College Football: 2017 Big 12 preview

 

The Big 12 still only has 10 teams. At one time, doing this 2017 Big 12 preview was tough, as it was one of the fiercest conferences in College Football. Oklahoma and Nebraska both ruled. Kansas State was a powerhouse. Texas too.

But, then, Nebraska jumped ship to the Big Ten. Since then, the Big 12 hasn’t been nearly as fierce as it used to be. Even Oklahoma, the only Big 12 team to ever make it to the College Football Playoff, isn’t considered one of the Top 5 teams in College Football.

NCAA College Football: 2017 Big 12 Preview

Could that change this season? 3 teams are contenders for the Big 12 Championship. Could any of the 3 contend for a CFP trip probably against USC?

Who figures to make it to the resurgent Big 12 Championship Game?

Check out my preview of the Big 12 Conference.

Which Teams are Contenders?

Oklahoma +110

The biggest change for the Oklahoma Sooners is at the head coach position. Bob Stoops has retired. The former coaching great decided to hang it up during the off-season. Immediately, Oklahoma promoted offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to head coach.

It makes sense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield should be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Mayfield returns for his senior season. He plays behind an offensive line that returns all 5 starters. If skill players develop at WR and RB, Mayfield should get an invitation to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in 2018.

The real question about the Sooners is on defense. Will the defensive line stand up enough to help the secondary? The secondary is talented. It might be the best in the Big 12. But, if the front 7 can’t pressure opposing QB’s, every secondary in college football can get burned.

Luckily for Sooner fans, Oklahoma is switching to a 4-3 instead of relying on a 3-4. That should allay some concerns.

Oklahoma State +425

The Oklahoma State Cowboys figure to give rival Oklahoma all the Sooners can handle. Oklahoma State returns one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Mason Rudolph. Unlike Mayfield in Sooner Land, Rudolph has no lack of skill players surrounding him in Cowboy Land. WR James Washington averaged 19.4 yards per catch last season. He’s in the mold of past great WRs from Oklahoma State, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.

The defense’s strength is along the D-Line. The defensive end position is deep at Stillwater. With great defensive-ends, Oklahoma State should find a way to contain some of the better running quarterbacks in all of college football, including Baker Mayfield.

Texas +450

Texas fired Charlie Strong and hired Todd Herman away from Houston. Herman had nothing but success at Houston. He went 22-4 in 2 seasons. Herman was so good at Houston, he beat Oklahoma last season straight up as a close to +10 underdog. He should have immediate success as the head man for the Texas Longhorns. Herman did what younger head coaches are doing. He decided to hand off responsibilities to smart coordinators. Tim Beck is running Herman’s offense. The Longhorns return 4 starters along the offensive line, their starting QB, their top RB, and their top WR.

Herman also convinced Texas to pay Todd Orlando $1 million a year to run the defense. Orlando has a lot to work with on the defense. The secondary and defensive line return plenty of starters. The linebacker position has some young guys. But, you don’t pay someone $1 million a year not to get the best out of his players.

Which Teams Could Surprise?

Kansas State +650

K-State returns QB Jesse Ertz, 3 starters on the offensive line, and running backs Justin Silmon and Alex Barnes. Byron Pringle, Dominique Heath, and Cal transfer Carlos Strickland make for a top WR unit.

The defense should be strong. 6 starters return on defense. It was the best unit in the Big 12 last season. It might be the best unit in the Big 12 in 2017. If it is, the +650 odds should look like a gift.

West Virginia +800

I’ve gotten use to never overlooking the West Virginia Mountaineers. I’ve overlooked them for the past couple of seasons. All they’ve done is contend for a Big 12 Championship in each of those past 2 seasons.

The Morgantown Mountaineers won the quest to sign former Florida QB Will Grier. Grier is a warrior. He battled toe-to-toe with some of the fiercest defenses in the nation while slinging the pigskin in the SEC. Grier turned down offers from Ohio State and Oregon to play for West Virginia. That says a lot.

The defense could be WVU’s Achilles’ Heel. While the linebacking corps and secondary are set, the front must be replaced. D-coordinator Tony Gibson plays a 3-3-5. That could lead to plenty of issues facing strong quarterbacks like Mayfield, Rudolph, and Shane Buechele at Texas.

Texas Christian +1200

I’ve added TCU to my list of potential Big 12 surprise teams because I know never to look past the Horned Frogs. TCU is predicted to finish in the middle of the pack in the conference this season. I think they might do better than that. My gut tells me that Gary Patterson fields a much-improved defense.
Patterson added 3 over 300 lbs. players to the defensive line during the off-season. He’s got experience everywhere else. Sonny Cumbie takes over as offensive coordinator. He’s going to slow down the play-calling. I think the Horned Frogs expected way too much out of QB Kenny Hill. Trevone Boykin spoiled TCU’s fans.
If Cumbie can get Hill to settle down, TCU could be tough.

Which Teams are Dark Horses?

Baylor +8000

Matt Rhule, Baylor’s new head coach, inherits a disgraced program. But, it doesn’t mean Rhule doesn’t inherit some talent. The biggest advantage Rhule and the Baylor Bears have going into 2017 is the unknown.

Baylor’s opponents are used to going mano y mano in the scoring department with the Bears. Not so this season. Rhule created one of the best defenses in the AAC conference at Temple. Baylor has some nice pieces on defense for Rhule to work with.

At +8000, the Bears are worth a look to win the Big 12 Championship.

Texas Tech +10000

The Texas Tech Red Raiders lost QB Patrick Mahomes to the NFL. Mahomes was so highly regarded that Andy Reid at Kansas City traded up to draft Mahomes. That says a lot about who must fill Mahomes shoes under center.

The good news, and the reason to consider backing Texas Tech at the odds, is that coaching staff knows it’s under a microscope this season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury understands that another 6-7 finish should lead to his dismissal. Expect Kingsbury to rush the football more to keep the ball out of the hands of opposing offenses.

The reason is because Texas Tech’s offense was the worst in all of college football last season. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs must improve the D. He’ll get his walking papers as well if he doesn’t.

Big 12 Conference Predictions

The Oklahoma Sooners remain strong favorites. I’m not looking past Texas. I know that it’s Todd Herman’s first season in Austin. But, so far, he’s done everything right. Choosing to hire a defensive coordinator for $1 million signals how serious Texas is at turning things around.

I think Herman hits the ground running. I’ll make Texas my pick at +450 to win the Big 12 this season.

My surprise team is Kansas State. If K-State plays defense the way this season like it did last season, it could upset plenty of teams in the Big 12. Bill Snyder, K-State’s legendary head coach, is a man that one must never take for granted. He’s an old school coach that goes opposite of everyone else. Once the spread offenses became en vogue, Snyder slowed down the game.

I think Texas Tech plays well. But, they’re more of a hope and prayer dark horse squad than Baylor. The Bears have a shot to win the Big 12. What’s encouraging about Baylor is Rhule slowing down the offense. By rushing the football more, Baylor’s defense can rest their excellent players for the all-important fourth quarter.

You heard it here first. The Baylor Bears could win the Big 12 at +8000.