2017 Big 12 Football Preview

The Big 12 enters the first year of a conference championship game since 2010. The concept made sense if they went forward with expansion, but a conference championship where everyone already plays each other? The conference championship will be entertaining, but it is a guarantee that it will be a rematch.

As for the competition, BakerOklahoma is the team to beat. Oklahoma State is the next contender and Bedlam should be a game to decide who goes to the conference championship. Kansas State is a darkhorse to make it to Dallas, and the storyline of Bill Snyder at the age of 77 making it to the Big 12 championship game would be phenomenal. The group of Texas, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor makes up the middle of the Big 12 and could go anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3. Texas Tech and Iowa State will fight for bowl eligibility. Kansas is still in rebuilding mode and will most likely finish in last.

Big 12 Predicted Standings

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Oklahoma State
  3. Kansas State
  4. Texas
  5. TCU
  6. West Virginia
  7. Baylor
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Iowa State
  10. Kansas

 

1. Oklahoma Sooners OU

Projected Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 9 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

8

19

14

14

13.75

The 2016 Oklahoma Sooners finished strong after early season losses to Houston and Ohio State. Bob Stoops decided it was time to hang up the visor and was replaced with visor-wearing Lincoln Riley. I guess Stoops hated the SEC so much that he wanted to retire after beating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will be heavy favorites in the Big 12 again with Baker Mayfield returning. Additionally, Oklahoma returns all five starters on the offensive line and are one of the best units in the nation.

The offensive weapons are unproven, as they lost Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon from last year’s team. Sophomores Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson will handle the running back duties. Mark Andrews is among the nation’s best tight ends and Dimitri Flowers is one of the only impactful fullbacks in the nation. Wide receiver is a major question mark, but they acquire Jeff Badet, a graduate transfer from Kentucky.

The defense’s strength is in the secondary. Corners Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker make up a tough combination. Pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will hear his name mispronounced by Roger Goodell early in next year’s draft. The defensive line is the weakness of this Sooner’s defense.

The non-conference is a little easier than last year, but the trip to Columbus, Ohio won’t be fun. Ohio State’s defense comes back loaded and will give Baker trouble. It will be tough for OU to come out of that with a win. Other than that, UTEP and Tulane should be easy wins. The Sooners have the potential to go through the Big 12 schedule unscathed. Oklahoma will most likely play in the first Big 12 championship game since 2010 where the Sooners beat Nebraska.

2. Oklahoma State CowboysOSU Logo

Projected Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 4

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

38

44

39

28

37.25

There’s a lot of firepower returning to Stillwater. Not only Mike Gundy’s mullet, but also Mason Rudolph returning for his senior season to command one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the nation. James Washington leads the unit and is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NCAA. Marcel Ateman and Jalen McClesky are returning starters, but the most intriguing is former 5-star, LSU transfer Tyron Johnson. He had 150 yards as a true freshman at LSU and has already impressed coaches during spring practices. Running back Justice Hill is coming off of being named freshman Big 12 offensive player of the year. Graduate transfer Aaron Cochran comes over from California-Berkley and will most likely start at left tackle right away to shore up the offensive line.

OSU defense is another story. The corners are young and inexperienced, and in the pass-happy Big 12, that is never good. The defensive line lost some beef in the middle with Vincent Taylor declaring for the draft, but it still remains a strength for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State returns their leading tackler Chad Whitener who will be a force at linebacker.

Oklahoma State may average over 40 points per game, but questions on defense keep them out of the early playoff contenders. The toughest non-conference game is a trip to Pittsburgh where last year they won 45-38. After last year’s “loss” to Central Michigan, Oklahoma State will try to avoid getting upset against Tulsa and @South Alabama. If the Cowboys play up to their potential, a repeat of Bedlam is likely in Dallas for the Big 12 championship game.

3. Kansas State WildcatsK state logo

Projected Record: 10-2 (7-2 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

60

72

55

49

59

The Wildcats had a solid year in 2016 under Bill Snyder finishing 9-4. Snyder returns another team that has the potential to make some noise in the Big 12. Jesse Ertz returns as the starter and even though he is not the most accurate passer (56.2% completion percentage), he has great command of the offense. Ertz was also a 1,000-yard rusher last year. Most of the offensive line returns and Byron Pringle is one of the most versatile players in the Big 12. This could be a dangerous offense to watch out for in the Big 12.

Defensively, they must replace the three starting linebackers and sack leader Jordan Willis. However, three returning defensive lineman and both starting corners makes this defense just as dangerous as last year where they ranked first in scoring defense in the Big 12 (25th nationally). Despite having to replace the linebackers, this Kansas State defense remains an older group.

Kansas State has two cupcakes before they face their top nonconference opponent, Vanderbilt, in Nashville. During league play, a key game that could decide who gets a Big 12 championship birth, is a trip on November 18th to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State. Kansas State is strong offensively and defensively and should be a major threat in the Big 12.

4. Texas LonghornsUT Logo

Projected Record: 8-4 (6-3 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 10

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

26

6

10

17

14.75

Charlie Strong sure did leave a lot of talent for Tom Herman. After three straight losing seasons and two straight seasons of not even being bowl eligible, it was time for a change. To put in context of how far Texas was away from greatness, Strong had more losses in his three years at Texas than Nick Saban has had during his entire tenure at Alabama. Charlie Strong’s teams majorly underperformed based on their recruiting class rankings.

Shane Buechele is a solid quarterback who should continue to develop in his sophomore year. He won’t be lacking offensive weapons. Despite losing D’Onta Foreman, running back Chris Warren III may be just as talented. Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Jerrod Heard, Armanti Foreman, and John Burt are all talented wide receivers, but someone will have to step up and be the number one. The best player on the offense is left tackle Connor Williams. This will most likely be his last year as he will be a first round pick next April.

The Texas defense will attempt to keep their points per game under 30, as they have failed to do so the last two years. The linebackers are a major strength on the defense with Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler coming back. Breckyn Hager should be the main pass rusher coming off of 6 sacks from last year. Malcolm Roach and Poona Ford are strong defensive line players in the new 3-4 defense. The secondary is loaded with high ranking recruits, but it is yet to be seen if they will live up to the hype.

Texas has some of the best talent on their roster in the Big 12, but when will it all come together? It never did with Charlie Strong and it is a wait and see under Tom Herman. The non-conference schedule is not easy with an opening game against Maryland as well as going on the road and facing Pac-12 favorite USC. A benefit for Texas is not having to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, or Kansas State on the road. There is no reason this Texas team shouldn’t make a bowl game, but then again there was no reason they should have lost to Kansas last year. Texas’ success remains anybody’s guess.

5. TCU Horned FrogsTCU Logo.png

Projected Record: 7-5 (5-4 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 8 Defense- 7

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

28

22

42

43

33.75

TCU and Kenny Hill had a disappointing 2016 season, finishing 6-7. In order to improve, Kenny Hill must limit the interceptions and be more effective. If they start to struggle, there could be a call from TCU fans to start incoming freshman Shawn Robinson. I’m sure there will also be a call for Gary Patterson to start wearing pants that fit as well so we don’t have to see him pull up his pants fifty times a game.

The receivers are plentiful and talented. The former top ranked JUCO WR Taj Williams will look to continue to shine after his 700-yard season. In the backfield, RB Kyle Hicks is dangerous on the ground or receiving out of the backfield. Also RB Darius Anderson is electric and will have an increased role this year. The offensive line should be adequate as they return three starters.

On defense, the secondary is experienced and the strength. Ranthony Texada is a solid corner and the safeties Niko Small and Nick Orr provide a great tandem. Linebacker Travin Howard led the Big 12 in tackles last year and is back for his senior season. TCU will have to replace sack leader Josh Carraway, but Louisiana-Monroe transfer Brandon Bowen could provide that missing piece. Gary Patterson usually has a defense that ranks top five in the Big 12 and this year should not be any different.

The non-conference is tough with an early game in Fayetteville on September 9th against Arkansas. They also face an improved SMU team. The defense should be good, and the offense is loaded with talented weapons. The team’s record will be heavily reliant on the play of Kenny Hill.

6. West Virginia MountaineersWV Logo

Projected Record: 7-5 (4-5 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 4 Defense- 3

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

56

39

35

38

42

West Virginia has a little bit of rebuilding to do with only 7 returning starters. Former Florida quarterback Will Grier should ease the transition. Grier guided the Gators to a 6-0 start in 2015 before he was suspended by the NCAA. Look for him to have the same type of success in the Big 12.

The offensive line will have to go through some change after losing two starters. Justin Crawford is a talented 1,000-yard rusher, but the receivers are a different story. Ka’Raun White, brother of Chicago Bears WR Kevin White, is a talented possession receiver. It is yet to be seen whether they can replace the deep threat left by Shelton Gibson.

Defensively, there is a lot of work to do. The Mountaineers must replace the entire defensive line. The linebackers are talented with leading tackler Al-Rasheed Benton returning. The two safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White, another brother of Kevin White, are also a strength of this football team.

The first football weekend of the year puts this young West Virginia team to the test against Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland. East Carolina and Delaware State after that should be easier wins. The Mountaineers finish the season on November 25 in Norman against the Sooners. I believe Will Grier will have a lot of success, but the rest of the roster has some work to do. One thing is for certain, there will be couch burning.

7. Baylor BearsBaylor Logo

Projected Record: 5-7 (2-7 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

40

41

36

26

35.75

Matt Rhule is doing one heck of a job keeping this Baylor team a float. Following a season worth of how much of a train wreck Baylor was under Art Briles, this still looks like a team that can be bowl eligible. Rhule was hired on December 6, barely had any recruits committed, and somehow turned out the 40th ranked recruiting class in the nation. Matt Rhule must be the most convincing sales person ever to get those recruits into Baylor jerseys while they were under NCAA investigation.

As for the 2017 Baylor Bears, Zach Smith will most likely get the start at quarterback, but the graduate transfer from Arizona, Anu Solomon, could make it interesting. Running back Terence Williams is an explosive runner out of the backfield. The biggest obstacle for the offense will be replacing the talented receiver duo of KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. Chris Platt started last year at receiver and should take over as the number one target. Offensive line has three returning starters and should be adequate this fall.

On defense, Baylor returns their sack leader DE K.J. Smith who is a solid player upfront. Linebacker Taylor Young also will help this unit out as a returning starter. The secondary is young and inexperienced, as they will start two sophomore corners Grayland Arnold and Jameson Houston. The defense has a few bright spots, but is mostly unknown at this point.

Baylor normally has a laughable nonconference schedule, but this year isn’t the worst I’ve seen. They do play @Duke on the 3rd week of the year and UTSA will not be an automatic win as they are expected to compete in Conference USA. Baylor should take care of Liberty in the first week though. After last year starting the Big 12 with easier opponents, it is the exact opposite this year. Baylor starts off Big 12 play with the three favorites, Oklahoma, @Kansas State and @Oklahoma State. It is pretty realistic that Baylor will start Big 12 play 0-3, but it will all be downhill from there for Matt Rhule and his team. Baylor should contend to be bowl eligible this year.

8. Texas TechTTU Logo

Projected Record: 4-8 (3-6 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

49

44

32

40

41.25

This could be the end of the road for Kliff who has a 24-26 record over his past four years at Tech. The offense has been exciting, the defense… has been exciting to watch for opposing fans. With Mahomes gone, a struggling offensive line and a questionable defense it will not be an easy year for the Red Raiders.

Patrick Mahomes leaving puts Nic Shimonek in charge of the offense. Reports out of spring camp have been excellent and he should have a nice year. The receivers are deep and talented as well despite leading receiver Jonathan Giles transferring. Derrick Willies, Cameron Batson, Keke Coutee, and Dylan Cantrell are a solid group of starting wide receivers. As for the questions, it starts with the offensive line. New highly recruited freshman Jack Anderson will start right away. Even with all the doubts about the defense, offensive line may be the Red Raiders’ biggest weakness. Da’Leon Ward will most likely start at running back after a nice freshman campaign.

Where do I start? The 2016 Texas Tech team finished last in the nation in scoring defense and total yardage. The tackling was poor, wide receivers were running wide open, they couldn’t get any pressure on the quarterback, and the opposing offensive line dominated the defensive line. Let’s just say the 2017 team can’t do worse. Returning is 2015 leading tackler, Last Chance U star, and JUCO transfer Dakota Allen. The combination of him and sophomore Jordyn Brooks will be an upgrade from last season. North Texas transfer DE Eli Howard will be counted on to give the Tech defense a pass rush. The secondary is a young group of cornerbacks who at times showed glimpses of promise. Senior corner D.J. Polite-Bray has had a good spring and will look to better his performance of 2016. There are also a group of JUCO secondary players that will see early playing time and hopefully improve on the 315 passing yards given up per game. The defense may not be great, but it will improve from 2016.

The nonconference schedule is brutal for Tech. They will look to avoid an upset against the No. 7 ranked FCS team Eastern Washington in the first week. The following weeks include Arizona State and playing @Houston. Going 3-0 in the nonconference would be ideal. But with Arizona State running the ball with Kalen Ballage and Houston having former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, 1-2 is very possible. If that is the case, Texas Tech students will be drinking at Chimy’s during most of the games instead of in the stadium.

9. Iowa State CyclonesISU Logo.png

Projected Record: 5-7 (2-7 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

53

55

64

58

57.5

Iowa State had a rough start last year losing to Iowa and FCS Northern Iowa. There was a glimpse of excellence with a 66-10 home win against Texas Tech, but finished the year 3-9. Coach Matt Campbell goal in year two should be to become bowl eligible.

Jacob Park split time at quarterback last year before being the starter in the final five games. Returning with him is one of the Big 12’s best receivers in Allen Lazard. At running back David Montgomery took over for Mike Warren last year. Warren had a down year from his 1300-yard freshman year and will look for 2017 to be a bounce back year. The offensive line is a question mark just like last year. New Michigan graduate transfer Dave Dawson is a start to sure up the line.

One of the coolest position changes in College Football is Joel Lanning who started 9 games at quarterback last year. His new position is middle linebacker and he will try to improve a weakness of the Cyclones. The Cyclones return a good secondary with star safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. The defensive line is dependent on the three JUCO defensive lineman they grabbed in this recruiting class. Good defensive line play could lead Iowa State to not finish in the bottom half of Big 12 defenses again.

Iowa State again goes through the Iowa gauntlet, playing Northern Iowa and Iowa. The Cyclones have the potential to pull the upset against the Hawkeyes. Look for Iowa State to play spoiler in the Big 12 this year.

10. Kansas JayhawksKansas Logo

Projected Record: 4-8 (1-8 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 4

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

69

71

73

50

65.75

Kansas only had two wins in 2016, but one of them was a win Kansas or the rest of the Big 12 will never forget. On November 19, 2016, Kansas upset Texas in an Overtime thriller. Their first Big 12 win since 2014 and their first win against Texas in 75 years. This could spark year three for Coach David Beaty’s rebuild.

The offense starts with the quarterback battle between JUCO transfer Peyton Bender and the starter for the last three games, Carter Stanley. They will contend to throw to last year’s leading receiver Steven Sims Jr. LaQuvionte Gonzalez would have been a top returning receiver, but he was dismissed from the football team. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot will look to fill his shoes. Charlot won’t be the only Alabama transfer as former 5-star offensive tackle Charles Baldwin will most likely start at right tackle. There are also three returning offensive lineman starters returning. Add in a stable of young running backs and this offense has some potential. Even with them finishing last in almost every offensive category in the Big 12 last year.

Kansas has one of the top defensive players not only in the Big 12, but the nation. Dorance Armstrong Jr. is a dangerous edge rusher and will cause problems for offenses this year. Daniel Wise is another impact defensive lineman. Joe Dineen Jr. returns after an injury filled 2016. The secondary is a trouble area. Mike Lee is coming off of a Freshman-All American at safety. The rest of the secondary is questionable, even though they do have a corner with one of the best defensive names (Hasan Defense). I guess you could say he was born to play defense…

Kansas should beat their win total in the first three weeks when they play Southeast Missouri State, Central Michigan and Ohio. They will look to sneak a few wins in Big 12 play as well, as there is more talent on this year than last year’s team. The game against Texas this year will be in Austin on November 11, and then they finish with tough games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Kansas is slowly rebuilding and they probably won’t be bowl eligible, but the 2017 Kansas team will be an improvement.

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