Coming into the 2015 season, the Big 12 will be known as the conference that “could have” had a significant impact in the inaugural College Football Playoff if it “would have” had its own conference championship game to decide one champion. When Texas A&M and Missouri left the conference for the greener pastures of the SEC, it reduced the number of teams within the conference to 10 members, removing divisions and making it ineligible to host one final game to decide the champion in its conference. It wasn’t until last season that not having that distinction hurt the conference when its two best teams, the TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears, finished the season with one conference loss each and no outright champion.
There still is no conference championship this year, but many believe that it wont come down to a split champion and the conference will probably have representation in the playoff this year — now which team that will be, it depends on who you ask.
Despite losing starting quarterback Bryce Petty, the Baylor Bears enter the 2015 with even higher expectations as 18 players return (8 offense/9 defense) and their non-conference schedule is still soft like toilet paper. But players like defensive end Shawn Oakman and running back Shock Linwood its nothing they can do about the suspect schedule but go out and dominate the teams they are slated to play. The Bears will have the benefit of hosting two of their toughest games at McLane Stadium, but one one obstacle to the team playing in this years CFB Playoff — the game against TCU — will be held in Forth Worth at Amon Carter Stadium.
The TCU Horned Frogs are once again the darlings of college football after a rough two year adjustment to Big 12 play. The team is lead by Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin, but he will not have to do it alone as TCU returns 17 players including a trio of receivers: Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Ty Slanina. The big question is who will step up defensively for head coach Gary Patterson. Remember the name Davion Pierson, if he plays well TCU fans could be making post season plans — even with a tough schedule that includes road games at Minnesota, Oklahoma St. and Oklahoma.
Line play will determine how success of the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. After playing musical chairs with the offensive line head, coach Mike Gundy hopes that the teams three returners: Michael Wilson, Paul Lewis and Zachary Crabtree can bring stability and protect new starting quarterback Mason Rudolph. Some have called Rudolph the best signal caller in Stillwater, OK since Brandon Weeden and he showed glimpses of his potential in three starts. The star of the defensive line is junior end Emmanuel Ogbah. He was the conference defensive player of the year and looks to build upon the 17 tackles-for-loss and 11 sack performance in 2014. The Cowboys host both Baylor and TCU this season so if things come together quickly, it could be a special year.
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops took a huge gamble when he fired offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and replaced him with Lincoln Riley to install a Mike Leach style offense — but will it fit the piece that the Sooners already have in place. We know they return super-sophomore Samaje Perine — who rushed for over 1,700 yards last year– but who will lead the team at quarterback? Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is slotted to be the starter but what happens if he doesn’t jell early? Senior linebacker Eric Striker leads a Sooner defense that returns only five starters so they will need a couple of guys to step up. A tough early season match-up against the Tennessee Volunteers will give us a glimpse of how the season could end up in Norman, OK.
The success of the West Virginia Mountaineers will rest at the feet of the running back trio of Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and newcomer Donte Thomas-Williams. Shell and Smallwood came close to rushing for 1,000 yards each in 2014 and depending on how much head coach Dana Holgorsen trusts his quarterback Skylar Howard, the team could lead the conference in rushing. Defensively the Mountaineers return nine starters led by linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and All-American safety Karl Joseph. The heat is starting to turn up on Holgorsen who has only has a pair of 7-6 records since coming to Morgantown and he doesn’t get it done this year, new athletic director Shane Lyons may not be as patient as former AD Oliver Luck.
Charlie Strong is leading a much needed culture change in Austin, TX but will it translate into more victories for the Texas Longhorns? For beleaguered starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, this could be a make or break season for the junior. His numbers, 2,409 13 TDs 11 INT doesnt scream Texas starting quarterback, but this is all Strong has at the moment, so senior running back Johnathan Gray may have to carry the offense. The defense doesnt have many stars returning, but an infuse of talent that includes true freshmen Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler and Holton Hill could see the field early.
Bill Snyder is a hell of a coach but this year the Kansas St. Wildcats will test his ability to get the most out of a little as only 13 players return from a team that went 9-4 in 2014. Replacing its starting quarterback, tailback and two leading receivers wont be easy, but there still is talent offensively — albeit inexperienced. Charles Jones in a limited role had 13 touchdowns and is the leading candidate at starting running back. At quarterback junior Joe Hubener used the spring to establish a relationship with receivers Kody Cook and Kyle Klein — and while neither have the explosiveness of the departed Tyler Lockett the potential is there.
The Texas Tech Red Raiders have been known for a high powered passing offense in the past, but it could be the running game that brings the program back to respectability. Senior back DeAndre Washington ran for 1,103 yards in 2014 and looks to increase that number as four of five starters return on the offensive line. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury must decide on a quarterback, but he has options in sophomore Patrick Mahommes and junior Davis Webb. The defense desperately needs to improve on its 122nd national ranking in total defense but they have the pieces to do so led by senior defensive end Pete Robertson and safety J.J Gaines.
The heat is on head coach Paul Rhodes in Ames, IA as the Iowa St. Cyclones havent been to a bowl since 2012 and the team’s defense was ranked 115th or worse in all major categories. While there are still questions defensively — the team only returns four starters — the offense should be improved. Led by Sam Richardson, Iowa St. has a guy that compiled over 3,000 total yards — the third in ISU history. If Richardson plans on improving on those numbers in 2015, the team must find an answer at running back. The team only has three scholarship ball carriers and ranked 105th last season.
The David Beaty era begins with the Kansas Jayhawks with bare cupboards as only five starters return from a team that went 3-9 in 2014. The team must first settle on a quarterback as both returners, Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings leave a lot to be desired — freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis are expected to contend for snaps as well. The lone bright spot offensively is running back Corey Avery. Avery rushed for 631 yards and is the leading receiver with 217 yards on 18 receptions. Ben Goodman is one of the few returners on the defense that has the talent to have an impact defensively… but he will need help — A LOT.
With no conference championship game, the de-facto champion could come down to the winner of the Baylor vs. TCU game the Friday after Thanksgiving. Despite breaking in a new quarterback, Baylor has too much offensively and will be able to slow down TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin enough to get another victory in this growing rivalry. This time the game will be the reason why Baylor makes the College Football Playoff. Baylor 45- TCU 38
The top two teams are heads and shoulders above the rest, TCU and Baylor. The QB play will be the difference in this match up and ultimately the winner of the conference. Trevone Boykin is a dark horse Heisman candidate and could show voters late in the year why he and the Horned Frogs belong in the playoffs this year. Replacing Bryce Petty is no small feat and Baylor, even though offensively efficient will not be able to stop TCU when it matters most. TCU 41- Baylor 35