Oklahoma looks to be set for repeat Big 12 title run, but don’t sleep on Baylor… and Texas?
The Big 12 sent its champion to the College Football Playoff last season, a year after being locked out the previous season. In 2016 the Big 12 is once again on the fringe of the College Football Playoff scene, with the hopes of the playoff likely to ride on Oklahoma. Will the Sooners score some big early wins, or will it be an uphill climb for the Sooners and Big 12 the rest of the season? Also, will the Big 12 expand at some point during the college football season?
1. Oklahoma (10-2, 9-0 Big 12)
Last season: 11-2, 8-1 Big 12, Big 12 champion, lost Orange Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal vs. Clemson (37-17)
If you have already checked out my American Athletic Conference preview, then you already know I’m picking Oklahoma to lose their season opener against Houston. A bumpy start will get a little stressful two weeks later when the Sooners drop a home game against Ohio State. The good news for the Sooners is they will not lose another game the rest of the way during the regular season. What remains to be seen is if the damage will have already been done or if the Sooners will benefit from the College Football Playoff selection committee by getting and staying hot down the stretch. Of course, losing head-to-head contests against two other potential playoff candidates in Houston (yes, Houston) and Ohio State will doom any playoff chances Oklahoma will have in my book. All that said, I expect a wildly entertaining season from Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine in Oklahoma’s offense.
2. Baylor (9-3, 6-3 Big 12)
Last season: 10-3, 6-3 Big 12, won Russell Athletic Bowl vs. North Carolina (49-38)
Baylor is an absolute mess of a program right now, but ;let’s be honest about the Bears. If healthy, Baylor is still dangerous in Big 12 play and capable of making a run for the conference crown. Seth Russell is coming back after getting banged up. As long as he stays on the field, Baylor’s offense should be OK with KD Cannon and Shock Linwood also available. Ishmael Zamora should have been kicked off the program for the video of him beating a dog, but he will instead play another key role in Baylor’s offense. Just how Jim Grobe will handle things with all of the offensive talent at his disposal will be key to Baylor’s Big 12 hopes. Baylor needs to cash in now, because the future is looking more grim given off-field circumstances.
3. Texas (8-4, 6-3 Big 12)
Last season: 5-7, 4-5 Big 12
Texas enters year three under Charlie Strong, and this might be the best one yet. Strong’s defensive influence should be seen this year as the Longhorns have a chance to have the best defense in the Big 12. It’s certainly a top three defense in the Big 12 overall with Malik Jefferson anchoring things at linebacker and Davante Davis shutting down receivers. For Texas t make a push up the conference standings, Texas absolutely needs its offense to improve in 2016. That is a major concern that starts with the quarterback question mark. Who starts? Who is most effective? New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert could help open things up for the Longhorns and he could get right to work with freshman quarterback Shane Buechele. As for the schedule, Texas takes a few bumps in some of their bigger games, but overall we should see the Longhorns start to prove they are no longer the pushover they have become. Bold prediction for the Longhorns: Wins against Baylor and TCU, both in Austin.
4. Texas Tech (8-4, 6-3 Big 12)
Last season: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12, lost Texas Bowl vs. LSU (56-27)
Perhaps one of my least confident picks in the Big 12 this year is the moderately successful season coming out of Lubbock. Texas Tech’s offense will always go as far as their quarterback will take them, and Kliff Kingsbury is fortunate to have one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 back this season with Patrick Mahomes, but the offensive line returns just one starter. Texas Tech’s defense will be what holds the Red Raiders back from making any serious threats in the Big 12, as games against Oklahoma and Baylor will prove, but Texas Tech is in position to take down a couple teams in the Big 12 hunt, like West Virginia, Texas and even TCU. Consider Texas Tech a wild card team that could play a pivotal role in keeping the Big 12 out of the College Football Playoff.
5. West Virginia (9-3, 6-3 Big 12)
Last season: 8-5, 4-5 Big 12, won Cactus Bowl vs. Arizona State (43-42)
West Virginia’s defense was one of the best in the Big 12 last year, but there are a ton of spots to fill this season. Dana Holgorsen was high on his defense in the spring, but we’ll see if this new-look defensive unit can keep rolling once they get on the field against actual competition. This is year six for Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, believe it or not, and his offense could be one of his best. The Mountaineers will count on Skyler Howard at quarterback and could turn in a big season from running back Rushel Shell, now a senior. The offensive line lost just one starter from last season an Daikel Shorts and Shelton Gibson can be a dangerous receiving duo. West Virginia’s schedule sets up a really good start with home games against Missouri and Kansas State and a game in Landover, Maryland against BYU. West Virginia is another serious wild card in the Big 12, and they get Oklahoma at home. I have the Sooners winning that game, but that has legitimate upset potential late in the year.
6. TCU (6-6, 4-5 Big 12)
Last season: 11-2, 7-2 Big 12, won Alamo Bowl vs. Oregon (47-41)
I feel I am being too harsh on TCU, and I am already sort of regretting this prediction. The Horned Frogs return a good number of starters on defense and if there is one thing you can generally count on Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs on having, it is a pretty good defense. That should be the case again this season. The TCU offense has exploded in recent years since moving to the Big 12, showing Patterson knows how to adapt where needed in TCU’s new conference home and he has had the players to make it work. Will that be the case on offense this season?Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson have moved on, and TCU brings back just one starter from last season. Kenny Hill gets his chance to redeem himself now as TCU’s likely starter, and that should be fun to watch.
7. Kansas State (5-7, 3-6 Big 12)
Last season: 6-7, 3-6 Big 12, lost Liberty Bowl vs. Arkansas (45-23)
The general recipe for success remains the same for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. Having a steady defense and an offense that can run the football with a roster of overlooked talent and a mix of JUCO options have served Kansas State well more often than not. Kansas State won’t dazzle you with their style, but they will make you earn every win by playing hard. Injuries took Kansas State off course last year, which ultimately cost them a postseason berth. even if healthy, Kansas State looks like a fringe bowl team at best this season to me. Opening at Stanford is rough, and a four-game stretch against WVU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas is one I do not expect to go well for the Wildcats, and playing on the road against Baylor and TCU at the end of the season is part of a three-game stretch, but at least they get Kansas in the middle.
8. Oklahoma State (6-6, 3-6 Big 12)
Last season: 10-3, 7-2 Big 12, lost Sugar Bowl vs. Ole Miss (48-20)
Oklahoma State is another team I feel I am being a bit pessimistic on. The Cowboys won 10 games last season and bring back a ton of starters from that roster this season. So why so down? It has more to do with the schedule and how I’m expecting some other teams to do more so than nitpicking Oklahoma State apart. I see Texas and West Virginia capable of going on the road to Stillwater and going home with a win, and I think road games for Oklahoma State could prove to be difficult (Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma). I could easily be very wrong about the Cowboys in the end, but I’ll take a chance.
9. Iowa State (3-9, 1-8 Big 12)
Last season: 3-9, 2-7 Big 12
Iowa State made a coaching change by bringing in Matt Campbell from Toledo. I think it is a good coaching hire, bu Campbell has a good amount of work to do in order to make the Cyclones a team anyone in the Big 12 is going to sweat over. Iowa State has upset potential when playing at home (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia) but the Cyclones just lack the overall talent needed to form any real threat on a consistent basis. Iowa State does have one of the top wide receivers in the Big 12 with Allen Lazard, who should rack up some good stats.
10. Kansas (1-11, 0-9 Big 12)
Last season: 0-12, 0-9 Big 12
The good news for Kansas is they will win a game this season. I think. After the opener against Rhode Island, however, it looks to be another very long season for head coach David Beaty. The Jayhawks will bank on returning starting experience helps lead to progress on the field. Beaty is taking on the play-calling duties this season. We’ll see if that pays off as well.
Big 12 Game of the Year
Oklahoma vs. Baylor
The Big 12 championship could very well come down to who wins the game in Norman between the Sooners and Bears in Week 11 of the season. The non-conference matchup between Oklahoma and Ohio State proves to be a huge game for the overall College Football Playoff scene earlier in the season, but the head-to-head matchup between Oklahoma and Baylor could possibly decide the Big 12 championship, which would boost or destroy any playoff hopes for the Sooners and Bears.
Offensive Player of the Year
QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
I still think this is designed to be a very strong year for the Sooners, even if I do predict a couple of losses along the way. I also suspect this will be a big year for running back Samaje Perine at Oklahoma, but Baker Mayfield will be on a mission to prove he is capable of leading the Sooners to big things. That motivation and an offensive system designed to rack up the yards should lead to a big year from the Oklahoma quarterback. Will it be enough to send him to New York at the end of the year? Possibly.
Defensive Player of the Year
CB Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma
Thomas was tied for third in the Big 12 last season with five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. On his five interceptions last season, he returned the football for a total of 153 yards, which was boosted by a pair of interceptions returned for 61 yards against West Virginia and two picks for 68 yards against Oklahoma State. Thomas enters this season looking to keep that game-changing ability going.
Coach of the Year
Charlie Strong, Texas
All that talk about job security for Charlie Strong should be put to rest this season when he leads the Longhorns to eight wins, but it certainly will not eliminate it as the Longhorns drop games to Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Still, this season will prove Texas is on the right track under Strong, and the efforts of this season will not go unrewarded.
And there you have it. I am now on the record with the Big 12. More to come, of course. In the meantime, check out my picks for the ACC and American as well. Also, feel free to share your Big 12 thoughts on Facebook.