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