Let me preface this article by saying that what I am about to try and do is near impossible; college football is probably the hardest sport to predict with accuracy. Even SB Nation's own Bill Connelly, the football numbers guru, has trouble always trusting his numbers. But you all can rest easy and have no fear, for Mason and his Magic 8 ball are here! Let's start out by taking a look at how everyone finished in conference last year.
1) Oklahoma (8-1)
2) Oklahoma State (7-2)
3) TCU (7-2)
4) Baylor (6-3)
5) West Virginia (4-5)
6) Texas Tech (4-5)
7) Texas (4-5)
8) Kansas State (3-6)
9) Iowa State (2-7)
10) Kansas (0-9)
These predictions are wholly opinion based- there may be the occasional hot take, but I mean we always need the page views. I took a look at each team's previous season, their roster depth, who they are returning, who they lost, margin of victory, and of course their upcoming schedule. I tried my best to approach this from a (mostly) unbiased point of view, so let's begin from the bottom.
Every spot after this wasn't easy to rank. The Jayhawks had the imperfect-perfect season last year, and it's not easy to bounce back after that. I'm sure they will play at least one conference opponent close (probably TCU because of course), but I'm not ready to say that Kansas is ready to climb out of the Big 12 basement. This is probably an even trade considering they have won the Big 12 basketball season for what- 13 seasons in a row? They'll get over another poor season come December. I will say that head coach David Beaty has brought energy everyday, so the future is brighter than it was. I project Kansas winning at least one game, and it wouldn't be too much of a reach to say that they may get to the all magical second win by the end of the season. Conference Record: (1-8)
9) Kansas State
I love Bill Snyder, and they were pretty unfortunate at the QB position last year, when 3 of their top 4 got injured at the same time. However, their conference schedule is really tough this year with trips to Norman, Waco, Fort Worth, and Morgantown. The starting QB is looking like it's going to be Ertz, who missed almost all of last season due to injury so I truly have no idea how good he will be- but knowing Snyder he'll find a way to manage the offense and make games tighter than they should be. Life just hasn't been the same since the departure of Tyler GOAT Lockett, but the Spectacular Snyderman has brought in some promising JUCO transfers to breathe life back into the offense.
Just like trusting the "process," I trust Snyder on defense, especially against the run this season. That defensive line returns some key pieces, and they get back safety Dante Barnett which is absolutely huge. I think the Wildcats will for sure pick up one upset this season, the question is against who? Alas, they still suffer one more year of rebuilding. Conference Record: (2-7)
8) Iowa State
Am I a little Bullish on new head coach Matt Campbell? Maybe I am, but for good reason. Last year he coached Toledo past the likes of Arkansas and Temple (who were both ranked at the time), he amassed a record of 35-15, and apparently turned down the opportunity to work with Urban Meyer at Ohio State, so that has to mean something right?
He has the pieces to be better than his predecessors: With the development of Joel Lanning, the rise of Mike Warren in the backfield, and the consistency of wide out Allen Lazard, the offense has a chance to become more than what it was in the past. While I am optimistic about Campbell's first season in red & yellow, the Cyclones aren't ready to be in the talks for conference champion. Conference Record: (3-6)
7) West Virginia
I think that this is the season that West Virginia fires Holgerson. Personally, I like Holgy and his hair, but I can't see them having the big season that they need in order for him to stay employed in Morgantown. The Mountaineers lost so many play makers, the biggest one in my eyes being Wendell Smallwood, that I don't know how the offense is going to compensate for the mediocre quarterback play that is probably going to come from Skyler Howard.
The defense has a good line up front, especially when Noble Nwachukwu plays on your team. However, the secondary doesn't look too scary to me. I think they are still going to be susceptible to the big play like they were last year, but regardless they'll still be scrappy as per usual.
The fact that West Virginia hosts Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU (and not all in one month this season) makes me want to pick them in at least one of those games, but I can't see them doing anything more than scraping by to make a bowl game. Conference Record: (4-5)
Texas is a sleeper team, the Longhorns are a dark horse to win the Big 12 this year, watch out for the Horns this year, etc etc. If you have followed the Big 12 at all since national signing day then you have probably heard one of the above statements at least once. I will admit that Texas killed it on the recruiting trail this season. However, you need more than a good recruiting class to win a conference.
Strong has a defense that looks great on paper. Even if he will be starting some true freshman on that side of the ball, it looks nice nonetheless. Conference darling Malik Jefferson is an All-American talent, I don't know what else to say other than the guy is good, and is the centerpiece of the Horns D. They will be young, and come this time next year I will probably be even more high on this unit.
Now onto the offense! I highly doubt anyone other than true freshman Shane Buechele is going to be getting a majority of the snaps this season, and their newly hired OC has been raving about him in ways that make me believe that we aren't going to see any more Tyrone Swoopes pick-sixes :(. The offense is also young, but that doesn't mean that they don't have any play makers. The Horns have a very underrated running back stable as well, with D'onta Foreman, Chris Warren III, Kirk Johnson, and the man that I wish would be suiting up in purple this season, true freshman Kyle Porter.
Bottom line, the Horns should make a bowl game with their true freshman QB, but if he goes down with an injury or doesn't live up to the hype and the Horns can't make it to around seven wins then it looks like Charlie is destined for less burnt orange pastures. *Not saying he should be fired, but that's what the reality is going to be* Conference Record: (5-4)
This one was tough. No actually this one was really really tough. If none of the drama with Baylor happened this off-season then I would easily put them in the top 3, maybe even top 2, but that isn't what happened. Baylor's best coach of all time got removed from the school, they lost a lot of recruits, they had some big transfers, but they still managed to keep their core players on offense.
Seth Russell is going to have to be the face of the team after what all went down. He is going to have to play at the same level of QB play that he did before he went down with a fractured neck (which may not be possible considering ya know he fractured his neck). If Russell goes down then the gold and green ship may be going with him as well. With Stidham transferring, the only trustworthy options may be a walk on and a freshman. Of course they could just run their version of the wildcat every play, but I don't know if that's going to win you double digit games. Oh and also of course, KD Cannon is back and is going to be the go to guy for Russell. They also return a very deep stable of running backs led by senior Shock Linwood.
The defensive line is a very big question mark, is the pass rush going to be able to show up this season, how are the linebackers going to do? All of these are questions that immediately jump out at me on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears should be fine at safety, but they can't afford to leave their cornerbacks on islands or else there is a good chance that they will end up paying for it with a quick six points.
The Bears will be good, but with the foundation and confidence that Briles had built being ripped out from under them, Baylor could take a step back this year. Then again, they still have a solid core of play makers and make a push for the conference belt, so I'm going to put them at the 5 spot because they could go either way. Conference Record: (6-3)
4) Oklahoma State
If you're reading this and you're a die hard Pokes fan, there is a good chance that you are rolling your eyes right now, which is fair, BUT if OSU wants to win the conference then Mason Rudolph is going to have to strap on like 6 or 7 Jansports and carry this team until his back gives out. Which is something I don't think he can do for all 12 regular season games.
Now I'm not hating on Mason Rudolph, I love the guy, he's got a great first name, he's got all the physicals, I knew he was talented ever since he had his redshirt burned against Baylor in 2014, and he can downright sling the ball. However, the problems on that team are a little to big for me to overlook and vault them into the conference title discussion. For starters, they have an almost nonexistent run game. Here's hoping that Barry Sanders Jr. can be half as good as his dad and revive the lost soul that is the OSU run game. But if that doesn't happen then prepare to see Mike Leach QB numbers from Rudolph and a one-dimensional offense.
In addition to that lack of run threat, the defensive holes are LARGE and GAPING. Now what I mean is they lost arguably their best defensive end of all time in Emmanuel Ogbah and the likeliness that his production is matched by the next man up...is slim. They also lost All-Big 12 cornerback Kevin Peterson, so whoever is going to step into those shoes has their work cut out for them. Vincent Taylor could step up and be the difference maker that the team needs, but only time will tell.
I like what the offense has. James Washington, Mason Rudolph, and maybe a rising star in Barry Sanders Jr. makes it easy to think that the Pokes are going to be able to score points. However, the uncertainty of who will be stopping the other team from scoring points is what keeps them out of the top three. Conference Record: (6-3)
P.S. Bet heavily on them in Bedlam this year.
3) Texas Tech
Alright, you caught me. I'm on the "Texas Tech Dark Horse" bandwagon. When your mascot is literally riding a dark horse, you can technically be a dark horse every year....but I digress. The Tech offense is going to keep us all up at night more so than it has in the past. Patrick Mahomes is one of the most gifted athletes that I've ever seen, and the work that he has been putting in this offseason is absolutely bonkers. Barring injury, you can pencil him in to be a finalist for Big 12 Offensive player of the year.
While they did lose starting RB Washington and shining star Jakeem Grant, I don't expect the Red Raiders offense to miss a beat. They will find playmakers for Mahomes to spread the ball around to, the offensive line reloads with some very talented recruits and JUCO transfers, and Kliff will slick back his hair whilst walking away in slow motion as the other team's defense explodes.
"But Mason, their defense is going to be tra--" okay okay okay stop right there. Tech's run defense was atrocious last year, and I don't see it being any worse this season considering that they actually decided to hold on to a defensive coordinator for more than 10 seconds. The defense will be better, and the fact of the matter is that the defense doesn't need to be good, just average or even a hair below average. The offense is good enough to compensate. I believe the defense, especially against the run, will take a step forward this year and be what the Raiders need in order to be taken seriously in the conference. Also, they get both Oklahoma and Texas at home. And as we all know, Lubbock is a crazy house of mirrors and horrors where strange things happen. At night, its like playing in a snow globe that has been turned upside down, punted 50 yards by Alabama's 99 overall rating in Madden God punter, that is then bounced around like a beach ball at a nickelback concert, then set on fire by the hottest verses of Andre 3000's career, viva the matador!!! *Oh please please college football gods, please let the game against Oklahoma be a night game* Conference Record: (7-2)
The Sooners are very much favored to repeat as Big 12 champs, but I see them falling short of the goal for mainly 2 reasons:
- Their schedule is going to be incredibly difficult from start to finish.
- There is a good chance that they actually have to play the top level teams when they are healthy.
The Sooners start their season against a very hungry Houston Cougars team in NRG Stadium...In Houston. Essentially baptism by fire, then two weeks later the Sooners have to host Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, which could essentially be a playoff game in September. Then they have a much needed bye, before they come to Fort Worth, and right after us they play Texas, who Bob will do everything in his power to avenge the loss from last year.
Mayfield lost Sterling Shepard, and the defense lost a lot of star power- although OU will reload per usual- but here's the catch: Last year OU faced Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State without their respective starting quarterbacks. I have a hard time believing it's going to happen a second time in a row. Don't get me wrong, the Sooners are going to be good and very salty on both sides of the ball. They are not to be taken lightly, but I am one that believes in college football being a cyclical and fickle mistress.
In 2014, Oklahoma was the preseason number 3 ranked team in the country. Oklahoma is currently the preseason #3. In 2014 the Sooner's came to Fort Worth the first weekend of October, the week before they played Texas. This year they come to Fort Worth the same weekend, and play Texas the weekend right after us. In 2014 they lost....and you can see where I am going with this right?
To be fair, this team is better than that one, but I would not be shocked to see Oklahoma lose four games this season. Then again, if they make it through the season with one loss, it just might be a good dream. Conference Record:(7-2)
Am I drinking the purple Kool-Aid? Maybe a little bit...but I truly think that TCU has the best chance to upend OU as the conference champion. All of the injuries that they suffered last season has really strengthened the defensive unit this year. The older guys competing with the younger guys for starting roles. The extra experience. Of course they have one of the best coaches in all of college football, Gary Patterson, calling the shots.
If they can get their starting quarterback situation under control (which I am pretty confident that they already have figured out), then the offense will be fine. Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie came in and turned this Boykin into the new and improved Boykin. The offense has a laughable amount of playmakers that are ready and waiting to go all out on the field this season.
I will admit, we lost a lot on offense, but we have so much depth at wide receiver, arguably as much as any team in the country. Our backups started several games last year and performed admirably (all aboard the Jarrison Stewart hype train). We get back Turpin, and our offensive line was shuffled around more than a deck of cards, so I think they will get things figured out pretty quickly.
TCU also gets the blessing of only having to leave the state of Texas twice during the regular season. Against Kansas and West Virginia. If the Frogs can get through that first weekend of October without a loss, I like their chances of finally getting a playoff bid. Conference Record: (8-1)
**I couldn't write out all of my reasoning, or else you would still be reading it, but if you have any questions about my reasoning or want to know why I have a certain team somewhere/who I think wins which matchup, feel free to leave a comment!