Starting today, we will have a weekly Big 12 power rankings every Wednesday. Regardless of record, statistics, etc., we’ll position the teams based on who is playing the best and appears like the best football team at the time. But before any games are played, here’s a preseason prediction.
I expect the most movement of the power rankings to occur within the first month to six weeks of the season, when we start to actually have a solid sample size of on-field product. For this preseason edition, we’ve also sorted the teams into five categories and included a predicted season record. You’ll notice I have the top team in the conference losing two games, which means a return to the College Football Playoff is unlikely. Lastly, this is all of course barring unpredictable injuries.
First, the obvious powerhouse…
1. Oklahoma (10-2)
This is the clear choice as the Big 12’s preseason favorite since the Sooners are coming off a conference championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. They will have to adequately replace some big names on defense like Zack Sanchez, Charles Tapper, and Eric Striker to maintain their spot atop the conference. Offensively, they are set in the backfield with QB Baker Mayfield and RB’s Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon coming back, but they will need their receivers to step up after losing Sterling Shepard. Even with these question marks, they appear poised for another great season led by a Heisman caliber quarterback, and someone else from the Big 12 is going to have to take this spot away from them if they want a conference title.
Second, teams with a lot coming back but a couple of major gaps to fill…
2. Oklahoma State (9-3)
The Cowboys have quietly become a staple in the top three or four teams in the Big 12 over the last few years, and there’s no reason to believe that consistency will end this season. While I don’t think they have the firepower to compete for a conference championship, they have proven they can consistently win 9 or 10 games each season. Led by junior QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State will need to improve its rushing game and fill the pass rushing void left by Emmanuel Ogbah to take another step forward in 2016.
3. TCU (9-3)
During the offseason, TCU lost its starting running back Aaron Green, top two wide receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, and its star quarterback Trevone Boykin. While Gary Patterson always seems to field a great defense, the Horned Frogs certainly have a lot of question marks on offense. In a league like the Big 12, you need to score points to compete, so TCU pretty much has two paths this season. First, hope that Kenny Hill pans out, utilize Kavontae Turpin, and be competitive for a Big 12 championship. Second, be mediocre (or perhaps downright bad) on offense and finish in the middle of the pack. Given offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie’s track record, I lean more towards the former.
Third, the wild card teams… (NOTE: I shuffled #4 - #7 around so much it’s not even funny. Tons of balance in the middle of the conference in my opinion.)
4. Texas Tech (8-4)
What happens when you have a top five offense in the country and one of the worst five defenses in the country? You go 7-5, hanging tough with some really good teams (TCU) and losing to some mediocre teams (West Virginia) like Texas Tech did last season. Despite losing leading rusher Deandre Washington and leading receiver Jakeem Grant, most expect Tech to reload easily on offense and stay atop the conference in that respect. The big question, as it always has been, is the defense. If David Gibbs can transform them into a top 75 defense nationally, the Red Raiders could win 8 games and stay pretty competitive with the top of the conference. A top 50 defense and we could be looking at double digit wins. Texas Tech, just like Texas and Baylor, are a major wild card with a high ceiling and potentially low floor.
5. Baylor (8-4)
By now everyone is familiar with Baylor’s situation. After a meteoric rise from perennial doormat status, they fired their head coach Art Briles, lost Jarrett Stidham due to transfer, lost one of the nation’s best receivers Corey Coleman to the NFL draft, and lost a huge chunk of their recruiting class due to their sexual assault scandal. That said, they return a heck of a quarterback in Seth Russell and other explosive offensive playmakers. The question marks surrounding the Bears are with their offensive line and defensive depth. If the offense is stellar enough, these weaknesses could be minimized and Baylor could win 9 or 10 games. If the offense and defense both take significant steps back, Baylor could fall to fighting for bowl eligibility (though their non-conference schedule is as horrendous as always, so this is unlikely).
6. Texas (7-5)
Regretfully, the Horns have every single piece in place: a defense that includes Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year Malik Jefferson, a playmaking running back in Chris Warren, explosive receivers like John Burt, three returning starters on the offensive line, etc. There’s just one thing missing – a quarterback. They could opt for true freshman and early enrollee Shane Buechele or senior Tyrone Swoopes. If either one of them takes the job and turns in just a slightly above average performance for the season, Texas could come roaring back into contention in a big way. Remember that last season the Horns were a botched extra point away from beating Cal, they beat Oklahoma at a neutral site and beat (an admittedly very injured) Baylor in Waco. There is never a shortage of talent in Austin, it’s just a matter of it all coming together. In Charlie Strong’s third season at the helm, it just might.
7. West Virginia (7-5)
Last season, West Virginia had a pretty solid defense (even after star safety Karl Joseph went down for the season) but was held back by less than impressive quarterback play from Skyler Howard. The Mountaineers have taken huge strides forward in the last two years, and if Skyler Howard can finally be an above average quarterback, they could be a scary team with a good defense and a balanced and potent offensive attack. If Howard continues to struggle, West Virginia will stay stuck in the middle of the pack. If he emerges as a top three or four quarterback in the league (which I think is a pretty big stretch), they could contend for a conference championship.
Fourth, the well-coached but talent bereft teams…
8. Iowa State (5-7)
I might be more high on new head coach Matt Campbell’s ability than even some of the folks in Ames. He coached Toledo to a 10-2 record last year, including wins over Temple, Iowa State, and Arkansas. Despite the lack of talent on the Cyclones squad, I think Campbell moves them in the right direction this year, including a major upset or two along the way.
9. Kansas State (4-8)
Even Bill Snyder might have a limit to the amount of magic he is able to work. Almost certain to go 2-1 in their non-conference schedule, I see only one team (Kansas) that I would feel comfortable picking the Wildcats to beat. That’s not a knock on Kansas State, I just see the Big 12 being pretty balanced this year. Kansas State will scrap for a win or two in a game they’re not favored in, but I don’t see them reaching .500 this season.
Fifth, well, it’s Kansas…
10. Kansas (2-10)
Just like Oklahoma, Kansas is in a league of its own, but not in a good way. Kansas has been the Big 12’s cellar dweller for the better part of a decade now, and that isn’t going to change overnight. With nonconference games against Rhode Island, Ohio, and Memphis, the Jayhawks might just be able to scrap up two wins. I think David Beaty has the Kansas football program moving in the right direction, but given the circumstances it’s just nearly impossible to do that at any rate faster than a snail’s pace.
Am I an idiot, spot on, or somewhere in between? Spout off in the comments!