Last season the Big 12 tied the SEC for the most bowl teams with nine, despite having four fewer members.
I’m not expecting the Big 12 to be quite as strong this season, as nearly every team in the conference will be breaking in a new quarterback. The only teams that won’t be are Texas (David Ash), Oklahoma State (Clint Chelf), and TCU (Casey Pachall).
The winner of the Bedlam rivalry has either won or shared the Big 12 title the last three years. I expect Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to both compete for the Big 12 title this season once more. Last season Kansas State surprised nearly everyone as they took home a share of the conference title, after being picked to finish sixth before the year began.
This season the Big 12 is as wide open as ever, and there are essentially no guarantees right out of the gate. Once again, the conference will showcase its high powered spread offensive attacks and make its case to be the second best conference right behind the almighty SEC.
Due to the ever enhancing parity that college football presents us with, this might be one of the toughest Big 12 seasons to predict. The conference is as strong as ever, and it should be another fantastic season to sit back and watch, so let’s have a look into the crystal ball and take a shot at where each team might finish.
1. Texas: The Longhorns return all five of their starters on the offensive line. They have an NCAA best 124 career starts returning, which should help pave the way for sophomore running back Johnathan Gray. Junior quarterback David Ash returns with even more experience under his belt and should be a bit more polished under center. Texas also returns plenty of talent on the defensive side, with defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks. In the secondary they bring back junior Quandre Diggs and senior Carrington Byndom. As usual, the horns will have talent all over the field and should be able to run the ball very well. Their out of conference schedule isn’t overly difficult with New Mexico, BYU, and Mississippi. If they don’t show improvement, head coach Mack Brown will be squarely on the hot seat, if he isn’t already. The Texas faithful are growing a bit impatient, but with so many quality players returning, I expect Texas to improve on their 9-4 finish last season, get to double digit victories and win the Big 12 this season.
2. Oklahoma State: The cowboys get a favorable schedule this year with TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma all coming to Stillwater. They do have to play at Texas, which could be the game that decides the Big 12 race this year. OSU returns quarterbacks Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. That alone makes the cowboys offense potent with their pass happy scheme. First team Big 12 receiver Josh Stewart returns after a 1,210 yard season. He’s a dynamic play maker and should only be better this season. They return eight starters on offense and the defense should be improved with seven starters returning. OSU could very well win the Big 12, they have the talent and experience to do so, but I have them just behind Texas to start the season.
3. TCU: The horned frogs bring back formerly troubled senior quarterback Casey Pachall this season. He returns as the FBS leader in career passing efficiency among active quarterbacks. If you throw in last year’s starter Trevone Boykin, TCU should be very sound at the quarterback position. The frogs open the season against LSU, which will be one heck of a showdown to begin the season. They return Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields, who set the TCU freshman record in sacks with ten. I think their defense could be the best in the Big 12 and it’s one reason they could win the conference. I’m placing them third to begin the season though. This team has the potential to win 10 games.
4. Oklahoma: The sooners will most likely go with junior quarterback Blake Bell to begin the season. He’s a big dual threat quarterback that’s seems to be more of a runner than passer. The quarterback position is one reason I have Oklahoma in fourth place to begin the season. Anytime there’s uncertainty at the most important position on the field it makes me skeptical. I do think Oklahoma will be just fine though. They return running back Damien Williams and cornerback Aaron Colvin. They’ll have elite talent all over place as usual and they play West Virginia the second week of the season. They also have to make a trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame, which should be a great game to watch. Considering the winner of the Bedlam rivalry game has either won or shared the Big 12 title the last three seasons, the sooners will once again be a very legitimate title contender.
5. Baylor: Beginning with Baylor, there could definitely be a real log-jam of teams. I can’t seem to put Baylor any higher on this list because of their defense. They do have seven returning starters, but they had one of the worst defenses in the country last season. Their secondary would probably give up large chunks of yardage to a pee-wee league team. They could certainly be better this season, but without a significant improvement they won’t be able to finish any higher than the middle of the pack. The offense should be explosive with Heisman candidate running back Lache Seastrunk returning to bolster the rushing attack. Junior quarterback Bryce Petty will start this season, and despite not much experience he should thrive under head coach Art Briles system. He’ll be throwing to senior wide receiver Tevin Reese often, who’s an explosive play maker. If the defense holds up their end of the bargain, Baylor could finish higher.
6. West Virginia: It’s looking more and more like the mountaineers will start Clint Trickett at quarterback. That doesn’t mean the position battle is over by a long shot. I expect quarterbacks Ford Childress and Paul Millard to get their chances at some point, if not, we could see one tranfer out of the program. It was hard for me to put WVU much lower than Baylor because both teams play wide open offense and poor defense. Even though the mountaineers are replacing a lot on offense, I still expect them to be productive enough to edge out a bowl bid. The defense really can’t be any worse, so there’s only one place for them to go. I have a hunch that WVU might be a little better than the media has projected them. If the defense gets back to respectability, I can see them matching last year’s win total with six or seven victories, if the defense doesn’t come around, they could slide much lower.
7. Kansas State: The wildcats are coming off a share of the Big 12 title. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’ve lost just about their entire defense with only two returning starters. They must also replace Heisman candidate Collin Klein. They will look to do so with national junior college player of the year Jake Waters, who broke Cam Newton’s junior college record for completion percentage at 66.1%. Explosive return man Tyler Lockett will return for his junior season and should give KSU a nice boost. The key for head coach Bill Snyder will be replacing nearly the entire defense, if they can, they might surprise again. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to get double digit wins though, having a winning record and getting to a bowl game should be the main focus as they try to reload.
8. Texas Tech: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury will look to guide the red raiders to success in his first year. They return five starters on offense and it looks like they’ll be going with sophomore Michael Brewer to guide the spread offense. Once again, I get a little skeptical when a team must install new systems and the coaching staff is entirely different. That’s why I have Texas Tech this low to begin the season. I do think Kingsbury will be successful in the future, it may just take a little time for him to get everything installed and for the players to become comfortable. The defense should be pretty solid this season with eight returning starters. Their out of conference schedule is very easy, the only test should be Southern Methodist to open the season. Tech could end being a good bit better than this prediction if everything comes together, but I wouldn’t bet on them being in the top 4 of the Big 12.
9. Kansas: The jayhawks didn’t win one Big 12 game last season. I think they’ll be better this season with running back James Sims coming back and Brigham Young transfer Jake Heaps guiding the offense. He was impressive in the spring game and could give Kansas the boost they need to win a couple conference games. Kansas has five returning starters on the offensive side of the ball and four on defense. Their out of conference schedule is rather easy with South Dakota, Rice, and Louisiana Tech. They only won one game last season, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume they can’t pick up four wins or so this season, especially with the easy non-conference schedule.
10. Iowa State: The cyclones return five starters on offense and four on defense for head coach Paul Rhoads, but they’re going to have to make a believer out of me. They went 6-7 last season and could do something similar, but I have them pegged for about the same number of wins as Kansas. I expect either the cyclones or jayhawks to finish in the Big 12 cellar this season and I can’t really say one is better than the other. Iowa State should beat Northern Iowa right out of the gate to begin the season, but after that things could get shaky. I don’t think they’ll get back to a bowl, but they could certainly prove me wrong.
Overall, this should be another solid season for the Big 12 conference, but I don’t see them matching the nine bowl teams they produced last year. The top four teams look very good, but the depth just isn’t quite as strong.