The offseason is finally approaching its end, which means that your old friend Hawk is once again emerging from depths of Australian winter much like a Godzilla who is awoken by football instead of nuclear tests. For those of you who are new, this is where the weekly exploits of the Big 12's various members are measured, commented on and, most importantly, ranked in terms of power. These aren't conference rankings, but merely a way to tell which teams have the momentum, which teams are on the downswing, which teams are getting the good sorts of headlines and which teams are Baylor. Once again, the rankings before the season kicks off are the most fun, because every team is still full of dreams and optimism- and there's no comparative way to say which fanbases are being realistic in their crystal football dreams and which are setting themselves up for disappointment. Let's get to it.
1.) TCU Horned Frogs (0-0)
As always, the offseason has me full of optimism, but this time there is a sea of facts buoying the Hawkeyed Hope barge. Kenny Hill is certainly not going to be Trevone Boykin, but he's a much more similar style of player than Foster Sawyer is, which means that the offense should maintain that edge that an additional running threat at QB brings. Throw in all of those players who are returning from injury last season (Deante Gray and Ranthony Texada, I missed you both so much), all those young players who got tons of experience due to those aforementioned injuries and the simple combination of a Gary Patterson defense and a Meacham/Cumbie offense- I'm as high on this team as I was on last year's team coming into the season. A friendly schedule with the two teams that beat the Frogs heading to Fort Worth this year (as well as not having a trip to Lubbock) just furthers the idea that this could be a very big year. Sure, we may not have *the* best wide receiver in college football this year, but the talent and speed is so overwhelming in other places, that I've abandoned all hope of rationality until the first game is over. The Frogs may not be at #1 next week due to a weak opening opponent, but a strong performance in week 2 will make sure the frogs are in the conversation all season long.
First game: Vs. South Dakota State Jackrabbits
2.) Oklahoma Sooners (0-0)
Fans of the defending Big 12 champs probably regret being so mean to departed DC Brent Venables now, even if they won't admit it out loud. With Clemson having soundly defeated the Sooners in consecutive bowls, including a second half shutout by the Venables coached Tiger defense, it's easy to think "Well, Big Game Bob did it again, huh?" and overlook just what OU managed to accomplish last year. That would be a mistake, as the Sooners remain the model of consistency in the Big 12, and indeed in the country (Alabama doesn't count) and once again there will be no Big 12 championship for any team that doesn't beat Oklahoma. The Sooners return a monster backfield with Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, but the defensive front has been victimized a bit by graduation- and most importantly, Sterling Shepherd (one of those players who feels like he's been playing at OU forever) has finally departed, leaving the Sooners without their field stretching touchdown machine. As they're Oklahoma and are perennial top recruiters, they'll have someone similar in reserve, but a talent like Shepherd isn't easy to replace. OU will be representing P5 pride when they start the season, so honestly I'm hoping for a win so this silly "Houston to the Big 12" chatter can go away.
First game: @ Houston Cougars
3.) Oklahoma State Cowboys (0-0)
All right OSU, you have our attention. With your weird (now illegal) formation, your swarming defense that forced Boykin turnovers and knocked him out of the Heisman race, I can guarantee that a fair amount of time in the TCU football offices was spent figuring out how in the world the Cowboys went from a team that lost to the Frogs by 33 in 2014 to a team that beat TCU by 20 in just one year's time. The Cowboys defense should still be solid, despite the loss of a few key pieces, and the passing part of the offense should be all right- but without designated running QB J.W. Walsh, the Cowboys may struggle to generate many yards on the ground. Then again, they do have a Barry Sanders in the backfield (even if he's not the Barry Sanders), so... cautious respect of the Cowboys possible power will be the rule.
First Game: Vs. SE Louisiana Lions
4.) West Virginia Mountaineers (0-0)
All right Dana, let's see what you've got. The Mountaineers had a bit of Jekyll and Hyde going in 2015, but the Big 12's outlier picked up a bowl win and managed to keep Holgorsen on the sidelines for 2016, but if West Virginia is going to make a move under Holgo, this needs to be the year. The defense has steadily improved since that 70-63 win against Baylor that represented the nadir of all defenses in the Mountaineers Big 12 debut, the offense is still creative and well coordinated- but the Mountaineers haven't truly contended for a Big 12 championship, and losing at least 5 games a season isn't going to make a long term investment in Morgantown real estate seem like a good idea. WVU will have to get it done while rebuilding on defense, but the schedule is set up nicely, with TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor all having to play in Morgantown, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see WVU jump out to a 5-0 start and a steady rise in the Power Rankings. If they can stop the Ess Eee See from coming away with the early hype, anyway.
First game: Vs. Missouri
5.) Texas Longhorns (0-0)
Theoretical Texas is simultaneously my #3 ranked team and my #7 ranked team in these power rankings- simultaneously both threatening enough to beat Oklahoma and Baylor, while also being pathetic enough to be shut out by Iowa State. Texas' youth movement is in full effect, and Charlie Strong's rebuild of the program's attitude continues- but whether or not coach Chuck is the one who will benefit from all of the lumps he's taken these past few years will be determined very early thanks to a brutal opening slate- highly ranked Notre Dame comes to Austin, then after a working bye against UTEP the Horns hit the road for two teams that they lost to in kind of incredible circumstances. If the Horns avenge those losses, they'll be looking pretty darn powerful, and Coach Strong may be thinking about a legitimate Big 12 title shot n 2017. Then again... Shut out by Iowa State.
First game: Vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
6.) Texas Tech Red Raiders (0-0)
#4 was my the Patrick Mahomes hype ranking. Patrick Mahomes may be good enough to cover for the fact that Texas Tech is still trying to win football games while only focusing on the parts of the game where they have the ball, and if he manages to get the Raiders to 9 wins or so with a win over one of the teams in the top 3 (I'm looking at you and your October 22nd trip to Lubbock, OU) could put Mahomes in legitimate Heisman conversation. That said... Tech's defense was bad last year, and was gutted by graduation (particularly in the front 7), and the o-line that keeps Mahomes from being reduced to a puddle of potential on the sideline is replacing a lot of bodies as well. Texas Tech will be very Texas Tech this year- but probably more of an 82-27 sort of Tech than a "Aaron Green in the back of the end zone!" sort of Tech.
Vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
7.) Kansas State Wildcats
Part of me thinks Iowa State is a bit more deserving of the #7 spot at the moment, but another part of me thinks "Bill Snyder is coaching K-State and you're thinking #8?"- and that part tends to win. The Wildcats played hard, suffered a heartbreak against TCU, bounced back to rip the hearts out of West Virginia in return and secured a bowl bid, only to be crushed by the Arkansas Razorbacks. KSU's lack of a Lockett in the passing game brought the wrath of opponent's defenses down on the fairly simple (but efficient) WIldcat running game, and without a field stretching heir apparent, there's no strong indicator that things will change this season. Additionally, the Cats have had increasing difficulty being stout against the run, and their first opponent seems primed to exploit that weakness to the point of humiliation. If the Cats manage to pull the upset, they may manage the biggest jump in Power Rankings history, though- which would be a very Snyder thing.
First game: @ Stanford Cardinal
8.) Iowa State Cyclones (0-0)
Pride goeth before the fall, and Paul Rhoads was famed for being SO PROUD. Honestly, I thought that Rhoads would stick around for another year after ISU's shutout of Texas, but instead the Cylcones moved on and made a pretty darn good hire in Matt Campbell. And honestly, the offensive skill position players are in place for ISU to make some noise- RB Mike Warren and WR Allen Lazard are both in discussion for all-conference honors, but the line is decimated and the new 4-2-5 system that Campbell is bringing with him from Toledo will take some time to get right. Still, I expect them to go 2-1 in the nonconference portion of the schedule, which is pretty powerful for recent Iowa State standards- and I think they're a candidate to rise before the season's end. Maybe not to the level of a bowl bid, but enough to make Cyclone fans excited for the 2017 Power Rankings
First game: Vs. Northern Iowa Panthers
9.) Kansas Jayhawks (0-0)
One day I will do some research to try and determine how a team as miserable as Kansas always plays TCU so tight, especially as they continue to recover from their own quasi-scholarship sanctions that were imposed by former coach Charlie Weiss as he attempted to milk the Juco system like Blll Snyder... without seemingly doing any research on the players in question. It's hard to imagine a number bigger than a 1 or a 2 in that win column at any time this season, but I don't think that it will remain a 0 all year (like it did last year). The Jayhawks have a decent amount of returning starters on offense, but were very ineffective in making big plays on both offense and defense last year, and when you're working at as big a talent disparity as Kansas and the rest of the league you simply have to have something to hang your hat on- and KU just doesn't. The Jayhawks will be terrible, but happily they didn't have the worst offseason in NCAA history!
First game: Vs. Rhode Island Rams
10.) Baylor Bears (0-0)
Baylor takes their spot at #10 after injuries to seemingly all of their QBs ravaged what, at times, looked like it could have been a special season last year. Then the Bears lost a sizable chunk of their o-line, two of their three starting QBs from last year and, most importantly, the cornerstone of their defensive improvement these past three years DT Andrew Billings. Oh and Art Briles turned out to be an even worse person than even we TCU fans could have imagined. So, there's that. But none of those are really the reason why Baylor is #10 to start the season- they're #10 because they're Baylor, and they'll always be #10 in our hearts.
Agree? Disagree? Ready to invite 22 more teams into the Big 12 so Baylor can be ranked #32? Let me know in the comments- everything will be different next week.