed as they came out of the chute with a record of 15-1. And the strong start by West Virginia was capped off by them knocking off Kansas who was the top ranked team in the nation at the time. As previously mentioned the Big 12 is arguably the best conference this college basketball season with six of the ten teams currently ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. And of those six schools, West Virginia, Kansas, and the Oklahoma Sooners are all currently ranked in the top 10. Within the conference West Virginia has a record of 8-3 which is tied for the top spot with Oklahoma and Kansas as the Mountaineers are seeking their first outright regular season conference championship since 1989 when they called the Atlantic-10 Conference home.
But throughout every journey in Huggins’ basketball career, his teams have always shown grit with a certain level of toughness, and this year’s Mountaineers team is no different.
Led by senior guard Jaysean Paige, junior forward Devin Williams, and a pair of sophomores in guards Daxter Miles Jr., and Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers could be one of the most confident basketball teams in the nation as they simply expect to win every single night when they take the floor. And even on the five occasions when West Virginia has tasted defeat this year, they haven’t exactly rolled over and died as they fought to the very end.
As of right now the Mountaineers would be a No. 4 seed at worst in the NCAA Tournament. And due to the strength of the Big 12 this season, West Virginia could enter the NCAA Tournament with eight or nine losses which wouldn’t prevent them from getting quality seeding. With games remaining on the docket with Oklahoma, the Texas Longhorns, Iowa State Cyclones, and Baylor Bears, along with the Big 12 Tournament next month in Kansas City, Missouri, the Mountaineers slate of games won’t be an easy one, but this squad has been up for the challenge all season long while Huggins has made a career out of getting teams to the Big Dance which we’ll once again see next month.
TCU Horned Frogs 11-1 (8-1)
The 2014 college football season saw the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs rebound in a big way. TCU went 4-8 in 2013, but last year was a different story as they went 12-1 and they were within a eyelash of participating in the College Football Playoff. The expectations have risen immensely for the Horned Frogs and head football coach Gary Patterson in 2015 and if they want to get to be national champions, it begins with them being able to win the Big 12 Conference.
Led by senior quarterback Trevone Boykin, TCU returns 10 starters on offense as they were fifth in total offense in the nation last season. Boykin knows how to spread the football around to his wide receivers and he can also run as he was the Horned Frogs second leading rusher in 2014. The Horned Frogs primarily operate out of the spread offense and as a team they averaged 5.3 yards on the ground in 2014. As I previously stated, Boykin knows how to spread the football around and the combination of wide receivers Josh Doctson, Ty Slanina, Deante’ Gray, and Kolby Listenbee will be tough for opposing secondaries in the Big 12 to deal with. TCU also returns four starters on the offensive line with all five of the “big uglies” being seniors as they have a wealth of experience.
Patterson has built a reputation as one of the best defensive minds in college football. Last year TCU was 18th in total defense and they return six defensive starters and they’ll look to hold their own in the offensive happy Big 12.
TCU was able to sneak up on people in 2014, but that will not be the case this year. The Horned Frogs begin their regular season on the road as they’ll tango with the Minnesota Golden Gophers out of the Big Ten Conference. And TCU’s ability to get to the College Football Playoff will come down to the final two games of the season when they travel to take on the Oklahoma Sooners which will be followed against a home meeting with the Baylor Bears on November 27.
Baylor Bears 10-2 (7-2)
If the Baylor Bears are able to take care of their business, the 2015 college football season could be a special one for them. The Bears are coming off of consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history and for Baylor head football coach Art Briles, he has his eyes set on bigger things this season. Like fellow Big 12 Conference member TCU, Baylor missed out on last season’s College Football Playoff and they are out to right that wrong this season.
Baylor possesses one of the most explosive offenses in college football which means that they are never out of a game. Last season saw quarterback Seth Russell get a few reps while backing up Bryce Petty. Petty has now moved on to the National Football League and as a junior, Russell is ready to sling the football around in Briles’ wide open system.
Luckily for Russell, he will be joining a very talented Baylor offensive team. The Bears return all five starters on the offensive line which is anchored by four seniors and they have immense speed at the wide receiver position in junior Corey Coleman and sophomore KD Cannon while junior tailback Shock Linwood has the potential to hover around the 1,500 yard mark in rushing.
The Bears do return nine starters defensively as they look to improve from being 51st in the nation last season in total defense.
Baylor’s season will be defined by what they can do in their final five games as they’ll meet the Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, TCU Horned Frogs, and the Texas Longhorns as the Big 12 Conference will once again be a gauntlet.
Oklahoma Sooners 10-2 (7-2)
Last year the expectations for the Oklahoma Sooners were really high and they were unable to live up to them. The Sooners were expected to contend for the national championship, but instead they had to settle for an 8-5 record as they were never able to take their game to another level. But for the Sooners and their fan base, they can take solace in the fact that the last two times in which they lost five games in a season under head football coach Bob Stoops, they were able to bounce back in the following year to win at least 12 games.
Just like the Sooners football team in 2014, quarterback Trevor Knight had a ton of expectations heaped onto him. Knight was unable to put up the season that Oklahoma needed from him, but he is expected to improve in 2015 under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners offense will lean heavily on the powerful legs of sophomore running back Samaje Perine. As a freshman in 2014, Perine rushed for 1,713 and 21 touchdowns as he added to Oklahoma’s legacy at running back. Perine will be a candidate to not only be the Big 12 Conference’s Player of the Year in 2015, but he’ll also be a candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.
The Sooners are set to return six starters on defense, but this unit must improve as they had seven games last season that saw them surrender at least 30 points. And the strength of Oklahoma’s defense will be in their linebacker corps where led by junior middle linebacker Dominique Alexander, they return all three starters from last year.
For Oklahoma’s non-conference portion of their schedule, they will have their hands full when they travel to face the Tennessee Volunteers from the Southeastern Conference on September 12. The early part of the Sooners conference schedule includes games with the Texas Longhorns and Kansas State Wildcats as they look to keep up with TCU and Baylor in the Big 12.
Texas Longhorns 8-4 (6-3)
For the Texas Longhorns and head football coach Charlie Strong, they are hopeful that the worst in behind them. Texas endured a 6-7 record in 2014, but in Strong’s first season year in Austin, he spent that time implementing his program, establishing his recruiting connections within the state, and getting rid of players that he felt were unworthy of wearing the burnt orange.
Texas’ potential improvement in 2015 begins with junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Swoopes displayed flashes last year, but Strong and the Longhorns need him to be more consistent this season; especially when it comes to taking over contests. With running back Malcolm Brown now in the National Football League, senior running back Johnathan Gray now has his opportunity to be featured running back in Austin as Texas will lean on him to carry the football at least 200 times this year. Led by senior offensive tackle Marcus Hutchins, Texas will have three seniors on their offensive line and all five lineman were starters last season.
Defensively Texas will return five starters and even though they’ll be a little green on that side of the football to begin the season, Strong will make up for it as he is one of the best defensive minds in college football and he knows how to motivate his guys.
In three consecutive weeks in October, the Longhorns will meet the TCU Horned Frogs, Oklahoma Sooners, and Kansas State Wildcats. And if Texas is able to survive that stretch, it will be strong sign that they are once again ready to be a player in the Big 12 Conference.
West Virginia Mountaineers 8-4 (5-4)
The brief time of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Big 12 Conference has been a rocky one and they are hopeful to avoid taking another step backwards. The Mountaineers went 7-6 in 2012 only to go 4-8 in 2013. West Virginia finished last season with a record of 7-6 and they are hopeful to not alternate a winning season with another losing campaign.
For West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen, he is pinning the hopes for his spread offense in 2015 on the arm of junior quarterback Skyler Howard. Howard played briefly in 2014, but with the departure of Clint Trickett who was forced to give up football due to head injuries, it is now Howard’s job to lose in Morgantown.
Defense has never been a hallmark for Holgorsen’s teams at West Virginia. But the Mountaineers do return nine starters on a defense that must improve as they were ranked 68th in the nation last season in total defense.
Three of West Virginia’s first four conference games are on the road this season as they’ll face Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU which could put them in a bind in the Big 12 Conference.
Oklahoma State Cowboys 8-4 (5-4)
With the exception of his first year at the helm of the Oklahoma State Cowboys football program, Mike Gundy has never led his alma mater to a losing season. The Cowboys started 2014 with a record of 5-1 before they lost their next five only to bounce back and win their last two contests. And for Gundy and Oklahoma State, they are hopeful to avoid that same scenario this season.
Senior quarterback Daxx Garman is looking to improve off of a see-saw season in 2014 that saw him throw 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions which cannot happen again this year if Oklahoma State is going to hang with the big boys in the Big 12 Conference. Led by senior wide receiver Brandon Shepard, the Cowboys have a ton of experience returning at the skill positions as Gundy is hopeful that familiarity will lead to success on the football field.
But as good as Oklahoma State’s offense can be, they will need more from a defense that surrendered 30 points or more in a game seven times last season.
Oklahoma State’s first two road games of their conference schedule find them clashing with the Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers as they look to make a statement in the Big 12.
Texas Tech Red Raiders 6-6 (4-5)
If ever there is a football program in the Big 12 Conference that is looking to get on track in 2015, it is the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury took over as the Red Raiders head football coach in 2013 and he got off to a roaring start as he won his first seven contests. But since then Texas Tech is just 5-13. The offense hasn’t been the problem for Texas Tech as they can score with the best of them, but defensively they were ranked 125th in the nation last year in total defense as they had 10 games in which they gave up at least 30 points which is a challenge for defensive coordinator David Gibbs as he’s set to embark on his first campaign in Lubbock, Texas.
The arm of junior quarterback Davis Webb, the legs of senior running back DeAndre Washington, and the speed of senior wide receiver Jakeem Grant will keep Texas Tech in ballgames, but their hopes this season will hinge on the defense’s ability to stop opponents.
In three straight weeks, Texas Tech will meet the Arkansas Razorbacks from the Southeastern Conference followed by Big 12 foes in the TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears as this could be a tough season for the Red Raiders to navigate through.
Kansas State Wildcats 7-5 (4-5)
In 23 seasons as the head football coach of the Kansas State Wildcats, head football coach Bill Snyder might not be able to convince the top-tier high school recruits to come to the Little Apple in Manhattan, Kansas, and he may not have a pipeline that consistently sends players to the National Football League, but you cannot underestimate the fact that all he does is win.
When the 2015 college football season begins, not that many people will know the name of Kansas State junior quarterback Joe Hubener, but he’ll make a name for himself as he will be another blue-collar signal caller for Snyder. The Wildcats will be replacing a ton of talent offensively at the skill positions. But aside from Snyder, Kansas State can rely on the fact that four starters who are all seniors will be returning to the offensive line. And the Wildcats also return six starters on defense which includes three senior starters in their secondary.
The Wildcats might not have that much eye appeal when the season begins, but they will a very tough foe for each opponent that they come across in the Big 12 Conference this fall.
Iowa State Cyclones 3-9 (1-8)
As the Iowa State Cyclones are prepping to go on their voyage that is the 2015 college football season, they are simply hoping to not get swallowed up by the competition in the Big 12 Conference. The Cyclones have not had a winning season since 2009 and they have failed to play in a bowl game since 2012. For Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads, he has a play maker at quarterback in senior Sam B. Richardson, but one guy cannot do it by himself on the field in college football. The best thing that the Cyclones can hope for in 2015 is to get busy in the non-conference portion of their schedule as the riggers of the Big 12 will more than likely prove to be too much for them.
Kansas Jayhawks 2-10 (0-9)
After a brief glimpse of success in the mid-2000’s, the Kansas Jayhawks have reverted to being a bottom feeder in the Big 12 Conference. Kansas has not had a winning season since 2008 and for the folks in Lawrence, they are already looking to Midnight Madness which symbolizes the start of the college football season. For first year Kansas head football coach David Beaty, he is hopeful that he can establish himself as he looks to turn the Jayhawks around which is very from being an easy task.