College Football Preview (Part 2 of 6 — The Big 12)
Don’t you just love The Big 12 in all its glory with its 10 teams? The coaches preach taking care of the business in the classroom, and fans are quick to point out “student” comes before “athlete.” But what message does it send to the players in Math 101 when you have decision makers in high-ranking positions that make millions on the concept that 12 = 10. (You “14 = 10” guys in the Big 10 office can feel this wrath too). Learn to math, please.
Big 12 football is fun. Points are aplenty, and defense is optional. Big 12 cheerleaders and mascots are probably the most ripped in all of the land from all of the push-ups after touchdowns.
Well, not this guy.
Anyways, the media seems to be all-in on Oklahoma. I expected Oklahoma to be atop the poll, but not by the margin they are. Yes, Baker Mayfield is back at quarterback and Samaje Perine joins him in the backfield. But gone is elusive receiver Sterling Shepard. Off the top of my head, I could name three players on the OU defense from a year ago (Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, and Zack Sanchez). So it probably doesn’t bode well for the Sooners that all three have moved on in a league where points get put on the board in a hurry. Oklahoma opens at Houston (possible loss) and hosts Ohio State in Week 3 (possible loss). While a loss or two in these games severely hurts Oklahoma’s chances for a playoff game, it doesn’t cripple their Big 12 title hopes. But their schedule doesn’t let up. Week 4 is at TCU. Week 5 is against an improving Texas team. They do get to host Baylor before a tough roadtrip to West Virginia later in the season. This schedule just screams two or three losses this season.
Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin are both gone. So an outsider might think this is a rebuilding year for TCU. Both guys were among the best in the country at their positions. The Horned Frogs fell victim to the injury bug last year, losing four starters on defense (three to torn ACLs) and Doctson to a wrist injury. Gary Patterson has eight guys back from the defense this time around in a league where any defense makes a team better. And while the loss of Boykin will hurt, TCU fans are hoping Kenny Hill, a Texas A&M transfer, can step in and lead this high-octane offense. The Horned Frogs are strong and experineced along the defensive line and are led by Josh Carraway. The secondary will receive a big boost with the return of Ranthony Texada. Does a name get any more Lone Star State-sounding than that? It’s like his name is Texas Ranch but backwards. This team is flying under the radar now, but a win at home over Arkansas in Week 2 followed with a big game at home against Oklahoma in Week 5 could go a long way to determining the fate of this TCU team.
This Pokes team is bringing back 17 starters, including quarterback Mason Rudolph and All-Big-12 receiver James Washington. Pittsburgh is the only team that may give Oklahoma State fits in the non-conference schedule. However, road tilts at TCU and Oklahoma seem like an awfully steep hill to climb. Jordan Burton and Jordan Sterns highlight a Pokes defense that returns eight starters. This is a team that is either going to be there at the end with a chance to win the Big 12 in the final week or a team that is going to get its heart ripped out with a bevy of close losses during a difficult conference schedule. They’ll miss the pass-rushing services of Emmanuel Ogbah this year, which hurts in a league where it helps to give the quarterback as little time as possible. Mike Gundy seems to always have the Pokes competing for a conference title in November and this may be a team that sneaks up on people hiding in their in-state rival’s shadow.
Seth Russell is back. And Baylor fans should be ecstatic. He’s the head of the snake. A lot of Baylor’s late-season struggles a year ago can be chalked up to his abscence. If Baker Mayfield is the class of quarterbacks in the league, Seth Russell is right there with him. Sure, top receiver Corey Coleman is gone, but running back Shock Linwood is back as is receiver KD Cannon. Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings are no longer the two anchors on the defensive line. In fact, Baylor has to replace its entire D-line. The secondary is stout, but the Bears will have to find a pass rush under interim coach Jim Grobe. This team will be hungry to get back on the field after an off-season of turmoil. The question here is on the defensive side of the ball. Baylor has a cupcake non-confernce schedule, but it looks as if the Bears may have to hang 55 every week to keep up with the top teams in the conference.
Let’s first check in on the first two years of the Charlie Strong era.
Video aside, I’m buying this Texas team. If there’s anything Charlie Strong knows, it’s defense. It just so happens Texas returns everyone on defense except last year’s strong and weak side linebackers. It’s the third year of the Strong era so he’s finally had time to establish the culture and get some of his recruits in there. Texas has the resources and I think you’ll start to see the pendulum swing back in the Longhorns’ favor. The opener at home against Notre Dame will go a long way in showing how good this Texas team can be. They also get both Baylor and TCU at home.
The Patrick Mahomes hype is real. And I want to believe that it is so real that he can lead the Red Raiders to a Big 12 title. What’s the best way to piss away the best offense in the country? Well, the second worst defense of course. Texas Tech returns six starters on both sides of the ball, but an already roughed up defense lost three defensive linemen. On offense, do-it-all receiver Jakeem Grant is gone. And by do-it-all, just watch this play.
Hey Patrick, it’s not going to be easy to rack up over 4,600 yards where you throw it two yards and watch your best receiver run for 90 yards. I want to believe this can be a 9-win team, I do. But coach Kliff Kingsbury is going to have to get his guys to show me more toughness and grit on the defensive side of the ball. Until then, they are staring down the chamber at 7–6 again.
Defense has never been the calling card for success recently at West Virginia. So it’s a scary thought that only two defensive starters return. Skyler Howard will be tasked to save Dana Holgersen’s job, but he’ll need to improve on his 54.8% completion percentage from last season as well as dial back on his 14 interceptions from 2015. Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts offer a nice 1–2 punch at receiver for the Mountaineers. Like the Geno Smith days, this is a team that is only going to win by beating teams in a shootout. Howard will have to elevate his game from a run-of-the-mill, turnover-prone quarterback to more of what we saw in the bowl game against Arizona State last year where he threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns.
Bill Snyder looks like he spends his offseason holding court on the checkers and chess boards on the outside porch at Cracker Barrel. In other words, the man is wise. At 76, you’d think at this point that the game would have passed him by but he still churns out winning records year after year after year. Jesse Ertz should be the man under center a year removed from a torn ACL and should be a huge boost to the Wildcats passing game. Last season’s leading tackler, Elijah Lee, spearheads a veteran defensive unit. The schedule is tough, but look for them to give Stanford all they bargained for in the season opener. Another bowl game looks very doable.
The Cyclones play at Iowa, at TCU, at Oklahoma State, and at Texas. The home schedule isn’t much easier. Heck, Northern Iowa, an FCS school, will be a tough out in the season opener. Like Kansas, Iowa State is a team that no one else in the conference takes super seriously. Unlike Kansas, Iowa State has the ability to pull of one or two upset wins that throw the conference one way or another.
It’s okay, Kansas fans. I heard freshman Josh Jackson is going to be a stud on the basketball team.
My Big 12 Final Rankings
- TCU 2. Oklahoma 3. Texas 4. Baylor 5. Oklahoma State 6. Kansas State 7. Texas Tech 8. West Virginia 9. Iowa State 10. Kansas
I think the Horned Frogs have the best defense and enough offense to match all of the other Big 12 contenders. This is the year Gary Patterson gets it done again. I think they beat Oklahoma in Week 4, who will be reeling from a loss to either Houston or Ohio State. Then, TCU atones from two years ago where they blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead at Baylor that ultimately cost them a spot in the playoffs. Expect for this league to have several guys among the nation’s leaders in passing yards per game. It’s going to be a bloodbath in terms of beating each other up throughout the league on a weekly basis. Teams 3–8 could finish anywhere in that range and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Whoever comes out on top in the Big 12 will certainly be battle tested. The Big 12 is praying that the lack of a conference title game will not keep them out of the playoffs altogether like it did in 2014.
Tomorrow, we look at the Big 10.
For yesterday’s preview on the ACC, click here.