Big 12 Preview
The Big 12 remains the weakest of the Power 5 Conferences, and the only one without two divisions, but, as of now, it remains in the group of Power 5 Conferences. Expansion was considered and, again, voted down for the Conference in 2016, and the relative power of Texas over the remaining members is an issue that will need to be addressed eventually. 2017 is probably not that year. The Conference has other issues at hand, including new coaches at its three best programs - in recent years - and a need to get someone into the 4 team playoff at the end of the season.
Top Draft Prospects
1: Mason Rudolph, OSU
2: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
3: KJ Smith, Baylor
4: James Alexander, OSU
5: Zach Crabtree, OSU
Order of Finish:
1: Oklahoma State Offensively, the tandem of quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington represents one of the only duos nationally that figures to have two potential first round draft picks. Both Rudolph and Washington need big seasons and offseasons to do that but they should be the class of the Big 12 behind a talented line led by seniors Zach Crabtree (LT)and Brad Lundblade © and sophomore guard Marcus Keyes. Defensively the Cowboys have two solid upperclassman rushers in Cole Walterscheid and Jarrell Owens, three senior defensive backs led by safety Tre Flowers, and a linebacking unit led by excellent senior Chad Whitener, who will be the leader of the entire unit, as well as a coach on the field. The Cowboys return fewer starters than their rivals for the Big 12 Championship, but they return them in the right places, and their coaching staff remains proven and in tact.
2: TCU Gary Patterson returns 10 starters on his offensive unit including the best tailback in the conference in Kyle Hicks and a quarterback perfectly suited for this offense in Kenny Hill. The receiving corps, led by senior Taj Williams, is deep and talented and should be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Defensively the Horned Frogs return their entire defensive backfield led by safeties Nick Orr and Travin Howard. LJ Collier will be the sole returning starter on the defensive line but he will be joined by three experienced upperclassmen, including junior defensive end Mat Boesen, who had 8 TFL’s in 2016. Arkansas will be a tough out of conference opponent for the Horned Frogs and will tell us a great deal about how good Patterson’s team really is. An undefeated September would leave TCU in the driver's seat for the Conference and a spot in the playoffs.
3: Oklahoma It’s tough to drop the Sooners this far down when they return Baker Mayfield at quarterback and 16 starters overall. Offensively the team will be fine with Mayfield and a veteran offensive line, including tackle Orlando Brown and Center Eric Wren, that should give him time to pick apart the weak Big 12 defenses. The skill position players are nothing special but will be better athletes than many of the players they face in the Big 12, which should be enough to keep the Sooners on the scoreboard. Defensively the strength of Oklahoma will be their secondary, which returns first and third team All Big 12 performers Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker at cornerback and safety, respectively. The front seven will be led by Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who averaged close to 1 TFL per game last year. While the Sooners have more than enough talent and experience to win the Big 12 they have an unproven coaching situation. The schedule is also less favorable to the Sooners as Ohio State is a certain loss while Oklahoma State and TCU are back to back on the schedule in November. Ultimately the inexperienced coaching staff will be what separates Oklahoma State and TCU from the Sooners this year only.
4: Kansas State: The Wildcats return a veteran offensive line to pair with quarterback Jesse Ertz. Unlike many other teams in the Big 12, however, Kansas State prefers to control the clock and put their defense in better situations with the football. Their offensive line is led by senior center Reid Najvar and tackles Dalton Risner and Scott Frantz, a junior and sophomore respectively. The unit should improve demonstrably from a unit that had to replace four starters and 2 primary backups in 2016. How well the unit opens holes for tailback Alex Barnes and Ertz will determine how well their season plays out. Defensively the Wildcats have experience along the defensive line and secondary, with three returning starters to each unit. The linebackers are both new starters but are also both upperclassmen that played frequently in 2016, Trent Tanking in Manhattan and Da’Quan Patton in junior college. I expect Snyder’s team to at least maintain it’s 9-4 record from 2016 and am cautiously optimistic they can improve upon it. The disparity in talent will keep them from running the table against the Conference’s best, but they could upset one of them.
5: Texas There is not a lot to like in Austin, outside of Tom Herman’s arrival. While Herman should be able to add to the win total, that total is only 5, and expecting Herman to win more than 8 games this years feels like a stretch with the roster he has. Offensively tailback Chris Warren Jr and tackle Connor Hodges are the only players of good repute. It is possibly that quarterback Shane Buechele will improve immediately under Herman’s tutelage but it is still difficult seeing the Longhorns succeed against the teams ranked higher on this list, each of whom has a veteran defensive unit returning. Defensively things look better for the Longhorns. Malik Jefferson looks like a possible All American at linebacker while Malcolm Roach and Poona Ford bring some talent and experience to the defensive line. PJ Locke and Jason Hall will be the leaders of a veteran secondary but there are still plenty of holes for this defense and the deeper offensive receiving corps will be able to stretch them far too thin. Texas looks like they do whenever they make a coaching change because they are Texas and the recruiting cupboard is never bare. I’m being generous to them because I admire Herman as a coach and think the situation just up the road is worse than people believe.
6: Iowa State I am predicting Iowa State to win 6 games and be bowl eligible, which is the riskiest prediction I have ever made, ever. I believe in what Matt Campbell is doing and I think the returning skill position talent the team has will take another step forward in 2017. What helps Campbell is that the style of offense he runs allows for quick three step drops and minimizes the importance of pass protection for his inexperienced offensive line. Jacob Park played well at quarterback in 2016 and David Montgomery and Mike Warren return as an effective two headed running back attack. Allen Lazard and Deshaunte Jones give Park wto established veterans with whom he already has an established rapport. Another good sign for the Cyclones is the veteran defensive talent on board at each level. Kamari Cotton-Moya is an athletic safety that leads the backfield. He is a potential first or second team All Big 12 player. Willie Harvey is a senior linebacker who looks poised for a potential breakout season. Along the defensive line JaQuan Bailey is a talented defensive end that the team will need to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
7: Baylor I really like Matt Rhule but I wonder if his ultimate goal upon reaching Waco, if not before, is to use the Baylor job as a way to leapfrog into an ACC, SEC, or Big Ten job. The situation in Waco is so bad that the team that has redefined offensive football in the Big 12 - a conference known for offensive innovation - has not a single player on the preseason first or second team All Big 12 teams. The only player present is defensive end KJ Smith who is a fantastic player, but will need to generate something like 5 sacks, 7 TFL’s, 10 quarterback pressures, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble return for a touchdown every game if Baylor is to remain competitive. Offensively Terrance Williams has some potential at tailback and I like Jordan Feuerbacher as a late round NFL prospect at tight end but there really isn’t much else there. Defensively Davion Hall and Lenoy Jones have some playmaking potential in the defensive backfield and will likely be tested early and often. I look for the Bears to take a major step backwards on the field as Rhule, hopefully, works to clean up a program that should have been given the death penalty - with the rest of the athletic teams. I predict 5 wins for Baylor.
8: West Virginia The Mountaineers are in for a long year most likely. WIth only 8 returning starters Dana Holgorsen finds himself in the enviable position of needing to rely on Florida transfer Will Grier, a player so unreliable he lost the starting job at Florida. Perhaps Grier has learned and improved, and having Justin Crawford with him in the backfield will certainly give the team two good running options, but Grier is going to play under pressure and he has not done well under pressure, historically. Guard Kyle Bosch will be asked to be the rock for an inexperienced offensive line that replaces three starters. Jovon Durante and Ka'Raun White give Grier two established receiving targets to throw to, assuming he has the time to do so. Defensively the only returning players are the three starting linebackers David Long, Al-Rasheed Benton, and Kyzir White - a hybrid safety and defensive leader. West Virginia won ten games last season. This year I would expect them to win 5-6.
9: Texas Tech The Red Raiders won 5 games last year behind an offense that was almost impossible to stop for the deficient defenses in the Big 12. The Red Raiders also lost star quarterback Pat Mahomes to the NFL. The team returns three veteran receivers who each had 50+ receptions last season in Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson, and Keke Coutee. Defensively Jordyn Brooks and Jah'Shawn Johnson add some potential playmaking ability but there is little reason to expect the Red Raiders to suddenly start playing defense. I don’t see a lot of wins on their schedule. 3-4 seems about right.
10: Kansas The Jayhawks remain one of the most difficult teams to write about in college football. It is Perhaps David Beaty can breath some life into this program where so many other coaches have failed. In terms of talent on the field Washington State transfer Peyton Bender could be worth watching. He will be throwing the ball to senior receivers Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, each of whom had over 60 receptions and 700 yards last season. SIms is the one potential star for the Kansas offense. Defensively Daniel Wise is a pretty good defensive lineman while Joe Dineen and Mike Lee offer some talent and leadership for each unit on the defense. Kansas has a shot at upsetting one of the Mac teams they play and possibly winning a Big 12 game. I expect them to win 3 games in Beaty’s first year, which will hopefully be the first step towards being relevant in the Big 12 again.