Welcome back! Last week we broke down the Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor football programs for 2016. That article can be found here: Part 1. In this installment, we look at the remaining Big 12 teams: Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma. These five programs all have lofty expectations and have been in and around the title hunt the last several years. With these five teams, there is a higher chance that the Big 12 can make a splash and represent in the College Football Playoff.
Here we go!
Texas: You may not be able to find another team with higher expectations that has fallen short recently than The University of Texas football program. Head coach Charlie Strong is already on the hot seat, as hard as that may be to believe. Since the day he arrived boosters, alumni, and any other person who had a voice were voicing their displeasure. Strong has tried to quiet the naysayers with top recruiting classes. A 2015 record of 5-7 (4-5 Big 12) did not cut it. The team was very young and most of the starters on either side of the ball had very little playing experience. To add insult to injury, Texas has been suffering from the “Post Star” curse. The post star curse refers to teams like Texas, and Florida, that had stars lead them to big time success. Each of these teams has had at least 2 QBs that led them to stellar seasons and are remembered as legends at their respective schools (Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and Vince Young, Colt McCoy). Since then, each school has failed to produce a big time QB or even one that has proven to be able to deliver enough wins. Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes have each played QB for the Longhorns over the last few years, and both have been very bad. Heard has been moved over to wideout.
Even with the struggle at the QB position, this Texas team is LOADED. They are returning key pieces on their defense including former top recruit Malik Jefferson. Shane Buechele looks to break the “Post Star” QB curse for Charlie Strong, but there is a big question mark. Will he start the season as “The Guy” or will he be eased in much like what Clemson did with Deshaun Watson? If they choose the latter, it could very well buy Coach Strong another few years.
Can this longhorn team be like Coach Strong’s Louisville Cardinals from the Teddy Bridgewater days, or will they fall flat AGAIN and possibly cost Charlie Strong his seat at the big boy table. I believe that this team will shock the world. Okay, let’s temper those expectations a little bit, but an increase in wins and confidence will certainly ensue this season. I believe that Shane Buechele will be the starting QB by the end of the season. Look for Tyrone Swoopes to start the Notre Dame game on September 4th. Also, Malik Jefferson should finish in the top 5 for the Butkus Award. Finally, this receiving corps will get a boost from someone with little experience at the position and he used to be a quarterback. Jerrod Heard will step up and use his extreme athleticism to be a staple of this receiving corps. High praise has already come out of fall camp regarding this kid and look for it to blossom as gets more reps. This Texas team will win 7-9 games this year, and Charlie Strong WILL be the coach for the 2017-2018 season with Shane Buechele in the heisman discussion.
TCU: For a league that is often praised for its offense, Coach Gary Patterson and the TCU Horned Frogs are one of the few exceptions. TCU has produced some of the NFL’s best defensive players over the last few years like Darrell Washington, Jerry Hughes, Jason Verrett and so many more. They have matched that defensive intensity with a POTENT offensive attack. Stars like Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson have led this high flying offense over the last few years, and to an 11-2 (7-2 Big 12) record last year. This team has also had to face some adversity as Doctson missed time with an injury, and Boykin had off-field challenges. Bottom line, they came back to beat a tough Oregon team in the Alamo Bowl despite the setbacks and will carry that into this year.
TCU picked up a HUGE transfer in former Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill this offseason. He is looking to prove those doubters wrong who believed he slacked off and allowed Kyle Allen to take the spot two seasons ago. All signs point to Hill being the starter week one. The TCU defense still looks strong with their 4-2-5 alignment and they will sting offenses with quickness and power. Standout linebacker Travin Howard will be a big part of their success on that side of the ball and defensive end Josh Caraway looks to be a disruptive force, bringing back his team leading nine sacks.
TCU lost its top QB and Wide Receiver. They slide Kenny Hill into the QB spot, and KaVontae Turpin at the Wide Receiver position looks to easily fill the void left behind. With as much potential as any player in the league, Kenny Hill is a slightly better passer than Boykin and played very well Texas A&M’s run/pass option offense. Not to be overlooked, Ranthony Texada will be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. TCU will finish second in this conference. Coach Gary Patterson always has his team ready to strike and meets expectations time and again.
Oklahoma State: Even though they finished the season at #20, the Cowboys finished 2nd in the Big 12 with a 10-3 (7-2 Big 12) record. Coach Mike Gundy will continue to build on the success of last year but will have to overcome the losses of Emanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean. The loss of J.W. Walsh will not hurt as bad, with Mason Rudolph finally ready to handle the full work load as the QB for this program.
Rudolph, one of the top QB’s in the league, will surely try to show the nation that he deserves to be named a top 5 QB. Will the pressure of a NFL future propel Rudolph to the promised land or will lack of sustained performance drop his draft stock? He will lead a high powered offense with skillful playmakers like James Washington. With the losses of leage standouts like Doctson, Corey Coleman, and Sterling Shephard, Washington will fight to prove he should have been mentioned in the same sentence with these highly touted NFL draftees. Emanuel Ogbah wasn’t just a crazy sack artist, he was also a leader. Jarrell Owens will have to step up and fill that leadership role but a 13 sack void will be hard to fill.
While finishing third in the Big 12 is always a triumph, Coach Mike Gundy does not see it as such. Unfortunately, this isn’t the year the Cowboys take it, and Gundy will have to accept another respectable year finishing third in the Big 12 with another 9-10 win season.
Kansas State: A program that has consistently finished in the upper half of the Big 12 over the last few years took a big hit finishing 6-7 (3-6 Big 12) last year. Coach Bill Snyder, one of the most respected college coaches in history, will look to once again bring the Wildcats into prominence in a league that has recently bypassed the historic coach and his program. The K-State program had a barely breathing offense last year, and this caused them to get crushed in more than 50% of their games. The QB position looks to sort itself out over the next few weeks. That position is key for Snyder, as former Wildcat QB’s who’ve had success in his complex offense usually lead the program to big-time wins.
Let’s focus on some of the other key players on this Kansas State team. JUCO transfer receiver Byron Pringle, a sophomore with loads of talent, looks to become the main threat in the Kansas State offense. There is a lot of potential with this transfer, but their are some of the off the field challenges. On the defensive side of the ball they are solid at all three levels. Circling back to the quarterback position, I project sophomore gunslinger Jesse Ertz will win the job. While that is just an educated short-term guess, Coach Snyder hopes he will develop into a long term option. Ertz is a better passer than incumbent starter Joe Hubener, but Hubener possesses better running prowess. Ertz is an all around a better player, but injury last year allowed Hubener to step into the starting role. Linebacker Elijah Lee Jr. is the focal point of this defense and he possesses the size and speed that makes him a dangerous athlete all over the field.
Transfer Pringle’s discrepancies do not concern me, and a 1,000 yard 5 TD season will most likely be a lock if Ertz and him can get on the same page early. Even if these two can find winning chemistry, Kansas State will finish with 7 wins. Not a huge improvement, but the improvement of Ertz will be what matters most and could set Coach Snyder up for a two year run.
Oklahoma: Oh boy, is there a team that is questioned more than the Sooners? For every expert saying they will win the Big 12, there are twice as many who think they will fall flat. But will they? An 11-2 (8-1 Big 12) record allowed the Sooners to claim the Big 12 outright championship and find the College Football Playoff. This season they will look to become defending Big 12 champs and re-punch their ticket to the CFP by running the ball in a dominant fashion. They must replace three huge defensive stalwarts in Eric Stryker, Charles Tapper and Zack Sanchez and QB Baker Mayfield will need to stay healthy and try to regain a Heisman push.
The Sooners are returning three of their top four offensive options from a year ago. Mayfield, Semaji Perine and Joe Mixon are quite arguably the best running trio in the nation. Having three options in the backfield including your QB allows your offense to fool defensives with run/pass option plays. Dede Westbrook looks to fill a gaping hole at wideout, left by all time great Sooner Sterling Shepherd. The defense is the bigger question losing stars like Sanchez, Tapper and Stryker. Linebacker Jordan Evans must set the tone on the defensive end and is a good stuffer in the run game. It isn’t the flashiest playing style but it works.
The Sooners face The Houston Cougars and The Ohio State Buckeyes two out of the first three weeks of the season. These games will be tough for the Sooners, but I believe they will pull through at least one of them. Baker Mayfield is a megastar, and he can manipulate a defense in a RPO (run/pass option) offense which puts him up there with some of the best the NCAA has to offer. Perine and Mixon have a little of that shake and bake tandem thing going with Perine providing absolute power and Mixon bringing elusiveness. Mixon’s abilities branded him a top running back prospect coming out of high school. Defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a plug and play type player. Plugging him in will bring a great pass rush off the edge much like Striker and Tapper did before him. Ogbo has the size to become not only a key defensive edge rusher, but a legitimate NFL prospect. Bob Stoopes is one of the top coaches in the country, and he will not let this year’s squad rest on its laurels. With their key returners leading the way, the Sooners will win 10-11 games ending the season with a Big 12 Championship for the second straight year and another ticket to the College Football Playoff dance.