Kilff and company are running full speed ahead with their guys at this point. This is year 3 and SHOULD be where we see the team take a big step in the right direction. I fully expect us to be one of the top 5 teams in the Big 12 this season.
While the depth may not be where we all want it at across all positions I don’t think anyone can argue that we don’t have solid starters on both sides of the ball. We are finally a football team with as much experience playing as inexperience which is a big change from last season. Let’s take a look at both sides of the ball.
I personally don’t think there is a QB competition going into the Fall. This is Mahomes' job and there isn’t anything he did last year to give me any concerns with our QB position going into next season. He made plays down the field as well as intermediate and short. He kept plays alive with his feet. He valued the ball and limited turnovers. In addition to returning a QB we should all have faith in we’ve got some other key components returning to that side of the ball. Mahomes will have a future NFL LT in Le’Raven Clark protecting his blindside and one of the best RBs in the conference, DeAndre Washington, returning to take pressure off the passing game. We may not have that superstar WR but I think we saw some guys really begin to emerge at the end of last season in Lauderdale and Sadler. With another season under his belt calling plays I expect to see Kingsbury find a good rhythm early in the season and put the offense in the best possible position to succeed on a more consistent basis.
Defensively I think we are all going to be in for a treat. Gibbs is walking into a pretty good situation believe it or not. His front four and back four all return with a great deal of experience and added depth. He replaces two underwhelming LBs with guys that seem to have a ton of potential, not to mention size and athleticism, in Dakota Allen and Mike Mitchell. The Big 12 leader in sacks, Pete Robertson is also back for his Sr. season. If Gibbs can bring the same ballhawking style of play to the South Plains, which he’s proven to bring elsewhere, we could really really surprise some folks this season.
In addition to having a great deal of faith in our own improvement I look at the conference and see some questions marks with teams that I believe will be vying with us for a top 5 finish in the conference:
Baylor – New QB – yes, they have been a machine over the past couple years but you saw last season when Petty was out just how valuable he was to that team. Replacing a guy that was that productive is going to be a tall task. Could there be a QB controversy on the horizon in Waco? That’s never good for a football team.
KSU – New QB and loss of 3 main playmakers – I’m so relieved knowing that Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett will no longer be suiting up for the Wildcats. Additionally they are losing their defensive leaders in Ty Zimmerman (safety) and Jonathan Truman (linebacker). Who is going to make plays for them this season? Yes, Bill Snyder will get the most out of his team but even then they aren’t a top 5 team in the conference.
WVU - New QB and loss of the best WR in the conference – Clint Trickett really came around his Sr. season and Kevin White was a major reason for that. They are both gone. We saw the impact on a football team when you had a QB change and lost key playmakers from the year prior (Ward, Amaro).
Texas – No QB, no offense – It’s an offensive conference and while their D can be great, they simply don’t have an offense. You must outscore your opposition to win football games and this is a MAJOR struggle of theirs. I don’t see that turning around this season. Texas could easily be in for a season like we had last year in my opinion.
Are we going to compete for the Big 12 Championship next season? No. Are we in the upper half of the conference? Absolutely. We were a bad football team last season and still won 2 games, should have beat WVU and gave OSU (in Stillwater) and Baylor runs for their money. We will be improved across the board and turn some heads around the country.
Since the Big 12 went to 10 teams, the fifth best team in the conference has had a record of 5-4 in conference with the exception of the 2012 season where four teams tied for fifth place with a 4-5 conference record. Based on a 5-win benchmark, I don’t think we make into the top half of the Big 12 in 2015.
I see two guaranteed wins in Iowa State and Kansas. Outside of those games, wins will be tough to get. Oklahoma State at home, Kansas State at home and West Virginia on the road are our best potential wins outside of ISU and Kansas. If we pull out two of those three, we are left to win one against the remaining schedule which consists of TCU at home, Baylor in Arlington, Oklahoma on the road and Texas on the road. We could potential win one those, but I think it is unlikely. Here are a couple of tidbits beyond the schedule itself that make me think we won’t get to five conference wins this season.
· We have never won 5 conference games in the 10-team Big 12.
· The last good win we had versus a Big 12 team was at West Virginia in mid-October 2013.
· Our best finish was the 2012 four-way tie for 5th at 4-5. Otherwise, we have finished in 6th, 8th and 9th place.
There is a chance that 2012 occurs again and all the Big 12 teams beat up on each and fifth place only gets to four wins. At that point, we would have a chance to sneak into the top half. I just see history not being on our side and coming off of a 4-8 season there is no reason to think this is the year a 5-win conference record happens.
As far as the team goes, I do expect to see a better product on the field this season. I expect to see a better defense due to more experience and the new DC. I expect fewer turnovers out of the quarterback. I just don’t think we are improved enough to get into the top half of the conference yet.