The Big 12 has a very rich and prestigious football history. From Nebraska’s dominance with Tom Osborne at the helm to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns dethroning the USC Trojans to The Boz tackling every ball carrier he could find, the Big 12 certainly has created memories. While its fine and dandy to look at these past moments and remember them with emotion, it is easy to lose sight of the the fact that the Big 12 no longer dominates college football. During the recent Big 12 exodus, teams like Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M all fled for greener pastures. While the conference did add West Virginia and TCU, there still seems to be a void. With the introduction of the college football playoff, I am not sure how the Big 12 believed that it could go without a true champion and still make noise for representation like the SEC does. For the first year of the new Playoff, that assumption was incorrect. While a year later Oklahoma did make the CFP, skepticism of the Sooners was extremely high. So what will happen? Who will step up? Can Texas reclaim their crown? Can Oklahoma repeat their magical season from a year ago?
We can try to answer these questions by breaking down each Big 12 team, their chance of winning the conference, their chances of making the College Football Playoff, and look at a few marquee players that will surely contribute to their teams success. Part 1 will include Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech, while next week we focus on Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Here we go!
Baylor: If there was ever a Big 12 team that wished they could erase this offseason, the Bears would be that team. The tragedy that hit Baylor shed light on a truly sickening pandemic. The football program, and town of Waco, was accused of sheltering their players from rape allegations. The football program never made an effort to discipline said players which led to a whole mess of firings including Head Coach Art Briles.
On the football side, Baylor is locked and loaded for another season of a high flying offensive attack. Their Bear Raid system has its gunslinger with Seth Russell and receiver KD Cannon on the outside. Head Coach Jim Grobe comes with some great experience being the former head coach at Wake Forrest University. He led Wake to an 11-2 record which resulted in him winning the 2016 ACC Coach of the Year. Baylor must live without defensive stalwarts Andrew Billings, and Shawn Oakman, but they have long relied on offensive firepower to lead to high scoring wins.
The Balylor system allows them to recreate success with whoever is under center. Look for Seth Russell and KD Cannon to carry the offensive load season and both should have exceptional seasons. Baylor will finish at the top of the Big 12 but they will not have enough cred to lock up the Big 12 Championship. With the issues that persist on and off the field, the team will most likely take a step back. 7-8 wins is what I see in the Baylor Bears future.
Iowa State: Finishing in the cellar of the Big 12, Iowa State looks to improve upon their 3-9 (2-7 Big 12) record from a year ago. New Head coach Matt Campbell is attempting to bring toughness an Iowa State program that has lacked it in recent years. With a new coaching regime comes a new identity, and that will be for the Cyclones to try to pound the ball on the ground with RB Mike Warren. With a better running attack, the Cyclones can let the game come to them. In a league that boats offensive prowess, Iowa State could be one of the only teams to use its defense as an offense.
When a run first scheme is implemented it usually shows that the coaches want the turnovers to be minimized. Controlling the clock in a conference of 2 minute offenses should allow this team to sneak up on a few of its opponents.
Coach Campbell has already created excitement among the Iowa State faithful, which could lead to an improved mark in the Big 12. Look for Mike Warren to assert himself as the bellcow for this offensive attack. Defensively look for Desmond Tucker to be a plug on a defensive line that will play ferociously throughout the season. The back end of the secondary is led by Brian Peavy, and he has been nationally recognized as one of the top corners in the Big 12. The Cyclones will improve their record under their first year coach but it will do little more than move the Cyclone program in the rght direction. They will struggle to earn Big 12 wins. With that being said, 3-4 wins seems likely, however try not to focus on the wins so much as the creation of a new identity under coach Matt Campbell.
Kansas: There is Good news for the Kansas faithful, it can only go up from here. Bad news is, it will be very difficult. Kansas has long been a school fueled by every other sports program except football. Their football team has gone through multiple coaches including Charlie Weiss and Marc Mangino. Now, it is David Beaty that looks to take a team full of absolute uncertainty and build them into a team that can improve its losing ways (0-12 0-9 Big 12).
The most important position on the field has 5 possible options. However during the last year they may have found their next signal caller in sophomore Ryan Willis. Ke’aun Kinner looks to be the leader in the backfield with 566 yards and 5 TD last season. The receiving corps does not have any returners to speak of but there are 4-5 players that all could have a shot at being the team’s leading receiver. The linebacking core will prove some stability for the defensive squad. In recent years the program has produced NFL talent at the position, most recently with the Oakland Raider’s Ben Heeney.
Ryan Willis needs to prove to all of us that he is the best option when it comes to leading the Kansas Jayhawk offense at Quarterback. Also look for LaQuvionte Gonzalez to be the leading receiver for the Jayhawks. Gonzalez transferred from Texas A&M where he played minimally but was a 4 star recruit coming out of high school. Returning linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. and Marquis Roberts look to be a little more disruptive as Dineen contributed only 3 sacks last year. The Jayhawks won’t be a first to worst team, more like a 1-2 win bottom dweller once more.
West Virginia: If you looked up explosiveness in the dictionary, it could possibly be a portrait of Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen is one of the original framers and true leaders of the spread movement, using it in his days at Texas Tech with Mike Leach. The Mountaineers look to improve upon their 8-5 (4-5 Big 12) record coming into the 2016 campaign. The head coaching seat is very hot when it comes to Holgorsen, and it comes with a simple solution: “Win Win Win.”
The Mountaineers return Skyler Howard at QB which will help the offense start off where it left off last season with a win in the Cactus Bowl. Howard can do it all in Holgerson’s offense, and with a year under his belt look for him to step up and take the Mountaineer’s spread to another level. The offense lost a big piece when Wendell Smallwood left the program for the Philadelphia Eagles, and the running back depth on this roster must step up and fill the void. That depth is led by Rushel Shell, and he should play a major role along with Howard. The receiving corps stays consistent as last year’s leader Shelton Gibson returns. The defense took a hit as leader Karl Joseph was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the NFL draft. Davon Askew-Henry will be thrust into the position of leader in the secondary.
With top playmakers like Skyler Howard and Shelton Gibson on offense and able to put up big numbers, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will have to find a way to replace the top defensive playmakers so that the ‘Eers don’t get outscored every game. The defense will most likely be young and very fresh, and it will take a few games before the adjustment period works its way out. Look for WVU to maintain as a solid competitor in the Big 12, finishing around the same mark they were at in 2015. Can WVU consistently win the big games, that will be the question we will see play out during the season. For Holgorsen, 7-8 wins will most likely happen again.
Texas Tech: There is ALOT to be excited about in Lubbock, Texas this year. The biggest reason is Pat Mahomes. One of the nation’s top gunslingers, Mahomes has shown that he is elite in every way. Also, head coach Cliff Kingsbury has become an icon himself in a way, but more off of the field than on. With that being said, Kingsbury has a very high level of intellect when it comes to the spread system. Their 7-6 (4-5 Big 12) record looks to rise as Mahomes has another year in this system under his belt.
The loss of Jakeem Grant will be very tough for the Red Raiders. While only being 5’7, the receiver was an integral part of the offense. Mahomes will have to find a new favorite target if he looks to build upon last year’s success. The defense is in desperate need of repairs. One of the worst defenses in Divison 1, the Red Raiders need better consistency from this group.
The Red Raiders success starts and ends with their defense. While Patrick Mahomes is arguably one of the best QB’s in the nation, he can’t carry this team by himself as evident by last years’ record. Look for Mahomes to spread the touches around in hopes of finding his next safety blanket. I am a believer in this team as a sleeper in the big 12. They will win games in the Big 12, and as the defense imroves their chances of beating better competition improves with it. Now don’t take it to the bank, but I see the Red Raiders winning 8-9 games and Kingsbury possibly winning Big 12 Coach of the Year.